Salvaged or Savaged?

As I noted earlier I didn't have the chance to watch most of the seven and a half hour long Blair House Healthcare Summit. Given this, I'm going to defer to those who did. A review of opinion follows below the fold.

To an extent, I've been distracted by events in my native Colombia where Alvaro Uribe's re-election bid hangs by a thread and seems likely to be sunk by the Constitutional Court. Come August 7th, Colombia will have a new President and that brings me unending joy. Colombia's highest court will uphold the rule of law by tossing the Presidential referendum on technical grounds - campaign finance laws were broken and Uribe's supporters (it is important to note that Uribe was not directly involved in the re-election bid) violated, perhaps unintentionally but violated nonetheless, a number of other election laws. While I would have preferred the Court to uphold the constitutionality of term limits instead of sidestepping the issue, I expect the Court to firmly declare that elections in Colombia cannot be bought by the highest bidders.  

It's not often that one gets to see two political systems debate such core issues, and somewhat overlapping ones at that (there is also a healthcare debate ongoing), so intensely, closely and simultaneously. Colombia is often termed a "failing" state. I've never bought into that view even as I am fully aware of the serious socio-economic disparities we face and of the grave security threat that such inequality breeds. Though I concede the fragility of the Colombian state, it has been remarkable to witness the growing resolve of Colombians of all walks of life coming together to break the dark cycles of the past half century. And while Colombian democracy has its own pervasive imperfections, it is increasingly vibrant and mature. To turn back Uribe is no small feat.

The US too faces serious socio-economic problems, of a different sort and scope no doubt, but it is the political intractability that should give us the most concern. I've taken the President to task this past fortnight for not being assertive enough in his leadership nor partisan enough in his politics but I think if we could replace Barack Obama say with an FDR or an LBJ, we would still face a political stalemate. The problem, ultimately, isn't the President. I may not agree with him on every single issue or his approach at times but I know he means well and I believe him sincere in his efforts to reach a governing consensus on pressing national issues. 

Achieving that governing consensus, however, may be a hopeless task. The bitter reality is the United States is in danger of becoming a failing state because one party has become so radicalized in its ideology and in its approach to the game of politics that almost any issue becomes so intensely partisan that any compromise is effectively impossible to reach. As long as the GOP views governance as a zero-sum game, the national interest will suffer. Theirs is a scorched America politics. In their unyielding zeal, they are willing to see the nation falter and the American people suffer for what matters to the GOP leadership is serving the interests of an increasingly narrow economic elite.

That the GOP serves the economic interests of an elite few should be more plainly evident but it is to the detriment of the nation that we on the left have not been able to effectively expose them for the oligarchs that they are and the oligarchy that they foster. What are the consequences of Reaganite ideology is a question that we do not often broach but all we need to do is to look at the distribution of wealth and its trend to see that what Reagan wrought was a vast redistribution of wealth upwards for a precious few in an unrelenting war on the American middle classes. 

As of 2007, the top 1 percent of US households owned 34.6 percent of all privately held wealth, and the next 19 percent (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 50.5 percent, which means that just 20 percent of the people hold 85 percent, leaving only 15 percent of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers). In terms of financial wealth (total net worth minus the value of one's home), the top 1 percent of households hold an even greater share: 42.7 percent. Go back to 1979 and you'll find that the top one percent owned just 20.5 percent percent of all privately held wealth. In other words, the share held by the top one percent has expanded by 68.8 percent thanks to the policies set in motion under Ronald Reagan. That transfer of wealth, a near 15 percent share of the nation's wealth, was by design not by chance. It was accomplished by shifting the tax burden from the top 1 percent to the middle classes. 

Wrapped in their mantras of limited government and lower taxes, the GOP too often sways a disturbingly large segment of the US population to vote against their own economic self-interest. They have successfully sold the myth of the free market packaging it with the dubious assertion that all government is inherently inefficient if not evil. But we have failed to accurately convey the cost of limited government and lower taxes to the American people. The double hit from this world view is that we neither have universal healthcare coverage and pay far too much for the coverage that we do have. It's not big government for big government's sake that we are after but effective government of sufficient capability and dexterity to tackle thirty plus years of accumulated avoidance of socio-economic issues that can no longer be ignored such as our failing healthcare system.

Now for a review of the Blair House Summit as it was seen by some of the nation's leading political observers. Over at CBS News, Marc Ambinder finds that the summit was a tie and in that that's good news for the GOP. He writes:

The political world watched the proceedings at Blair House looking for theatre: instead, a policy fight broke out. This time, both sides came armored, and there was no referee. It was a wash -- and the tie goes to the Republicans.

