Progressive Block

Feingold engages on Wall Street Reform, denies Scott Brown sole leverage

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Jun 22, 2010 at 17:13

Last month, Senator Russ Feingold was one of two Democrats who voted against the Wall Street reform bill in the Senate because it was not strong enough (Maria Cantwell was the other).  This was a principled stand for Feingold, who was one of only eight Senators to vote against the 1999 deregulation bill that helped create the current economic crisis.

While Feingold's principled stance is understandable, advocates for Wall Street reform have been asking him to engage with more specifics about his objections.  The reason for this is to provide leverage to strengthen the bill during the conference committee.

Right now, about three or four Republican Senators are making specific demands to weaken the final bill that will come out of conference committee in exchange for their votes. Given that three Republicans--Scott Brown, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe--actually did vote for cloture the bill back in May, these are not being taken as empty threats by people working on the bill.  In particular, Scott Brown's demand to carve out a huge exemption in the Merkley-Levin amendment to restore a stricter Volcker rule is a rule threat.

Feingold could counter this threat from Scott Brown and the other Republican hostage takers by making specific demands of his own in exchange for his vote.  Today, he seems to have done just that.  Here is part of a statement just released by Feingold, followed by analysis from Brian Beutler:

I have spoken to Senate leaders, the Obama administration, and members of the conference committee and made my concerns well known. I opposed deregulating Wall Street and eliminating the protections of the Glass-Steagall Act, a position which put me at odds with many in Washington who supported the very policies that contributed to the financial crisis, and who now support these bills that simply don't get the job done. Without including stronger reforms, we're simply whistling past the graveyard.

That's not a declarative 'no'. Indeed, along with the statement, Feingold's office added a list of provisions that weren't part of the Senate financial reform bill, but that could have tipped him into the yes column if they'd been included. I've pasted that list below. Note in particular the last one: "[The] Merkley-Levin amendment to prohibit any bank with government insured deposits from engaging in high-risk finance, like investing in hedge funds or private equity funds."

Feingold has specifically demanded that the exemption Scott Brown is seeking not be included in the final bill, or else he will vote no. Given Feingold's track record, there is every reason to believe him.

A common argument during the health reform fight was that the Progressive Caucus lacks influence to strengthen bills in the House because of their long-standing record of almost all members supporting almost all Democratic legislation no matter how weak it became.  Well, this is a problem that Russ Feingold does not suffer on Wall Street reform, so it will be an interesting test of the Progressive Block theory. Everyone, including the Democratic leadership, believes that Feingold will vote no if he doesn't get his way.  So, when the vote takes place tomorrow, whether the Democrats on the conference committee end up caving to Scott Brown or to Feingold will be quite illuminating.

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Progressive Caucus passes on drawing a line in the sand on the climate bill, at least for now

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 11:46

Progressive caucus co-chair Raul Grijalva has told The Hill that the caucus will not, as a group, draw a specific line in the sand on the climate change / energy bill--at least for now.

Liberal House Democrats are shifting their political tactics on climate change after failing to secure a public option in the new healthcare reform law.

The move comes in the wake of liberals having to walk back threats that they would vote against a healthcare bill without a government-run program.

"Drawing the line in the sand too quickly was part of the lesson we learned on healthcare," the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), told The Hill.

Grijalva voiced strong concerns about the direction of the climate and energy bill, which has moved toward the center as Democrats try to build a bipartisan consensus that can win 60 Senate votes.

Key takeaways from this:

  1. Hard to argue with a need to change tactics, given the ultimate failure of the Progressive Block strategy on the public option.

  2. Still, Grijalva did not rule out drawing a line in the sand--he just said that the Progressive Caucus was not going to draw a line this early in the process.

  3. The reason the public option line didn't work is because defeating the health reform bill because it did not go far enough was only supported by 12-13% of the population.  Any left-wing line in the sand that is drawn on the climate bill, or any other legislation, needs to have more popular support among the Democratic rank and file to be an effective. Specifically, it needs to be less popular among the Democratic base to cross that line than to cross President Obama by defeating a bill he is supporting.

