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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The mandate is a poison pill

No matter how its worded.

Jon Walker closes this post with a sound idea:

At the very least, remove the individual mandate so it can be held as a bargaining chip by progressives to extract greater reforms between now and 2015, when the mandate would go into effect. Passing the individual mandate now (just so it can sit on the books for years) would be a political and negotiating disaster for Democrats. As it looks now, the next reform battle will be fought on the terms of the insurance companies even more. That is not what I think is a step forward.It's painfully obvious that there are no talking points available to Democrats to attempting to defend the mandate. Its maddening to attempt to figure out why Democrats are intent on imposing a mandate now, enforceable by IRS penalties, that doesn't go into effect for 5 years, only to get clubbed with it for the next three cycles.

A recent national poll done by DFA/PCCC found very the majority of voters opposed to the mandate in its current form by a 56 - 33 margin.

When Jane Hamsher posted about the DFA/PCCC findings as fairly conclusive, Nate Silver objected. He questioned the political negativity of the mandate by stating that the DFA/PCCC question was worded uncharitably toward the mandate, and that a Kaiser poll with charitable wording showed just the opposite of numbers (implying inconclusive findings).

Here's the "uncharitable" wording of the DFA/PCCC poll in question:

Would you favor or oppose requiring all Americans to buy health insurance -- the so-called mandate -- even if they find insurance too expensive or do not want it? Favor 38 Oppose 51

Here's the "charitable wording in a poll done by Kaiser:

Would you favor or oppose requiring all Americans to have health insurance, either from their employer or from another source, with financial help for those who can't afford it? Favor 66 Oppose 31

Well, that's quite a contrast, but there's an important component of the Kasier poll that Silver left out. The next question of the Kaiser poll, asked only to those who said they favor the mandate, was worded:

"What if you heard that this could mean that some people would be required to buy health insurance that they find too expensive or did not want?" Still Favor 21 Now Oppose 73

Support drops dramatically. But something else becomes clear when comparing the wording of the single PCCC/DFA question with the two Kaiser polling questions:

PCCC/DFA question:
"Would you favor or oppose requiring all Americans to buy health insurance -- the so-called mandate -- even if they find insurance too expensive or do not want it?"

Kaiser questions:
"Would you favor or oppose requiring all Americans to have health insurance, either from their employer or from another source, with financial help for those who can't afford it?"

"What if you heard that this could mean that some people would be required to buy health insurance that they find too expensive or did not want?"

All the DFA/PCCC poll question did it seems, is combine the two questions asked by Kaiser. The only difference is that the DFA/PCCC question in the poll includes "the so called mandate" wording. Whatever. If someone wants to argue on behalf of the mandate having a PR headache for Democrats, that fine, but stop with the insinuations that calling it what we have all called it, a mandate, or an individual mandate, involves bias.

And besides, Jane Hamsher's obvious point wasn't that the poll could be no less neutrally worded, but that the political framing of the mandate would be much more toxic than this poll's question, ie., "When it appears in the ads of a Republican challenger who notes that the IRS will act as Aetna’s collection agency, I bet those numbers get dramatically worse."

And that it will. The simple follow-up question on the Kaiser poll turned the favorable numbers above, into a rout of opposition, with 80% opposed and just 18% in favor of the individual mandate to buy insurance.

This is really the point. Who really cares what is the most neutral wording of the poll? Are voters ever going to be presented with a neutral take by either party in ads and message from the candidates? No way now how.

So what we really want, is a further follow-up question that asks the inevitable '10/'12/'14 rightwing framing of the mandate to those 18% still in favor:

'What if you heard the individual mandate to buy private insurance is enforced by fines from the IRS acting as a collection agency on behalf of Aetna?'

'What if you heard the individual mandate to buy insurance is a bailout/giveaway/gift to private insurance companies?'

'What if you heard the individual mandate to buy private insurance is a disproportionately impacts lower-income families?'

