Red State Swindlers

In Jonathan's post on the deal struck by the Democratic leadership in the Senate to secure the votes necessary for cloture, Jerome pointed to sweeteners that the Senator Ben Nelson extracted. Among them was a deal in perpetuity that will fund Nebraska's Medicare spending. While Medicaid is usually paid for with a mix of Federal and state funding, Senator Nelson has secured for his state quite the subsidy. Here's the justification:

You'll find a number of states that are treated differently than other states. That's what legislating is all about. It's compromise." - Harry Reid on behalf of Senator Ben Nelson, The Swindler from Nebraska

After I stopped laughing and composed myself, I am still incredulous over this remark. No, it's not compromise. It's highway robbery. It is a legalized swindle, an extortion most foul. It is populous blue states subsidizing sparsely populated red states who instead of thanking us for our generous grants hold us hostage to their petty demands. They deny us the options we seek yet expect us to pay for their programs.

As Paul Krugman noted recently in the New York Times, "states that vote Republican benefit from federal government redistribution far more than those that lean Democratic." Nor is this a new development. Blue states have been picking up the tab for red states going on two decades. We pay out and yet we pay the price of their intransigence.

Paul Krugman cites the work of Gary Richardson of the University of California, Irvine who recently wrote in the The Economist's Voice that while Republicans campaign against redistribution of wealth, they govern by redistributing money from Democratic states to Republican states.

In 2004, the average Alaskan received $1.84 in federal benefits for each $1 he or she paid in federal taxes. The Republican presidential candidate, George W. Bush, received 62 percent of the vote.

Now consider the state of Massachusetts. In 2004, the average resident received only $0.82 in federal benefits for each $1 paid in federal taxes. Yet less than 38 percent of all voters pulled the lever marked George W. Bush. And this was not an effect of John Kerry's candidacy in particular. Four years before, when his opponent was Al Gore, Bush received only 33 percent of the vote.

The pattern holds true across all 50 states: In 2004, the 28 states in which George W. Bush received more than 50 percent of the vote received an average of $1.32 in federal benefits for each $1 their citizens paid in federal taxes. In contrast, the 19 states in which George W. Bush received less than 50 percent of the vote received an average of $0.93 on the dollar.

In 2005, Paul Krugman found that blue states subsidized red states to the tune of $90 billion per year. The red states secure this largesse because in the Senate the smallest 26 states in terms of population, which are mostly red, have a majority despite accounting for only 17.8 percent of the US population as of the 2000 US Census. A minority continues to thwart the will of a majority. My patience with red state swindlers is, frankly, at an end.

Update [2009-12-20 9:12:8 by Jerome Armstrong]:I concur, but please, lets not make this something that Nelson alone has done. With this agreement made by Reid and the other Democrats, this Senate bill has reached a level of corruption that is unacceptable. This isn't compromise, its bribery. I have to hand it to Harry Reid though, he figured out a way to get me to agree with Andrew Breitbart. Now, Breitbart's populism may be rightwing conservative, preferring the government do nothing rather as opposed to our progressive populism that wants government to help others, but the outrage is shared and shouldn't be looked over just because it has a D next to it.

Update [2009-12-20 17:15:41 by Charles Lemos]: Many of you are overlooking my main point. You are not getting a return on your investment. Those of us who live in blue states are being held hostage by red states senators. To the tune of $90 billion + a year, we subsidize their lifestyle and yet we are denied the options we seek.

If you go by population, the GOP is overrepresented in the Senate. I did the math. They hold 40 percent of the seats but the states they represent hold just 35 percent of the population. That 5 percent difference is 5 Senate seats.

And when you look at the power of the 26 least populated states who constitute a majority in the Senate and then find that those states hold just 17.8 percent of the population combined with legislative outcomes that thwart the will of the majority time and again, you have a recipe for disaster. And this ratio is increasing getting worse perhaps not dramatically but it is increasing. I went back and ran the numbers for 1960 when we first had 50 states and then the least 26 least populated states had 18.4 percent of the population.

