1. Democrats are now considering splitting the health care reform into two or more bills–which, as I’ve said previously, is what they should have done from the start. The question is: can you get the water back into the glass? More specifically, however, Reid proposes to set the budgetary elements into one bill, which can be passed through the budget reconciliation process, which does not require 60 votes, but only 50–and the other bill would have the more popular elements and be subject to the 60 vote requirement. Whether this passes constitutional muster is unclear (it would be up to the nonpartisan “parliamentarian” to determine whether this was really a budgetary issue, and thus fit for reconciliation), and whether it would result in total gridlock in the Senate is unclear. It may be more of a threat. It’s just possible, however, that Reid is serious, and he’s willing to risk Republicans revolting and gumming up the works in the Senate, so that he can accuse them of being “the party of no” for the 2010 midterms.
2. Yesterday President Obama held a conference call with tens of thousands of religious leaders, and I participated in the call. It was highly scripted, an audio version of a dog-and-pony show. Sojourners, amongst other progressive religious organizations, was behind the call (Jim Wallis was among the many who addressed the listeners). What disturbs me is the way the evangelical and Christian Left excoriate those on the Right who perpetuate falsehoods (or “bear false witness,” as Obama told us over the line, using the religious language), yet raise no objection when Obama himself perpetuates falsehoods–such as the falsehood that anyone who likes his doctor or likes his coverage will be able to keep it. Obama also repeated the false claim that there will be no federal financing of abortion (see below). Folks like Jim Wallis know that these are, at the very best, deliberately misleading simplifications, and yet they are content to let Obama pull the wool over our eyes for the sake of the greater good. This is not leadership, and it’s not the prophetic relationship that Christians are called to have in relation to any administration, Right or Left. It falls short of the standard that Wallis and others have set for Christian engagement in the public sphere.
Then Obama also held a special conference call–one that was left off his public schedule–with 1000 rabbis in advance of the Jewish high holy days. Obama said that “We are God’s partners in matters of life and death.” As some even on the Left have noted, this is the kind of blending of theology and political advocacy that once outraged liberals when it was practiced by Bush. But you can be sure Jim Wallis and his ilk will not raise a protest. The reason? It’s their theology Obama uses. Bush’s was a triumphalist, nationalistic theology, Wallis often claimed, one that Wallis called heretical.
Yet again, there are huge holes in the argument here. Yes, Jesus healed the sick and diseased, and we are called to care for the least of these. But it’s a long way from “I was sick, and you cared for me” to “the government should fund its own insurance plan and dictate what other insurance plans do.” Yes, yes, of course, we should care about health care reform. We all do. Yet there are differences on what should be done in that reform. Simply because a group disagrees with you on the best way to meet the health needs of the country does not mean that the group does not care about the poor and the sick. People like Barack Obama and Jim Wallis know this, which is why the demagoguery is getting old. Neither side, neither side, should demonize the other, and neither side should declare that their opponents are irrational simply for opposing. To return to the motto of this blog: neither party has a monopoly on good (or bad) ideas and intentions.
3. HARDBALL. As one story relates, “ ‘s push for a overhaul is providing a financial windfall in the election offseason to Democratic consulting firms that are closely connected to the president and two top advisers.” David Axelrod’s consulting and lobbying firm is getting big money from health care companies, even as the firm gives Axelrod $2M, which creates at least the appearance of impropriety. Then, as another story tells, “In a move some fear is a reprisal for opposing President Obama’s health care plan, Democrats sent 52 letters to health insurers requesting financial records for a House committee’s investigation,” records on executive compensation and other business practices. Part of the problem, however, is that if insurance companies are gauging consumers and making obscene profits, those profits would show up either in executive compensation or in shareholder dividends. Yet independent analyses have shown that insurance companies turn a very slight profit, and compensate their executive at under-market rates. That doesn’t mean, however, that Waxman won’t be able to find examples of largesse that he can exploit politically. This is getting uglier by the minute. Pretty soon we’ll be hearing stories about how insurance companies are sending their executives to Vegas for conferences while they’re turning down the poor woman who could not afford her cancer treatments.
I think Daniel Henninger is right. The fundamental problem here is that we do not trust the government. We did not trust the Bush government, and so the American people would have objected wholeheartedly if the Bush team had offered to take a dramatic transformation of the American economy and society into their hands. But even during the Bush presidency, the trust in the legislative branch was even lower than the trust in Bush. That trust is low now as well, and Obama has squandered much of the good will and trust that he originally enjoyed. People see their country being dramatically reshaped, and they do not trust the hands that are doing the reshaping.
4. It is right to condemn those who bring Obama-Hitler posters to the town halls, and right to upbraid those who bring guns in order to make some misguided point about the right to bear arms. In my view, however, it is wrong to paint the majority of protesters with these brushes, and wrong to suggest that they are truly, deep down, motivated by racism. As MSNBC so cleverly edited out, one of the protesters bearing a semi-automatic rifle at a recent Obama event was African-American–and as many news outlets have neglected to mention, the Obama-Hitler posters are carried largely by Lyndon LaRouche Democrats.
