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March 2010

Worth Reading #5: Tim Fernholz Watches Chris Cilizza Simply Not Do His Job (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? for March 27, 2010)

Tim Fernholz:

The American Prospect: Why People Don't Understand Health Care Policy. Take it away, Chris Cilizza:

That meeting also made plain the wide policy gap between the two parties; Democrats were focused primarily on expanding coverage, while Republicans were fixated on controlling costs.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office says [PDF] the Democrats' plan is the biggest deficit-reducer in 15 years:

CBO and JCT estimate that enacting both pieces of legislation—H.R. 3590 and the reconciliation proposal— would produce a net reduction in federal deficits of $138 billion over the 2010–2019 period as result of changes in direct spending and revenue... [it would also] reduce federal budget deficits over the ensuing decade relative to those projected under current law—with a total effect during that decade that is in a broad range around one-half percent of GDP.

The bill also reduces Medicare expenditures by 1.4 percentage points a year. Which is to say, Cilizza's descriptions of the two sides is pure b.s.... independent medical advisory commission to insurance exchanges, while touting ideas like malpractice reform that do reduce costs but only by small amounts. And malpractice reform policies are in the bill! Read David Cutler. Cillizza literally refuses to believe that someone could care about reducing costs and expanding coverage at the same time, despite the bare facts...

Worth Reading #4: Matthew Yglesias Finds Charles Murray to Simply Be Not Credible (March 27, 2010)

Matthew Yglesias:

Matthew Yglesias: Murray Hits Frum: Charles Murray is none too pleased by David Frum’s account of his departure from AEI:

Regarding donor pressure: The idea that AEI donors sit down to talk with AEI’s president about who should and shouldn’t be on the staff, or what the staff should write, is fantasy. David has never seen the slightest sign of anything like that at AEI. He can’t have. He made it up. AEI has a culture, the scholars are fiercely proud of that culture, and at its heart is total intellectual freedom. As for the reality of that intellectual freedom, I think it’s fair to say I know what I’m talking about. I’ve pushed it to the limit. Arthur Brooks is just as adamant about preserving that culture as Chris DeMuth was, and Chris’s devotion to it was seamless.

Obviously I can’t speak to AEI in detail. But having worked for a few non-profits, and for one money-losing non-profit, and being friends with many people who work for other non-profits and money-losing for-profits, I think anyone who’s trying to tell you that the views of the people who are paying the bills are irrelevant to an organization’s activities is being a bit silly. No organization is so crass as to have its doings dictated by donors, but “doing things that make donors happy” is rewarded in a way that “doing things that make donors mad” is not. That’s life. Grownups can admit it.

RomneyCare Aftermath: The Tunnel at the End of the Tunnel: IPAB Edition

Medicare is such a large component of our health care system--and growing larger. So whatever treatment protocols and practices are used on Medicare patients is likely to drive costs and utilization throughout the whole American health are system.

And the IPAB is supposed to drive those--and save us $2 trillion over the next twenty years without harming the quality of care. It's a very big job. It's very important that it be done right.

Ezra Klein muses:

Can we control costs without Congress?: It is a sad commentary on Congress that the most promising cost control in the Affordable Care Act is the one that takes much of the responsibility for controlling costs away from Congress and hands it off to an independent board of experts. That board... has made it... and in substantially stronger form than I, for one, expected... a strong version of IPAB slipped through almost unnoticed... a 15-person, full-time board composed of health-care experts and stakeholders. Members need to be confirmed by the Senate and will serve six-year terms, with one possible reappointment. But the important thing isn't who serves. It's how they vote. Or, as the case may be, don't vote. If Congress approves the board's recommendations and the president signs them, they go into effect. If Congress does not vote on the board's recommendations, they still go into effect. If Congress votes against the board's recommendations but the president vetoes and Congress can't find the two-thirds necessary to overturn the veto, the recommendations go into effect. It's only if Congress votes them down and the president agrees that the recommendations die. “I believe this commission is the largest yielding of sovereignty from the Congress since the creation of the Federal Reserve,” says Peter Orszag, who's been one of the idea's most enthusiastic supporters.

The board will propose packages of reforms that bring Medicare in line with certain spending targets. Those reforms won't increase cost sharing or taxes and they won't change eligibility or benefits. Instead, they're reforms of what Medicare pays for and how it pays for it.... Nevertheless, this is the most powerful cost-cutting agency we've seen. For all those folks saying Congress can't stick to cuts, this is the closest thing to a solution that anyone's come up with. It gives Congress a way to let someone else take on the hard decisions that it doesn't have the expertise or political will to make. If Congress so chooses, it could let the IPAB do its work without ever bringing the recommendations up for a vote: They'd still go into effect, and no one would be on the record in either direction.

As a commentary on Congress, is all this a bit sad, and even weird? Yes. But it may also be necessary.... The bottom line is that IPAB creates a continuous system for controlling costs in Medicare and trying out new reforms and experiments. For all those disappointed by Congress's fecklessness when it came to cost controls in the Affordable Care Act, know that Congress actually agrees with you, and is trying to do something about it. Or at least let someone else do something about it.

Peter Orszag definitely needs message discipliine. He should not say "largest yielding of sovereignty from the Congress." Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Roberts may pick this up and try to cause trouble--not for any principled commitment, you understand, but just because they can and they feel like it.

Worth Reading #3: David Frum vs. the Hax of Sol III: Wall Street Journal Edition (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? for March 27, 2010)

David Frum

The Wall Street Journal delivers a stinging editorial this morning, accusing me of selling myself for MSM gold. On the other hand, they also credit me as the main author of Beltway conventional wisdom, so I do have that going for me.