The key question on the table was not whether Democrats and Republicans could come up with ways to compromise; it was whether the White House could move public opinion in a way that helps Nancy Pelosi get the votes she needs to pass the Senate bill in the House. That's unlikely.

Dick Durbin, the Senate's number two, even made a point of hinting to reporters midway through that the Senate was ready to pass health care legislation under reconciliation rules, which avoids the 60-vote threshold.

Indeed, Republicans were successful when the focus of the debate was on process -- the details of the deals that Democrats and the White House struck with key states and the (seeming) lack of transparency. The Democrats have an answer to this: if you want to find a pure debate on a pure bill, you'll have to look to . . . another universe entirely, because this is how legislation gets done.

But the Democratic answer is callous, and Republicans know it: this debate is not about a weapons system, it's about a fifth of our economy, it's about life and death -- and deals that take health care goods from one state and transfer them to another just don't play.

Of course, Republicans have been just as callous: their bill doesn't really expand coverage and rests on questionable policy premises, something that the president -- probably really the smartest guy in the room -- was at ease to point out, repeatedly. (Dozens of good Republican ideas were adopted by the Senate and the President; the thrust of both bills -- a market-based insurance exchange -- is a conservative idea).

All the Democrats asked for, really, is more money to pay for people who can't afford insurance and a rebalancing of the rules on insurance companies. Once the bill became political poison (thanks to Republican demagoguery and Democratic errors), not a single Republican could resist the political temptation to kill it.

For a year, Democrats have been on the defensive about their health care proposals. Republicans have been generally dishonest about them -- the Congressional Budget Office, for example, predicts higher premiums for a small fraction of folks who will get better insurance plans. To the extent that the president kept returning the focus to substance, it was to defend, rather to press the fundamental case for health care reform.

It would be folly to dispute that this legislative process was convoluted and lacked transparency. It most certainly was but in the midst of Ambinder's analysis is a solitary fact that bears expanding and touching on. This debate is "about a fifth of our economy." Well, it's actually about one-sixth of our economy though with healthcare costs rising as fast as they are, they will be one-fifth of US GDP before the end of the decade. That quibble aside, the point is that this debate is about one-sixth of the economy. The bigger point is that our healthcare costs shouldn't be consuming 17 percent of GDP when no other advanced industrialized nation spends more than 11 percent getting far better results both in terms of coverage and in socio-economic metrics.

What that means is that about 45 percent of US healthcare expenditures are inefficiently allocated. Part of that amount is, of course, a transfer of wealth that goes to support the lavish salaries in the insurance industry but the bigger picture is that ultimately such an inefficient allocation of resources is a national security problem. No country can afford to misappropriate such a large percentage of its GDP on an annual basis. So when the GOP brings up that this debate is about one-sixth of the US economy, the answer back has to be that therein lies the problem. There are opportunity costs to consider, what we spend on healthcare takes away from other pressing priorities. It's not just about containing costs. We need to bring healthcare costs to within OECD norms while making coverage universal so that we can tackle education, infrastructure, the national debt, etc. The national security angle needs to be stressed more.

Over at Politico, Glenn Thrush too finds that there was "no clear winner" with the tie going to the GOP.

President Barack Obama’s Blair House health care summit was billed as political theater — but it was so dull in parts, it’s hard to imagine anyone would demand a repeat performance. And boring never looked so beautiful to House and Senate Republicans.

Seven thick hours of substantive policy discussion, preening and low-grade political clashes had Hill staffers nodding at their desks, policy mavens buzzing — and participants declaring the marathon C-SPAN-broadcast session a draw.

But in this case, the tie goes to Republicans, according to operatives on both sides of the aisle — because the stakes were so much higher for Democrats trying to build their case for ramming reform through using a 51-vote reconciliation tactic.

“I think it was a draw, which was a Republican win,” said Democratic political consultant Dan Gerstein. “The Republican tone was just right: a respectful, substantive disagreement, very disciplined and consistent in their message.”

The White House and Hill Democrats had hoped congressional Republicans would prove themselves to be unruly, unreasonable and incapable of a serious policy discussion — “the face of gridlock,” as one Democrat put it hours before the summit.

That didn’t happen Thursday. In the 72 hours leading up to the encounter, Republicans drove a hard bargain with the White House over the seating arrangement — securing a massive square table that put them on a visual par with the president — to underscore their parity and seriousness. The move, ridiculed by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs at the time, paid off.

Obama wasn’t able to dominate them like he did last month during an encounter with House Republicans in Baltimore, when he delivered zingers high above the GOP from a conference room podium.