5. A coalition of pro-life groups (called Stop the Abortion Mandate, or STAM) has put together a video demanding that abortion funding be excluded from any health care reform bill:
The concern here is that taxpayer money, given in subsidies, will fund abortions (H/T Hot Air). The fact is: they will. The following is worth quoting:
Question: Won’t the Hyde Amendment and Capps Compromise prohibit tax payer funded abortions?
Answer: On July 30, the House Energy and Commerce Committee added to H.R. 3200 an amendment written by staff to Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Ca.) and offered by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Ca.), both of whom have consistently pro-abortion career voting records. This “phony compromise” explicitly authorizes the “public plan” to cover all abortions. This would drastically change longstanding federal policy. This means that any citizen who wants to take advantage of the public plan will be compelled to purchase coverage for abortion on demand. The federal agency will collect the premium money, receive bills from abortionists, and send the abortionists payment checks from a federal Treasury account. It is a sham to pretend that this does not constitute funding of abortion. If this passes, the federal government will be running a nationwide abortion-on-demand insurance plan.
Under H.R. 3200 as amended by the Capps Amendment, some private plans may elect not to include abortion, but private plans that cover elective abortion will be federally subsidized. Both bills provide funds for the new premium-subsidy program through a new funding pipeline that would not be subject to the Hyde Amendment, which is merely a year-to-year provision that currently prevents federal funding of abortions in the Medicaid program. As the Associated Press accurately reported in its August 5, 2009, analysis, “A law called the Hyde amendment applies the [abortion] restrictions to Medicaid . . . The [Obama-backed] health overhaul would create a stream of federal funding not covered by the restrictions.”
Further, there is no doubt whatever that the Obama Administration would immediately use the Capps authorization to cover elective abortions in the public plan. On July 17, 2007, Barack Obama appeared before the annual conference of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Speaking of his plans for “health care reform,” Obama said, “In my mind, reproductive care is essential care. It is basic care, and so it is at the center and at the heart of the plan that I propose.” He also stated that, “What we’re doing is to say that we’re gonna set up a public plan that all persons and all women can access if they don’t have health insurance. It’ll be a plan that will provide all essential services, including reproductive services.”
6. I respect Ted Kennedy. The Chappaquiddick fiasco showed personal (and probably criminal) weakness, but that was long ago. I am aware of no corruption or influence-peddling in Kennedy’s record. He is a true believer in the liberal cause, and in some respects his family’s wealth and fame gave him the resources to accomplish much (for better or worse, Kennedy has moved a tremendous amount of legislation through the Senate) in a straightforward manner. He is said to be a very nice person, and to treat his aides very well. Now, everyone knows that health care reform has been his pet issue for decades. It would be a major irony if Kennedy’s death prevented the Democrats from having the votes they need in the Senate to bypass a Republican filibuster. Kennedy himself does not relish the prospect. Thus Kennedy sent a letter urging Massachusetts lawmakers to change the state law so that an interim Senator could be appointed for the five months that are required to pass in-between the death of a Senator and the election of his replacement.
For Kennedy to look past his own death to the good of the cause he serves is admirable. What is less attractive is the fact that it was Kennedy himself who lobbied to change the law so that the Governor could not appoint an interim Senator back when John Kerry was running for President and it appeared that Mitt Romney would be able to appoint someone to take his place if he won the Presidency. In other words, it was once the case that the Governor appointed an interim Senator. When the Governor was a Republican, Kennedy successfully campaigned to alter state law so that the Governor could not do so; when the Governor is a Democrat (Deval Patrick), and an important issue is on the table, Kennedy wants it changed back.
7. Indications are that the jobs “created or saved” through federal stimulus money will mostly be saved, and will mostly be state workers who would otherwise have been laid off. Of course, it is good that state workers should keep their jobs, their incomes, and their spending potential. Yet this is not exactly equal opportunity between private and public sector workers. There is a tendency for the state to pull together to protect its own, but this can quickly build resentment, as the majority of states continue to add to their payrolls even as the private sector is losing millions of jobs.
8. Sarah Palin continues to make news and stir controversy.
9. Commentary of the Day: David Ignatius. Ignatius says that Obama needs a “Petraeus” on health care, a seasoned professional with great ideas who can lead us through the morass to a better place. He suggests Denis Cortese, the head of the Mayo Clinic. A quotation:
Talking to Cortese this week, I heard two themes that cut to the heart of the current debate. First, he thinks Obama has made a mistake in moving toward the narrower goal of “health insurance reform” when what the country truly needs is health system reform. Imposing a mandate for universal insurance will only make things worse if we don’t change the process so that it becomes more efficient and less costly. The system we have now is gradually bankrupting the country; expanding that system without changing the internal dynamics is folly.
Second, Cortese argues that reformers should stop obsessing over whether there’s a “public option” in the plan. Yes, we need a yardstick for measuring costs and effectiveness. But we should start by fixing the public options we already have.
In other words, show us that you can reduce costs and improve service in our existing public plans, and then we can talk about a public plan for all.
11. Finally, the hugely anticipated “Avatar,” from James Cameron, is coming soon, and the first trailer is viewable here.1