In Washington, political defeats always produce finger-pointing, so the conventional wisdom has suddenly turned on a dime and decided that Republicans were wrong to have opposed ObamaCare. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was especially taken yesterday with blogger and Bush speechwriter David Frum’s argument that if only Republicans had negotiated with Democrats, they could have somehow made the bill less awful than it is. Mr. Frum now makes his living as the media’s go-to basher of fellow Republicans, which is a stock Beltway role. But he’s peddling bad revisionist history that would have been even worse politics.

I’ll get to the personal stuff at the end of this post. Let’s begin with the historical claim. Who is the revisionist? According to the Wall Street Journal,

In the House, Republicans were frozen out from the start. Three Chairmen—Charlie Rangel, Henry Waxman and George Miller—holed up last spring to write the most liberal bill they could get through the House. Republicans were told that unless they embraced the “public option,” there was nothing to discuss. As for the White House, House GOP leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor in May sent a letter to President Obama “respectfully” requesting a meeting to discuss ideas. The White House didn’t respond. Mr. Obama’s first deadline for House passage was July, and only after public opinion turned against the bill did he begin to engage Republican ideas. Yet in his September address to Congress attempting to revive his bill, he made no concession save pilot projects for tort reform. In the Senate, a group of Republicans did negotiate with Finance Chairman Max Baucus for months, even as Senators Chris Dodd and Ted Kennedy were crafting a bill that mirrored the liberal House product. GOP Senators Chuck Grassley, Olympia Snowe and Orrin Hatch are hardly strangers to working with Democrats. In 2007, they helped Mr. Baucus expand the children’s insurance program over President Bush’s opposition. Senate liberals kept tugging Mr. Baucus to the left, however, and eventually the White House ordered him to call off negotiations. Senator Snowe still voted for the Finance Committee bill, though even she fell away on the floor as Majority Leader Harry Reid insisted on pushing the public option and tried, as Ms. Snowe put it, to “ram it” and “jam it” through the Senate. In the end, Republicans couldn’t as a matter of principle support even 50% of a bill that was such a huge and reckless expansion of government. If they had, they would have rightly lost the support of their own most loyal supporters. In the end, too, the bill was so unpopular—59% opposed in a Sunday CNN survey—that 34 House Democrats voted no and Mr. Reid is resorting to reconciliation to get the “fixes” of more taxes and spending through the Senate.

As I stressed in my “Waterloo” post, I don’t know whether a deal could have been done in the Senate Finance Committee. Maybe it was hopeless from the get-go. On the other hand, as the Journal itself says: “[A] group of Republicans did negotiate with Finance Chairman Max Baucus for months …” It would be equally accurate to say that Finance Chairman Max Baucus negotiated with Republicans for months. Months! Doesn’t that suggest something to you? Gigot? Henninger? McGurn? Anybody? Anybody? Baucus, a moderate Democrat (the National Journal ranked him the 45th most liberal senator in 2009) representing red-state Montana, badly wanted bipartisan cover. Badly enough? Again, as I said, I don’t know. But the claim that Republicans pressed as hard as they could to find out is simply incredible. And if they HAD pressed, who would have fired at them more fiercely than the WSJ itself?

The Journal approved the plan to bet everything defeating Obamacare rather than endorse what it contemptuously called, “Baucus lite.” As a tactic for increasing Republican seats in Congress, that plan might have worked. But it represented a huge gamble: If Republicans failed to stop the Obama plan, their refusal to do business would yield a much worse bill than might otherwise have been obtained. Which is exactly what has happened. To repeat: if you go for all the marbles, you had better win. We lost.

Of course the strategy might still “work”: as the Journal noted, the Obama plan has been rendered more unpopular than it might otherwise have been. Some of the Republican congressional gains expected in 2010 might well be credited to the anti-Obamacare campaign. But what kind of argument is this for the Wall Street Journal to make? I can understand why John Boehner might say, “I don’t really care what the health care bill ultimately looks like – the important thing is to regain a GOP majority.” But the Journal? Aren’t they supposed to be about policy and ideas rather than committee chairmanships?

I do want to answer, finally, the Journal’s ugly personal remark. I worked on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page for three years. Through much of that time, one of my duties was to see into print the column written by Paul Gigot, now the paper’s editor. We know each other pretty well. Paul cannot seriously believe that my views are for sale. But if he did believe it, surely he’d credit me with the acuity to know where the highest price is paid: and that it’s not where I’ve raised my flag.

Worth Reading #2: Yves Smith: Indefensible Men (March 27, 2010)

Yves Smith:

Indefensible Men:

Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society:

Since inequalities of privilege are greater than could possibly be defended rationally, the intelligence of privileged groups is usually applied to the task of inventing specious proofs for the theory that universal values spring from, and that general interests are served by, the special privileges which they hold.

A year on from its brush with Armageddon, the financial services industry has resumed its reckless, self-serving ways It isn’t hard to see why this has aroused simmering rage in normally complacent, pro-capitalist Main Street America.... Wall Street just looted the public on a massive scale. Having found this to be a wondrously lucrative exercise, it looks set to do it all over again. These people above all were supposed to understand money, the value of it, the risks attendant with it.... The rationale for the eye-popping rewards was simple. We lived in a Brave New World of finance, where the ability to slice, dice, repackage and sell risk led to better outcomes for all, via cheaper credit and better diversification. We have since learned that this flattering picture was a convenient cover for massive risk-taking and fraud. The industry regularly bundled complicated exposures into products and dumped them onto investors who didn’t understand them. Indeed, it has since become evident that the industry itself didn’t understand them. The supposedly sophisticated risk management techniques didn’t work so well for even the advanced practitioners, as both top investment banks and quant hedge funds hemorrhaged losses.... With economic casualties all about, thanks to baleful financial “innovations” and reckless trading bets, the tone-deafness of the former Masters of the Universe is striking. Their firms would have been reduced to sheer rubble were it not for the munificence of the taxpayer--or perhaps, more accurately, the haplessness of the official rescuers, who threw money at these players directly and indirectly, through a myriad a programs plus the brute force measure of super low interest rates, with perilous few strings attached. Yet what is remarkable is that the widespread denunciations of excessive banking industry pay are met with incredulity and outright hostility. It’s one thing to be angry over a reversal in fortune; it’s one of the five stages of grief. But the petulance, the narcissism, the lack of any sense of proportion reveals a deep-seated pathology at work...