David Gergen on CNN was more effusive in his praise: the GOP had their best day intellectually-speaking in years. Paul Krugman saw it differently. Writing in the New York Times, he found that "what was nonetheless revealing about the meeting was the fact that Republicans — who had weeks to prepare for this particular event, and have been campaigning against reform for a year — didn’t bother making a case that could withstand even minimal fact-checking."

Beyond the numerous misstatements, Dr. Krugman noted that the GOP touted how their plan would cover an additional 3 million. Given that number of uninsured is some 47 million, that's spit in the ocean. He further elaborates:

What really struck me about the meeting, however, was the inability of Republicans to explain how they propose dealing with the issue that, rightly, is at the emotional center of much health care debate: the plight of Americans who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions. In other advanced countries, everyone gets essential care whatever their medical history. But in America, a bout of cancer, an inherited genetic disorder, or even, in some states, having been a victim of domestic violence can make you uninsurable, and thus make adequate health care unaffordable.

One of the great virtues of the Democratic plan is that it would finally put an end to this unacceptable case of American exceptionalism. But what’s the Republican answer? Mr. Alexander was strangely inarticulate on the matter, saying only that “House Republicans have some ideas about how my friend in Tullahoma can continue to afford insurance for his wife who has had breast cancer.” He offered no clue about what those ideas might be.

In reality, House Republicans don’t have anything to offer to Americans with troubled medical histories. On the contrary, their big idea — allowing unrestricted competition across state lines — would lead to a race to the bottom. The states with the weakest regulations — for example, those that allow insurance companies to deny coverage to victims of domestic violence — would set the standards for the nation as a whole. The result would be to afflict the afflicted, to make the lives of Americans with pre-existing conditions even harder.

Dr. Krugman also asks what did we learn from the summit? His takeaway was "the arrogance that the success of things like the death-panel smear has obviously engendered in Republican politicians. . . at this point they obviously believe that they can blandly make utterly misleading assertions, saying things that can be easily refuted, and pay no price."

I'll be more blunt. The Democrats came to salvage an imperfect bill that was the result of an imperfect process but one that nonetheless provides real solutions to a wide swath of Americans who face real problems, the Republicans came to savage everything that stands in their path to power. Theirs truly is the politics of a scorched America. Only time will tell whether we have salvaged the nation or allowed the GOP to further savage it.

Tags: US Healthcare Reform, Blair House Summit (all tags)



I would argue the reverse - the GOP is destroyed

You seem to argue the GOP as a vibrant entity that has somehow attained any level of success other than being blown out of power in the 2008 election.


I would argue otherwise. We know, now thanks to net-aware politics - where the money is flowing almost as soon as it leaves the lobbyists and special interests. Jerome wrote earlier this week that the money has started to flow towards the GOP. This is not a signe of strength.


Instead, it is the exercise of a mechanism lobbyists and special interest groups to keep a dead political party alive - their arm  shoved up its rotting throat - their hand making all the partisan announcements you so eloquently decry as if in some grotesque mimicry of a marionette.


The GOP died last year.  They proclaimed loud and long that the insurgent campaign in Massachusetts could be counted as a victory however the voting record of the man who took office now stacks with pure independent. Self identified independents now outnumber both republicans and democrats by a large majority.  The net rules. Not the GOP or the Dems. But the net.


While there could be a party that stops the political machine - it is far more likely an entity - something that has sistered up to the american ATM machine and replaced the public's card reader with a swipe capture that takes down your PIN and then says "sorry out of order" while the thin capture of your bank account information enables it to sweep all the money out of your account and walk off with your cash. Just as in the great crash of 2008.  And the bailout. Benefit to big oil. Big pharma.  Not the people.


This post was extremely well written.  You have become the next Chris Bowers of MyDD.


That said. I would offer only one minor change to your argument. A connection that hopefully is easy to make - given the excellent analysis of Colombia and their likely outcome.


America is not for sale to the highest bidder either. Political parties can die.  If Obama succeeds with healthcare reform. Which he will.

It will be open season on Zombies. And those who rely on them. The death of the GOP will clear the way for Independents to coalesce around a new party banner.  The disconnect caused by their radically evangelized leadership and the interlacing of the roots of their party with the jap-anime tendrils of lobbyism - destroyed the party two years ago when they were handed the largest blowout defeat in American politics in 20 years.


And they will be defeated again. Its only a matter of time before the self identified 'independents' will have a new banner.  Lobbyism is attempting to remain the master of puppets - and hide behind the GOP. Pouring their money out at the rate of 1.2 million dollars per day. To block healthcare reform.