  4. Given the popularity of President Obama among the rank and file, it the line that is drawn is going to have to be over something pretty odious.  A bill that strips EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gasses, or guts the Clean Air Act, are probably the best bets.  Still, I worry that even those concessions might be supported by the rank and file if President Obama, supported by many green groups, says it is still a good bill.  Driving up popular support for defeating a bill that has too many concessions will be a monumental task, but it is still necessary to any "line in the sand" strategy working.
Still, even with all this said, it might be easier to convince people that the energy / climate bill is worth defeating because it has too many concessions than the health care bill, since there are potentially some pretty clear ways that the bill sends energy and climate policy in America backward. Stripping EPA regulatory authority, or gutting the Clean Air Act, seem more obviously to be backward movement than anything in the health reform bill outside of reproductive rights.
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Sanders blasts emerging climate change bill

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Mar 29, 2010 at 16:24

Kate Sheppard reports on Senator Bernie Sanders blasting the emerging climate change bill:

Sanders is particularly worried about a proposed provision that would nullify existing state programs to limit emissions. Vermont is among those states that have paved the way for national carbon regulations, and the bill would remove the ability of states to set tougher restrictions on carbon dioxide than those passed by the federal government. Sanders describes this as "a huge mistake," writing that "we should definitely set a floor, but not a ceiling." He also expresses reservations about new loan guarantees for nuclear power, expanded offshore drilling, and the bill's likely giveaways to coal. "I do not want to see a global warming bill become an bonanza for the coal industry," he writes.

Sanders is also worried about what's not in the outline of the bill that the senators are circulating. In particular, he thinks that their plan doesn't do enough to promote energy efficiency, develop a renewable energy industry, and provide incentives for green jobs.

At the end of the article, Joe Lieberman brushes off the threat of any left-wing revolt on the bill, stating that Senators will fall in line as long as the bill is viewed as an improvement on the status quo, however minor.

A Lieberman versus Sanders conflict is particularly notable, as history tells us there are reasons to respect threats from both Senators:

  1. When Lieberman demanded that the Medicare buy-in get stripped from the Senate bill back in December, Rahm Emanuel showed up in Harry Reid's office the same day and demanded that Democratic Senators cave to Lieberman.  A whole lot of green groups, who want a bill at almost any cost, will be playing the role of Emanuel this time around.

  2. Then again, despite Lieberman having the backing of the administration, Sanders did still hold out on supporting the health reform bill until he got a big concession: almost doubling the annual funding for the federal Community Health Center system, which will allow it to handle another 17-18 million patients annually.  He also has proven willing to stand in the way of the Obama administration before, putting a hold on Ben Bernanke and voting against the Wall Street bailout.
Given recent history, there is good reason to suspect that left-wing Democratic members of Congress will simply fold  and support a bill that is a marginal improvement on the status quo.  Then again, there are some members of the Senate, most notably Bernie Sanders and Russ Feingold, who have frequently proven themselves unwilling to fold without at least receiving some sort of important concession.

To put it a different way, there would be every reason to not take left-wing criticisms of the climate bill seriously if they were coming from almost anyone in the Senate except Bernie Sanders.

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On the Progressive Cave

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Mar 18, 2010 at 12:43

There are a couple of quick responses I have to Glenn Greenwald article Has Rahm's assumption about progressives been vindicated?  In the article Glenn argues that Rahm Emanuel's assumption--that progressives would cave and come to support the final bill without any significant concessions--was vindicated.  This is a premise I objected to yesterday, when it was first floated by Ben Smith at Politico.

More in the extended entry.

There's More... :: (55 Comments, 999 words in story)

White House looking to up excise tax to appease CBO?

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Mar 17, 2010 at 18:00

Majority leader Steny Hoyer has suggested that the House vote on health reform could be pushed until Sunday, because it will take more time to placate the Congressional Budget Office:

Hoyer: we are going to do it as soon as we have "CBO numbers we have confidence in" "saturday and sunday are possibilities"

This would seem to confirm the rumors that the CBO score hasn't been released yet because it doesn't reduce the deficit enough.

