Palin, Pelosi & the politics of scorn

Much ado is being made over two lady politicos these days, Sarah Palin for her six-figure fees and Nancy Pelosi for her legislative expertise. Both are commendable — depending on how one chooses to commend — but unfortunately they are continuing to feed the politics of scorn. Which is unlikely to lead to bi-partisanship or collegiality any time soon. Maybe both are dead.

Palin’s usefulness to her party is a matter of dispute. According to two prominent speakers at a Wednesday breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor (as reported by Monitor writer Dave Cook), Palin’s rise is great good news for the Democrats.

“Look at this dynamic that is produced with Sarah Palin,” said Stanley Greenberg, chairman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. “You have John McCain having to have Sarah Palin to save him [in a primary election race]…”

In the aftermath of the passage of healthcare reform, the ongoing discussion is “Barack Obama against Sarah Palin on healthcare,” he said.

Mr. Greenberg, who served as President Clinton’s pollster, argued that “The face of the Republican Party to the country is not the ‘tea party,’ it is Sarah Palin.”

James Carville, President Clinton’s campaign manager and the other speaker at Wednesday’s breakfast, suggested a test to the assembled journalists. “Do me favor. Call five Democratic consultants and leave a message and say I am doing a story on Sarah Palin and call five Republicans, and see who returns the phone call. I think we all know the answer to that. The Democrats will be on the phone so fast.”

Much as some of us do not admire Sarah Palin, the sneer factor employed by her detractors can be oppressive. (Come on, if you’re an anti-Palin, think of the slurs you have slung her way.) She is, herself, a master of derision in a by-golly sort of fashion, and it is this that brings loud huzzahs from her audiences when she takes on the Democrats.

Not to be outdone, Speaker Pelosi (whom I appreciate and respect) was heaping scorn upon the Republicans in speeches to California audiences this week,

… saying they “have nothing to sell” to the American people except a crude caricature of her as the midterm elections approach.

Pelosi, D-San Francisco, was surrounded at the Phillip and Sala Burton Center by ardent advocates of health reform, who cheered when she was cheerful and roared when she was defiant. And she was proudly defiant.

“I couldn’t care less,” she said of GOP efforts to use her as campaign fundraising bait. “I should be thanking them. … It really helps me with my fundraising.”

The issues are real, and occasionally that is made clear:

“This is a bill about the middle class. This is a bill about small businesses. This is a bill about affordability,” Pelosi said.

Still, Pelosi warned Democrats that the fight isn’t over, saying Republicans “are unabashed in wanting to rid us of this … and one way they think they can do it is by making gross misrepresentations to senior citizens” with what she called a “campaign of fear.”

Appearing before a crowd dominated by seniors carrying signs of appreciation – “Thank you, madame speaker” – Pelosi was lauded by a parade of admirers, including Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, doctors and senior advocates who praised her tireless push for the measure.

Admittedly, Pelosi was in friendly territory this week, as Palin has been in recent days herself.

Palin last weekend put Pelosi and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the center of her campaign-style speech to Tea Partiers attending a rally in Searchlight, Nev., Reid’s hometown. “You’re fired,” she said of the two Democratic standard-bearers.

This may be the way politics works. But wouldn’t it be nice if occasionally, some way could be found for opposing sides at least to be civil in the interest of the common good.

Defiant Pelosi scorns Republicans.

Health reform: Are we there yet?

Nancy Pelosi is known around San Francisco — and in a few other spots — as one tough politician. She likes being Speaker of the House, and she doesn’t much like losing. So this week’s do-or-die health reform bill is going to get all the muscle she can manage. It is, Pelosi has declared, “a moral and political imperative.”

Okay, it’s not what we hoped, it’s too complicated and too fraught, it’s going to be full of little gifties given to get votes. If we don’t get something America will be stuck with a non-functional system and millions will remain without health care at all. So I for one am on Pelosi’s side.

The plan is for the House to pass the Senate version and send it to Obama for his signature and enactment. Certain fixes the House is demanding for passage of the more conservative Senate bill will be included in a separate, special measure that will go to the Senate for an up-or-down vote that avoids a filibuster.