Worth Reading #1: Barry Eichengreen: The Last Temptation of Risk (March 27, 2010)

Still the best short thing on the depression that I have read.

Barry Eichengreen:

The Last Temptation of Risk: THE GREAT Credit Crisis has cast into doubt much of what we thought we knew about economics. We thought that monetary policy had tamed the business cycle. We thought that because changes in central-bank policies had delivered low and stable inflation, the volatility of the pre-1985 years had been consigned to the dustbin of history; they had given way to the quaintly dubbed “Great Moderation.” We thought that financial institutions and markets had come to be self-regulating—that investors could be left largely if not wholly to their own devices. Above all we thought that we had learned how to prevent the kind of financial calamity that struck the world in 1929. We now know that much of what we thought was true was not. The Great Moderation was an illusion. Monetary policies focusing on low inflation to the exclusion of other considerations (not least excesses in financial markets) can allow dangerous vulnerabilities to build up. Relying on institutional investors to self-regulate is the economic equivalent of letting children decide their own diets. As a result we are now in for an economic and financial downturn that will rival the Great Depression before it is over. The question is how we could have been so misguided. One interpretation, understandably popular given our current plight, is that the basic economic theory informing the actions of central bankers and regulators was fatally flawed.... But another view, considerably closer to the truth, is that the problem lay not so much with the poverty of the underlying theory as with selective reading of it—a selective reading shaped by the social milieu. That social milieu encouraged financial decision makers to cherry-pick the theories that supported excessive risk taking. It discouraged whistle-blowing, not just by risk-management officers in large financial institutions, but also by the economists whose scholarship provided intellectual justification for the financial institutions’ decisions. The consequence was that scholarship that warned of potential disaster was ignored. And the result was global economic calamity on a scale not seen for four generations...

links for 2010-03-27

RomneyCare: The Greatest Deficit-Hawk Measure in Sixteen Years

You have to go back sixteen years, to the Clinton 1993 budget reconciliation act, to find a bigger bill that did more to improve the long-run U.S. fiscal picture:

CBO Score On Health Care Bill Released: Boosts Democrats' Hopes Of Passing Reform: Comprehensive health care reform will cost the federal government $940 billion over a ten-year period, but will increase revenue and cut other costs by a greater amount, leading to a reduction of $138 billion in the federal deficit over the same period, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, a Democratic source tells HuffPost. It will cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the second ten year period.

Briefly, in the first decade we are spending about $520 billion on coverage subsidies, public health, and other stuff but taxing and reducing Medicare growth by about $660 billion. In the second decade we are spending about $1.2 trillion on coverage subsidies, public health, and other stuff but taxing and reducing Medicare growth by about $2.4 trillion--if the laws hold, if we can maintain PAYGO.

But, as Doug Elmendorf warns:

Cost Estimate for Pending Health Care Legislation: That calculation reflects an assumption that the provisions of the legislation are enacted and remain unchanged throughout the next two decades, which is often not the case for major legislation. For example, the sustainable growth rate mechanism governing Medicare’s payments to physicians has frequently been modified to avoid reductions in those payments, and legislation to do so again is currently under consideration by the Congress. The current legislation would maintain and put into effect a number of policies that might be difficult to sustain over a long period of time.

So we are out of the tunnel, but not yet into the light. Instead, we have moved into the tunnel at the end of the tunnel.

On the other hand, the people running the government--the executive branch and those in the majorities in the legislative branch--are or were taught by the people who stuck to their guns and made Clinton-era policy such a smashing success.

Bond Vigilantes? Bond Eustace Tilleys, I Would Say...

Michael Mackenzie and David Oakley sound the alarm: BOND VIGILANTES!! COME TO KILL US ALL!!!!

Supply fears start to hit Treasuries: The bond vigilantes are finally flexing their muscles. A long period of stability for the US government bond market showed signs of cracking this week as a lack of investor appetite for new debt sent the benchmark 10-year yield to its highest level since last June. For more than a year, analysts have been warning that record sized debt sales by the US Treasury were at odds with a 10-year yield sitting comfortably below 4 per cent. This week, the yield on 10-year notes jumped from 3.65 per cent to a peak of 3.92 per cent on Thursday. On Friday it was 3.87 per cent. Falling inflation, rising unemployment, the housing market slump, the Federal Reserve’s policies of a near zero overnight borrowing rate and its purchase of up to $1,700bn in bonds have all helped keep Treasury yields near historic lows. But this week the mood shifted as yields for $118bn of new US debt were much higher than forecast, sparking overall selling of Treasuries. Sentiment also deteriorated in the UK bond market after the government’s budget ahead of a general election expected in May failed to resolve doubts over future spending and debt reduction.

The term “bond vigilantes” was coined in the 1980s when bond investors pushed up long-term yields to force central banks into taking action to curb inflation. This time, bond investors are less worried about inflation: they are fretting about huge fiscal deficits and the looming bond supply needed to finance them. “Everyone thought we would see rising rates due to higher inflation, but it appears the bond vigilantes are demanding a higher real rate due to concerns about Treasury issuance,” says George Goncalves, head of fixed income strategy at Nomura Securities.

The red arrows are "bond vigilantes." The green arrow on the far right of the graph is what we are now talking about. I would not call them "bond vigilantes":

St. Louis Fed: FRED Graph

The Long View...

For Project Syndicate...

