Kevin Drum

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

| Sun Mar. 21, 2010 10:56 PM EDT

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Stupak Switches

| Sun Mar. 21, 2010 1:07 PM EDT

MSNBC and others are reporting that dead-end abortion holdout Bart Stupak (D–Mich.) has agreed to vote yes on healthcare reform. Apparently President Obama has agreed to issue an executive order reaffirming longstanding policy not to allow federal funds to be used to pay for abortions.

There are, however, still some dead-end lefties refusing to vote for the bill because it's not pure enough. They should take a long look at themselves in the mirror. If Stupak can come around, so can they.

But: the bottom line is that this probably cements the bill's passage. By tonight healthcare reform will be a reality.

UPDATE: Dave Dayen says I'm wrong about lefty congressmen refusing to vote for the bill. He's right. I was thinking of Stephen Lynch (because I happened to be emailing with a friend in Massachusetts last night) and Loretta Sanchez (because she represents the district I grew up in). But Lynch is anti-abortion and Sanchez is a Blue Dog, so they hardly count as hardcore lefties. I spoke in haste on this. Sorry.

Quote of the Day: Newt Gingrich is a Moron

| Sun Mar. 21, 2010 12:45 PM EDT

From the inner id of the conservative movement:

Former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich said Obama and the Democrats will regret their decision to push for comprehensive reform. Calling the bill "the most radical social experiment . . . in modern times," Gingrich said: "They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years" with the enactment of civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

This comes via Mike Lillis, who headlines his post, "Gingrich: Civil Rights Laws Weren’t Worth the Political Price." But the problem here isn't that Gingrich is some kind of stone racist (though he's certainly racially tone deaf), it's that Gingrich is an idiot. The old Democratic Party got torn apart in the 60s when racist southern congressmen abandoned it in favor of a Republican Party that was more tolerant of their views. But who exactly does Gingrich think is going to leave the party today over healthcare? Bart Stupak? Aside from abortion, Stupak would be a pariah in the Republican Party. Ditto for virtually everyone else in the Democratic caucus. If Dems lose even two members over healthcare, I'll personally buy Gingrich a beer and let him write my blog for a day. As for the public at large, passing healthcare will make the party more popular in the fairly near future. Gingrich knows this perfectly well, which is why healthcare reform terrifies him so.

Threading the Healthcare Needle

| Sat Mar. 20, 2010 2:19 PM EDT

Ezra Klein surveys the political landscape behind healthcare reform and concludes that big business doesn't really have that much power after all:

This year, the Obama administration succeeded at neutralizing every single industry. Pharma supports the bill. Insurers are incoherent on it, but there's not a ferocious and united campaign to kill the proposal. The American Medical Association has endorsed the Senate bill. The hospitals have endorsed the bill....[But] it's been almost meaningless when it's come to Republican support. For all that liberals think the GOP is owned by insurers and pharmaceutical companies, this battle has been proof positive that they are owned by their base and they represent industry only when convenient. Imagine the concessions Pharma or the hospitals could have gotten by bringing three Republican senators onto the bill. They could've written the thing. But no such luck. Partisan incentives proved far stronger than industry interests.

Matt Yglesias takes the opposite lesson from the events of the past year:

What happened in the health care debate is that interest groups were able to get their way on most key points without needing to seriously attempt to deliver votes in exchange. The AMA is supporting the bill, but it’s not running ads against opponents. Pharmaceutical companies and insurers haven’t dropped out of the ferociously anti-reform Chamber of Commerce. No interest group that I’m aware of is cutting off the flow of funds to Chuck Grassley to punish him for his role in sabotaging health reform. Nobody is hitting Olympia Snowe for her bait-and-switch. I haven’t read a single story about a single Republican being “in trouble” with supporters for his or her opposition to reform.

