If you missed it this morning, OpenLeft broke the news that Sen. Ben Nelson will vote in favor of the Lieberman-Levin amendment to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. This puts us one vote shy of the necessary number to insert repeal language in the defense authorization bill. The bill is currently being marked up as you read this in the Senate Armed Services Committee, with a vote on DADT expected tomorrow.
It's been mildly reported around and about that Sen. Akaka is wavering. I have checked on that and been told that he is committed and is not a target, but will keep an eye on it. The two who remain unannounced are Sens. Byrd and Bayh.
Sen. Byrd's office as of this morning still has not announced a position one way or another nor will comment. It is now expected that he is unlikely to make the vote because of health concerns. If that proves to be the case, his vote is as good as a pro-repeal vote as it lowers the threshold needed for passage on the Lieberman-Levin amendment to 14, which we have in hand with Sen. Nelson's announcement this morning. The other route Byrd could go is to vote a "No" by proxy, which is unexpected but very possible. If you want to know why, see the bottom of my post last night. Byrd has a long history of opposing LGBT rights for historical reasons (by historical, I mean citing ancient Rome's experience), and may just be "set in his ways". Based on his history, and current behavior, it is far from clear that Byrd will (a) vote in favor (b) abstain rather than vote "no" by proxy, so do not count him as either.
Sen. Bayh is still unconfirmed publicly. I have been told by multiple sources he is "98% yes" and "he is likely to be with us" as it was put to me. But Bayh being Bayh, it's not a sure thing.
So we are not there yet.
For those reasons, this morning, OpenLeft Action asked our e-mail list subscribers in West Virginia and Indiana to call their offices and ask them to support repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Two things you can do:
1. If you are a constituent, please call now. Sen. Byrd's office is 202-224-3954 and Sen. Bayh's office is 202-224-5623.
2. Please pass along a call to action to call to friends/family/colleagues you know who are constituents. Take a gander through your list of Facebook friends. Stop browsing and take a minute to think who you might know who does know folks- friends of your parents, for example. Someone you might know at an Indiana-based publication. And so forth.
3. Whether you or a friend calls, please report back what you hear in the comments.
Sen. Nelson's announcement puts us at the 2-yard line. Help get repeal in the end zone.
An update on the effort to replace Bayh on the ballot in Indiana. The Indiana Dem Party State Central Committee must meet to pick to pick a nominee. There are 32 voting members. According to a friend who is close to the process in the state, the vote technically doesn't have to happen until June, but they are expected to pick by next week- and if it's a House member, someone would have to start campaigning for that person's House seat. All that incentivizes a quick process, as the Dem Party Chairman commented to the Indy Star:
"The sooner the better," Indiana
Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker said.
Here's the problem. Multiple sources, including the Star and TPM, are reporting that Rep. Brad Ellsworth is under consideration.
Ellsworth, as many of you know, is a Blue Dog who voted against the stimulus package, voted for Stupak, voted against federal funding for stem cell research three years ago, voted for the GOP motion to recommit on health care reform. Yes on FISA, Yes on the bailouts, Yes on the war supplemental, No on Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009. As Taniel pointed out in Quick Hits this morning, he is as far to the right as you can get for a potential Senate Democrat. He's a virtual Parker Griffith, the right-wing Democrat who just switched parties.
Yet that's not all. Over at HuffPo, Bil Browning, a Hoosier based in Indianapolis who publishes The Bilerico Project, and whose partner, Jerame, is on the leadership of the Indiana Stonewall Democrats, has a piece this morning documenting how much Ellsworth has thrown LGBT people under the bus. He was one of just 15 Democrats to vote against the Matthew Shepard Act on hate crimes last year, and when asked by Bil about it later, he actually said he didn't want to stand up for equality because of how it would look to his district. Despite voting for ENDA on the floor several years ago, he voted for the Republican motion to recommit immediately prior that would have killed the bill. He's not a co-sponsor of the current version and has not announced his support. He has not announced a position on Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal. He's not only against marriage equality, he voiced support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, which was voted upon before he was elected. He's not publicly in favor of any other pro-LGBT legislation. In other words, not only are there Republicans in the House who are better than him, but according to HRC's scorecard, Republican Sen. Lugar doubles Ellsworth's 30% record with 60%- and Evan Bayh triples it at 90%. The "Indiana's too conservative" argument doesn't fly.