We sit here in the midst of 10% unemployment in the USA, of fiscal policy that is crippled in some countries by (legitimate) fears that more deficit spending will trigger government debt crises and crippled in others by confusion between short-term cyclical and long term structural deficits, of banking policy crippled by the public populist reaction against more bailouts for the bankers, and of monetary policy crippled by a strange and sinister mindset among central bankers that fears inflation even as rates of wage increase continue to drop—people who are, as R.G. Hawtrey said of their predecessors in the Great Depression, “crying ‘Fire! Fire!’ in Noah’s flood.”

So it is time to calm myself down. And the best way to calm myself down is by taking the long view.

If all goes well in China and India in the next generation—and if nothing goes catastrophically wrong in the rich post-industrial North Atlantic core of the global economy—then the next generation will see a real milestone. For the first time ever more than half of the world will have enough food not to be hungry and worry about famine, enough shelter not to be wet and worried about trenchfoot, enough clothing not to be cold and worried about hypothermia, and enough medical care not to be worried that they and the majority of their children will die of microparisites well short of their biblical three-score-and-ten years. The big problems of the bulk of humanity will then be those of finding enough conceptual puzzles and diversions in their work and play lives so as not to be bored, enough relative status not to be green with envy of their fellows—and, of course, avoiding and quickly disposing of the thugs who used to have spears and will have cruise missiles and H-bombs who have functioned as macroparasites infecting humanity ever since the first farmers realized that now that they had crops running away into the forest was no longer an option.

How did this miracle come about?

Some say it was the disenchantment of the world: the shift from a world view that relied on prayer and the propitiation of spirits to one that believed in rational manipulation and management of nature and of society. But the Classical Greeks had natural philosophy. And the Classical Romans believed in figuring out what worked and applying it—but all they produced were some splendid works of architecture and infrastructure and a system of military training that conquered and spread their society beyond the Mediterranean.

Some say it was an agricultural revolution that allowed transfer of a large chunk of the labor force into making things. But eleventh-century China had had a bigger and earlier agricultural revolution than eighteenth-century Britain had.

Some say it was the European conquest of the Americas. But what was shipped back from America across the Atlantic to Europe and what was paid for in imports from Asia with American products was never real wealth but was instead sterile gold, sterile silver, some empty calories (in the form of sugar), and some psychoactive chemicals—coffee, tea, chocolate, and nicotine.

Some say it was the commercial revolution and the rise of the middle class. But in 1776 Adam Smith and a little later David Ricardo were looking forward to a future for Britain in which it became a lot more like China—a full country with high agricultural productivity per acre and a well-developed division of labor but a very poor and low-wage peasantry and working class ruled by very rich landlords.

Some say that it was the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century in Britain: the steam engine, the forge, the cotton mill. But as late as 1871 John Stuart Mill was writing that it was doubtful whether as yet all the inventions of the industrial revolution had lightened the day’s toil of a single worker.

It is hard looking back to avoid the conclusion that it was at the end of the nineteenth century that something really special happened—and that really special thing had three parts:

First, the coming of global communications so that ideas invented or found or applied in one part of the world could be quickly made known to and adapted to other parts rather than waiting decades or centuries to percolate across the oceans.

Second, the coming of global transportation so that any good economic idea could be turned to produce enormous profits as it was leveraged across the entire globe.

Third—and in large part a consequence of the other two—the coming of the professional inventor and the industrial research laboratory: people whose business wasn’t to make and apply a single invention, but instead to invent the process of continuous and constant invention and innovation itself.

And when all three of these happened together, we had our critical mass and our chain reaction that has brought us here.

Let’s hope we can keep it moving, and don’t spoil it.

RomneyCare Final Passage Aftermath: Mark McClellan vs. Doug Holtz-Eakin

Douglas Holtz-Eakin:

ON Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office reported that, if enacted, the latest health care reform legislation would, over the next 10 years... lower federal deficits by $138 billion. In other words, a bill that would set up two new entitlement spending programs.... Could this really be true?... The answer, unfortunately, is that the budget office is required to take written legislation at face value and not second-guess the plausibility of what it is handed. So fantasy in, fantasy out. In reality, if you strip out all the gimmicks and budgetary games and rework the calculus, a wholly different picture emerges: The health care reform legislation would raise, not lower, federal deficits...

What do I think? I already wrote it down. The Medicare cuts dominate. Over the first ten years the net effects of the bill on the deficit are not a big deal. Thereafter, the swings in Medicare spending overwhelm the net impact of everything else. If any appreciable fraction of the Medicare spending growth rate reductions written into the bill come to pass, it is a huge present-value deficit reducer. I think that they will. So I view this bill as a severe long-run reduction in Medicare spending growth--through cutbacks to provider incomes, administrative changes that will hopefully get more care for the money, and increased cost-sharing--made palatable to a Democratic majority by the insurance reforms and the exchanges. Doug... soft-pedals his argument on that point--spending almost all of it on irrelevancies.... What does deserve attention is [Doug's]:

[T]the legislation proposes to trim $463 billion from Medicare spending and use it to finance insurance subsidies. But Medicare is already bleeding red ink, and the health care bill has no reforms that would enable the program to operate more cheaply in the future. Instead, Congress is likely to continue to regularly override scheduled cuts in payments to Medicare doctors and other providers...

As somebody-or-other said, this is budget nihilism: if we assume that congress will reverse all actions it takes to reduce the deficit and yet require that congress only pass bills that reduce the deficit nevertheless, we are asking that congress pass nothing at all. Perhaps that's what Douglas Holtz-Eakin thinks: that because we live in the Sewer of Romulus the best congress is the one that passes nothing at all. But if that is his argument, he should make it--and back it up. If that isn't his argument, he should explain why he believes that "congress is likely to continue to regularly override" the reductions in Medicare spending growth in the bill.

