Mojo - July 2009

Liberal Dems Say No to Deal on Health Care Reform

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 6:15 PM PDT

This could be a big deal. Fifty-seven liberal House Democrats sent a letter on Thursday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Henry Waxman, the chair of the House energy and commerce committee, saying they cannot vote for the deal Waxman cut with the Blue Dog Dems, citing the compromise's weak public option provision. It's a short note, but a possible big monkey wrench. Without these votes, the Democrats are far short of a majority.

The letter:

We write to voice our opposition to the negotiated health care reform agreement under consideration in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

We regard the agreement reached by Chairman Waxman and several Blue Dog members of the Committee as fundamentally unacceptable. This agreement is not a step forward toward a good health care bill, but a large step backwards. Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, for a public option with reimbursement rates based on Medicare rates - not negotiated rates - is
unacceptable. It would ensure higher costs for the public plan, and would do nothing to achieve the goal of "keeping insurance companies honest," and their rates down.

To offset the increased costs incurred by adopting the provisions advocated by the Blue Dog members of the Committee, the agreement would reduce subsidies to low-and middle-income families, requiring them to pay a larger portion oftheir income for insurance premiums, and would impose an unfunded mandate on the states to pay for what were to have been Federal costs.

In short, this agreement will result in the public, both as insurance purchasers and as taxpayers, paying ever higher rates to insurance companies.

We simply cannot vote for such a proposal.

Back to you, Waxman.

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Breaking: Rove Had Hand in US Attorney Firings

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 1:23 PM PDT

The Washington Post has obtained emails showing that Karl Rove, top political advisor to former President George W. Bush, played a significant role in the firing of a number of US attorneys for political reasons. You should go read the Post story 1) if, for some reason, this surprises you, 2) to laugh as a number of Rove's statements are directly contradicted by the facts, and 3) to get the full details.

One quick, journalism-related note on the story. Marcy Wheeler is right that while none of this "is even remotely surprising" it "does suggest we'll have these documents... in the relatively near future." That's great. But I would just point out that if the Washington Post followed the lead of the US attorneys' scandal godfathers at Talking Points Memo—or Mother Jones' own, similar practices—we'd already have those documents. The Post would have put them online so that members of the public could look at the source material and judge for themselves. But it's not like the Post is in the business of informing the public or anything.

Lou Dobbs, the Birthers and the Cable News Crack-Up

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 1:09 PM PDT

A few years back, during the height of illegal immigration-mania, I spent a considerable amount of time for this magazine with the man who seemed to stand for the great fear that this nation was under attack from across the border, that we were losing control of our sovereignty, and that our national agenda was being determined by Mexican President Vicente Fox. That man was Lou Dobbs.

Truth to tell, I kind of liked Dobbs. During our time together—which included staff meetings and live broadcasts, after-work drinks and even a trip to a Hispanic journalists’ convention in Miami—I found Dobbs to be terribly myopic but also blunt, a man who knew he had come from little and now appreciated that he had a lot. He called me pard’ner and loved a dirty martini.

Now, with Dobbs’ border war on the brink of irrelevancy, he has returned to the limelight with another grave concern—the birth certificate of President Barack Obama. The so-called "birther" movement, which demands that Barack Obama prove that he’s really, um, an American citizen, has been debunked by every sane political journalist, as well as officials from the Hawaii Department of Health. But it’s become the centerpiece of Dobbs’ nightly news program and his daily radio broadcast.

Towns Punts on Countrywide Probe

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 12:45 PM PDT

I wrote yesterday that Rep. Edolphus Towns had a big decision to make over whether he would join in on Darrell Issa's Countrywide investigation. Well, he's made his decision, opting to steer clear of this politically fraught inquiry. In addition to being busy investigating other financial crisis-related matters, Towns told the AP that VIP loans handed out to Senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) (and potentially other congressional lawmakers) are "the subject of current proceedings before the Justice Department and Senate Ethics Committee and it is not appropriate for the committee to interfere with those proceedings."

What's Issa's next move? Slamming Towns for protecting "his friends" for starters. He's also taken his Countrywide campaign to Twitter, asking followers, "What do YOU think Congress should do about this? (Sweetheart mortgages to members of Congress NOT being investigated?)" Towns may have declined his support, but don't expect Issa, who's been bird-dogging this for more than a year, to let this go anytime soon. Personally, I don't care who investigates Countrywide's favorable financing for lawmakers, but someone needs to—and it's unclear whether the notoriously meek Senate ethics committee, which is presently looking into loans made to Dodd and Conrad, is up to the task.