Now, Parker, the Chairman, says he wants a consensus nominee:
Still, he said he wanted the party to
coalesce around one candidate before he
calls a meeting of the central committee.
"Whoever this nominee is," he said, "they
need to have the entire party behind
Great. If that's the case, then Ellsworth cannot be the candidate. In fact, several of the rumored candidates are anti-equality, and we need a pro-equality candidate. Indiana Stonewall Democrats have a seat on the State Central Committee. No anti-equality nominee could ever have the entire party behind him. Stonewall Democrats has a petition to Parker on this. Please sign and share with your friends. Remember you can use our new shareable links to do so on Facebook, Twitter and other sites, as well, with just a click.
Side note: One question raised is "wouldn't all Dems within the realm of possibility be virtual Republicans?" Not quite. Baron Hill scores better on LGBT issues, and is somewhat better on a wider range of issues as well, as Taniel demonstrates. I'm also told former Sec of State Joe Hogsett, who is also rumored to be in the mix, would be better on LGBT issues at least. Bottom line is that Ellsworth is the worst.
On the first day in is in session in 2011, the Senate will be able to change its rules with a simple majority vote (51). As such, we have been tracking support in the Democratic caucus for reforming the filibuster.
To date, 11 members of the Democratic Senate caucus--all of whom are 99%+ certain to return in 2011--support a majority-controlled Senate requiring only 51 votes to pass legislation. Further, 9 other members of the caucus support some other, often unspecified, type of reform to the filibuster rule. That is already 20 in favor of some type of reform.
Evan Bayh and Chris Dodd, two Senators who won't be in the Senate for the crucial vote next year, have also come out with their positions. Since they are leaving the Senate this is purely academic, but it still demonstrates an interesting lesson: filibuster reform is not supported only by progressives. In this case, the famously centrist Evan Bayh favors filibuster reform, while the more progressive Dodd opposes any change.
I think it's something we need to do, perhaps looking at changing the threshold once again, down to 55. Perhaps saying that, Administration appointees, other than the very highest ones, should not be subject to the filibuster. Because it's just brought the process to a halt, and the public is suffering. So the minority needs to have a right. I think that's important. But the public has a right to see its business done. And not routinely allow a small minority to keep us from addressing the great issues that face this country. I think the filibuster absolutely needs to be changed.
The campaign for filibuster reform is proving to be less dominated by progressive Senators than the original campaign for the public option:
21 current and future Senators have now come out in favor of some sort of reform. Seven of those 21, or 33%, are either members of Evan Bayh's "Moderate Working Group" (Conservadems) or of the Senate New Democratic caucus. That is roughly the same percentage of Conservadems and New Dems in the overall Senate Democratic caucus (22 of 59, or 37%).
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-Santo 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.
However, it can be safely said that, unless Obama's approval rating declines sharply among Democrats, there is no such room for a right-wing primary challenge. Here is President Obama's approval rating by partisan and ideological self-identification, sorted by the percentage of each group in the 2008 Presidential primary electorate:
Obama job approval by partisan and ideological self-identification, within the Democratic primary electorate
Ideology and Party
% of Dem primary electorate
Presidential Job Approval
(Source for primary electorate composition: here Source for job approval by partisan and ideological self-ID: here and here)
This amount to an overall approval of 77% among the Democratic primary electorate. Further, only 5% of the primary electorate are self-identified conservatives who not approve of President Obama's job performance, and 10% are self-identified moderates who do not approve of President Obama's job performance.
That gives a right-wing primary challenge to President Obama only 15% of the presidential primary electorate to work with, which is less than one-fifth the percentage of the electorate that approves of President Obama's job performance. Further, it is likely that the self-identified liberals within the presidential primary electorate who do not approve of President Obama's job performance would break significantly against any such right-wing primary challenger. This makes it difficult for such a challenger to even win any delegates, much less actually mount a credible threat to President Obama's re-nomination.
President Obama is going to win the Democratic nomination in 2012, and win it easily. There won't be any other viable Democratic candidates for President until the 2016 primary season starts in late 2014.