But once the House passes the base legislation and Obama signs it, the measure becomes law regardless of what the Senate does.

Democrats do not yet have the votes in hand and Pelosi will not call a vote until they do. Liberal lawmakers have deep reservations about the Senate bill, and fights over abortion and immigration have yet to be resolved. But Pelosi has set the legislative train in motion, even as Republicans have publicly begun to express doubt that they can stop it.

Pelosi laid down the law to wavering Democrats who are threatening to bolt. “It’s not about abortion, it’s not about immigration,” she said. “The only reason, therefore, to oppose the bill is that you do not support health care reform.”

A lot of people don’t support health care reform. The Republicans, the insurance industry, the anti-abortion folks and the anti-immigration folks and more than a few people who feel pretty much okay with what they’ve got and frankly don’t care a lot about what others don’t have.

But health care reform is a moral imperative.

Pelosi: Dems will have votes to OK health care.

Health care reform: comatose but breathing

Virginia Governor McDonnell, who proclaimed in his rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address that we have “the best medical system in the world” has my qualified agreement on one point. My personal medical system is the best in the world. As a member of Kaiser Permanente, I consider my physicians among the best in the world and my care right up there. I can e-mail any of my physicians with any question; most of them reply in 24 hours or less. I can schedule appointments with specialists with ease; usually I see anyone I want within a few weeks. Medicare helps me pay for all this.

Problem is, not everyone in America enjoys such care at such cost. Millions of my fellow Americans – who might not agree with Governor McDonnell – would be happy for any kind of medical care at any remotely affordable cost. Millions of Americans are suffering and dying for lack of care. Maybe, to correct this, I’ll have to settle for just moderately excellent care rather than the best. So be it. Maybe my costs would go up. So be it. It is morally wrong for people in this country to be without health care.

(In a recent comment on this page written very late at night I attributed Governor McDonnell’s interesting phrase to former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. Even before my astute True/Slant editors had caught the gaffe an astute reader had brought my attention to it. After I thanked him, Astute Reader replied, “Virginia might be better off if you did give it back to Tim Kaine.” We’ll see.)

But back to health care. Although it has faded slightly into the background, word is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are still hoping to salvage the sprawling bill. It could be done, if the Senate bill’s sprawl. As Noam Levey reported in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times,

(I)n the coming weeks, Pelosi and Reid hope to rally House Democrats behind the healthcare bill passed by the Senate while simultaneously trying persuade Senate Democrats to approve a series of changes to the legislation using budget procedures that bar filibusters.

At the same time, leading consumer groups, doctors and labor unions that have backed the healthcare legislative effort for more than a year are stepping up attempts to stiffen lawmakers’ resolve.

These included scaling back the Cadillac tax, boosting aid to help low- and moderate-income Americans buy insurance, closing the “doughnut hole” in the Medicare prescription drug plan, and giving all states the assistance that Nebraska secured to expand Medicaid.

But many House Democrats do not want to vote on the Senate bill until the Senate passes the fixes they want. And it is unclear whether the Senate could approve a package of changes to its bill before the House approves the underlying legislation, according to senior Democratic aides. Democratic leaders hope to agree on a procedural path forward by the end of this week.

Despite the hurdles, there is a growing consensus that a modified Senate bill may offer the best hope for enacting a healthcare overhaul.

“The more they think about it, the more they can appreciate that it may be a viable . . . vehicle for getting healthcare reform done,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), president of the Democratic freshman class in the House.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who chairs the Senate health committee, noted that even before the Massachusetts election, senior Democrats had substantially agreed on a series of compromises that addressed differences between the House and Senate healthcare bills.

This space still hopes that “the best medical system in the world” can be made available to a few of the millions in America who still so desperately need it.

