Weekly Pulse: Bayh-Partisanship=Giving Your Seat to a Republican

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

You will be shocked, shocked to hear that a Blue Dog Democrat who made a career out of undermining his own party is sucker-punching them on his way out.  Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana abruptly announced this week that he would not seek reelection in November. Bayh’s departure is ratcheting up insecurity in the Democratic caucus at the very moment they need to take decisive action to pass health care reform.

Bayh could easily have won a third term, but it’s unclear whether any other Democrat can hold the seat. To add insult to injury, Bayh waited until 24 hours before the filing deadline for Democratic primary candidates, sending Indiana Dems scrambling to find a candidate to run in his place. Bayh’s tardiness was calculated. Since no Democrats were ready to file by the deadline, the Indiana Democratic establishment will get to handpick Bayh’s successor.

In a call with state Democratic officials, Bayh said his abrupt departure is for the best, as Evan McMorris-Santoro reports for TPMDC. According to Bayh, he’s doing the party a favor by sparing them a contentious primary process. Thanks a lot.

What does this mean for health care reform?

What does Bayh’s departure portend for health care reform? Monica Potts of TAPPED argues that replacing a conservative Democrat like Bayh with a moderate Republican won’t make that much difference. Bayh was never a reliable Democratic vote.

But Tim Fernholtz of TAPPED dismisses this view as naive. Fernholtz predicts that, for all of Bayh’s faults, the senate will be much worse without him: “In essence, the difference between this insubstantial Hoosier and, say, [GOP hopeful] Dan Coats, is simple: You can buy off Bayh.” Bayh voted for health care reform and the stimulus, no Republican, no matter how “moderate” is going to vote that way.

Anyone who expects a moderate Republican from Indiana to support any part of the Democratic agenda is deluded. On the other hand, the Senate Democrats already passed their bill, their only remaining task would be to pass a “fix” through budget reconciliation to make changes in the legislation that would be acceptable to the House. Of course, reconciliation will be a bitter political fight. One wonders whether the demoralized Senate Democrats will have the stomach for it.

About that health care summit…

Note that congressional Republicans have yet to commit to attending the “bipartisan” health care summit that they called for. Christina Bellatoni of TPMDC reports that yesterday White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs wondered why the Republicans were for the summit before they were against it:

“Right before the president issued the invitation, the—the thing that each of these individuals was hoping for most was an opportunity to sit down on television and discuss and engage on these issues. Now, not accepting an invitation to do what they’d asked the president to do, if they decide not to, I’ll let them leap the—leap the chasm there and try to explain why they’re now opposed to what they said they wanted most to do,” Gibbs said.

Busting the filibuster

On the bright side, the Democrats still have a sizable majority in the Senate, with or without Bayh. Republicans would have to beat all 10 vulnerable Democratic incumbent senators in the next election in order to regain control of the Senate. The more immediate threat to health care reform and the Democrats’ ability to govern in general is the institutional filibuster. Structural reform is needed to break the impasse. Lawyer and author Tom Geoghegan talks with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! on strategies for busting the filibuster.

Public option resurfacing

Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent reports that four senate Democrats have thrown their lot in with progressives clamoring for a public option through reconciliation. Sens. Sherrod Brown (OH), Jeff Merkley (OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Michael Bennet (CO) argue for the public option in an open letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid. The letter reads:

There are four fundamental reasons why we support this approach – its potential for billions of dollars in cost savings; the growing need to increase competition and lower costs for the consumer; the history of using reconciliation for significant pieces of health care legislation; and the continued public support for a public option….

Big pharma’s lobby

That’s nice, but let’s not forget who’s really in charge. In AlterNet, Paul Blumenthal recaps the sorry history of collusion between the White House, the pharmaceutical lobby group PhRMA, and the Senate. According to Blumenthal the White House steered pharmaceutical lobbyists directly to Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chair of the powerful Finance Committee, who was entrusted with crafting the White House’s favored version of health care reform.