In an interview, Mr. Bayh said he was startled at how much the Senate had changed since he arrived in 1998
To prove this point, Bayh cited two incidents that took place during the first two weeks of February:
There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress, too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving. Even at a time of enormous national challenge, the people's business is not getting done. Examples of this are legion but two recent ones will suffice.
Two weeks ago, the Senate voted down a bipartisan commission to deal with one of the greatest threats facing our nation: our exploding deficits and debt. The measure would have passed. But seven members who endorsed the idea, actually co-sponsored the legislation, instead voted no for short-term political reasons.
Just last week, a major piece of legislation to create new jobs -- our nation's top priority today -- fell apart amidst complaints from both the left and the right.
Update: Both Greg Sargent and Hotline are now reporting that d'Ippolito has failed to meet the ballot requirement. What's more, she needed to exceed the minimum requirement by a long way, since many will be ruled ineligible when the Indiana state party challenges her signatures (which they will).
And now, I am sorry to announce to everyone here that I will not seek to repeat as Monopoly champion.
After all these hours, my passion for acquiring fake, colorful money is undiminished. However, my desire to do so in this apartment has waned.
My decision is not motivated out of concern for the outcome of this game of Monopoly. Even in the current challenging environment, as I sit in Jail, and even though Andy has hotels on New York Avenue, Tennessee Avenue, and St. James place, I am confident in my prospects to repeat as Monopoly champion.
But continuing to play for the sake of winning a game, if it means I have to stay in this apartment for another two hours, is not good enough. And it has never been what motivates me. At this time I simply believe I can best contribute to society in another way: creating jobs by buying a six-pack across the street, helping to advance human knowledge by posting on a message board once I am half-way through that six-pack, and then by making a regrettable purchase online once I have consumed the entire six-pack.
Two hours ago, when this game was getting underway, Amy decided against trading me Connecticut Avenue, even though I would have given her both the Pennsylvania Rail Road and Short Line. This deal would have solved one of the greatest threats this Monopoly game faces: my lack of a monopoly on the light blue squares. The trade would have gone through, too, and was in fact Amy's idea. However, after she had to get up to deal with the baby crying in the other room, by the time she returned she had changed her mind.
Amy, once again, your short-term thinking is tending to your child has doomed us all.
Then, just an hour ago, our plan to get pizza -- this game's top priority -- fell apart because no one could agree on the toppings. And then, before we knew it, the window for delivery had closed. In the end, we had to get Chinese food, which you know I don't like as much as pizza.
All of this and much more has led me to believe that there are better ways to spend my Friday night and my beloved free time than to continue to play this game of Monopoly.
Now, I know that resigning from the game at this late hour basically makes it impossible to determine a fair winner. In fact, since this a Collector's Edition, and belongs to my father, I will actually be taking it home with me. Please, pack it up now. Furthermore, I will not actually be paying your for the Chinese food as I promised. I intend to use that money to purchase pizza when I play Settlers of Catan at my apartment tomorrow night, with a different group of friends entirely.
This may all seem like a dick move, but you are just as much to blame as I am. There once was a time when we played these games not to win, but as an excuse to all get drunk together. However, now that you guys have "children," you are always trying to appeal to that base constituency. I am just not down with that.
Evan Bayh's surprise retirement announcement comes only four days before the filing deadline for the Indiana primary. Since Indiana requires Senate candidates to submit 500 signatures from each of the state's nine congressional districts (by tomorrow!), there is no feasible way for a new candidate to announce and gather the necessary signatures before the filing deadline.
R.J. Gerard, communications director for the Indiana Democratic Party confirmed to TPMDC that the state Democratic Party would be able to select a new candidate to run in November's general election if no one files petitions with 4,500 signatures (500 within each of the state's nine House districts) to run in the primary.
"I would imagine that it would be the plan, depending on what happens between now and Friday," Gerard said. Gerard did not know whether any discussions are going on with potential new candidates.
This means the Indiana Democrats would avoid holding a primary to choose who will be their nominee in the fall.
Who might the state party choose? The Indiana bench, at least at the Congressional level, is weak.
They could go with Andre Carson, but would Indiana really be the first state to put a Muslim in the Senate? Doesn't feel like a red state in 2010 is when that barrier will be broken.
