Mojo - October 2009

Hawaii: Scolded for Furlough Fridays

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 4:49 PM EDT

After Hawaii decided to cut 17 instructional days from its public school calendar, Education Secretary Arne Duncan criticized the move on the first of the state's furlough Fridays. "All states are under financial pressure, but none are cutting this much learning time from their school year," Duncan wrote in a Honolulu Advertiser oped Friday. "It's inconceivable to me that this is the best solution for Hawaii."

For parents, child care was also a burden. Reported Mary Vorsino in the Honolulu Advertiser on Saturday:

The furlough days have left Hawaii with the shortest school calendar in the nation and drawn the ire of some parents, who have been left scrambling to secure child care or forced to take vacation days to stay home with children. Yesterday, hundreds of kids went to hastily set up furlough Friday day care programs across the state...
Many parents leaving their children at day care centers said the financial strain of paying for such programs in order to deal with the furloughs has been tough. Child care providers added that the lower-than-expected turnout at day care programs is probably because people are already struggling in the economic downturn. They said turnout will likely increase as the furlough plan progresses.

To read more about Hawaii's furlough Fridays, check out additional coverage on the MoJo blog.

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Reid to Dems: Fall in Line

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 3:23 PM EDT

Now that Harry Reid has announced that he will bring a bill with a public option to the Senate floor for consideration, he's using his press conference to hammer home the need for Democrats to hold together on the bill. He's sounding dog whistles that Senate blue dogs will definitely hear—talking about how much his caucus supports health care reform, mentioning the 60-year history of Democratic health care reform efforts, and emphasizing that there really aren't many moderate Republicans left. ("I can count them on two fingers.") Will it be enough to keep Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, and Ben Nelson on board for a motion to proceed when he brings his bill to the floor? He had better hope so.

Reid's Public Option Politics

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 2:45 PM EDT

Who is this man leading the Senate Democratic caucus, and what has he done with Harry Reid?

Multiple sources are reporting that Reid's big announcement this afternoon will be that he intends to bring a health care bill to the Senate floor that includes a public option that would allow states to "opt-out." It will take 60 votes to strip the public option from the bill during the amendment process—votes that public option opponents don't have right now. Democratic holdouts—presumed to include Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)—will be forced to actually vote against the public option instead of killing it with a "silent filibuster."

There will be a lot of debate in the coming days about what exactly prompted Reid to include the public option in the draft bill. He didn't have to do it, and by all accounts Reid doesn't even have the 60 votes he'd need to overcome a certain GOP filibuster of a bill that includes public option. Reid is facing a tough reelection fight in 2010 and may have factored that into his decision, possibly to shore up support on the left, which has criticized him as a weak and ineffective leader. But unlike Chris Cillizza, Reid seems to think there might be benefits to shoring up his left flank. Ezra Klein highlighted a health care lobbyist's speculation along those exact lines:

One Democratic health care lobbyist suggested that Reid's trouble rounding up 60 votes to bring a bill with a public option opt-out to the floor suggests that the support isn't there for the opt-out when it becomes time to vote on the bill. But if Reid gets the bill to the floor with an opt-out and is forced to water it down later to win votes, he can still make the case with liberals and unions that he did what he could to get it passed—a key point considering that Reid will need the left's help in what's shaping up to be a tough reelection bid.

This seems right. If the votes aren't there, they aren't there. The left was pressuring Reid to not allow a silent filibuster of its biggest health reform goal. "If Harry Reid Allows The Silent Filibuster, It’s All On Him," Jane Hamsher warned at Firedoglake. Well, it looks like he won't allow it. And the Democratic caucus may still filibuster itself—several "centrist" Democrats have certainly left that option open. But if Lincoln or Nelson or Mary Landrieu (D-La.) join a Republican filibuster to prevent health care reform from coming to a vote, you can bet that the left's rage—and fundraising might—won't be focused on beating up on poor old Harry Reid. It will be focused on the defectors.

Quote For The Day

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 2:35 PM EDT

The times, they are a-changin. Andrew Sullivan:

This blog is now competitive on a daily basis with some prime time cable news shows in terms of total audience.

More here.

Fact Checking the Chamber of Commerce

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 2:14 PM EDT

Leaders of the embattled US Chamber of Commerce went on a media blitz this weekend, granting lengthy interviews to Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times, and Politico. They repeatedly sought to portray the group as a moderate business association ambushed by a liberal White House, weaving a narrative that mostly went unchallenged. Here are six cases where a bit of fact checking would have revealed the Chamber's spin:

Who is "raising cain"?

