Archive for December, 2009
This video is a bit dated; it was recorded on 12/1/09. At the time, I had been reading about criticism of the Senate proposal to tax “Cadillac” health care plans. Essentially, the idea is that when the government allows workers to enjoy excellent health care plans, and those plans aren’t taxed, over-consumption results. For example, instead of exercising and losing weight, the well-insured will see a doctor and get a (subsidized) prescription for Nexium. This drives up the cost of health care for everyone.
There’s merit to the argument, and over the long-term, taxing benefits will almost certainly “bend the cost curve downward”.
But… The people that enjoy these plans today – hundreds of thousands of union members – bargained away salary increases in exchange for better health care plans. These folks stand to be screwed – they weren’t counting on the government to come in and take money out of their back pocket in the form of higher taxes. It’s fundamentally unfair. And all things considered, it’s plenty weird that the Democrats – long-time allies of labor – would be perpetrators of this perceived injustice.
Anyway, I asked Senator Landrieu about the “Cadillac” tax vis a vis the House plan which would assess a special “millionaire’s tax” on the wealthy. Back on 12/1/09, she told me we may see versions of both taxes in the final bill. More recently, she’s joined with Senators Lincoln and Nelson to suggest that there isn’t much room for negotiation in conference; the Senate bill must remain largely intact.
In the first video, he says the Republican Party, united in its obstructionist ways, may have solidified Democratic resolve as we move toward a debate on climate change. Progressives certainly hope for as much.
In the second video, I pressed him on the way progressive expectations have been (mis)managed and whether or not anything can be done better moving forward. His answer is difficult to decipher, and for that I apologize. I certainly should have followed up. Unfortunately, I had my two year old son with me and he had some very important questions of his own. I had to cut the interview short.
In the end, we are left with the Senator saying that some very “harsh” messages could be sent, but we aren’t at that point yet. Unfortunately, we can’t be sure if the messages he speaks of would be directed at the Nelsons, Lincolns, Landrieus and Bayhs, or if he’s suggesting that progressives need an eye-opener.
Ultimately, I think it is pretty clear that the latter holds more credence than the former. Simply put, there are more moderate and conservative Democrats in the Senate than there are liberal. Moreover, the conservative faction is pretty happy with the status quo; it’s the progressives that want change. If moderates are willing to kill a bill, even incremental progress is defeated. If you are a progressive desperate to make things better (even if only at the margins), something is almost always going to be better than nothing.
I wrote to a friend earlier tonight to say that I remember when the Democrats that worked the hardest to build the current majorities in the Senate and House thought there might be some form of party discipline imposed, at least on procedural votes… Some of those folks thought Committee Chairs could be taken away from recalcitrant caucus-members. Pretty funny, in hindsight, no? In fact, wayward conservative Democrats not only faced no discipline, but they were rewarded with everything they wanted.
Ultimately, party activists – the folks that walked miles knocking on doors, logged scores of hours at the phone banks, blogged ’til their fingers bled and organized around the clock… Well, they saw the results of their work: Obama in the White House, sixty votes in the Senate and a huge majority in the House have produced a health care bill that only the insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies can love.
If Democrats don’t learn to manage expectations better as they move on to big fights over immigration, banking reform, and climate change, they may be in for some tough sledding in 2010.
It sounds pretty clear to me that Lieberman and the rest of the conservative crew hold all the cards. For whatever reason, our progressive Senators don’t think they have any leverage available to counter the Lieberman Gang’s demands.
The only (remote) chance of getting something decent rest in the House progressive’s hands. Unless they are as willing to kill health care reform as Lieberman is, there’s no reason for Barack Obama and Rahm Emmanuel to play hardball with conservative Senators.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is taking aim at National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn for “below-the-belt” comments made by an aide in a Louisiana newspaper.
In a Dec. 17 piece in The News Star of Monroe, La., the NRSC is quoted as saying Landrieu “allowed herself to be ‘bribed’ into supporting the health care bill.”