Abortion and health care reform

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, Nick Baumann of Mother Jones notes that the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) is making abortion is an obstacle to passing health care reform through reconciliation. The NRLC is insinuating that Bart Stupak (D-MI) and his coalition of anti-choice Democrats will vote against the Senate health care bill because it it’s slightly less restrictive of abortion than the bill the House passed. The good news is that it’s procedurally impossible to insert Stupak’s language into the Senate bill through reconciliation. The bad news is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) needs every vote she can get to pass the Senate bill and anti-choice hardliners could be an obstacle.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Climate Reform’s Good, Bad, and Ugly

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

The next United Nations climate change conference is almost a year away, and health care is still dominating the legislative agenda in Washington. That means climate reform opponents, from the coal industry to the global warming skeptics, have plenty of time to work, out of the spotlight, to derail progress. Here’s a glimpse of the enemies of reform—and the companies and individuals that are still fighting for change in 2010.

 

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The Revolving Door - Healthcare Edition

Northwestern University's Medill News Service in partnership with the Tribune Newspapers Washington Bureau and the Center for Responsive Politics have released their analysis of the revolving door in the healthcare debate. OpenSecrets' Revolving Door database tracks anyone whose résumé includes positions of influence in both the private and public sectors and tracks the shuffle of individuals who were former federal employees and then take jobs as lobbyists, corporate consultants and legislative strategists as well as hired guns who then return to work in government helping to craft legislation.

The fact is that a stint on Capitol Hill as a legislative aide often leads to a more lucrative perch in the land of tasseled loafers known as K Street. For example, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has 14 of his former employees now working for the US Chamber of Commerce, Pharmaceutical Research and the National Association of Manufacturers, and Verizon while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has 13 former staffers who now lobby for clients including the US Chamber of Commerce and Pharmaceutical Research. In the healthcare debate, at least 14 former aides to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and at least 13 former aides to Montana Democratic Senator Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee served as registered lobbyists lobbying their former bosses and their colleagues.

At least 166 former aides from the nine congressional leadership offices and five committees involved in shaping health overhaul legislation -- along with at least 13 former lawmakers -- registered to represent at least 338 health care clients since the beginning of last year, according to the analysis.

Their health care clients spent $635 million on lobbying over the past two years, the study shows.

The total of insider lobbyists jumps to 278 when non-health-care firms that reported lobbying on health issues are added in, the analysis found.

Part of the lobbying pressure on current members of Congress and staffers comes from the powerful lure of post-congressional job possibilities.

"There's always a worry they may be thinking about their future employment opportunities when dealing with these issues, particularly with health care, because the stakes are so high and the breadth of the issues -- pharmacies, hospitals, doctors," said Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz.

Lobbyists' earnings can dwarf congressional salaries, which currently top out at $174,000 annually for lawmakers and $156,000 for aides, though committee staff members can earn slightly more.

In the health care showdown, insider lobbying influence has magnified the clout of corporate interests and helped steer the debate away from a public insurance option, despite many polls indicating majority support from Americans, according to Rutgers University political scientist Ross Baker.

"It imposes a kind of conservative bias on the discussion," said Baker, himself a former Senate staffer.

Breaking it down by Senate or House Committee, the numbers are eye-opening. Forty-five former staffers of the members of the Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) are now lobbying. Their clients include the Chamber of Commerce, Exxon Mobil, AARP, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers, General Electric, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Verizon, AT&T, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Thirty-six current lobbyists are veterans of the Senate Finance Committee. They now represent the Chamber of Commerce, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturesrs, General Electric, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

Over in the House of Representatives, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has 45 former staffers now working as lobbyists, the Ways and Means Committee 23, and House Education and Labor trails with just 18.

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A Broken United States Senate

While Paul Krugman writing in the New York Times believes that the healthcare reform legislation now on the verge of passage in the Senate is "an awesome achievement," I do not share those sentiments. Though there is certainly much of merit in the bill, overall it is a Frankenstein monster of bill whose sum of parts more reflects the narrow and profane interests that are overrepresented in the United States Senate. I do agree with Paul Krugman that the Senate has become "ominously dysfunctional." It is an institution that no longer works for the American people, one that produces flawed legislation no matter which party is in control and an institution that does not serve the national interest but instead caters to those who have access.