The Spin: "Let's be clear: We haven't raised up the cain," Chamber lobbyist Bruce Josten told Fox. "It came from their side of the street." In other words, the Chamber was just doing what it always does when it was attacked out of nowhere by environmental groups and the White House.

The Reality: The Chamber's current predicament is at least partly the result of its own extreme rhetoric. After Chamber VP Bill Kovacs called for a "Scopes Monkey Trial of the 21st Century" on climate change, companies began leaving the group. The Chamber has also sponsored incendiary TV ads mocking cap and trade legislation, a health care public option, and the White House's proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Who is being unreasonable?

The Spin: The White House is engaged in a "name calling campaign" against the Chamber. "In their words, not mine, it's again to try to neuter and marginalize us," Josten told Fox.

The Reality: The term "neuter the Chamber" comes from a Politico headline. White House officials never used the term nor called the Chamber any other names. The President and his officials have only disagreed with some of the Chamber's claims, questioned whether the group represents the US business community, and expressed a preference for bypassing its well-funded lobbyists in favor of speaking directly with corporate CEOs.

Who is ignoring their constituents?

The Spin: In ignoring the Chamber in favor of speaking directly with CEOs, the White House is missing the perspective of small businesses.

The Reality: Fewer than 10 percent of the companies represented on the Chamber's 118-member board of directors represent small businesses or local chambers. The rest represent large regional, national, and multinational corporations. The only way to join the board, which controls the Chamber and its policies, is to be voted in by sitting board members. In contrast, the board of the National Small Business Association is elected by its 60,000 dues-paying members. Unlike the Chamber, the NSBA has not taken a position on climate legislation or the Consumer Financial Protection Agency because its members don't agree on how the proposals will affect them.

University of Carbon Storage?

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 12:13 PM EDT

Proponents of clean coal, an umbrella term for all efforts to reduce the environmental impact of our most abundant fossil fuel resource, hail carbon storage and sequestration (CCS) as the best way to get rid of power plants' carbon emissions for good. In essence, CCS entails rounding up carbon dioxide and keeping it in reservoirs deep below our feet. Unfortunately, It is incredibly expensive, and some scientists have said it could harm plants, animals, and even people if not executed properly.

But the government is moving ahead with its full-fledged embrace of CCS. Last month, the Department of Energy announced that it would allocate nearly $13 million for 43 research projects designed to advance CCS with the help of graduate and undergraduate training programs.

But as Victoria Schlesinger reports for the November/December issue of Mother Jones, some are saying "Not Under My Backyard" to CCS projects. Schlesinger's story highlights a failed attempt in a small California town of 2,000, that has received significant scrutiny:

"Right at first, you go, 'Oh my gosh, I don't want that in my backyard,'" says Marlene Corbitt, secretary of Thornton's Chamber of Commerce. A special town meeting, held in the elementary school, was organized, and the WESTCARB scientists explained their proposal: to build the storage facility at a site five minutes from town for two weeks, then monitor the structure for two years. The 4,000 tons of CO2 would remain underground for good. The townspeople, recalls Thornton's fire chief and de facto mayor, Vince Tafuri, were unconvinced. "Even though they said there was no potential danger, I don't think the community believed that 100 percent."

Read the story for more about CCS and whether the NUMBY dilemma will derail clean coal's best hope.

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EPA Finds Kerry-Boxer Would Come at Low Cost to Households

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 11:26 AM EDT

Families that are worried about climate change but also concerned about the cost of fighting it can breathe easy. Climate change legislation pending in the Senate will combat global warming and won't burden families with huge costs, the Environmental Protection Agency has found

The Environment and Public Works Committee released the EPA's economic analysis of the Kerry-Boxer climate change bill on Friday night along with a more detailed version of the legislation. The EPA found that the Senate bill's impact would not be significantly different from the bill that passed the House in June: "[A]verage household consumption would be reduced by less than 1% in all years," and the whole package will cost households $80 to $111 per year, or 22 to 30 cents per day.

The EPA bases its calculations on a "business-as-usual" scenario. But with a different, more realistic baseline, the actual cost of the climate bill could be even lower. That's because the EPA's economic analysis cannot account for the costs of inaction. Unmitigated climate change could have a devastating on the American economy. And the EPA's modeling focuses on the legislation's cap-and-trade provisions; It doesn't account for measures like a renewable electricity standard, efficiency enhancements, and other programs meant to complement the cap.