There are more people in San Francisco than there are in Wyoming and SF isn't a large city. They get two senators and we get a sliver of two senators that we have to share with 35 million other Californians.

Those of you who believe that this is the first step to single payer or some broader reform are likely deluding yourselves. There is no reason to believe that the stranglehold that a minority now possesses can be somehow ameliorated. In fact, we are probably at our peak of power and yet we are stymied. When 70 percent of Americans want a public option and they are denied this by a bizarre coalition of the whole entire GOP caucus in league with Democratic Senators largely from red states (the sole exception being Connecticut's Joe Lieberman) then I think the scope of the problem is evident. If this is the best deal that a super majority can come with up, then it is time to admit that the United States is fast becoming a failed state.

You and I are being held hostage and we are effectively powerless to change this reality. To expect a different outcome based on the experience of the past 20 years is simply not logical. The stranglehold that red states have in the Senate is likely going to increase, not decrease. There are now 11 Democratic Senators from states that voted for McCain compared to 8 GOP Senators from states that went for Obama. Nor am I sure that we can hold seats in states like Nevada, Illinois, and Delaware. The political reality is that the Democratic party is probably at the peak of its power for the foreseeable future and yet we arrive at legislative outcomes that fly in the face of long-held Democratic principles.

I will oppose this bill. This is a gift for insurance companies. It enhances their power, not lessens it and given that the course of history in the country over the past 40 years has been one of increasing corporate power and our inability now to stem that tide, there is little reason to believe or to hope that in the future we may yet correct the gross liabilities in this bill.

Update [2009-12-20 19:24:23 by Charles Lemos]: Let me amend that last paragraph. My inclination is to oppose the bill. I am open to persuasion.

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The Right Wing Machine in Full Gear

Here are just a few of the attacks emanating from the right wing noise machine that are running across the country in their all out war to derail healthcare reform.

Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas

This is both a radio spot running in Arkansas and web-only ad running on numerous Christian and right-wing websites. The spot was produced by the anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List. It's a sixty second spot. The group is headed by Majorie Dannenfelser and is based in Alexandria, Virginia. Though the organization purports to elect more pro-life women to Congress, close to half of the candidates endorsed by the SBA List Candidate Fund in recent campaigns appear to have been pro-life men according to Sourcewatch.

Senator Bob Casey, Jr of Pennsylvania

This is a sixty second spot targeting Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey. Like the spot attacking Senator Lincoln, this ad is produced by the Susan B. Anthony List and focuses on the abortion funding. It is titled Who Shall Live. The irony that sixty Americans die on average every day for lack of health insurance is seemingly lost.

Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska

This is a 30 second television spot running in Nebraska is from the American Future Fund. According to Sourcewatch, the American Future Fund was founded by long-time Republican operatives Alex N. Vogel and his wife, Jill Holtzman Vogel, who together run the consulting agency Holtzman Vogel. The couple is joined by Republican pollster Jan Van Lohuizen, who previously worked for George W. Bush. The group's former president is Nicole Schlinger, the former executive director of the Iowa Republican Party. Its current president is Sandra Greiner, a former Iowa state legislator and is an Iowa farmer. The group advocates conservative free market ideals.

Senator Kent Conrad and Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota

This one minute radio spot, also from the American Future Fund, was released December 16th. It hits North Dakota Senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan over the proposed Medicare cuts. The Senate health care reform bill would cut almost $500 billion from Medicare, including $118 billion from Medicare Advantage plans that provide vision, hearing and dental coverage for seniors. But as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has noted "those who are saying it's cutting their benefits are lying."

"Under Medicare Advantage, the insurance companies get $4 in profits for every $1 in extra benefits a senior receives," Senator Gillibrand said. "So what we are trying to do is get rid of loopholes and get rid of waste, fraud and abuse within Medicare. That's what these changes are about. No benefits to seniors will be cut."