First let me state unequivocally that you can replace all one hundred of the Senators currently serving in the Senate and you would still have more or less the same inferior legislative product being delivered serving the same narrow interests. The problem is quite simply a mix of its composition that favors rural, more conservative sectors of the country over the more populous, urban and more progressive sectors of the country and the arcane rules that govern the body plus the insidious role that corporate lobbying and other monied interests now play in the nation's politics.

I have noted in previous posts that the 26 least populous states in the country who form a majority in the Senate represent just 17.8 percent of the nation's population according to the 2000 US Census. While these 26 include states like Vermont, Delaware and Rhode Island, of the 26 states 15 voted for McCain and 11 for Obama in 2008 but if we go back to 2004 then 19 of these 26 states voted for Bush versus just eight for Kerry (OR, CT, RI, ME, VT, HA, NH, DE). The most populous of these 26 states is Colorado and the least is Wyoming with the bulk of the states being a mixture of Southern, Prairie, Mountain West/Far West or New England states. Of these four regions, three are overwhelmingly rural and conservative and account for 20 of the 26 states. The United States is not the only country with a legislative body that overrepresents rural interests. Thailand and Japan have the same problem and not surprisingly suffer from many of the same problems that we do. The question of whether Thailand is a failed state or not is one that many Thai now discuss.

As the Republican Party is favored by rural and conservative interests, it too is overrepresented in the Senate though not to the extreme shown above. The GOP has 40 Senators at the moment but those seats represent just a fraction above 35 percent of the US population. Still that's an over-representation of 5 Senate seats, not an insignificant number in a 100 member body.

The composition of the body has subtle effects in perhaps unexpected ways. Since 1961 the Majority leaders in the body have come from Nevada (Reid), Tennessee (Frist), South Dakota (Daschle), Mississippi (Lott), Kansas (Dole), Maine (Mitchell), West Virginia (Byrd), Kansas (Dole), Tennessee (Baker), Montana (Mansfield). All but Tennessee (16th in population thanks to Nashville and Memphis but otherwise culturally similar) form part of these 26 least populated states. And if I include Minority leaders, I'd be adding Kentucky (McConnell) and would have to extend back until 1977 before I could find a Minority leader that came from one of the top 15 populated states, Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania.

There's a reason for this. It's reflective of the fact the Senators from the larger states are more burdened by serving in leadership roles. Senators from the more populated states have to cater to the needs of a much larger, broader and heterogenous constituency that they are effectively prevented from holding leadership positions. As the Senate's own website notes Senators "from small and large states alike all have comparable committee and floor responsibilities, Senators from the more populous states, such as California, face a broader array of representational pressures than do Senators from the smaller states, such as Wyoming. An indirect effect of Senate apportionment is that contemporary floor leaders of either party tend to come from the smaller rather than larger states because they can better accommodate the additional leadership workload."

The repercussions are that it further limits the interests of more diverse urban America from gaining currency. The last majority leader to come from one of the more populous state was Lyndon Johnson when the country was a vastly different place. This is in marked contrast to the House where members serve more or less the same size constituency and where the leadership tends to come from the more populated states. Speaker Pelosi hails from San Francisco and her predecessor was Dennis Hastert who represented Chicago. The last Speaker of the House who came from one of the least populated states was Carl Albert of Oklahoma in the 1970s.

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Weekly Audit: Saying 'No' to Corporate America

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

By proposing financial reforms that won't curb Wall Street excess, U.S. policymakers have offered an unacceptably weak response to our enormous financial crisis. If voters don't demand that their elected representatives help workers and consumers instead of simply boosting corporate profits, the economic downturn will last for several more years and leave the economy vulnerable to another bank-induced meltdown.

The banks have unbelievable lobbying clout. In an interview with Cenk Uyger of The Young Turks, Heather Booth,  executive director of Americans for Financial Reform, describes how one-sided the Wall Street reform fight has been. Despite broad public support for a fundamental financial overhaul, going up against the bank lobby is, as Booth describes, "a David and Goliath fight." It's basically Americans for Financial Reform against every major corporation in the U.S.

