Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Frank-ly disgusting

There's probably no point in continuing to howl at the moon as assorted Democrats rush for the exits on HCR. But I can't help myself. Barney Frank is the latest to cut off all chance of following through:

I have two reactions to the election in Massachusetts. One, I am disappointed. Two, I feel strongly that the Democratic majority in congress must respect the process and make no effort to bypass the electoral results. If Martha Coakley had won, I believe we could have worked out a reasonable compromise between the House and Senate health care bills. But since Scott Brown has won and the Republicans now have 41 votes in the senate, that approach is no longer appropriate. I am hopeful that some Republican senators will be willing to discuss a revised version of health care reform. Because I do not think that the country would be well served by the health care status quo. But our respect for democratic procedures must rule out any effort to pass a health care bill as if the Massachusetts election had not happened. Going forward, I hope there will be a serious effort to change the senate rule which means that 59 are not enough to pass major legislation, but those are the rules by which the health care bill was considered, and it would be wrong to change them in the middle of this process.
Respect for democratic procedures? It would be "wrong" to change "the rules by which the health care bill was considered"?  "Procedure" is the cross on which the Democrats have hung themselves. It's the procedure -- dragged out for the better part of a year by Republican bad faith and Democratic accommodation and infighting -- that has disgusted voters, not the substance of the two quite well-constructed bills now pending.
Whom does Frank think he's dealing with? Respect for "procedure" means acceding to concerted Republican malpractice - in the bad faith negotiations that Baucus allowed to drag on for months, giving the Republicans in the 'gang of six' most of what they wanted; in the relentless demagoguery of the summer; in Republican rejection of a bill that is as "Republican" as any Republican with any integrity (that is, today, none) could wish, in its privatization of near-universal care and deficit discipline; in the Republicans' successful obstruction of every step of the process until they breached the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority. And of course, there is absolutely no violation of proper Congressional procedure in the House passing a bill that the Senate has already passed.

I swear, listening to a Democrat speak piously about "procedure" when they've let the opposition (and their own divisions) tie them in procedural knots almost makes me credit the 50-year Republican smear that they are soft on defense - since they are soft on an implacable political enemy.  They are dealing with people who favor waterboarding, who assert proudly that there are no legal limits on the President's power over the body and mind of any captive he deems an "enemy combatant," who scared gullible Americans with complete fictions about "death panels" in the health care bill -- and they're talking about respect for procedure?  They're reading the Republicans their rights?

I realize that Frank probably has motives other than 'respect for process' for this apparent strangling of the Senate bill + reconciliation plan.  He's a smart man. He may be playing a deep game.  But by any measure, the message is disastrous and the strategy a disastrous cave.

As for House Democrats who think - rightly - that the Senate bill doesn't do enough for various working and middle class constituents -- that its subsidies are too low, or that the excise tax is unfair, or that state exchanges won't work well -- do they think they will get a better bill by allowing the Jim Webbs  to go back and try to win over a few Republicans who have already shafted them? What would a bill approved by Olympia Snowe look like at this point? How could she vote for any bill without switching parties? And why would she switch now?  Those Democrats who think that the bill does too much are making common cause with those who think it does too little to ensure that they -- and we -- get nothing.

House liberals don't trust the Senate to deliver on deals for fixes in reconciliation? Then go to war with them over it. Better to lose to Senate Democrats than to the Republican rejectionists.  Why can't they see that? How valuable is an individual's House seat?  What have they got to hope for collectively if they let this bill go down?

Can Obama stem the panic? I'd like to think so. But it's hard not to think at this point that he's going to drown in a tsunami of chickenshit.

Nothing not obvious in this tirade, I know. For a truly comprehensive case, see Chait.

UPDATE: Frank reverses course, says he could vote for the Senate bill with the right reconciliation fixes. Who held the knife to his throat?


  1. While I respect (and share) your disgust, arguing that we shouldn't respect the rights of Republicans because they don't respect the rights of others is precisely the argument they make why waterboarding terrorists is fine and proper.

  2. Anon, perhaps my wording wasn't careful enough. But I did note that Democrats do not have to abuse any Senate or House procedures to get a bill through - passing the Senate bill and patching through reconciliation is perfectly legitimate procedure. What I was trying to suggest is that it's particularly egregious to be *overly* scrupulous about 'respect for process' when you're dealing with an opposition that has no respect for it.

    I also don't think the Dems should have any qualms about agreeing on a merged bill and voting on it before Brown is seated, which they could easily hold up for 15 days. But it looks like they've preemptively ruled that possibility out.

  3. Apparently the "respect" of 1,000,000 voters yesterday (all of whom have state-sponsored health care available to them) is more important than the "respect" of the 100,000,000 who voted FOR health care change just a little over a year ago. I share your disgust.

  4. Mass isnt going republican so dont kid yourselves.Dems could have run Jesus and repugs could have run a janitor with aspergers missing a chromosome and he would have won.

    We liberals in Mass have sent a message to the corporate Dems.NO ROMNEYCARE.....we already have that private insurance boondoggle.WE wanted single payer....then a strong public option.To watch a dem majority cave to corporate interests and bend over for republicans was too much.Enough is enough.Listen to the people or get out of the way.

  5. "A tsunami of chickenshit" indeed! I see this same pattern in my home state Democratic party.
    The party of panicy cowards is not, repeat not, attractive.
    I was somewhat heartened last state session when our Speaker, Margaret Anderson-Kelliher grew a pair and stood up to T-paw. His unallotment response was a contritution-bending surprise weapon that I fear will put many local Dems back on the chickenshit path.

  6. It's instructive that from Obama himself we have heard nothing. He doesn't have the courage to risk own personal political capital or the loyalty of his non-Dem supporters so he does nothing.

  7. Isn't it remarkable that all of the integrity in politics just happens to have sloshed onto... THE SIDE YOU'RE ON! What a remarkable coincidence!