Democrats will have to continue to change the bill until they can get an acceptable score, but time is running out.  Since they need three days from the release of the CBO score to the vote, and since Sunday is the last day they can vote, that mean tomorrow night is the absolute latest the score can be released.  So, they need to find ways to make the bill reduce the deficit more, and they need to do it in 24 hours.

It would seem that the White House is looking to increase the excise tax as a means of placating the CBO.  Ben Smith reports that AFL-CIO chair Richard Trumka has been summoned to the White House to discuss:

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is headed into a meeting with President Obama this afternoon after the White House and Congressional leaders have begun to discuss a higher-than-expected excise tax on some health care plans, in order to maintain their claim that health care legislation will reduce the deficit, a source involved in health care talks said.

It was actually the demand to reduce the excise tax that forced the current plan for the House to pass the Senate bill, and then fix that bill through a reconciliation "sidecar."  With the backing of labor, House Democrats of all stripes stood together very strongly on this, torpedoing attempts to just pass the Senate bill unchanged, or attempts to try a smaller bill (or series of smaller bills).

Demanding massive concessions on the excise tax was the actual "Progressive Block" in the negotiations, behind the scenes.  With further concessions being demanded on that front, it will take the blessing of Trumka to make the deal work.  And so, he has been summoned to the White House.

Of course, including a public option would solve the problems Democrats are currently facing with the CBO, but hey, that was never part of the plan.  Or really, even without a public option, you could still finance it by increasing tax rates on high-income households. But I guess a pound of flesh must always be taken from any left-wing group in order for any victory to be allowed.

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Don't believe you discovered water because you walked outside in the rain

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 14:30

Another day brings another lecture on negotiating strategy from Big Tent Democrat.  Once again, we are told that the right-wing of the party has received more concessions in health reform negotiations because right-wing Democrats were more willing to defeat the whole bill than were progressive Democrats:

The question was how to bargain with the people who wanted a bill passed (the White House) to maximize your bargaining position. Unfortunately, that required being willing to do something progressives simply were not willing to do - create the real possibility that no bill would be passed because of their opposition. Without that commitment, the progressives were sure to be the first rolled. And they were.

Well, duh.  As though this is some kind of deep insight that has escaped the feeble mental powers of the "village bloggers" that Big Tent Democrat so loathes and stands so superior over.

Since we are in the business of stating the obvious, let me state something else that is obvious: it order to be the party more willing defeat the bill if your demands are not met, then your base of support needs to be more willing to defeat the bill if your demands are not met.  No matter how easy it is to be cynical, political power still flows from appropriate leveraging of popular support rather than some Nietzschean struggle over the will to power.

A necessary condition for the success of the Progressive Block strategy is for voters in the districts of Progressive Block members to demand the defeat of legislation more than voters in districts of Regressive Block members.  With, at most, 17-18% of the country (that is the highest number ever recorded in any poll on the subject) demanding health reform legislation be defeated (not just improved, but actually defeated) from the left, lefties demanding the defeat of health reform legislation fail to form a majority of even the Democratic primary electorate in any House district in the entire country.  That such voters form a minority of the primary electorate in every single district in the country provides a willing Democratic leadership with enormous leverage over Democrats who seek, or threaten, to defeat the bill from the left.  And yes, we are dealing with a White House that is willing to crush Congressional Progressives who cross them.

Now, since the majority of Democratic primary voters in every district in the country want to pass health reform legislation, there is an opportunity to put real pressure on right-wing Democrats who are extorting demands out of the health reform legislation.  However, the White House has taken a complete pass when it comes to pressuring right-wing Democrats in such a fashion.  Further, not a single left-wing group has declared it will run primary challenges against right-wing Democrats who vote against health reform legislation overall.  (Primaries for opposing the public option, yes.  Primaries for opposing health reform overall, no).  This means there is effectively no pressure on right-wing Democrats to pass the bill, and only pressure on right-wing Democrats has come from corporate groups, large donors, right-wing media, tea partiers, and red district voters to defeat it.