Mark McClellan certainly does not share this budget nihilism:

Mark McClellan on the Affordable Care Act: The provisions related to changing provider payments are significant in terms of their potential for reducing spending growth, though I'd have liked to see more of those steps.... [S]ince we don't know exactly which of those reforms work, we'll have to find out quickly. And that will require doing a fundamentally better job of running the pilot and demonstration programs in Medicare.... Many of the ideas relate to pay for performance, paying more when doctors do particular things. I think those are important, but they're unlikely to transform health care by themselves. And they do run the risk of getting doctors and hospitals to teach to the test.... More important, I think, are the reforms that pay doctors and hospitals more when they get better outcomes for people at a lower overall cost. That would be steps to encourage using nurse practitioners to help patients with chronic diseases manage their illness, changing where care is delivered from an inpatient to outpatient setting, paying for reducing the complication rate. The most important reforms on the payment side don't tell doctors and hospitals what they need to do or but support them when they figure out how to do things better....

[N]ot included in full in the bill was reform of the medical liability system... [or] consumer side reforms. If people could take steps to stay healthier and reduce their complications, we could provide support for them as well. Under our current insurance arrangement, if you have a serious chronic disease where you need to go to the hospital for major surgery, you're probably going to be paying your out-of-pocket maximum no matter what. It shouldn't be like that. If people use providers who have demonstrated that they can get better outcomes with fewer complications, we should support them....

[I]t's frustrating for everyone in the system right now. When I was at CMS, providers came to me and said we can show we're delivering better care at lower results, but we don't get paid for this. In fact, we lose money because we're doing less of the traditional billing: We've got fewer lab tests and doctor visits. I think this will help us get to where we can support those steps, but it's not a sure thing...

Washington Post FAIL (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)

In paragraph 17 of Philip Rucker's profile of Mike Vanderboegh, we read:

Vanderboegh said he once worked as a warehouse manager but now lives on government disability checks. He said he receives $1,300 a month because of his congestive heart failure, diabetes and hypertension...

The first four paragraphs of Rucker's article are:

Former militiaman unapologetic for calls to vandalize offices over health care: The call to arms was issued at 5:55 a.m. last Friday.

"To all modern Sons of Liberty: THIS is your time. Break their windows. Break them NOW."

These were the words of Mike Vanderboegh, a 57-year-old former militiaman from Alabama, who took to his blog urging people who opposed the historic health-care reform legislation -- he calls it "Nancy Pelosi's Intolerable Act" -- to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices nationwide.

"So, if you wish to send a message that Pelosi and her party [that they] cannot fail to hear, break their windows," Vanderboegh wrote on the blog, Sipsey Street Irregulars. "Break them NOW. Break them and run to break again. Break them under cover of night. Break them in broad daylight. Break them and await arrest in willful, principled civil disobedience. Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats. But BREAK THEM"...

Anybody else think that Philip Rucker needs some help in figuring out what the lead of the article should be?

Even replacing the description of Vanderboegh as "a former militiaman from Alabama" with "an ex-warehouse manager living on government disability checks in Alabama" would have given a much clearer picture of what is really going on here, wouldn't it?

Steve Benen:

The Washington Monthly: THE LIMITS OF AN EXTREME IDEOLOGY.... The Washington Post ran a profile [by Philip Rucker] of Mike Vanderboegh, a 57-year-old former militiaman from Alabama, who disapproves of the new Affordable Care Act. Vanderboegh, who describes himself as a "Christian libertarian" and has been part of various clandestine militia groups, has been encouraging those who agree with him to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices nationwide. It's about what you'd expect from someone like this, and Vanderboegh is unapologetic about his extremism. In his interview with the Post, he makes multiple references to people who "are armed and are capable of making such resistance possible and perhaps even initiating a civil war." Given the threat of domestic terrorism, all of this is disconcerting, to be sure. But Josh Marshall flags the punch-line from the profile:

Vanderboegh said he once worked as a warehouse manager but now lives on government disability checks. He said he receives $1,300 a month because of his congestive heart failure, diabetes and hypertension.

I see. So, Vanderboegh has a physical ailment, so instead of working, he's turned to the government to supply him with a modest income. Whether Vanderboegh appreciates the irony of a radical libertarian, who demands that a small government leave people alone, getting taxpayer-financed checks from the government not to work, is unclear. But reading this, I'm reminded of the recent scene in Ohio, in which Tea Party activists berated a man with Parkinson's. A conservative told the ailing man, "You're looking for a hand-out, you're in the wrong end of town. Nothing for free over here, you have to work for everything you get." Another conservative, after mocking the man with wadded bills, shouted, "No more hand-outs!" To be clear, I don't doubt that Vanderboegh is entitled to government benefits. To my mind, there's nothing at all wrong with federal programs that provide assistance to those who can't work for medical reasons. I support such efforts enthusiastically. But Vanderboegh and his compatriots seem to think my approach represents radical "big government," which necessarily needs to be curtailed to promote and defend "liberty." Indeed, for those right-wing activists in Ohio, government disability checks are, by definition, "hand-outs."

Twitter: Threat or Menace?

I cannot help but feel that twittering has got to end badly for somebody:

Twitter / davidfrum: 7 years. 3 books. 1000+ ar ...: 7 years. 3 books. 1000+ articles. Hundreds of thousands of words online.

Twitter / davidfrum: But I'll say one thing in ...: But I'll say one thing in advance of post: AEI needs a better talking point than that they fired me for under-productivity.

Twitter / davidfrum: Just off a flight. Posting ...: Just off a flight. Posting a reply to day's comments at FrumForum soonest.