So, among Indiana Congressman, this basically leaves Joe Donnelly by default. This would not be very exciting, given that Donnelly is one of the most conservative members of the Democratic House caucus. His lifetime Progressive Punch score on crucial votes is only 33.78%, ranking him 245 out of the 255 current Democratic members of the House.
Anyway, given the anti-Washington mood, it is probably a good idea for the Indiana state party to look outside of the Congressional delegation. Hopefully, they can find a Mayor or State Senator in the mold of Eric Massa or Alan Grayson. Anti-financial institution and anti-bailout rhetoric is probably the best chance Democrats have in red districts this year. Also, Massa and Grayson also happen to be the only two members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus from lean-Republican districts. They have the only proven model for Progs in Republican districts.
Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D) is the early name Dem strategists are throwing around. He easily beat ex-Rep. John Hostettler (R) in '06 to capture a centrist district, and he has cut a moderate swath in his 2 terms in the House.
Its true that Ellsworth defeated Hostettler. However, Hostettler is not a strong candidate. If Hostettler were to win the Republican primary, the seat would be very winnable for Democrats.
There are three problems with Ellsworth: he is in D.C., his House seat would be taken over by a Republican, and he is just as right-wing as Donnelly.
They need to pick someone from outside of D.C. who is willing to go after financial institutions. That is the model right now.
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) will not seek a 3rd term in the Senate next year, according to a Dem source, handing Dems yet another setback as they struggle to salvage their damaged ship.
Bayh, elected statewide 5 times, will become the 5th Senate Dem not to seek another term. His decision to step aside , first reported by The Fix and confirmed to Hotline OnCall, creates an open seat in IN, a usually-red state that broke the mold in '08 by voting narrowly for Pres. Obama.
Bayh actually had a pretty solid lead on his various Republican challengers, so this is something of a surprise. It is also another blow to Democratic Senate hopes in November. Bayh, for all the frustration he caused progressives, was part of a well-known family institution in Indiana, and as such was the best Democratic bet to keep the seat.
It is going to be much more difficult for Democrats to keep this seat, now. Given that Bayh was currently listed at a 98% chance to retain the seat, it will also push the projected Democratic Senate total for 2011 down to only 52 seats.
Maybe Coakley is a bad candidate. Yesterday, I argued that Coakley was an average candidate, rather than a bad one, because her net favorables in Massachusetts were the same as President Obama's approval rating. I took this to mean that Coakley is doing no worse than national Democrats in Massachusetts, and just ran into a very good candidate in Scott Brown.
Today, however, the RNC poll shows Coakley's net favorable ratings 16 points below Obama's. Also, Mike Allen makes an astute observation about how Coakley, rather than national Democratic troubles, is to blame:
Smart point from Mike Allen on MSNBC: He says one sign the Massachusetts race isn't necessarily a referendum on health care and the Obama agenda - and is more about the candidates - is that Coakley was leading by 15 points only a week or so ago. "That wouldn't be the case if it were all external factors," Allen said.
Good point. National Democrats have not seen a comparable plummet in the polls over the past two weeks.
Election advice from some dude with plummeting approval ratings. Joe Lieberman, whose approval rating has plummeted over the past month because of his right-wing moves on health care (see PPP, CNN and Q-poll), now says that Democrats should move the right because of the Massachusetts special election.
Election advice from some dude who made his career based on his last name. Evan Bayh, who would never have been elected to anything in his life if his father wasn't Governor of Indiana, says "[i]f you lose Massachusetts and that's not a wake-up call, there's no hope of waking up." Thanks for the advice Bayh, but winning my campaign for Pennsylvania State Democratic committee was more difficult than having to run as a Bayh in Indiana.
Massachusetts Secretary of State dismisses Coakley campaign claims of voting irregularities. At the very least, that Coakley is making such claims is a signt aht she won't concede quickly in the event of a close result.
If Brown wins, Dems won't have time to pass merged bill through Senate before Brown is seated. The entire business about Democrats trying to pass a merged version of health care reform through the Senate between the election and Scott Brown being sworn in is, predictably for a Republican complaint, stupid. Assuming Scott Brown wins and there is no protracted recount, the 10-15 days it will take for Brown to get an election certification is simply much too short a time for the Senate to pass a new health care bill. Keep in mind that:
No deal on the merged bill has been reached,
Once a deal is reached, it will be sent to the almighty CBO, which will take at least a week to score the bill;
Once a score is returned, it will take the House three days to pass a bill;
Once the House passes the bill, it will take the Senate three days to pass a bill
All of which means that even if Democrats were willing to make such an aggressive move (which they are not), then Congress would not move fast enough to pull it off anyway.