To repeat: no matter how easy it is to be cynical, political power still flows from appropriate leveraging of popular support rather than some Nietzschean struggle over the will to power.  Popular support for killing the bill if it lacked a public option never rose to the level necessary to overcome a Democratic leadership willing to leverage the Democratic electorate against the Progressive members demanding a public option.  At the same time, popular support among Democrats for passing the health reform bill without right-wing demands was never leveraged against the Democrats making those right-wing demands.  Those two dynamics were at the very heart of the Progressive Block negotiation, and why it ultimately failed.

(Note: The level of opposition to health reform because it does not go far enough is actually very impressive.  This is the case even if, at most, it only rose to 17-18% of the population.  Just over one-sixth national support for a position like that is quite an achievement for the lefty organizations and media outlets who were advocating that position, given both the resources of the opposition groups they faced and the historically low percentage of Americans who say Democrats are not left-wing enough.  I personally was no longer engaged those efforts as of late September, focusing instead on other, different, strategies which also didn't work very well.)

Discuss :: (143 Comments)

One reason why the Progressive Block was largely ineffective

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Mar 08, 2010 at 17:52

Last night I produced a list of changes in health reform legislation that progressives have, so far, been able to make to the most right-wing health reform policies that passed through either a Congressional committee or a full branch of Congress.  It is a pretty decent list, but the overall analysis still makes it clear that the more conservative Democratic proposals largely won the day.

Why do conservative Democrats hold more sway over the party's policy than progressives?  That is certainly a question that not only needs a lot of justification (try this post by Matthew Yglesias for starters), but which also has a wide range of possible, and largely unprovable, answers.

Still, I think it is fairly safe to venture that one reason for the relatively greater success of conservative Democrats in shaping Democratic legislative policy is that, generally speaking, a Democratic President has a lot more potential leverage over progressive members of Congress from blue states / districts than over conservative Democrats from red states / districts.

Consider the case of the Progressive Block, a strategy I wrote a lot about over the summer.  The goal of this strategy was to get the White House and the Congressional leadership to pressure right-wing Democrats into supporting a couple of key progressive demands.  The plan was to threaten to join with Republicans and block "must-pass" legislation, such as health reform, unless one or two specific progressive demands, such as the public option, were met.

However, there was a serious flaw in this strategy: it was never the path of least resistance for the White House to apply more pressure to right-wing Democrats than left-wing Democrats.  Consider the choices facing the White House when threatened by both Progressives and Blue Dogs to comply with their various demands on health reform:

  1. First, the White House could pressure Progressives to support health reform even if it lacks key progressive demands. These members of Congress generally come from districts where both President Obama and health reform are popular.

  2. Second, the White House could pressure right-wing Democrats, who generally come from districts where neither President Obama nor health reform are popular, to support health reform even it lacks key conservative demands.
If you are just looking to pass a health reform bill at all costs, as it seems like the White House has been trying to do all along, by far the easier move here is to apply more pressure against Representatives from districts where both the White House and health reform are popular.  And by "pressure," I mean things like OFA, primary challenges, popular opinion, and more.  Compared to Blue Dogs, it is easier for a Democratic White House to a Progressive member's constituents against him or her.

The only way to have reversed this situation would have been if health reform was more popular within Blue Dog districts / donor groups than among Progressive districts / donors groups.  While some left-wing opposition to the bill materialized, those seeking to defeat the bill from the left never rose above 12-13% of the population (this is a smaller group than the roughly 35% of Americans who think the bill does not go far enough--most of whom don't actually want to see the bill defeated).  Thus, it is likely that those seeking to kill the bill from the left were a minority of Democratic  primary voters in every Congressional district in the country.

