House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, via her intermittent e-mail list, sends this little Tax Day gift message:
Congress and the President have worked together to enact an array of broad-based tax cuts for working and middle-class families and small business owners — ending an era of Republican tax breaks focused only on the wealthy. All totaled, the 111th Congress has enacted more than $800 billion in tax cuts, in the Recovery Act, health insurance reform, and other job-creating tax incentives for American business.
Shortly before the trial focusing on California’s Proposition 8 opened this morning, the Supreme Court blocked video of the proceedings on You Tube. Judging from the line-up of TV trucks and the impassioned testimony going on inside, it’s likely that a good sense of the action will be available. But no on-site video. Opponents of Prop. 8 had hailed an earlier order to allow posting of video on You Tube, but supporters of the anti-gay marriage initiative mounted a strong argument to get the U.S. Supreme Court to ban such action. An updated story link is included at the end of this earlier post.
California’s Proposition 8, the voter initiative that said marriage must be only for couples who can produce children, came up for discussion in a San Francisco courtroom beginning today.
The cameras-in-the-courtroom mini-drama, launched when maverick Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in favor of the YouTube postings, has become a significant sidelight to the main issue of the case. Prop. 8 supporters fear their witnesses will be afraid to testify — public support of bigotry still being unpopular in California despite what the voters did when they passed the initiative; gay rights supporters are coming out, once more, for openness.
“What are they afraid of?” asked California State Senator Mark Leno Saturday. Leno was asked for his opinion while attending House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s celebration with supporters in San Francisco. “As an advocate for open and transparent government,” he said, “what is there to fear? Taxpayers should be able to see the courts they pay for in action.” Leno, the first openly gay man elected to the California Senate and long a leader in gay rights and other progressive causes, called the State Supreme Court’s earlier ruling that upheld Prop. 8 last May “a rallying cry for all Californians who believe in equality and fairness… to stand up and fight the pervasive injustices LGBT people face in our community and our nation.”
The current primary issue, whether same-sex couples should have the right to marry, is being argued in San Francisco federal court beginning today. Judge Walker, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, has made it clear he anticipates his ruling will be appealed.
For two couples and their allies who have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn California’s Proposition 8, the November 2008 initiative was merely the latest example of historic discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Same-sex marriage poses no threat to opposite-sex couples, children or the public welfare, they argue, and a ballot measure that revoked the marital rights of one “disfavored group of citizens” was an unconstitutional appeal to fear and prejudice.
For Prop. 8’s sponsors, a religious coalition called Protect Marriage, anti-gay bias is no longer significant in California, where legislators have legalized domestic partnerships and twice voted to authorize same-sex marriage. Discrimination also had nothing to do with the ballot measure, which merely wrote the time-honored definition of marriage into the state Constitution, they argue.
Extending wedlock to gays and lesbians, they maintain, would radically redefine marriage, weaken biological parents’ connection with their children, tell men that “they have no significant place in family life” and force many religious Americans to “choose between being a believer and being a good citizen.”
The competing legal theories that will come up in court are a bit simpler: whether Prop. 8 violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender, or whether it validly reserves marital status for those who can naturally conceive children.
The initiative overturned a May 2008 state Supreme Court ruling that allowed gays and lesbians to marry in California. The state high court upheld Prop. 8 in May 2009 in a challenge by gay rights advocates whose claims involved only state law and not the U.S. Constitution.
A few days before the state court ruling, two couples and a recently formed advocacy group, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, sued in federal court. Their lawyers are the unlikely duo of Theodore Olson and David Boies, who represented George W. Bush and Al Gore, respectively, in the Supreme Court case that decided the 2000 presidential election.
Established gay rights organizations had avoided federal court, fearing a possible adverse ruling by a conservative U.S. Supreme Court. But with the fate of same-sex marriage in California, and possibly elsewhere, at stake in the trial, the advocates are all on board and most have filed supportive briefs.
Prop. 8’s sponsors – vaulted into the case by state Attorney General Jerry Brown’s refusal to defend the measure – say its clear-cut goal was to reinforce traditional marriage, and any inquiry into the campaign’s allegedly hidden motives is both intrusive and pointless.
“The traditional definition of marriage does not reflect animus against gays and lesbians,” attorney Charles Cooper said in court papers. “It simply reflects the fact that the institution of marriage is, and has always been, uniquely concerned with promoting and regulating naturally procreative relationships between men and women to provide for the nurture and upbringing of the next generation,” Cooper wrote.
The trial will test such assertions, with competing experts arguing about the history and meaning of marriage, the adequacy of domestic partnership as a marital substitute, and the social and political status of gays and lesbians.
Walker has kept his views to himself, but his rulings so far have dismayed some of Prop. 8’s supporters, who appear to be bracing their followers for a short-term defeat.