Obama, Pelosi & the health bill yo-yo

Invoking the not-so-long-ago proposals of Senators Bob Dole and Howard Baker, President Obama told the Republicans Friday that his health bill is “pretty centrist,” while suggesting they might leave off referring to it as a Bolshevik plot. “People in America don’t believe it’s centrist,” Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) told PBS NewsHour‘s Judy Woodruff just after the event — “the government defining costs, benefits…”  Hensarling did not sound much like someone ready for bi-partisan cooperation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, said yesterday, in a letter e-mailed to constituents, that “Congress will pass health insurance reform no matter what barriers stand in our way. We will go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high we will pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in.” And therein may lie the problem: Obama’s move from health care to jobs as number one issue, and Pelosi’s, well, Pelosi-like determination to get some sort of a health bill through, no matter what. Some of us who agree that jobs and the economy are admittedly number one still believe the disaster that is our current health care system has got to be addressed. (One wonders what planet Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell lives on, commenting during his rebuttal to the State of the Union address that Americans don’t want to mess with “the best medical care system in the world.”)

Health reform, whatever remains of it, has become the yo-yo of the year: it’s up, it’s down, it’s tangling in multiple strings, and the axle connecting it between Democrats and Republicans looks more worn with every loop.

Here are a few of the assessments Friday night pundits were making: New York Times reporter Peter Baker on Washington Week in Review: “It’s become bad politics. There is no option but to slow down.” Also on Washington Week, Politico‘s John Harris remarked, “It’s comatose.”

The President did himself proud with the Republicans, in what was indeed a remarkable event, even if no immediate good will arises. It felt downright civil. But as to the health care yo-yo and whether it now rolls quietly under the sofa to rest a while, a parting thought came from columnist Mark Shields on NewsHour. “President Obama,” he observed, “doesn’t control Nancy Pelosi.”

Pelosi keeps public — and her own — options open in San Francisco talk

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rallied the faithful in San Francisco Saturday afternoon, drawing the loudest applause (there had already been cheers for heavy-hitter Democrats, San Francisco liberal causes and hometown heroine Pelosi herself) with an assertion that passage of the health reform bill will happen soon. She said the House bill is the stronger,  and negotiations to reconcile House and Senate versions into a final bill “are intense.”

Whether that final bill will include the public option her audience of several hundred supporters clearly wanted remains in doubt – and Pelosi was keeping her own options open. “Any bill we approve will have to pass the Triple A test,” she said: “Affordability, specifically for the middle class, Accountability – insurance companies will have to be held accountable; and Accessibility.”

Accessibility, of course, brings the issue back to the public option, which the bill will have, Pelosi maintained, “…or what the public option was intended to do: keep the insurance companies honest.”

The invitation-only Saturday event was billed as a New Year Celebration, and held on the first anniversary of a similar gathering hailing her ascension to Speaker last year.  Both took place at Delancey Street, a residential self-help community founded in 1971 to help substance abusers, ex-felons and “people from America’s underclass” get back on their feet and into productive lives. A few of the 14,000+ who have graduated from Delancey Street programs mingled with the likes of former state senator and current California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton, prominent gay California State Senator Mark Leno, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Almost anyone who is, or aspires to be, anyone in local Democratic politics was working the room.

Pelosi worked it herself, smiling and greeting her way through the crowds for several hours. When she returns to Washington after this weekend at home, the greetings and workings are guaranteed to be a little more fractured.

How public is your option?

Not very, in all probability.

According to current reports, only those whose coverage exceeds 12.5 percent of their income, only the smallest businesses, or those who aren’t covered by Medicare or VA programs… a very few onlies will have access to the public option. Still, the public option is less important than the reform bill itself. We may have reached the point at which the perfect is indeed the enemy of the good.

Early on in this process my friend Catherine Dodd, whose extensive health policy credentials include stints on Nancy Pelosi’s staff and as a Regional Director for the Department of Health and Human Services, advised an audience inundated with numbers and percentages and data to remember just one figure: “Nineteen point seven,” she said. It has taken an average of 19.7 years after one health reform measure failed to raise the issue again.

Many of us do not have another 19.7 years to wait for the next battle.

Public option still alive: believe it…or not

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.

via Public option still alive – believe it.