It is virtually impossible for a member of Congress to have leverage over the White House when the White House is on the side of the majority voters in that member's district, but that member of Congress is not.  To truly have had leverage over the White House, and have received much bigger concessions, any member of Congress blocking the bill for left-wing reasons needed to convince a majority, or close to a majority, of his or her constituents that the bill should be defeated without large, left-wing concessions.

To put it a bit more crudely, one reason Progressive members of Congress have relatively less influence over Democratic White Houses is because Democratic White Houses--and their legislative proposals--tend to be very popular in blue states and blue districts.  That just makes it easier for Democratic White Houses to get concessions out of Progressives than out of Blue Dogs, at least on a general level.  Because of this, we raised about as much hell as we realistically could have done, and still only achieved this list of concessions.

While this is not the only cause of relative Progressive legislative failure compared to Blue Dogs, it is still an important factor.

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Yes, Congressional Progressives won major public option concessions in the health reform bill

by: Chris Bowers

Fri Mar 05, 2010 at 18:13

Big Tent Democrat wants you to know that progressives are complete, sucky failures whose efforts on the public option came to nothing at all:

In terms of progressive activists, it is clear that they have been completely rolled in this process and were given absolutely nothing. The good parts of the bill (Medicaid expansion, theoretically, the better regulations, though I have no confidence in the enforcement mechanisms) were not controversial and should not be seen as concessions to progressives. Indeed, I expect they would be passed separately if the Senate bill fails. In short, progressives got nothing in the political bargaining.

Now, pardon my exasperation, and please don't anyone talk anything I am about to write personally, because it is a generalized rant. But...

Bullshit.  This is just wrong.  Its bullshit like all the other bullshit out there in the blogosphere about how progressive activists who want to pass the health reform bill got nothing and have been forced into their "veal pens" or some other offensive formulation.  That entire line of "argument" is just demonstrably false, and either intellectually dishonest or blinded by egregious cynicism

Here are two huge public option concessions that ended up in the Senate bill as concessions to progressive activists and members of Congress (more in the extended entry):

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Here is what happens if Bernanke isn't confirmed

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Jan 25, 2010 at 11:45

If Ben Bernanke is not reconfirmed by the Senate this week to another four-year term as chairman of the Federal Reserve, then the stock market will be sent into a tailspin so dire that it is likely our children, and their children, will all work as chimney sweeps in the ensuing century of Dickensian poverty.  

Or, Matthew Yglesias has a good summary:

If a left-right coalition of 40 Senators blocks his confirmation, then it's hard to see what other candidate would be more to their liking. You'd have gridlock.  But Bernanke's term as a member of the Fed's Board of Governors is actually a 14-year term that doesn't expire for a long time.  Consequently, the same Open Market Committee that's making decisions right now would just go on making decisions.  Bernanke would, however, be unable to perform the formal responsibilities of the Chairman, so that role would devolve to Donald Kohn, the Vice Chair.

The truth is, functionally, that defeating Bernanke might not change that much in terms of Federal Reserve policy.  However, it would still have some positive effects, including sending a strong message, opening up the possibility for change at the Federal Reserve and, as I discuss in the extended entry, empowering the left-wing of the Democratic Party in the Senate.

More in the extended entry.

There's More... :: (13 Comments, 387 words in story)

People don't like hostage-takers: Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman now most unpopular Senators of all

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Jan 07, 2010 at 13:00

It is both small comfort, and an important lesson, for public option advocates that Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson have become the most unpopular and electorally imperiled members of the entire Senate.  This has happened largely because of their hostage-taking actions on the healthcare bill.

Joe Lieberman:

Joe Lieberman's actions on the health care bill antagonized constituents both for and against it, and in the wake of that he finds his approval rating at just 25% with 67% of voters in the state disapproving of him.(...)

It's clear that his actions on the Senate health care bill have made a large contribution to his falling popularity. 68% of voters say they disagree with how he handled the issue to just 19% giving him support. Among people who support the health care bill 84% say they disapprove of Lieberman's actions but even among those opposed to the initiative 52% say they disagree with how Lieberman handled himself.