“The consistency with which the judge has sided with our opponents is anything but comforting to supporters of traditional marriage,” Andrew Pugno, general counsel for Protect Marriage, said in a letter to backers of the measure last week.
Fortunately, Pugno said, the last word will come from “the nine justices on the highest court in the nation.”
The fact that there are still believers in the public option, and its inclusion in whatever health bill eventually survives, may say more about the believers than the belief. But Nancy Pelosi hasn’t yet caved, and a few among the many who see this as the only way real reform will happen are still betting on it. Two of those are strategic technology consultant Robert Weiner and his research chief Rebecca Vander Linde who penned an op ed in the San Francisco Chronicle Friday. I’m not a gambler, but I cheer their position.
Opponents’ caricatures have become commonplace – the Republican National Committee video puts House Speaker Nancy Pelosi side by side with James Bond’s villainess, Miss Galore. The Iowa Republican, a party newsletter, on Sept. 18 called Pelosi “inept at her job.” Actor and former Sen. Fred Thompson labeled her “naive.” On Sept. 10, master Republican strategist Karl Rove asked, “How much capital will Speaker Nancy Pelosi have” to pass health care?
Pelosi answered that in a conversation Sept. 29 at House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers‘ 80th birthday party, after the Senate Finance Committee had just rejected the Medicare-like public option for all by a 10-13 vote: “We will not be deterred. We will pass the bill.”
The public option is still viable. The House is set to pass it. It is neither “fading” nor “waning” (New York Times) nor on “life support” (ABC News).
Citing a recent CBS News poll that showed public support for the public option rose from 57 to 68 percent after President Obama’s speech to Congress in September, Weiner and Vander Linde argue that keeping it is the only way to “counter the insurance stranglehold” that makes our current system so dysfunctional — and that Pelosi will keep it in the blended version of the three House bills and eventually see it through.
For those who doubt Pelosi’s ability to pass the bill, know that she has passed every bill she has brought forward, usually with 60-plus margins, since the Democrats recaptured the House in 2006. These include the Recovery Act, Credit Card Bill of Rights, Homeowner Affordability, Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay, Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) and State Children’s Health Program expansion to 11 million youths.
About the Senate…
Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he could not vote for the public option because “I can’t see how we get to 60 votes.” The Constitution and the law require only a majority 51. The Senate amended its rules to require a “supermajority” to end debate. This procedure, called cloture, is a pander to allow special-interest contributors (Baucus has a million dollars from insurance companies) to block bills. Pelosi is right to support Senate “reconciliation,” which would allow a simple majority to pass health reform Americans want.
We believers may turn out just to be dreamers, but we’re still sending e-mails to Speaker Pelosi.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a press conference in San Francisco this morning at which she reiterated her commitment to a public option in the health reform bill and expressed hope, though with somewhat lowered optimism, for coverage of end-of-life conversations. She did get in a dig at opponents of the latter: In response to a question about whether voluntary reimbursement for discussion of end-of-life care would stay in the bill, Pelosi said, “You know, the language is almost exactly the same as what the Republicans put into the prescription drug bill.”
The press conference, hosted by the San Francisco Interfaith Council, was an apparent reinforcement of the Democrats’ strategy of broadening health reform support among members of religious communities. With leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities arrayed behind her, the Speaker made repeated references to health care for all being a moral issue. Responding to the above question, she said, “People of faith, people in healthcare” and others know that “it makes life better if a person has expressed his or her own wishes. The key to this is that it is voluntary; it serves the purpose of saying what is your wish, rather than someone else having to make a decision you might not want. I don’t know what will happen (to the provision); I surely hope it will stay in.”
Pelosi was unequivocal, however, in her response to questions about the public option and to one reporter’s comment that “some Democrats and liberals are frustrated because it seems you are caving in to the far right.” “Is that you?” she repeated, pointing to herself. “The public option is the best way to go. If anybody can come up with a better alternative we’ll consider it. But the President is not backing off. The co-op might work in some states and that’s fine. There is no way I can pass a bill on health reform without the public option.”
Pelosi was equally emphatic about her intention to retain the 400% of poverty measurement. Hesitantly using the term “seniors,” she said that many people between the ages of 50 and 65 have lost jobs, or may be making just $30,000 to $40,000 per year, and cannot afford needed medical care or prescription drugs. “I believe we have to have the 400% of poverty for them.”
Would the Democrats accept a scaled-down version of health reform? Pelosi repeated her litany of what is needed: reduced costs, improved quality, expanded coverage, affordable care for all; “What are you going to give up? At the end of the day, this is what we must have. And we must have reform of the insurance industry.”
In the small, carefully selected audience assembled at St. James Episcopal Church where her children attended preschool, Pelosi was on her own turf and among friends. And she was characteristically upbeat. “Have we lost control of the debate? I disagree. I have 218 votes, and expect to have more. I am optimistic, and the President is committed to change.”