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The Ben and Joe Pony Show

Let's begin with the fact that Senator Joe Lieberman was asked to be a member of the so-called Gang of Ten composed of five left to progressive Democratic Senators and of five centrist to conservative Democratic Senators last week to hammer out a compromise in the healthcare bill but he failed to show up to two of the meetings and was replaced by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware. Despite his no-show, the Democratic leadership believed that they had secured Senator Lieberman's agreement to go along with a compromise the Gang of Ten had reached to overcome the impasse. Apparently not.

The story in the New York Times:

on Sunday, Mr. Lieberman told the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, to scrap the idea of expanding Medicare and to abandon the idea of any new government insurance plan, or lose his vote.

On a separate issue, Mr. Reid tried over the weekend to concoct a compromise on abortion that would induce Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, to vote for the bill. Mr. Nelson opposes abortion. Any provision that satisfies him risks alienating supporters of abortion rights.

In interviews on the CBS News program "Face the Nation," Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Nelson said the bill did not have the 60 votes it would need to get through the Senate.

Senate Democratic leaders, including Mr. Reid and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, said they had been mindful of Mr. Lieberman's concerns in the last 10 days, so they were surprised when he assailed major provisions of the bill on television Sunday. He reiterated his objections in a private meeting with Mr. Reid.

A Senate Democratic aide, perplexed by Mr. Lieberman's stance, said, "It was a total flip-flop, and leaves us in a predicament as to what to do."

Here's what it would take to get Joe's vote:

Mr. Lieberman described what it would take to get his vote. "You've got to take out the Medicare buy-in," he said. "You've got to forget about the public option. You probably have to take out the Class Act, which was a whole new entitlement program that will, in future years, put us further into deficit."

The Class Act refers to a federal insurance program for long-term care, known as Community Living Assistance Services and Supports.

Mr. Lieberman said he would have "a hard time" voting for bill with the Medicare buy-in.

"It has some of the same infirmities that the public option did," Mr. Lieberman said. "It will add taxpayer costs. It will add to the deficit. It's unnecessary. The basic bill, which has a lot of good things in it, provides a generous new system of subsidies for people between ages 55 and 65, and choice and competition."

Mr. Lieberman cautioned Senate Democrats to limit their appetite for expansive new programs.

"The bill itself does a lot to bring 30 million people into the system," Mr. Lieberman said. "We don't need to keep adding onto the back of this horse, or we're going to break the horse's back and get nothing done."

I wouldn't be bringing up horse parts there Joe, otherwise we might tempted to compare you to one.

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Nelson Amendment Defeated

The Senate voted 54-45 to defeat an amendment offered by Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, that would have banned subsidized insurance plans offered on proposed insurance marketplaces from offering abortion coverage. Utah GOP Senator Orrin Hatch and Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey had co-sponsored the amendment which would restored the Hyde amendment principles to the bill to ensure that abortions can't be funded in the healthcare bill.

Seven Democrats voted for the amendment. In addition to Senator Nelson, Senators Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Ted Kaufman of Delaware, Mark Pryor of Arkasnas, and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. All are men. Two Republicans, Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, voted against the amendment. Both are from Maine and female.

The motion voted on was actually a motion to table, or kill the amendment, by Senator Barbara Boxer so a Yes vote was a vote to strike down the amendment.

With the Nelson amendment defeated, attention now turns to the vote on the bill itself, and Nelson (but not Casey) has said he would filibuster the bill because of the abortion funding it contains.

However, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, told the Congressional Quarterly today he's not concerned about losing Nelson. He said he stands to lose votes on the bill from pro-choice lawmakers had the amendment been approved.

"This is a zero sum situation. We could gain one senator and lose several others," Durbin said.

If Senator Nelson filibusters the health care bill, Democrats will likely need Senator Snowe to support the bill and not lose any other Democrats who are considered possible defections.

"I know that there is a genuine outreach effort to Senator Snowe and others on the Republican side," Durbin said about that.

There's more at The Hill.

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