Worth Reading #7: Marc Ambinder on RomneyCare in Massachusetts (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? for March 26, 2010)

Marc Ambinder, September 2009: "[Romneycare] is succeeding on its own terms":

RomneyCare: It's Working (Mostly), And It's Popular (Largely): The nation's most ambitious experiment in universal health insurance is succeeding on its own terms, and has become fairly popular.... 96% of working age adults have health insurance in the state today, which is significantly higher than the national average.... An Urban Institute study finds that 72% of state residents are happy with the effort. The Massachusetts plan included an individual mandate, required employers to either provide coverage or pay into an insurance pool, expanded Medicaid and created a new government health care program for the lower middle class, and created a health connector agency that matches individuals with the private plan of their choice. About half of those who enrolled in the new programs are now covered by government-run plans....

Romney didn't favor the mandate.... But he supported the package in the end. It is something that our all-or-nothing political system doesn't tolerate: a government plan administered by private companies; a mixture of regulation and market incentives. A hybrid. (Remember -- Sen. Edward Kennedy was a major Romney ally.)... Critics worried about the program's costs -- it included income subsidies --- and who would bear the brunt of the transferred costs....

The recession has hurt the program's fiscal sustainability; more uninsured residents means that more money is needed to finance the system, and the legislature has struggled to find ways to preserve the same level of service for an expanded pool of people needing insurance. So -- costs remain an issue. But advocates of the plan say that, relative to the past, the state is getting much more bang for its bucks. Cost containment in the future may rest on the fate of the second phase of reform efforts -- large changes to the delivery part of the system.

Marc Ambinder, March 2010: "Whether RomneyCare worked is an open question":

Has Romney Lost The RomneyCare = ObamaCare Argument?: Last night, Patrick Ruffini, a conservative digital superstar with a top-notch mind to boot, tweeted to his 10,000+ followers: "Those given to hyperbole on both sides of this should remember one fact: This is Romneycare, writ large. Nothing more or less."  Ruffini helped to set up Gov. Tim Pawlenty's political action committee website, and while I know Ruffini's opinions are his own, I also happen to know that the Pawlenty brain trust shares the view. And so, I must concede, do most of the conservative cognoscenti....

Whether RomneyCare worked is an open question: costs have risen (though the deep recession can be blamed here), forcing the state to beg the federal government for money, but it has achieved its coverage goal, and most people who are part of the insurance exchange are happy with it. One reason why the plan is fiscally tenuous now is because Romney and state Democrats left the heavy lifting -- the bending of the cost curve -- to their successors...

Worth Reading #6: Paul Krugman: Going to Extreme (Best Non-Economics Thing for March 26, 2010)

Paul Krugman:

Going to Extreme - [I]t was enjoyable watching Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican of California, warn that by passing health reform, Democrats “will finally lay the cornerstone of their socialist utopia on the backs of the American people.” Gosh, that sounds uncomfortable. And it’s been a hoot watching Mitt Romney squirm as he tries to distance himself from a plan that, as he knows full well, is nearly identical to the reform he himself pushed through as governor of Massachusetts.... A side observation.... While many Americans disapprove of Obamacare, a significant number do so because they feel that it doesn’t go far enough. And a Gallup poll taken after health reform’s enactment showed the public, by a modest but significant margin, seeming pleased that it passed.

But back to the main theme. What has been really striking has been the eliminationist rhetoric of the G.O.P., coming... from the party’s leaders. John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that the passage of health reform was “Armageddon.” The Republican National Committee put out a fund-raising appeal that included a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House.... And Sarah Palin put out a map literally putting Democratic lawmakers in the cross hairs of a rifle sight.... [T]o find anything like what we’re seeing now you have to go back to the last time a Democrat was president. Like President Obama, Bill Clinton faced a G.O.P. that denied his legitimacy.... President Clinton, declared Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, “better watch out if he comes down here. He’d better have a bodyguard.”... And once they controlled Congress, Republicans tried to govern as if they held the White House, too, eventually shutting down the federal government in an attempt to bully Mr. Clinton into submission.

Mr. Obama seems to have sincerely believed that he would face a different reception. And he made a real try at bipartisanship, nearly losing his chance at health reform by frittering away months in a vain attempt to get a few Republicans on board. At this point, however, it’s clear that any Democratic president will face total opposition from a Republican Party that is completely dominated by right-wing extremists. For today’s G.O.P. is, fully and finally, the party of Ronald Reagan... the antigovernment fanatic, who warned that Medicare would destroy American freedom. It’s a party that sees modest efforts to improve Americans’ economic and health security... as monstrous... paranoid fantasies about the other side — Obama is a socialist, Democrats have totalitarian ambitions — are mainstream.... Republican extremism... is a very bad thing for America. We need to have two reasonable, rational parties in this country. And right now we don’t.

Hoisted from Comments: Grizzled on Post-Partisanship

Hoisted from Comments: Grizzled on Post-Partisanship:

In Jonathan Chait: By Hook Or By Crook: Grizzled said...

"Obama ... He promised post-partisan leadership." And seems actually to have believed it possible. Which is my view (on little direct evidence, and possibly completely wrong) of why he dithered for a year, when anyone with any sense would have simply stomped the Republicans in the shortest time possible. In the course of which he came close to blowing the whole thing. During the campaign I thought this "post-partisan" thing so ludicrous that I didn't pay any attention to it. Silly me. If I had taken it seriously I would have supported Clinton instead of Obama. One can only hope he's had some sense beaten into him.

It's Not Mercury or Lead in the Water at the Brookings Institution: It's Brown Acid

Belle Sawhill:

Why Not Try A Third Party?: [W]hat is needed... is... to change the way Washington works. The only way to do that, in my view, is to begin now to build a movement for a third party that would take on our current dysfunctions more directly.... [T]he two parties are both very dug in to their existing positions... cannot easily move away from them without sounding like they have no firm principles at all. For example, most Republicans have pledged to never raise taxes. But without any new revenues we cannot possibly address our fiscal challenges much less make investments in education, infrastructure, the environment and the like. Democrats cannot be blamed for thinking that, without some flexibility on fiscal issues, very little else is possible. Democratic leaders such as Steny Hoyer have gone quite far toward extending an olive branch to the other side in the form of a willingness to put entitlement spending on the table, but there has been no reciprocation on the right...