This isn't the first poll showing that Lieberman took a big hit over his backstab on the public option.  Two weeks ago, CNN polling showed the exact same results, much to the mystification of D.C. political writers.

Lieberman's actions appealed to no one.  Now, he is toast, even among Republicans.  A warm body will defeat him in 2012.

Ben Nelson:

If Governor Dave Heineman challenges Nelson for the Senate job, a new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey shows the Republican would get 61% of the vote while Nelson would get just 30%. Nelson was reelected to a second Senate term in 2006 with 64% of the vote.

Nelson's health care vote is clearly dragging his numbers down. Just 17% of Nebraska voters approve of the deal their senator made on Medicaid in exchange for his vote in support of the plan.

Nelson, like Lieberman, did not make himself more popular among those who oppose the health care bill, or the public option, with his actions. Both supporters and opponents of both the health care bill and the public option were largely disgusted with what they viewed as personal power aggrandizement.

Their actions earned both Nelson and Lieberman featured appearances on Sunday D.C. talk shows, but it also made voters of all sorts loathe them.  It would appear that people don't like members of Congress who take enormous pieces of legislation hostage for personal reasons.  Nelson and Lieberman are now the most unpopular Senators in their home states in the entire country, far more unpopular than even Harry Reid, Chris Dodd or Blanche Lincoln.

All of this makes it quite amusing that ongoing hostage-taker, Bart Stupak, is strongly considering a run for Governor of Michigan.  What a fool.  It seems that he really believes that the only people who hate his hostage-taking actions are from New York City.  The Nelson and Lieberman polling quoted above shows that very few people, whether in your home state or nationally, and whether among people who agree with your positions or not, like it when members of Congress take hostages in this manner.

Man, I hope Stupak does run for Governor.  It would be an easy way to get him out of elected office altogether.  It would also be nice to see another health care hostage-taker go down in flames, mystified about why people don't like him anymore.

Finally, I think this is a lesson for public option advocates, and our high-profile hostage-taking strategy called The Progressive Block.  It seems clear to me now that a strategy like that only works if you build up public support for it (which we most definitely did not do among the Democratic primary electorate), or if the fight is far more low-profile (such as IMF funding in the Afghanistan supplemental).  High-profile hostage taking just doesn't work from the left (or, as polling shows, from the right or the center, either)  Voters of all sorts, including those on the left, just don't like it, and they will punish you given the opportunity.  It is indeed small comfort that the mendacious hostage-takers who stopped us are now wildly unpopular both at home and around the country, but it is also a warning that we would have been in the same position if we had become the hostage takers ourselves.

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What can be done either to pressure Lieberman / Snowe, or to circumvent 60 votes?

by: Chris Bowers

Fri Dec 11, 2009 at 13:07

When thinking about how to make the health care bill better, at this point there are two main questions:

  1. What can be done to make either Lieberman or Snowe support better legislation? At this point, it appears we only need either Lieberman or Snowe to achieve a health care deal with vast Medicaid expansion, smallish Medicare buy-in, moderate subsidies, and a new regulatory regime.  Keeping in mind that there are many fights left to be had, and Mike's warning that no deal is final until it lands on the President's desk, for all intents and purposes only one more vote is needed to pass this bill. That vote, unfortunately, needs to come from either Lieberman or Snowe.

    OR, if that fails

  2. What can be done to circumvent the need for 60 votes altogether? If the current framework of the Senate compromise is not good enough for you, and you would only be willing to support something better, then you need to figure out a way to circumvent the need for 60 votes altogether.  A 51-vote Senate would produce a bill comparable, and perhaps even better, than the one produced by the House.  Achieving a 51-vote Senate requires either reconciliation or nuking the filibuster entirely.
Of all the critics of the various campaigns for better health legislation, they don't advance the campaign unless they offer solutions for the current predicament we face.  We can save the broader post-mortems on how the fight could have been waged differently from the beginning for later.  Right now, we need to deal with the problem at hand, rather than look into the past.