NRSC spokeswoman Amber Wilkerson Marchand added in the story that the bill would increase taxes for Landrieu’s constituents.
Those comments are “patently false” and “so disrespectful,” Landrieu told POLITICO in an interview Thursday evening.
“It doesn’t really matter to me what Rush Limbaugh says. Or, you know, any of the other entertainers out there,” Landrieu said. “It does matter to me what colleagues say. And John Cornyn is the head of that committee.”
Republican delay and obstruction (it’s costing us money, but they are doing it for the troops so that’s ok)
Everyone says they are a deficit hawk. Government waste is just awful and must be stamped out wherever it occurs.
Well… Maybe not so much. At least not when it comes to partisanship.
The simple truth is that Democrats have the 60 votes they need to pass health care reform out of the Senate. Republicans are insisting that every last second of delay they are entitled to be honored, notwithstanding the fact that they know for sure the bill will pass on Christmas eve.
So what we’ve got are a lot of cops and staff working overtime (and feeling pretty grinched about being away from their families), and tens of millions of dollars in extra government spending, all so Republicans can please Rush Limbaugh and the tea-baggers.
I talked to Senator DeMint, Collins, Lemieux and Johanns about this:
At the time these videos were shot, Reid’s manager’s amendment hadn’t been released yet, so there wasn’t a lot to talk about. Instead, I decided to put my best (frozen) face on and chat with the Senator’s as they made their way in to vote. As you can imagine, in the middle of a blizzard, they weren’t very chatty.
The rest of my day was spent asking (mostly) Republicans if they thought the Amendment would be improved if the mandate was stripped. With the exception of one or two (out of about 8 or 10 that I spoke with), they thought killing the mandate would be a net positive. One Republican Senator who has been completely immersed in the weeds on this told me it would make a bad bill even worse.
Virtually every one of them told me that this is a big, dishonest game. That there is no way we add people to the system on the public dime and break even. Their suspicion is that this is the first step down the road to single-payer. They say you can’t get there in one big leap, so you nibble around the edges at first, and expand from there.
It’s an argument I’ve heard in a different form from Democrats (absent the charge of dishonesty). Over and over again, I’ve been told that this bill needs to pass because it is the first step in a process. That health care reform doesn’t end this year; it begins this year. That every year from here on out, health care reform will be on the legislative agenda.
One last note.
Senator Inhofe was walking back from the tunnel and I engaged him in some talk about health care reform. It was a slow day – no real business is being done on Saturday, let alone in the middle of a blizzard – so I walked all the way to the Senator’s office with him. He invited me into his office and we chatted for about 30 minutes. It turns out that today is Senator Inhofe’s 50th wedding anniversary. He was supposed to fly back to Tulsa to celebrate with his entire family, but the snowstorm has shut down the DC airports (some irony there, huh?). Lucky for him, his wife is in town, so he’s able to share this special day with her.
If you get a chance, email him your best wishes and congratulations.
Interesting that he will criticize his former Republican colleagues for obstruction, but he will not say anything about his independent colleague, Senator Joe Lieberman.
Senator Kurt Conrad is working closely with Senaotr Gregg to form the deficit/debt commission. This commission would be tasked with developing recommendations for reducing the national debt. These recommendations would include cuts in spending, and, so the story goes, means if generating increased revenues (that’s Washington-speak for tax increases).
Progressives are concerned for a number of reasons. Primarily, there is concern that the entitlement programs will be cut. The concern is well-founded. Most recently, Ben Bernanke said he’d balance the budget on the backs of Social Security and Medicare because “that’s where the money is”. Unfortunately, we face a baby boom retirement wave; if we’re to keep grandma in a warm house with food to eat, she’s going to need her Social Security. That said, social security should be easy to fix and shouldn’t require any cuts; the real problem is Medicare.