Even with those limitations, the EPA concludes that the climate bill will produce significant environmental and energy-use improvement, with little negative impact on households:

Four key messages from the EPA analysis of H.R. 2454 would remain unchanged: (1) the cap-and-trade policies outlined in these bills would transform the way the United States produces and uses energy; (2) the average loss in consumption per household will be relatively low, on the order of hundreds of dollars per year in the main policy case; (3) the impacts of climate policy are likely to vary comparatively little across geographic regions; and (4) what we assume about the actions of other countries has much greater implications for the overall impact of the policy than the modeled differences between the two bills.

There are a few differences between the House and Senate bills. The Senate bill has a higher emissions-reduction target for 2020, at 20 percent below 2005 levels. And it also includes stronger market-stability provisions that could make the costs slightly higher, though ideally more stable. The Senate bill also allows landfill and coal mine emissions capturing to be a source of offsets, while the House bill subjected them to performance standards. But, overall, the EPA concludes that they are "relatively small differences in estimated costs and may even cancel each other out on net."

Who Gets to Pollute?

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 9:57 AM EDT

Who gets to spew carbon dioxide into the air for free, and who has to pay for the right?

The first draft of the Senate version of the climate change bill left a number of unanswered questions, including the much-discussed allocation of pollution permits under a carbon-pricing plan. Exactly which industries will get pollution permits has been a hot topic among senators who haven't decided how they're going to vote. The fence-sitters got the information they were waiting for late Friday, when Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) released her "chairman's mark." The mark is the version of the bill that Boxer wants the committee to use as a baseline when it considers the legislation, which is cosponsored by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

Boxer's Environment and Public Works Committee will begin hearings on the bill on Tuesday with testimony from a panel of top officials: EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff. Hearings will continue nearly all day on Wednesday and Thursday, and the President will weigh in, too, with a major speech on Friday and another planned for Tuesday. But Boxer's "mark" sets the stage for what everyone will be talking about.

Here's what you need to know:

The Health Care State of Play

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 9:46 AM EDT

Liberals, prepare to have your hopes crushed. Harry Reid says he's "close" to getting the sixty votes he needs in the Senate for a health care bill with an "opt-out" public option. But the White House seems to be worried that pushing even this weakened public option might cost them the vote of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). If they lose Snowe, conservative Democrats like Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) might bolt, too. The New Republic's Jon Cohn has some good analysis:

[I]t seems pretty clear (at least to me) that Obama really would prefer a strong public option—but that he, like his advisers, has serious concerns over whether such an option can pass. In other words, he wants a good public plan but he wants a bill even more—and he's not sure that the former is compatible with the latter. So he's being careful—more careful, in fact, than some of his Senate allies would like.

I think this gets at Obama's biggest problem in this fight. Everyone knows that he needs to pass a bill. That makes it hard for him to hold out for his preferred solution and gives whoever is standing in the way a whole lot of leverage. The obstructionists have a lot more freedom. It's really unclear that Ben Nelson, for example, needs the President to like him. If he's savvy, he's probably much more interested in paying insurance companies back for the $2 million in campaign cash they've given him. The President thinks he needs Ben Nelson more than Ben Nelson thinks he needs the President. That doesn't bode well for the public option.

UPDATE: David Corn is writing about this, too, over at Politics Daily:

If Reid can indeed keep his 60 votes together on a procedural vote (blocking the filibuster), he can tell Snowe to take a hike. But Obama may still want her Republican cred attached to the final bill. That would place him and Reid dramatically at odds.

I don't think Obama wants Snowe's "cred." He just wants (and needs) a bill, and he has many, many reasons to believe Harry Reid isn't a strong enough leader to hold Senate Democrats together on a party-line vote. The President thinks he needs a Republican vote to make sure he gets all the Democratic votes. If the past 48 hours have shown us anything, it's that Obama doesn't have much faith in Harry Reid—and he has even less faith in conservative Dems like Ben Nelson. The push to get Snowe's vote isn't cosmetic (at least I hope not—if it is, the White House had better get its priorities straight). It's strategic.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 26, 2009

Mon Oct. 26, 2009 6:33 AM EDT

US Army Spc. Jason Hebert provides security in the early dawn during an air assault mission above Tacome valley in Zabul province, Afghanistan, Oct. 14, 2009. Hebert is assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment. (US Army photo by Spc. Tia P. Sokimson.)