What's the Point?

The last few weeks we have seen FireDogLake gearing up in an effort to challenge and ultimately weaken Democratic incumbents who supported healthcare reform. This effort has included running surveys in swing and even quite red districts now represented by left-of-center moderate Democrats who stuck out their necks to advance the cause of near-universal healthcare reform, with one poll arguably forcing into retirement one such Democratic Congressman.

Now FDL is going after a bona fide progressive champion, Earl Blumenauer (for whom I did some consulting a few years ago). Blumenauer's apparent fault: Not pledging continuing to pledge* to kill the Senate bill, which would cover 30 million Americans who currently do not have health insurance. No matter, of course, that Blumenauer has been one of the leading progressives in the House for more than a decade, fighting for livable communities, clean energy, and other smart policies that all too often get short shrift on Capitol Hill, voting against measures ranging from the PATRIOT Act to the Iraq War. No matter that he spoke out on the need to reinforce the levies in New Orleans for fear that they might be breached during a hurricane -- in a speech delivered months before Hurricane Katrina hit -- that he had the prescience to submit legislation restricting primate sales long before the chimpanzee attack that seriously wounded a woman last year, and that he was one of the few in Congress willing to speak out and organize against the Tom DeLay-led effort to thrust the federal government in the middle of Terri Schiavo's end-of-life decisions. No, not pledging continuing to pledge* to kill the Senate bill is enough to place a target on the back of a member of Congress.

This all really has me wondering, what's the point? What are we doing in politics? Has the purpose of our involvement over the years been to prove an ideological point, to show how resolute we are in our beliefs? Or rather, has the point been to make tangible steps towards the betterment of the lives of those who so desperately need it?

Lest you think I am setting up a straw man argument, that this is not a binary set of choices, think about where we stand today. If the House is unwilling or unable to accept the legislation already passed by the Senate -- and that appears to be the case at present, though the situation remains, to a great extent, up in the air -- a significant portion of those 30 million who would be coverage will still have to go without health insurance (half, according to a reports, if the House and Senate can agree on a pared down bill; all if they can't).

And it's not like reform will be easier to come by in a later Congress with fewer Democrats. After Harry Truman tried and failed to enact universal healthcare legislation, it took another generation until Congress seriously moved again on a similar measure. Even then, Congress was unable to enact universal healthcare legislation, opting instead to cover senior citizens and the extremely poor. Though Congress debated legislation during the 1970s, it took another generation until such an effort moved forward again under the Clinton administration. Now, more than 15 years after the failure of the Congress and President Clinton to move forward on healthcare reform, we again stand at the precipice. Can we really afford to wait another decade or longer?

This is far from the first time that there has been disagreement over how best to forward progressive policy initiatives. One need not even think that far back to the candidacy of Ralph Nader, when promises were made that if the left cost Democrats enough votes to block the party's nominee from the Presidency, the liberals would be emboldened and thus progressive policy would be made easier to enact in the future. We all know how well those promises worked out -- a War in Iraq, a conservative activist Supreme Court, a Great Recession.

Simply put, I cannot see how killing healthcare reform today -- and, no, not just the Senate bill (which has its positives along with its negatives), but any meaningful healthcare reform -- will make it easier to pass a better bill in the future. And I can't fathom how attacking Democrats willing to risk their jobs to try to cover 30 million more Americans will do anything to forward the cause of universal healthcare.

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Blumenauer Stands Up to McCain on Solar Energy

Danny Glover (no, not that one) has the run down:

The Arizona Republican posted his first anti-pork list under the Twitter name @SenJohnMcCain late last week, calling attention to projects like $650,000 for beaver management and $1.7 million for pig odor research. He brought the Top 10 list “back by popular demand” the first two days of this week. The project in the No. 1 slot today: “$951,500 for the Oregon Solar Highway.”

That dishonor didn’t sit well with Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer, whose home state stands to benefit from the earmark. Tweeting as @repblumenauer, he mocked McCain.

McCain wasn’t familiar with a Blackberry [during the 2008 presidential campaign], right?” tweeted Blumenauer, who quickly issued a press release celebrating earmarks for Oregon when the House passed its version of the spending bill last week. “How’s he supposed to understand a solar highway utilizing right-of-way to generate solar power?”

McCain is known for a fiery temper, but he’s obviously got nothing on Blumenauer.

Blumenauer, by the way, also had this to tweet about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal last week after Jindal delivered the GOP response to President Barack Obama’s address to Congress: “Jindal is weird. I can’t believe Jindal. Such a sad contrast with President. Doesn’t even look or sound good, to say nothing about content.”

Does the Senator from Arizona, a state that presumably has quite a bit of interest in solar energy, really think it's a bad idea for the federal government to be involved in the use of solar energy to power lights and signage on federal highways? The conservative blogs attacking Earl Blumenauer (for whom I used to consult), saying that Oregon should be paying for such projects, not the nation as a whole. But shouldn't it be the federal government paying for projects related to federal highways (and, by the way, this is the first such project in the nation -- a pilot program)? Or do the right wingers want to go back to a period before Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was in office, before the federal government made its major foray into funding and building our national highway system?

