Friday, February 26, 2010

The Aftermath of the Healthcare Summit

Summary: What the summit means for a healthcare reform bill and the 2010 midterm elections.

As promised yesterday, we need to give our wrap-up opinions on yesterday’s healthcare summit in Washington, DC.

First of all, the media have not been impressed by what was accomplished yesterday. I’m not quite sure what they were expecting, but evidently they seemed to assume that the bill would have been ready to go after the summit.

In fact, the new deadline for passing a bill is before Easter. That gives Congress over a month to continue hashing out the details - and even that’s under the unlikely scenario that they’ll meet the deadline - before there’s a final vote.

In part, it’s because the GOP still seems unwilling to cooperate.

From Politico:

Heading into the summit, Democrats were preparing to start the steps to get the bill through the Senate with reconciliation — needing only 51 votes to pass a bill — as early as next week. They didn’t expect Republican cooperation Thursday and they didn’t get any. Republicans walked out of the session saying the same thing they said going in — unless you start over, we can’t get on board.

Yet watching the summit, they seemed to be a lot more engaged in reaching a pragmatic compromise than usual. With the exception of John Boehner - who gave a speech loaded with conservative rhetoric about killing the bill - most Republicans (even the super-conservative Sen. Tom Coburn) appeared more focused on working with Democrats than we’ve seen so far.

This is in no small part thanks to President Obama, who took a very serious tone yesterday about bipartisan efforts, which I feel encouraged some Republicans to drop the talking points - especially because the one who did were called out on it.

So we come to two questions. 1) Will this lead to a bill being passed? 2) What implications will it have for the 2010 elections?

It seems to me like a bill was going to be passed regardless of the summit, but I feel that this helped the GOP get over their minority-complex. The attention President Obama showed them (and has been showing them) contrasts - in their minds - with the way the Democratic Congressional leadership has treated them.

And some bridges were built yesterday. Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) made some progress together regarding prescription drug coordination, while Democrats and Republicans in general came to some broad agreements regarding the healthcare-deficit connection.

Of course, there will be plenty of time for Tea Party special interest groups to disrupt this progress, but I feel that the summit probably did help bringing Republicans to the table, making it a little less likely that the inevitable filibuster efforts will succeed.

But in order for a bill to pass by Easter, it is entirely clear that President Obama and the Democratic leadership will have to continue to engage Republicans.

In the 2010 midterms, Democrats will be between a rock and a hard place, but there is a growing agreement among pundits that passing a bill will be more beneficial to them than failing on a key issue they were elected to address. This is something we’ve been saying for months.

Yet if a bill doesn’t pass, pointing to the summit will be a good way for Democrats to defend themselves. “Hey, we had a summit,” they can say, “the Republicans still refused to work with us. They care more about these elections than about the American families who are struggling with healthcare costs.” It’s not a great defense, but it helps solidify the idea that the GOP is nothing more than a “Party of No” these days.

Anyone who watched the summit - there weren’t many who did, albeit, though web traffic for it tripled that of the State of the Union Address - could see how Democrats were more willing to work with Republicans on the bill than vice versa.

Yet even a lot of Republicans were less aggressive than normal yesterday.

Ultimately, a lot of people may be disappointed with the outcomes of the healthcare summit. I, for one, think it could prove to be rather successful.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Healthcare Summit and Getting the Job Done

Sorry this post is so late, as it’s been tough to avert my eyes from the healthcare summit going on today.

Watching it reminded me yet again why President Obama was such a wise choice in 2008. Throughout the day he’s been doing such a great job trying to put politics aside and hash out policy.

Perhaps nowhere was it more obvious then during an exchange that’s making headlines right now with his former rival, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ):

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Indeed, he seems to be taking this summit much more seriously than a lot of the attendees. This demeanor reminds me a lot about what Eric and I said yesterday about getting the job done.

Anyway, be sure to come back tomorrow as we give our wrap-up on the healthcare summit, and what it means for 2010.

In the meantime, you can watch the healthcare summit at

We’ll also start live tweeting the summit at @HSGWAYLABlog.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Editorial: Can’t We Just Get the Job Done?

Summary: Eric and Dave explain their frustrations with the politics of pessimism.

It’s not difficult to be pessimistic about the outlook of the world sometimes. In recent years, it hasn’t been difficult to be pessimistic about the future of the United States.

For liberals, many of us made the claim that we would move to Canada following the re-election of George W. Bush. In our knee-jerk reaction to the unconscionable decision of the American public, we were certain America was on its downfall. But when we had the chance to think clearly, we remembered it was our country, and we needed to fight for it.

Two years later, we started to win this fight by taking back both chambers of Congress for the Democrats.

Have we reached some sort of Utopia? Of course not. We never will.

Some liberals are now feeling that pessimism in the midst of the healthcare debate. We’re not getting the perfect bill we were hoping for. And some are afraid that if we pass an even mildly-controversial bill, seats will be lost in November.

But as Mark Sump from Activate reminded us on Monday, sometimes we just need to get the job done.

From his blog post:

My son is 16, six foot four and plays varsity basketball at his high school. I attend all of his games. A couple weeks ago his team was playing one of the top teams in the conference. It was close. The other team stole the ball, drove the floor and went in for the lay up. There was one player between him and the basket. They both went up. Our player was trying not to foul, but there was no chance he wouldn’t. He tried to block the ball, but it was out of reach. The ball went in and the foul was called. I thought to myself, if you’re going to foul…foul. Don’t let the shot go in.