And who can imagine what more are available. And yet there was Nate Silver in another recent post titled: "Why Progressives Are Batshit Crazy to Oppose the Senate Bill" where he argued: ... frankly, the individual mandate penalty is not very harsh ...if you adopted the House bill's subsidies for families at under 250% of poverty, and the Senate's (which actually become more generous) for people at greater than 250% of poverty -- perhaps in exchange for a harsher (not weaker!) individual mandate penalty -- you'd have a pretty reasonable compromise.Wow, that turns compromise into suicide-- and he's calling others crazy?

How are proponents of the mandate going to deliver the effective rebuttal to the attack on the mandate? Maybe its the the Kaiser follow-up guilt-question to those who opposed it is the answer (... deny coverage to the sick)? Whatever it is, Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, Ezra Klein, and a whole Senate of Democrats that just voted for the mandate, could sure use it. And it won't be reality-based either, but instead a response to fear-mongering tactics for the next 5 years.

At the least, Democrats should get rid of the few-hundred dollar fines of the IRS associated with the mandate. If $1.2 Billion was available in the Manager's amendment to get the votes of Nelson and the others, then surely, can't the feeble amount collected by the IRS can be taken off the bill in an effort of toxic clean-up? And assign some sort of trigger to the mandate, that only becomes binding upon actual reform. Without some overhaul of the mandate in HRC, its a poison pill.

Nate Silver's latest claim is that removing the mandate would increase the CBO score, which is taken on by Jon Walker who points out just the opposite, Removing The Individual Mandate Would Reduce The CBO Score.

I doubt the deal changes much. But, it'll be interesting to see further breakdowns of the poll numbers regarding the mandate. I think it will only become more toxic overall, and the bulk of the response will be damage-control and on the defensive (you don't have to pay the IRS fine, OK!). But specifically, I'd like to see some numbers on voters and non-voters, and whether a person who has insurance or not (the ones effected by the mandate) is a voter, and what sort of breakdowns happen (this is one of those issues where libertarian impulses cross all sorts of barriers). That would begin to give the outlook some perspective of political fall-out.

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FDL Action Item: Tell AP To Remove Ron Fournier From the Presidential Beat

FireDogLake, which generated 15,000 letters to the editor in opposition to the Associated Press' Nedra Pickler's recitation of bogus smears against Barack Obama, is at it again with another important action item: Calling on the AP to force Ron Fournier to recuse himself from covering the White House race given his all-too-close ties with the McCain campaign (which he was in months of conversations about joining). Here's the action item (and click here for my backgrounder earlier in the morning):

Ron Fournier, the Washington AP bureau chief, wrote a hit piece against Obama's selection of Joe Biden as VP and tried to pass it off as objective reporting.

His clear bias makes him unfit for his role as bureau chief, and we can push for him to be removed from this role by writing to the editors of local and national newspapers.

Please take action and call for Fournier's removal as Washington AP Bureau Chief by calling his boss, Kathleen Carroll, at 212-621-1610, sending her an email at kcarroll@ap.org, and sending a letter to the editor of your local paper. To send a letter enter your zip code to the right.

FDL also gives you the opportunity to write a letter to the editor to your local paper, including draft LTEs to expedite the process. So head on over to the FDL action center today and make your voice heard!

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Howie Klein Meets Dennis Shulman at FDL

Dennis Shulman, the progressive blind rabbi and psychologist looking to unseat Scott Garrett (R) in NJ-5 this 2008, will join Howie Klein for an open conversation at FDL this Saturday, November 3, at 2:00 PM Eastern.

Listen and join in the conversation to learn more about this extraordinary man and his truly unorthodox campaign.

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Why this ex-DLC staffer thinks Joe must go

cross posted on the Third Avenue

While I have posted comments on MyDD for years now, this is my first diary, so I thought I should make it something the community is buzzing about: CT-SEN

I have been reading the material of both sides of the debate over the primary battle between Joe Lieberman and Ned Lemont.  As someone that worked at the DLC, I should be outraged that leftie groups like Moveon.org and DFA are pushing for the "purge" of Joe.  The whole debate is juvinile, or should I say Joe-vinile.  Yet I would like to see Joe go, and almost none of it has to do with reasons either side is pushing. I will explain why on the flip.

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