Of all the various blocs and gangs that have been formed in Congress this year, Senators Bayh, Conrad, Feinstein, Lieberman and Warner have managed to form the most regressive one yet. Currently, these five Democrats are demanding that Speaker Pelosi hand over all relevant Congressional power to an independent commission that will be allowed to slash and partially privatize Social Security and Medicare, or else they will allow the United States to default on its debt.
Senators from both parties on Tuesday put new pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to turn the power to trim entitlement benefits over to an independent commission.
Seven members of the Senate Budget Committee threatened during a Tuesday hearing to withhold their support for critical legislation to raise the debt ceiling if the bill calling for the creation of a bipartisan fiscal reform commission were not attached. (...)
(...) Congress is under pressure to raise the cap on what the federal government can borrow by mid-December. If the debt ceiling is not raised above its current $12.1 trillion mark by then, the government will exceed its borrowing limits and will be forced to default on the debt. Economists have warned that the inevitable result would be a lowering of the U.S. credit rating, triggering substantial increases in the interest rates the government is already paying.
But before Tuesday's hearing was over, Sens. Conrad, Gregg, Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) publicly vowed to vote against raising the debt ceiling if a budget reform commission bill doesn't come along with it.
The Republican threats don't matter, since only Democrats are needed to pass the bill.
Let's review the threat that these five Democrats are making:
They will allow the United States to default on its debt, which will vastly increase the overall amount we have to pay on our debt
Speaker Nancy Pelosi turns over Congressional power on Social Security and Medicare to an unelected commission that will almost certainly propose deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare entitlements. Keep in mind that if deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare pass under a Democratic trifecta, the party would be doomed at the ballot box for years to come.
This is completely insane, and there is no choice but to call this bluff.
Let's see these five Democratic Senators explain to the entire nation why they allowed the country to default on its debt. No matter how safe their seats appear to be, no Senator is going to win reelection after making the entire country default on its debt Their rationale does not matter. Being blamed for making the country default on its debt-especially after all five of these Democrats voted in favor of the Wall Street bailout and are demanding that Social Security and Medicare be cut-will be the effective end of their political careers.
Go for it, guys. Form your national suicide pact. Tell the country that you are demanding deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare, or else you will personally cause the United States debt to double. Let's see how well that message plays on the air.
The internal debate on health care strategy for Democrats can be boiled down to this: do we choose the approach whose specifics are more popular with the public and will almost certainly work better in practice once it gets passed, or do we want to go with something that has some bipartisan support and may avoid an all out war with the insurance industry?
The first approach is currently being championed by President Obama (although not always by his Chief of Staff), Speaker Pelosi, Senator Reid, and 4 of the 5 committee chairs responsible for bringing the legislation to the floor. The second approach is strongly favored by Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus, Tennessee Rep.(and co-killer of health care reform in the Clinton years) Jim Cooper, and a few conservative Democrats in the Senate.
Seems like a damn easy choice to me.
The first thing to understand in all this is the consequences for the Democrats for the next generation and probably longer if they pass some convoluted, complicated, unworkable compromise that doesn't change the abusive patterns in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries and doesn't begin to control health care costs. If they pass a compromise that doesn't meet regular people's needs, folks will figure it out very quickly, as most people deal with the health care system all the time. If the Democrats twist up this bill to make insurance companies and their Republican allies happy, it is end of story for this generation of Democrats - our party will not recover from screwing up health care.
The second thing to understand is that wealthy, powerful elements of the health care industry, along with the entire right-wing message machine, will oppose any health care reform bill. Democrats trying to avoid a fight should just get over it: they will get one no matter what.
Here's the other thing: having a clear, clean fight - Obama and the Democrats take on the insurance companies - is an easier message to win with than the mushy "we're all in this together, we're all partners in solving this problem" thing Obama has been doing so far. Having enemies helps define this fight in Obama's favor, especially when the enemies are as unpopular as the insurance companies.