Full stop. Rewind. Let's go to the videotape:

  • The two existing parties are dug in...
  • They cannot move...
  • Republicans have pledged to never raise taxes...
  • "Democratic leaders like [majority leader] Steny Hoyer have gone quite far toward extending an olive branch to the other side in the form of a willingness to put entitlement spending on the table, but there has been no reciprocation on the right..."

Sounds to me like one party is "very dug in to [its] existing positions and cannot move away from them..."

In which case the solution is not a third party, but instead a first party: the Democratic Party.

What Belle Sawhill ought to be saying is not so much that Washington is dysfunctional as that the Republican Party is dysfunctional.

What's Right and Wrong with RomneyCare: Mark McClellan's View - Mark McClellan on the Affordable Care Act: 'It's an important step.'

Ezra Klein:

Ezra Klein - Mark McClellan on the Affordable Care Act: 'It's an important step.':

MM: It's an important step. We have to do something about the problem of access to affordable health insurance. The bill unquestionably does that. The provisions related to changing provider payments are significant in terms of their potential for reducing spending growth, though I'd have liked to see more of those steps.... The provider payment reforms. The president likes to say that all the good ideas experts have are in the bill, and that's largely true when it comes to payment reforms. But since we don't know exactly which of those reforms work, we'll have to find out quickly. And that will require doing a fundamentally better job of running the pilot and demonstration programs in Medicare.... More important, I think, are the reforms that pay doctors and hospitals more when they get better outcomes for people at a lower overall cost.... The most important reforms on the payment side don't tell doctors and hospitals what they need to do or but support them when they figure out how to do things better.

I was part of a bipartisan group of economists and other health-care experts that did a report on bending the curve. On that list, but not included in full in the bill, was reform of the medical liability system. We also included a big emphasis on consumer side reforms. If people could take steps to stay healthier and reduce their complications, we could provide support for them as well.... If people use providers who have demonstrated that they can get better outcomes with fewer complications, we should support them in that.... When I was at CMS, providers came to me and said we can show we're delivering better care at lower results, but we don't get paid for this... we lose money because we're doing less of the traditional billing: We've got fewer lab tests and doctor visits....

I... want to make sure people can choose innovative kinds of plans and innovative kinds of care... five years from now we'll hopefully see insurance plans that look very different, that don't automatically make you pay $15,000 when you have a serious illness but reward you for making good decisions.... And... we'll probably have to take some further steps in controlling costs.

RomneyCare Aftermath: Somewhere the Marquess of Rockingham Is Smiling...

Representative Betsy Markey (D-CO):

Why I voted for this health care bill: Before I was a public servant I was a small-business owner, keeping the books in the Web-development firm my husband and I started. I crunched numbers, evaluated costs and always looked for solutions that combined good budgeting with good management. Every time we made a major business decision, we evaluated that decision on its own merit. That was the approach I brought to Congress a year and a half ago: weigh costs with results, and make decisions based on the facts, not politics. I know this has angered people on the left as well as the right. Frankly, I take that as a sign that I am doing my job. Last fall, I voted against the House version of health care reform. I had many issues with the legislation, but I simply felt it did not do enough to contain costs, a concern I repeatedly voiced to House leadership and the Obama administration.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the compromise measure the House passed on Sunday costs $940 billion, more than $100 billion less than the House-passed bill. It reduces the deficit by more than $1.3 trillion in the next two decades. It will be the single largest deficit-reduction bill in 27 years. I support this compromise health care bill. There are things that this bill does immediately that I could not, in good conscience, oppose: It ends denial of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and prevents health insurance companies from dropping people from coverage when they get sick. It allows people who are 26 and younger to stay on their parents' health care plans.... This compromise legislation offers immediate tax credits for small businesses... 19,000 businesses in Colorado's 4th Congressional District alone.... It closes the "doughnut hole" in Medicare Part D.... [M]ore than 30 million new people will benefit from health insurance coverage within the next 10 years. Out-of-pocket costs for premiums and medical expenses will finally be made affordable for individuals and families. There are strong private health insurance options covered by this bill, with state exchanges and more benefit plan options.

Quite simply, this was a better bill than the legislation the House passed last fall. It does more to contain costs while providing increased health insurance coverage.

This may come as a shock to some people — particularly the folks who are running against me in November — but every decision you make in Congress should not be guided by a political compass. If you are too busy worrying about how to climb the political ladder, and spend little time evaluating legislation on its merits, you may end up a great politician, but you will be a lousy representative. I'd rather be a good representative and leave the politics to the politicians.

Edmund Burke:

Speech to the Electors of Bristol: Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion...

Nate Silver:

The Margolies-Mezvinsky Goes To...: Here, in any event, is a rudimentary estimate of the Democrats that might be taking the biggest risk with their yes votes. I've built a risk index starting by taking the district's PVI -- for example, I'd score an R+3 district at 3 points, or a D+2 district at -2 points. Then, I add or subtract points based on the race ratings from Cook Political, CQ, Rothenberg, and Larry Sabato: +5 points for a toss-up (or lean Republican) race, -5 points for a likely Democratic hold, -10 points for a safe Democratic seat, and 0 points for leans Democratic, which is assumed to be the default condition. (In cases where the ratings sometimes differ from forecaster to forecaster, they are averaged together). Finally, I add 5 points if the vote is a flip from no to yes. Democrats who are retiring from electoral politics are not considered.

FiveThirtyEight: Politics Done Right: The Margolies-Mezvinsky Goes To...