But even getting beyond the specifics of this particular item, the fact of the matter is that the American public doesn't care about earmarks -- regardless of what Beltway insiders, not the least of which John McCain, thinks. Earmarks make up a miniscule proportion of expenditures, and don't significantly increase the budget. Rather, they shift decision making power on certain projects from the executive to the legislative branch, which isn't necessarily the worst or most nonsensical thing as Congress is elected to legislate on matters like funding of programs.

Regardless, good to see that not everyone is cowering to McCain's bluster.

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To fight global warming, we also need to rethink transportation

It doesn't get much more visionary and ambitious than Al Gore's recent speech on energy and climate change, and this sentence in particular:

Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.

If you missed it, you can find the full text here or read a helpfully annotated version here.

My only quibble with this fantastic speech was that Gore said little about the transportation sector, which is the second largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Changing our transportation policies and funding priorities could greatly help us address the climate change emergency. More on that after the jump.  

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TX-07: Michael Skelly is the Real Deal

Reading The Politico last night, this really jumped out at me:

Businessman Michael Skelly is positioned to be at the top of the Democratic fundraising list for the year's first quarter, according to a Democratic operative, raising about $750,000 from individual donors without even tapping into his substantial personal wealth. Another Democratic operative said it could be the "best first quarter ever" for any House Democrat in his first filing period.

[...]

By contrast, [the incumbent Republican Congressman John] Culberson reported only $82,200 in his campaign account in mid-February but claims to have worked over the past month to quickly refill his coffers. Culberson estimated he raised $250,000 in the past 45 days -- largely in response to Skelly's strong early fundraising and his ability to self-fund. [emphasis added]

Raising $750,000 in a quarter without a personal check is what a decent candidate for the Senate in a smallish-medium state does, not what a Democratic candidate in a very red district does. I was really floored by the numbers and started calling and emailing around. This is what I found out from folks in Texas, as well as Oregon Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer:

Texas 7 would be a fun district to play in, let alone to win in -- it was once held by George Herbert Walker Bush and has been in Republican hands ever since. Looking at the topline demographics from the district, one might come away with the conclusion that there's no way a Democrat, Skelly or someone else, could win. According to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, the district tends to lean about 16 points more Republican than the nation as a whole in presidential elections. However, those numbers were weighed against elections in which a Texan, George Walker Bush, headed the GOP ticket, so that number might be a bit lower in reality. Indeed, last fall Culberson won with 59 percent of the vote -- not bad, but not overwhelmingly great, either. The Politico adds a bit more on the demographics:

Texas Democrats point to a state legislative race within the district, where a Democratic state legislator unseated a two-term Republican by 10 points. And they are encouraged by the roughly 88,000 districtwide Democrats (out of 410,000 registered voters) who participated in the Democratic presidential primary in March, with one Democratic operative calling the voter information a "gold mine."

Via Texas über-blogger Charles Kuffner also comes a bit of internal polling (.pdf) from the Skelly team. Skelly, who was largely unknown at the time the poll was taken in January, trailed only 52 percent to 33 percent in a named head-to-head against Culberson. The incumbent's favorable rating stood at just 32 percent, while his approval and re-elect numbers, at 46 percent and 44 percent respectively, weren't much better. The survey also found that the current President's disapproval rating stood at 54 percent in the district.

Taking one more step back, I'd like to pass on some thoughts from my old boss Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who has been keeping an eye on this race and whom I spoke with about Skelly this morning. Blumenauer calls this "one of those intriguing districts," one "that the Republicans can't afford to throw a lot of resources to." While Culberson has "ruffled lots of feathers back home" by "hewing the Tom DeLay line," Skelly is a really attractive candidate. As an entrepreneur, Skelly became a real innovator in the area of wind energy, a sector of the economy that is bringing a lot of growth to the state of Texas. What's more, Skelly isn't yet drawing a whole lot of institutional support, so the remarkable fundraising numbers that he has been posting truly reflect "grassroots support," according to Blumenauer.

I don't think anyone should kid themselves: This is a tough district for the Democrats. Nevertheless, the Democrats already hold one district in the state that's even more red that the 7th (Texas 17, which is home to George W. Bush, is represented by Democrat Chet Edwards), and the nearly neighboring 22nd district now represented by Democrat Nick Lampson (and formerly represented by Tom DeLay) is nearly as Republican-leaning as Culberson's. And with a candidate as strong as Skelly, who knows, maybe this one could jump out of nowhere, a la the race against Richard Pombo last year, and cause real headaches for the GOP.

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So Much for Compassionate Conservatism

For anyone still questioning whether this President is the beacon of compassionate conservatism he claims to be, look no further than his veto of SCHIP.  Vetoing a popular children's health insurance program on the merits of fiscal conservatism is a new low even for our misguided President.

Tomorrow's vote marks the culmination of the most disingenuous and deliberately misleading debate I have ever witnessed. The partisan, deceptive talking points from the Bush White House have been parroted on Capitol Hill by extremist Republicans.  Their message points have been disputed not only by independent experts, but by dozens of sensible Republicans, including Senators Grassley, Roberts and Hatch, some of the most respected members of the Senate.

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