I personally don't have particularly comprehensive answers to either of those two questions.  In the extended entry, I describe what strategies I can think of for getting to 51 votes, and for pressuring Lieberman and Snowe.  Hopefully, the discussion that ensues can lead to something more comprehensive.

There's More... :: (88 Comments, 722 words in story)

Why Progressives aren't blocking the bill: Medicaid

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Dec 10, 2009 at 16:56

The largest public option in the health care bills is, and has always been, the significant expansion of Medicaid.  In terms of the number of people it covers, this expansion dwarfs any other public option expansion currently on the table in Congress.  In terms of the type of people it covers, the Medicaid expansion includes a much higher percentage of Americans who are uninsured, and a much higher percentage of Americans who are in poverty, than any other public option expansion on the table in Congress.

The CBO report on the bill passed by the House (PDF, page 11), and the CBO report on the bill that was sent to the floor of the Senate (PDF, page 20), both project that the bills will add 15 million more Medicaid subscribers than current law.  All of those 15 million are at 150% of the national poverty level or lower in the House bill, and 133% or lower in the Senate bill.  Also, virtually all of the new people who will be covered by Medicaid in both bills are uninsured.

By comparison, the Medicare +5% public option was projected to cover 10 million people, the negotiated rates public option that passed the House was projected to cover 6 million people, and the opt-out public option was projected to cover 3-4 million people.  Even in the July version of the House bill, the Medicaid expansions were projected to cover 11 million new people (PDF, page 17), larger than any of the other public option expansions reviewed by the CBO.  As such, at all times, the Medicaid expansion was the largest expansion to public health insurance in the various bills that passed through Congressional committees.

Providing 15 million low-income, uninsured Americans with public health insurance is also why so few House Progressives carried through on their earlier threat to sink any health care bill without a new public option program tied to Medicare rates.  After all, House Progressives both want to help people in poverty, and they disproportionately represent districts that would have been impacted by the new Medicaid coverage.   It would have been difficult for House Progressives to explain to their constituents why they denied them health care, especially when the only electoral pressure most Progressives face comes from primary challenges.

There is another reason any Progressive explanation for defeating the bill would have been difficult.  In their July 30th letter, House Progressives were advocating for a Medicare +5% public option, which would have covered 10 million people, to be added to a bill with a Medicaid expansion that, at the time, covered 11 million people.  Such a bill would have increased the number of people with public health insurance by the exact same amount as the bill that eventually passed the House (15 million through the Medicaid expansion and 6 million through the negotiated rate public option in the exchange).  In both pieces of legislation, 21 million more people are covered with public health insurance.

Defeating the vast Medicaid expansion is the pill House and Senate Progressives have been unable to swallow.  If you want to know why Progressives in the House and Senate are not blocking the bill, Medicaid expansion is the reason.

In their quest to get votes, the Democratic leadership seems to have accurately calculated that a Medicaid expansion would lock in Progressives throughout the process.  It would have been nice if they could have figured out something palatable that would have locked in all the Blue Dogs and Conservadems from the start, too.

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Um, I didn't give up on the public option

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Dec 03, 2009 at 19:44

There is a rumor going around the intertubes that I have given up on the public option.  The rumor is based on a post I made yesterday.

It isn't true.  I have not given up on the public option.  Let me set the record straight:

  • I still support the public option.  In fact, my ideal is either the original Jacob Hacker public option, or a national single-payer system.  Really, either way.

  • I am still organizing for the public option.  Among the many campaigns Open Left has engaging in on behalf of the public option, the most recent was getting several thousand people to sign up for SEIU's Adopt-a-State campaign designed to put pressure on Mary Landrieu, Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, and Ben Nelson.  In conjunction with SEIU, we started that campaign only two weeks ago.  Sign up, if you haven't already.

  • I support the Senate health care bill, but that has a triggerless public option, at least for a few more days.

  • I am not organizing, or advocating, for the bill to be defeated if it lacks a triggerless public option.  In fact, the last time I can remember doing that was nearly three months ago.  Even then, I still framed the Block largely as a negotiating tactic.