I think I'd interpret this a bit differently. Obama had three basic choices when it came to dealing with the big industry groups:

  1. 1993 Redux: Push for the best possible bill and plan on a knock-down-drag-out fight with every interest group out there.
  2. Total Cave-In: Give the interest groups everything they could dream of in an effort buy their active and enthusiastic support.
  3. Centrist Wankerism: Buy off the big interest groups just enough to ensure that they wouldn't actively sabotage reform — at least, not sabotage it too hard, anyway — but nothing more.

Option #1 was obviously impossible. Option #2 was probably never in the cards, and in any case would have been so horrific that public revulsion would have killed it. So Obama chose Option #3. But what that means is that industry groups were pretty much indifferent. They didn't spend a lot of time and energy fighting the bill, but neither did they spend a lot of time and energy trying to persuade their favorite Republican senators to support it. This doesn't mean that industry groups have lost their influence over Republicans (or Democrats) or that their power is so awesome that they get everything they want with barely an effort.

Obviously you can question whether Obama and Senate Dems made the right deal. Could they have pushed a little harder and still kept the big industry groups neutral? Could they have given in on a few small things and earned enough support to have passed the bill months ago with a few Republican votes? Beats me. But from where I sit three thousand miles away, it looks to me like Obama played the game pretty well. There wasn't a lot of wiggle room on either side.

Spring Has Sprung

| Sat Mar. 20, 2010 1:32 PM EDT

Hooray! 

Friday Cat Blogging - 19 March 2010

| Fri Mar. 19, 2010 2:55 PM EDT

I asked Inkblot to do something interesting this morning so I could take a picture of him, but he just yawned at me. And then fell back asleep. Meanwhile, Domino headed out to the backyard to snooze among the spring flowers.

Speaking of which, spring starts tomorrow. And then on Sunday, the first full day of spring, we should get ourselves a shiny new healthcare reform bill. Nice symbolism, I think.

And now I'm off to lunch, followed by another session of Windows 7 troubleshooting. The upgrade basically went OK, and I'm now working through the list of annoying things that don't work quite right. Like the color balance on my monitor and the fact that I can't get VNC to work. (This is highly detrimental to my maternal tech support duties.) Top of the list, however, is my printer. It doesn't work. Plug it in and nothing happens. Just the little USB thunk sound effect and that's it. No error message, no searching for drivers, no nothing. My computer just sits there, providing no clue about what's wrong. And yet, the USB port works fine with other devices, the printer works fine on a different computer, and I don't think there are any conflicts since everything I own worked fine together on the old computer. Very strange.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Sprawl Revisited

| Fri Mar. 19, 2010 2:45 PM EDT

Matt Yglesias responds to yesterday's post about sprawl:

It’s true that the problem of overly restrictive land-use rules is in large part a problem of voter-preference. But it’s not a problem of voter-preference for sprawl per se. It’s a general problem of homeowner eagerness to exclude outsiders.

I know it's wildly unfair to do this, but I didn't get much sleep last night and my brain isn't working. So I'll just say that I think he's wrong. Or, to be a little more precise, I think he's mostly wrong. Sure, exclusion is part of the dynamic here, but by far the bigger part of it is that lots and lots of people actively like living in non-dense developments. Seriously: they really do. It's not a trick. So they vote with their feet and move to the suburbs and then vote with their ballots to keep big-city living at bay. Given an ideal world, of course, they'd love to have a nice 3,000 square foot house with a big yard right in the middle of Manhattan, but one way or another, they want that house.

Obviously not everyone likes living this way, but an awful lot of people do. You can say they like a big house with a big yard, or you can say they like sprawl. It's pretty much the same thing.

Weekend Festivities Roundup

| Fri Mar. 19, 2010 2:29 PM EDT

Hey, have I mentioned that the House will be voting on healthcare reform this weekend? I have? Well, courtesy of Taegan Goddard, here's a summary of the gruesome details:

The House Rules Committee will likely meet on Saturday morning to draft a special rule that allows the House to pass a bill by approving the rule and not necessarily the bill itself. By all indications, this rule will be the now famous "self-executing" rule which "deems" the Senate health care bill passed upon adoption of the rule.