Follow Daniel Schulman on Twitter.

The Earmark That Couldn't Get Shot Down

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 11:59 AM PDT

The over-budget and technically flawed Kinetic Energy Interceptor program may have been axed by the Pentagon this spring, but it lives on in the earmark-laden defense appropriations bill currently under consideration by the House. You know, the bill that Obama threatened to veto because it contained billions in pet projects for lawmakers seeking to bring home the bacon to their districts. Much of the work for the KEI project, a missile defense system designed to "destroy enemy ballistic missiles during their boost and early midcourse phases of flight," happens to be taking place in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. That's the hometown of Jack Murtha, whose unrivaled and unapologetic pursuit of pork has earned him congressional infamy—and landed him uncomfortably close to an FBI probe targeting lobbyists and defense contractors with whom he's had dealings. The Washington Post points to one reason why the terminated KEI program is nevertheless poised to reap an additional $80 million in the appropriations bill. 

...Northrop Grumman, the principal contractor, is building a technology center in Murtha's district that would bring 150 related jobs, and Murtha's subcommittee sought its continuation as a way "to recoup the technology," according to an appropriations staff member, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

 

Selling Health Care

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 11:21 AM PDT

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Fiore Cartoon: Beerplomacy

Thu Jul. 30, 2009 11:07 AM PDT

Racial profiling, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran's nuclear ambitions....The world can be a brutal place. Luckily, there's beerplomacy—the booze that makes friends.

Watch satirist Mark Fiore's ad for the cure-all below:

On Bullshit Dectectors

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 11:05 AM PDT

When it comes to politics, it really helps to have a bullshit dectector. I won't pretend that the government never does crazy, stupid things. But when a big, politically controversial bill like health care reform is being written, you should generally assume that the people who are writing it want it to pass. Thus it is unlikely that they will include provisions in the bill that are likely to be universally unpopular and drag the whole bill down with them.

If someone tells you that the bill is going to require that seniors get Soylent Green-style "end-of-life counseling" that will advise them to die, you should immediately recognize that they are bullshitting you. This is doubly true if the person saying this is a notorious liar. Likewise, if someone tells you that health care reform would mean "a doctor would lose his license for providing health care to someone over age 59," you should probably recognize that person is also an insane liar.

Turn on your bullshit detectors, folks. This is not that hard.

Simple Answers to Simple Questions, Max Baucus Edition

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 10:40 AM PDT

The Hill has a story today speculating about the possibility that the Democrats might take away Max Baucus' chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee because Max Baucus is such a terrible chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Brian Beutler's headline at TPM asks "Will Senate Democrats Strip Baucus Of His Chairmanship?" No. No, they won't. The Hill got Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to talk about Harkin's idea of biannual confidence votes in committee chairmen, and then got one other senator to talk about it with the caveat that he would "send a SWAT team after you" if his name was printed. Reform is imminent!

(Simple Answers to Simple Questions is an Atrios trademark.)

Maybe It's Max Baucus Who Is Playing Us

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 10:21 AM PDT

After lots of noise in recent days that the Senate Finance Committee might be nearing a final, bipartisan deal on a bill, CNN reports the (gasp!) shocking news that Mike Enzi (R-Wy.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) think that the bill is "not ready for prime time" and couldn't possibly be voted on before the August recess.

A Daily Kos diarist suggests that this is a sign that committee chair Max Baucus, who has supposedly been trying to get Enzi and Grassley on board, "got played" by the Republicans, who never intended to allow a vote before recess (or perhaps ever).

But why does it have to be that Baucus "got played"? Max Baucus is a smart guy, and he's been supposedly working on this for months and months. He has repeatedly promised bills and repeatedly broken his own deadlines. At what point do we have to start assuming that it's Baucus who is acting in bad faith? Max Baucus runs the Senate Finance Committee. The Senate Finance Committee has repeatedly failed to produce a health care bill. If a bill is delayed long enough, health care reform could fail entirely.

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the right one. Maybe Max Baucus just doesn't think health care reform should happen.

Does anyone think that the Republicans are going to end up voting for the health care bill on the floor anyway? News flash: unless a bill is produced that magically becomes wildly popular, they're not going to vote for it. They're going to vote against it and use it as a wedge issue. That's politics. Max Baucus is not so stupid that he does not see this. He must know that the GOP is probably not negotiating in good faith. So don't you have to conclude that he just isn't that interested in health care reform? There are plenty of reasons to believe that's what's really going on: Baucus takes huge amounts of money from the health care industry. And even if that's not a problem, this probably is.