Booth notes that the Chamber of Commerce has vowed to spend $100 million on a campaign to defend the "so-called free enterprise system"--you know, the "free market"--in which corporate lobbyists spend millions of dollars to write the rules of the economic game. Just seven financial lobby groups have spent a massive $147 million peddling influence over the past two years.

In fact, as Janine Wedel observes for Salon, the U.S. economic system is starting to look an awful lot like the clannish systems of government that looted Eastern European countries in the early 1990s. Today, the public good takes a backseat to the narrow interests of powerful corporations.

With the Obama administration working with advisers from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, we're not just watching Wall Street write its own regulations. We're watching the financial sector re-write the official role of the government in the economy. In this new role, the government's top priority is securing profits for corporate America.

"The intertwined coterie of financial and policy deciders in the United States is creating not only the financial architecture of the future, backed by the power and billions of the state, but, more generally, new relationships between the bureaucracy and the market," Wedel writes.

GRITtv's Laura Flanders echoes this theme in an interview with John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and journalist Russ Baker. Lobbyists have so thoroughly hijacked the U.S. economy, Perkins argues, that the nation's government now resembles those of Latin American nations he worked with in the 1980s and 1990s.

"I don't think the U.S. president has much power these days, to be honest with you. . . . It's the big corporate executives who call the shots today, and let's face it, they financed Obama's campaign," Perkins says.

The very efforts the government deployed to save the financial system are being perverted to create another disaster. In a five-part interview with Paul Jay of The Real News, Jane D'Arista, an influential economist and author of The Evolution of U.S. Finance, explains how Wall Street destroyed itself over the past decade. By borrowing massive amounts of money, Wall Street was able to place bigger bets in the capital markets casino, resulting in huge profits when those bets paid off. But when the bets backfired, the losses were just as massive. Companies couldn't pay them off, so the government stepped in to support them.

One of those support mechanisms came from the Federal Reserve, which began making incredibly cheap loans to firms that engaged predominantly in speculative trading. The Fed used to lend exclusively to commercial banks, which used the money to make loans that helped grow the real economy. But now those loans are being used to support risky securities trading, so we're seeing big profits in the financial sector, without much help for workers and consumers. This is a major long-term problem--if the economy can't keep pace with the Wall Street casino, those speculative trades are going to backfire and we'll be right back to the chaos of September 2008, only with an even weaker economy.

All hope is not lost. As Perkins and Baker emphasize in their interview with Flanders, citizens have to demand corporate accountability and a government that actually serves the public good. For much of the past decade in Latin America, governments have been elected that stood up to major corporations and demanded that they stop pillaging their nation's resources at the people's expense.

In addition to demanding much stronger reforms for the financial sector, we have to demand that the government respond seriously to problems facing workers. With the unemployment rate at 10.2% and expected to go still higher, we need jobs. As Steve Benen notes for The Washington Monthly, Obama's economic stimulus package helped stave off total economic devastation. What we need now is another stimulus to get people back to work, not just slow the pace of job losses.

"A bold, ambitious jobs bill can make a huge difference--the stimulus got us out of the ditch, a new effort can get us going in the right direction again," Benen writes.

And the only argument against this plan is that we "can't afford it." That is--the government's fiscal deficit is too high, and we just can't spend money to help people in real economic trouble.

But as Christopher Hayes writes for The Nation, the deficit excuse is pretty pathetic. Economic stimulus bolsters economic growth, thus improving tax returns for the government in the future. And any spending on any project can be taken out of the budget from other measures. Hayes notes that our massive military spending is almost never included in discussions about "fiscal responsibility." If we were really worried about how much it would cost to fix the economy, we could stop spending so much money killing people.

"Fiscal conservatism and deficit concern is nearly always code speak in Washington for something else," Hayes writes. "Most often, when someone in Washington says they're concerned about the deficit, what they're really saying is, 'I would like to make sure we have a government that focuses maximally on blowing people up.'"

The government has to start saying 'no' to corporate America. Corporate profits are not the same thing as a strong economy. We need to demand an economic policy that answers to workers, not just bank balance sheets.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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