As we see in the current health care debate, big Pharma and the insurance lobby have a stranglehold on our government. They will protect their profits. And increasingly, those profits derive from treating old folks. If we don’t start talking about what kind of care is reasonable for folks getting “free” treatments (especially at the end of life), I’m not sure I see a way to curtail the growth of Medicare.
I’m fairly certain Senator Judd Gregg is dead wrong in this video. The entire reason we doubled the Social Security tax under Reagan is that the actuaries saw what was coming today. They knew we’d never be able to pay retirement benefits to the baby boomers unless they paid their fair share into the program while they were still working. When Gregg says the fix worked for 30 years, he’s being slick. The last fix wasn’t designed to keep Social Security solvent then; it was designed to keep the program solvent forever.
Remember Al Gore and his “lock-box”. Man, his incessant repeating of the phrase in the 2000 debates virtually demanded that he be mocked by Saturday Night Live. And he was. But you know what? He was also correct. George Bush raided the surplus revenues generated by Social Security taxes (that should have been put away to keep the program solvent as more and more seniors begin to collect) to give his base (the rich) enormous tax cuts. In a fair world, those tax cuts would be clawed back to re-capitalize Social Security.
Of course, politics is almost never fair. So what we are likely to see is some sort of regressive national sales tax, across the board increases in income/FICA taxes and more cuts in education, scientific research, national parks, etc.
I’ve taken some heat in the comments for my approach:
Don’t you think memorizing a clear, concise question to start your interview might be a good idea? The hemming and hawing… [is] embarrassing…
ditto. the earlier commenter is right. you have good stuff but don’t be so wishy-washy and beat around the bush with your opening.
you have a big opportunity here, given the access you have in DC to hold these clowns accountable. don’t blow it.
I know where you are coming from, but I think there are a few things you are forgetting.
I’m not Chris Matthews or Wolf Blitzer. I don’t have these guys in my studio and I don’t (yet) have a platform that makes them need me as much as I need them. As such, reporting for me is as much about establishing a reputation for fairness and decency as it is about exacting a pound of accountability with every question. If I were to jam a camera in their face without warning and ask a self-righteous question without giving them a fair chance to gather their thoughts and respond, I wouldn’t be doing anyone any favors. To begin with, that’s not “real” reporting; it’s Fox News “gotchya” garbage. I won’t go down that road. Second, if I were to travel that path, I think each and every one of these guys would be entirely justified in ignoring me. Y’all would rapidly tire of seeing me talk to their backs.
Another thing you may be forgetting is that most reporting you consume comes to you in print or extensively edited video. The only thing similar at all to what I’m doing are the cable news shows, but there the principals are on to discuss a specific topic for a defined amount of time. By way of comparison, I don’t have any of these folks for more than a minute or two as they travel from place to place. Moreover, every reporter I’m working with does pretty much exactly the same thing I’m doing – they walk and talk with the principal. The difference is the end-product. With the newspaper, you may get a couple of quotes; you don’t see the “wishy-washy” 10 minute conversation those quotes were extracted from. There is a reason (aside from my name) that this site (which I consider a news service) is titled “StarkReports”. You get the stark report; it’s not produced or edited whatsoever. I do this because I want to provide complete context and the ability for others to have a record. I’m far from infallible; there may be a quote in the middle of any of these interviews that some other reporter may find useful. I’m not constrained by the need to fit into a thirty minute television schedule and YouTube and the internet allow me to put up the full interaction… so why not?
Now, with all that out of the way… there’s no doubt that my technique will improve over time. I expect that to happen as I get more practiced.
I caught him after the vote this afternoon; much of our conversation took place off-camera.
There is a lot of talk about a deficit control commission that would be tasked with setting the United States’ fiscal house in order. In short, the commission would make recommendations and then the House and Senate would be faced with an up or down vote – no amendments would be allowed; there could be no filibuster.
Progressives worry about this because virtually every deficit hawk sees entitlement programs (social security and medicare) as ripe for the picking. Very few deficit hawks are expected to come to the table with revenue generation (increasing taxes on those that can afford to pay them) in mind.