While Republicans on the Rules Committee may try to amend the rule, they're dramatically outnumbered by Democrats 9 to 4.

The House will likely debate the rule for about an hour and hold a vote on whether to end debate. Assuming that passes, the House holds another vote on adopting the rule. If the rule is approved with 216 votes, the House may begin debate on the reconciliation bill that makes fixes to the Senate version of the health care bill.

The House then debates the reconciliation according to guidelines set forth by the rule. Once debate is finished, the House will finally hold an up-or-down vote on the reconciliation bill. If it passes with 216 votes, the original Senate bill goes to the President for his signature.

In other words, to summarize even more, if Nancy Pelosi can round up 216 votes, it passes. If not, not. So if your congress critter is one of the fence sitters, give 'em a call. Today would be good.

The Real Sarah Palin

| Fri Mar. 19, 2010 12:46 PM EDT

Via Dave Weigel, Variety has your Sarah Palin news of the day. She's coming to basic cable!

A&E and Discovery appear to be the front-runners to land the untitled Alaska-themed series, to be produced by Mark Burnett Prods.

....As first reported by Entertainment Weekly, the Palin project will center on interesting characters, traditions and attractions in the 49th state — with the ex-VP candidate as a guide. Burnett and Palin pitched the show to all four major networks — but given the travelogue nature of the series, it ultimately made more sense for a cable network, insiders said.

...What's fueling the interest? Even though the show promises to be completely devoid of politics, Palin has a loyal following -- and even folks who detest her politics may be curious enough to tune in and see what she's up to.

Jon Stewart must be licking his chops over this. And anyone who believes Palin's show will be "completely devoid of politics" is either delusional or lying. What's the over/under on how many episodes it takes before we have one set smack in the blasted hellscape that is ANWR?

Can Resolution Authority Work?

| Fri Mar. 19, 2010 12:05 PM EDT

I've been trying to decide what I really think of Chris Dodd's financial reform bill, and so far the answer is: not much. Yesterday, for example, Mike Konczal took a look at how it handles the problem of winding up big failed banks. Basically, the bill mandates that large banks write their own "living will," with fines proposed for those who do a lousy job. Here's Mike:

Notice how this strategy would look for FDA if we were creating the FDA now: “Drug companies will be required to submit the effects of their drugs that they market from internal studies that they’ve carried out. That is all.”

There’s an obvious agency problem: if you are a large, complex company and you’ve failed, you want the regulators to be as confused, scared, and uninformed as possible so they will bail you out. It’s worked before. What’s the penalty for a failed firm that doesn’t do this well? They are already failed. If you are less cynical about the financial markets than I am, it’s still costly, time consuming and kind of a pain in the ass to collect this information well, so you will probably half-ass it.

I'd add something even more fundamental: can this work even in theory? Mike is right that banks have lots of reasons to do a self-serving job when it comes to drafting their plans, and when times are good it's unlikely that the Fed or any other regulator is going to be especially tough on them. But beyond that, is it even possible to set forth a plan in advance that would, say, unwind Citigroup cleanly and without a big government bailout? I have my doubts, and I'd sure like to hear a few skeptical experts weigh in on this. What would a real resolution plan for Citigroup look like?

In another post, I think Mike gets to the key issue: we really ought to be more concerned with detection than with resolution. Once a gigantic bank has started to spiral out of control, it's probably going to need some kind of massive government support no matter what kind of resolution plan it has in place. So what's really important is stopping that spiral before it starts. But that gets us back to things like limiting leverage, insisting on more robust capital requirements, insisting that derivatives are traded openly and only by firms with the collateral to back them up, etc. Resolution authority is something the federal government needs — regardless of whether or not it's messy — but I'd put it somewhere in the bottom half of the top ten things we should be concerned about.

I am, however, extremely persuadable on this point. So: is resolution authority more important than I think? And if so, what would it take to do it right? I'll try to follow up on this later.