And as you noted in your breaking blue. They will not succeed.

by Trey Rentz 2010-02-26 05:33AM | 0 recs
a continuing debacle

I feel bad for the house progressives. They got no support from the WH. There was a time that the WH seemingly preferred the legislative process over the actual legislation, and they had their tools in the press chiding the progressives who wanted a bill to pass through reconciliation.

Well now, after this continuing debacle or shady backroom deals, forced mandates, lack of alternatives and continuous capitulation to all things Republican we had a 7 hour snooze fest. The Republicans came with their well-rehearsed message, start over and incremental steps; the Democrats wanted their president to do the talking and otherwise had the same message, "we agree with the Republicans on most things". There was a lot of listening, no KOs or even TKOs. In the end it was theater with the same results. We are back to reconciliation, and I guess it will be harder now (if it wasn't unpopular already) given all the concerns raised by the Republicans. This WH just refuses to put the Republican leadership on the defensive and that is what's baffling. Obsessed with process and bipartisanship as the eventual goal it looks like amateur hour. I hope we get something done now, otherwise it'll all go down in flames.

by tarheel74 2010-02-26 10:16AM | 0 recs

Sorry but this is deeply unfair to the American people as a whole.  Americans do not buy into the Republican mantra of small government, they just do not have a choice.  It is the lackluster quality of the alternatives that has led America to it's impasse.

by demjim 2010-02-26 10:22AM | 0 recs

I would like to use the statistic you cited here (the paragraph that begins with "As of 2007, the top 1 percent of US households owned 34.6 percent of all privately held wealth...") because it would be really useful in a discussion with my family all of whom think Reagan was a god.  Do you have a cite?

by FredFred 2010-02-26 01:17PM | 0 recs
RE: Citation

and if we waved a wand and magically gave every American an equal share, it would only take 10 years to restore the original distribution.

by QTG 2010-02-26 01:21PM | 0 recs
RE: Citation

It's from a 2007 paper:

Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States: Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze by Edward Wolff


Here's an on-line link:

by Charles Lemos 2010-02-26 01:25PM | 0 recs
RE: Citation

It's a bit dated but I'd recommend Kevin Phillips' "Wealth and Democracy: A History of the American Rich." It was published in 2002 so most of the Bush era is missing.

Kevin Phillips is one of those who have done a 180. Once a Nixon speechwriter, he is today one of the most articulated chroniclers of our new Gilded Age. Wealth and Democracy is packed with hard data. The pivot we made in the 1980s clearly shows up.

"The Predatory State" is another recommended title. It's by James Kenneth Galbraith. 

And if you can handle drier economic works anything by Emmanuel Sáez, an economist at Berkeley. 

Here's a link to his collected works:

He maintains a database (updated through August 2009) on income inequality in the US.


by Charles Lemos 2010-02-26 01:42PM | 0 recs

My title sums it up, but MyDD5 makes me put something in the message body.

In the 21st Century, in the only industrialized nation without a full healthcare system, we have one of the two political parties claiming healthcare is a privalege. A privalege? My G0d. What else should be a privalege in their 18th Century worldview? Police and fire protection?

I am one of the rare individuals who lauds the President for his desire for bipartisanship on HCR and his initial efforts to that end. All previous major changes to the American system, liberal or conservative, have seen some bipartisan support. The Republicans are technically correct when they cry that this is the first significant change to the American system without bipartisan support.

But the problem with compromise is on them, not the President. They are not only so far removed from the necessary course of action that no compromise is possible, but their overriding motive is simply to cause this President to fail, thereby undercutting any real desire for compromise.

No policy came out of yesterday's debate. But we saw a President unwilling to compromise any further. The gulf is simply too wide.

From Ezra Klein:

The big story out of the summit is not that Republicans and Democrats extended their hands in friendship, but that the White House has dug its heels into the dirt. The Democrats are not taking reconciliation off the table, they are not paring back the bill, and they are not extricating themselves from the issue. They think they're right on this one, and they're going to try and pass this legislation.

Also, I loved this part:

The format is simply too kind to the president, and he takes advantage of it ruthlessly.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-02-26 01:53PM | 0 recs
RE: Word.

What will be most interesting to me is if any Republicans end up voting for it.  It looks right now like the answer is "hell no", but they know this is going to be a good bill.  At least a few of them need to jump on board for their own political skins.  We saw six repubs vote for the "jobs" bill after voting against cloture.  It wouldn't surprise me if the Dems picked up a handful of Repubs on HCR - completely unexpectedly and completely after the fact.

by the mollusk 2010-02-26 02:02PM | 0 recs
Hmmm.... I don't see it happening

The GOP would all but concede defeat.

My opinion is the popularity of HCR is mixed. In liberal states, amongst the GOP senators' bases and independents (i.e., Snowe, Collins), there is enough opposition to make it a politically unwise move. they have nothing to gain at this time, and everything to lose.