So face your fear, Max Baucus. Tell you health industry allies no, Jim Cooper. Work through your fear of commitment, Evan Bayh and Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landrieu. Let's put together a bill that actually works and move forward sometime soon, in our lifetimes preferably. It's time to get this done.
On top of, and in response to, the newly formed Senate Progressive Bloc forcing the Democratic leadership to include a strong public option in health care reform legislation, Senate leaders Harry Reid and Dick Durbin are now pressing all Senate Democrats to stick together on "procedural votes." That is, the Senate Democratic leadership is now telling conservative Senate Democrats to not join with Republican filibusters, especially on health care. Doing so would mean Democrats only need 50 votes to pass legislation:
Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said Tuesday that he and Senate Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) will be asking the 60-member Democratic caucus to "stick together" on procedural votes that would allow the chamber to begin or end debate on legislation. Sixty votes are needed to close debate, or invoke cloture, on a measure and avoid a filibuster.
The message to Democrats, Durbin said, is: "Don't let the Republicans filibuster us into failure. We want to succeed, and to succeed we need to stick together."(...)
"They may vote against final passage on a bill. They may vote with Republicans on amendments," he said. "But on this idea of allowing the filibuster to stop the whole Senate, I think, we have persuaded them more often than not that they shouldn't let the Republicans control our agenda. We ought to control our own agenda."(...)
Reid and Durbin placed a special importance on the looming health care debate; the Majority Leader is hoping to bring a bill to the floor by July 20.
"Believe me, this is not a binding rule in the caucus," Durbin said. "It's just a plea to our Members that if we're going to face an historic vote on health care reform, we're urging Democratic caucus members to support us on the procedural issues."
Good. This is reiterating another point the progressive netroots have made for some time. Democrats don't need 60 votes to pass legislation in the Senate. Instead, only 50 votes plus Biden are required to pass legislation, while 60 votes are required to bring a bill to a vote. Now that we have 60 votes in the Senate, conservative Senate Democrats need to allow all Democratic bills to come to a vote.
"Our group seeks to work collaboratively with the Obama administration and Senate leadership to make sure legislation is crafted in a practical way that will solve people's problems," Bayh said in a statement
"Our strong preference would be to work with our committee leaders, to work with leadership, to make sure that our considerations are taken into account in the bills that are formed in the committees before they get to the floor so that it would be a cooperative relationship. We would much prefer that. The difficulty comes when things are just handed down without taking into account the point of view of some of us," Bayh explained.
More: "Leading the new group are Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Tom Carper of Delaware and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas... [O]thers joining the group are Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Udall of Colorado, and Mark Warner of Virginia."
However, Bayh also makes it clear that a group that seeks to accomplish things, which has preferences, considerations and points of view that it wants taken into account in the U.S. Senate, whose members can all be described in at least five ways, and whom are all taken from the Democratic caucus of the U.S. Senate, does not actually have an agenda:
Bayh, who has spoken with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) about his initiative, said he is trying to create a faction of moderate Senators who will gather on a weekly basis ahead of the usual Tuesday Democratic Caucus meetings.
Additionally, Bayh envisions inviting outside speakers to address the group, which would also work in concert with third parties that have similar viewpoints, like the Third Way, a nonpartisan progressive think tank.
A Reid spokesman said the Majority Leader was similarly upbeat about the idea.
"Nearly a decade of Republican fiscal irresponsibility has contributed to our current economic crisis," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in an e-mail statement. "That is why Sen. Reid welcomes Sen. Bayh's decision to form this group. For we know that Sen. Bayh, like all Democrats, is committed to restoring our nation's fiscal and economic health."
Over the past three weeks, Bayh and his staff have reached out to Senators to judge the appetite for such a group.
"I've had some expressions of interest," Bayh said. "I'm going to continue to meet and talk to my colleagues."
Likely targets for Bayh would include moderate Democrats like Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Jim Webb (Va.), and Sen.-elect Mark Warner (Va.).
You can read more on Third Way here. Steven Benen is not encouraged, but I have a somewhat different attitude. This shows that the 60 vote threshold argument was nonsense, power is concentrated in the hands of conservative Democrats and a few Republicans, and that's how these guys wanted it.