  • In case anyone somehow missed it, the Progressive Block, which had been threatening to defeat a bill without a public option tied to Medicare rates, folded on October 30th, at the latest.  That was the day when the Block's organizer, Representative Raul Grijalva, indicated that he would no longer work to defeat the bill if it lacked such a public option.  Only eight days later, all but two of the original sixty members of the Progressive Block voted for a bill without a public option tied to Medicare rates.

    That Block / bloc folded on its own, not because of me.  I still the Block did a helluva lotta good in this fight though, and I'm not going to blast its members or organizers for their efforts.

  • Never once did I attack any member of Congress for not joining the Progressive Block.  I just never did that.

  • If the Progressive Block is still operational, great.  I am in favor of pushing it right up until the conference committee reports a bill, and then determining our options from that point.  However, the only Blocks / blocs I see at this point are Representative Diana DeGette's Pro-Choice Block and Representative Bart Stupak's Coathanger Block.  Each of them have issued threats, with a list of names, to Speaker Pelosi that they will defeat the health care bill if their demands are not met.  There has not been a threat like that from the Public Option Progressive Block since, at the very latest, mid-September.

    If I am wrong, and the Progressive Block threat around the public option still exists, then please let me know.

The only thing I have changed on is an expanded definition of a "win" on the health care bill.  For a while, I argued that a victory was only about the public option and increasing Progressive influence.  Now, I have an expanded definition that also includes saving thousands of lives by making it easier for them to purchase health insurance.

I hope this clears everything up.

Update: FWIW--I am working on a piece that weighs the arguments for and against killing the bill in its current form, and also depending on the provisions that might be added or removed.  Any information you can provide on that front would be very useful.

Discuss :: (88 Comments)

Some links before the holiday…

by: Chris Bowers

Wed Nov 25, 2009 at 05:00

I'm taking a five day break from blogging for the holiday.  There will be plenty of content in my absence, I just won't be writing it.  Be sure to check in, if you need an escape from your holiday.

Before I go, here are some links to check out:

(More in the extended entry)
There's More... :: (5 Comments, 682 words in story)

Health care state of play in the Senate

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 12:32

After two weeks where most health care attention has been on the House, we now return to Senate.  Here's where things stand:

Five Problem Democrats
The only barriers to health care reform at this point are Senators Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, Joe Lieberman, Blanche Lincoln, and Ben Nelson.  There are fifty-one Senators who support health care reform with a public option, and four--Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Kent Conrad, and Mark Pryor--who have made absolutely no threats to filibuster.  The same cannot be said of the five "problem" Senators listed above.

Three cloture votes--threats are on the second and third
There are three votes where the problem Senators could potentially join with Republicans to block the bill.  First, on the cloture vote to bring the bill to the floor for debate and amendment.  Second, on the cloture vote to end that debate and bring up a floor vote on the overall bill.  Third, on the cloture vote to end debate and bring up a floor vote on the overall health care bill after the health care bill is returned from conference.

Right now, most of the threats to block the bill are on the second of these votes.  Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman have said they are likely to allow the floor debate.  Ben Nelson has not said he will bock the floor debate, and Mary Landrieu senses a compromise is close.  Blanche Lincoln recently had a one-on-one with President Obama.

So, a floor debate will likely go forward.  However, that will not mean the five problem Senators have been forced into line.

Timeline
The current, vague timeline for the Senate is "the end of the year."

Since Harry Reid announced that the merged Senate bill would contain a public option, the process in the Senate has slowed to a crawl.  The hold-up appears to be that Reid is waiting for CBO estimates which will not be completed until the end of this week.

This means, at the earliest, floor debate and amendments will start for the health care bill one week from tomorrow.  If it does not start next week, then it will start the week after Thanksgiving.

Harry Reid is also telling Senators to get ready for Saturday sessions in December.

Stupak moves to the Senate (more in the extended entry)

There's More... :: (34 Comments, 373 words in story)
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