Brown may be counted on as a swing vote in the future, but he pretty much comitted to being the 41st vote here. I don't see anyone else.

But te winds are changing, and if this effort really gains popularity, then there may be a breakthrough.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-02-26 05:14PM | 0 recs
State of the Union

I am particularly proud of the fact that you attribute so much of the nation's decline to Reaganomics. Of course, you could not be more correct.

The great tragedy is the fact that while Americans came to realize just how terrible a President was George Walker Bush, having had total power with a GOP Congress and court justices of a similar ideological bent, much of the American public has yet to learn that it was the unrestricted implementation of Reaganomics that was indeed the death knoll for the United States itself.

In his own period as President, Ronald Reagan had had a Democratic Congress to contend with, and although he more than any recent President aside from George Walker Bush ought to have been both impeached and removed from power, if for no other reason than the clearly illegal implementation of the Iran Contra War, he withstood even the consideration of impeachment because the Press and his cronies in Congress viewed him as "likeable." That was meant to make his most egregious actions somehow antiseptic, when they were anything but.

In the meantime, the GOP became radically obsessed with power, at all costs. What they learned, in the aftermath of President Nixon and the Watergate affair, was that what was essential to maintaining power was achieving a pervasive persuasion on the population through manipulation of media. Afterwards, much of that media, when not outright becoming the GOP's paid-for acolytes, such as in the construction of a twenty-four hour propagandist network in FOX, were ever sympathetic to them.

The media, which we may hereafter label the MSM to differentiate it from progressive dissidents online, became the greatest apologists for the Reagan Era.

Having witnessed the damage caused by an unchecked six years of total GOP rule, some twelve years of GOP Congressional rule, and some eight years in which a GOP President, who even when he had a Democratic Congress, those members he completely ignored, any foreign visitor to these shores would think that, by God, the American electorate had had enough. It is beyond comprehension that any majority now in the United States could contemplate returning such an ideological group to power.

A reasonable mind would have thought that the GOP's routing in the fall of 2008 might have meant at very least a moratorium on their immediate return. Instead, they are poised to achieving victory, although clearly more poisonous than ever before.

To comment that a majority of Americans now consider themselves to be independent does not in any way lessen the deleterious effects of having the GOP in power. It is tantamount to living in Nazi Germany and saying, "Well, those anti-Hitler people weren't all that good either." One could not be an independent in Nazi Germany and live with oneself twenty years afterward--that is, if one could be considered as being human at all.

And therein lies the tragedy of President Obama. He is undeniably brilliant, and one of the great orators and raconteurs of our time. But, sadly, for the life of him, he could not understand either during the campaign and cannot understand even now, just how terrible the Reagan years truly were. These were the Radicals who aimed to bury the legacy of FDR, even though Reagan himself as a younger man trumpeted FDR.

The so-called "Independents," sadly much like our Democratic President Barack Obama are clueless. Progressive Democrats alone created Social Security and Medicare. And only progressive Democrats can overhaul the nation's moribund health care system. The GOP is only there to obstruct; they are indeed the agents of the self-serving Insurance Industry.

In January 2009, the newly elected President Barack Obama already had a mandate. It was not necessary to seek bipartisan support. It was a terrible mistake to try.

After a year of attempting to build consensus, where then is the national interest today? An emboldened GOP, sensing impending resurgence, are themselves giddy with the fact that their own obstructionism has worked so well.

Let us not apologize for the Independent majority. If they do not now know how harmful the GOP in power are to a majority of their fellow citizens, they never shall. And that stupidity comes from not having realized just how terrible Reaganomics was.

The Baby Boomers were defined by the aftermath of the War in Vietnam and the social schism of that period. Some became Rhodes Scholars, at very least hoping for a more egalitarian world, not unlike that which inspired their parents. Some had been born into comfort and GOP politics and learned the error of being oblivious to social ills. Still others lived in the sense of self, like Ayn Rand, determined to find contentment in their avarice. That bitter divide could be no better symbolized than the difference between three Baby Boomers--Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton on the one side, and George Walker Bush on the other.

Until the advancing generation of whom President Obama is an intimate part, understands that the Reagan Era truly was horrible and that there is indeed a profound difference between the Clintons Junior Bush, and that being Independent today does in fact foster a common the enemy--only then can a progressive agenda move forward.

But you most know your enemies. And they must be destroyed, before they destroy you. There is no middle road. Personally, I believe the Great Ship United States has already crashed and is sinking, irreparably, into the deep.

by lambros 2010-02-26 04:48PM | 0 recs


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