Sixteen years ago we tried to pass health care reform. We failed. That year the Republicans took the House. First time in decades. They patted themselves on the back and told the country it was because they succeeded in pushing back against change, against finally bringing true reform to our health care system.

In 1992, Bill Clinton won an electoral landslide. The campaign was built on hope and change. The cornerstone issue was health care reform. He had a mandate. He really did. Then he ran into a Democratic Congress who played not to lose. The more change that was proposed, the dimmer the outlook was for Democrats in Congress. They hesitated. They blinked. They were afraid to lose. Guess what? They lost anyway…

… So, here we are sixteen years later. We’re playing defense. The Republicans are going up for the dunk. Democrats have a decision to make. Do we stop them from scoring and take the penalty, or do we try not to foul.

We can learn from the past. We can know that sixteen years ago as many people were discouraged by our lack of ability to bring real change as were afraid of what that change might bring. Democrats can stand up today, knowing they will lose in November but knowing they did the right thing. Sixteen years ago we blinked and we know the results. History shows we’re going to lose seats in Congress if we do nothing.

So, do the right thing. Pass health care reform. Pass a public option. Pass a Medicare buy-in. Do it by any means possible. Pass a real reform by reconciliation.

If you’re going to foul…foul.

This is how it seems to be with a lot of things these days - even when we put partisan politics aside. On TV, pundits and politicians are constantly telling us that we’ll be losing out to the Chinese because of our deficits, and that it’s placing an unfair burden on the next generation.

Guess what? We are that generation! We’re the next slot of Americans who will have to clean up this mess (Eric is 32, Dave is 22). So here’s our message: either grab a mop, or get out of the way.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. Times are tough, but complaining about it isn’t going to get us anywhere. We need to reform healthcare (everybody knows it), we need to curb climate-change, and - yes - we need to reach a balanced budget sooner rather than later.

So let’s do it. Let’s grab a mop and get the job done. And let’s make sure that we force out those who are standing in the way of this job - those practicing the politics of pessimism. Barack Obama (as he’s said himself) cannot the sole maker of change - we all have to be change makers.

What makes our country great is the resilience of the American people. We were resilient enough after the 2004 elections to re-group and get the job done for the Democrats.

Now we need to be resilient in the face of great challenges and get the job done for America.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Troubling Indicators for Democrats in 2010

Gallup has started listing “Election 2010 Key Indicators” on their politics page. Two of these indicators might be troubling for Democrats.

First, they find a 12-point enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats. We’ve mentioned this general trend before, but it is nice to have measured figures on it for once. I happen to think we can close that gap, but it won’t be easy.

Second, they find independents are supporting GOP candidates over Democrats 47%-31% for the generic congressional ballot. I usually don’t put much faith in the merits of the generic ballot, as people typically don’t vote for the party as much as they do for the individual candidate, but the size of the gap is something to watch.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Healthcare-Deficit Connection

Summary: Explaining the real impact of healthcare reform on our deficits to the American voter.

Hale “Bonddad” Stewart had a good post at over the weekend exploring the details of the federal budget. It clearly spelled out one factor of government spending that many of us have known about for a long time: the connection between our country’s rapidly inflating healthcare costs and the growing national debt.

As he maps out, mandatory spending (on programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans Affairs services) has been steadily increasing over the past forty years while discretionary spending (for things such as national defense, agriculture subsidies, and a wide variety of other government programs) has been steadily decreasing in that time.

I should note that I would generally consider interest on the national debt as mandatory spending, but Stewart does not.

Now, among the mandatory spending programs - which are not covered by PAYGO rules in the House or Senate the same way that discretionary spending is - Social Security expenditures have actually gone down a bit since 1970, while Medicare and Medicaid expenditures are (for the most part) rising fast.

Now Republicans like to trash healthcare reform as something that will increase our debt. In fact, it is quite clear that without healthcare reform, our debt will continue to rise. In fact, it would not be wrong to assume that a balanced budget is impossible without controlling healthcare costs.

Democrats can do themselves a world of good by driving this point home. It needs to be a message that is consistent and constant in order for voters to believe it. If they do, we can kill two birds with one stone: justifying our support for healthcare reform, and letting voters know we are the party of fiscal responsibility.

That’s not to say it will be easy, especially in the age of sound-bite attention spans. The typical voter will struggle to understand the connection between these two issues - after all, there will be new government spending associated with healthcare reform, and the GOP has done a pretty good job characterizing government as incapable of saving money.

Perhaps we can start where Activate left us off last week with the Three Degrees of Separation.

Explaining the connection between healthcare reform and deficit reduction to volunteers shouldn’t be too difficult. Political activists are well engaged and equipped with the ability to see the relationship.

If they explain to fellow voters in their sphere of influence the benefits of healthcare reform on the federal budget, a basic level of understanding will trickle down. From there, they can talk to voters in their spheres of influence about this connection. This second degree of separation probably won’t understand the argument, but at least they’ll know of it.

Assuming your campaign has a volunteer base of at least 1,000 supporters (it will obviously depend on the size of your district) the message could theoretically reach as many as one million voters.

Tell me that wouldn’t help in 2010!

(By the way, the guys at Activate have a great new post up today about healthcare reform on their blog, The New Paradigm in Politics)