More Pathological Arguments From Clive Crook...

Can anybody explain this? I'm still looking... Crook's opening:

the healthcare plan has moderate, centrist ambitions...

Crook's conclusion:

The Democrats have passed a transformative law on a party-line vote and against... the balance of public opinion.... November.... [I] they do better than in a normal mid-term that would be the time for Democrats to... start looking for more doors to kick through...

Passing a bill that has "moderate, centrist ambitions" is not "kicking through a door."

Crook would probably respond that he was referring to the process when he said that health care financing reform was "kicking through a door." You see, instead of passing an unamended White House-designed bill as soon as Specter switched parties back when health care was polling well, the Demorats... spent months and months and months looking for Republicans to negotiate a deal with... and with no proposal on the table (because they were waiting for bargaining partners) nothing to argue for... and taking plenty of flack by people arguing against (almost all of them in bad faith) the wurlitzer took its toll...

To call this "kicking through a door"? That is simply pathological.

Once again, it is Obama's fault that moderate Republicans would not sign on to support RomneyCare...

Mario Rizzo: Cut-Rate Wanna-Be Nietzschean Uebermensch, or "Witty and Self Effacing... Ironic and Sly"

Roger Koppl emails:


I don't think this is really so complicated. If Mario [Rizzo] were a true and literal sociopath, the risk of complaints from the cabbie would not deter him from stiffing the driver. So the question is how seriously to take his explanation of why he tips even though he dislikes the custom. When Mario says it is a failing of his psychological makeup to go ahead and tip, he is being witty and self effacing... ironic and sly...

I reply:

I don't buy it.

Rizzo's conclusion is:

People ought not to confuse social customs (norms) and the discomfort caused by violating these with morality. You are not a bad person if you don’t tip taxi drives much or at all. Just be prepared to tell the voice in your head [that whispers that you have just cheated somebody by letting them believe you were going to tip them] that it is wrong.

Exhorting others to not let themselves not to be bothered by the anger of those who you have stiffed and cheated--that's not "witty and self-effacing... ironic and sly" That's something different...

Roger's full email:


I don't think this is really so complicated. If Mario were a true and literal sociopath, the risk of complaints from the cabbie would not deter him from stiffing the driver. So the question is how seriously to take his explanation of why he tips even though he dislikes the custom. When Mario says it is a failing of his psychological makeup to go ahead and tip, he is being witty and self effacing. I don't think he is revealing himself to the world. He is being contrarian and curmudgeonly as is his wont. He is being ironic and sly. He is being, Brad, a New Yorker. Again, he says that he does tip.

I can guess that Mario genuinely feels vexed by the necessity of tipping NYC cabbies, who normally have to ask you for directions. As you know, London cabbies almost universally know every little byway, have more comfortable vehicles, and so on. The NYC cabs are pretty bad on average. I think we can understand why Mario would feel grumpy about tipping these guys. Nevertheless, he tells us, he does tip. Really, Brad, that just ain't sociopathy real or metaphorical.

I was not kidding when I professed difficulty in understanding where all the heat was coming from. I think it must be the social signalling point I made earlier today at ThinkMarkets. Well, that and a failure to appreciate a little self mocking irony in the oh-so-self-serious age in which we live.

Worth Reading #3: Me and My Big Mouth... (March 26, 2010)

Jeebus! I just told Greg Ip that I thought the Economist might be catching the FT in average quality, and then they go and write something like this, fom "M.S.":

Health-care reform: Bipartisanship in the aftermath: I thought Barack Obama missed an opportunity in the television appearance he made just after the final House vote to say something to Republicans. I thought it might have been useful to say something along the following lines.... We all have a tendency to let our political team instincts overwhelm our ability to analyse substantive policy issues. Heck, during the presidential campaign we demonised John McCain and Douglas Holtz-Eakin's health-care reform proposal for doing away with the employer health-insurance tax exclusion; in the cold light of day, it became clear that wasn't such a crazy idea, and we limit the exclusion as part of our plan. This isn't so much hypocrisy as the natural heat of political competition.

As Demonizer-in-Chief, I thought that what we demonized was the combination of (a) a tax on all employer-provided coverage to drive people out of employer-sponsored insurance into the individual market and (b) the absence of any mechanisms to promote pooling once people got to the individual market. The pieces must fit together.

Thus we said, for example:

Sen. McCain, who constantly repeats his no-new-taxes promise on the campaign trail, proposes a big tax hike as the solution to our health-care crisis. His plan would raise taxes on workers who receive health benefits, with the idea of encouraging their employers to drop coverage. A study conducted by University of Michigan economist Tom Buchmueller and colleagues published in the journal Health Affairs suggests that the McCain tax hike will lead employers to drop coverage for over 20 million Americans. What would happen to these people? Mr. McCain will give them a small tax credit, $5,000 for a family and $2,500 for an individual, and tell them tonavigate the individual insurance market on their own. For middle- and lower-income people, the credits are way too small.... Those already sick are completely out of luck, as individual insurers are free to deny coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Mr. McCain has proposed a high-risk pool for the very sick, but has not put forward the money to make it work. Even for those healthy enough to gain coverage in the individual insurance market, the screening, marketing and individual underwriting that insurers do to separate healthy from sick boosts premiums by 17% relative to employer-provided insurance, well beyond the help offered by the McCain tax credit...


Jeebus! I just told Greg Ip that I had to admit that the New York Times had improved significantly since the days of Judy Miller and point to Jackie Calmes as doing an especially good job when along comes this:

Next Big Issue? Social Security Pops Up Again: WASHINGTON — Now that landmark legislation overhauling the health insurance system is about to become law, addressing Social Security’s solvency could well become the next big thing for President Obama and Congressional Democrats. Central to the health care changes are hundreds of billions of dollars in reductions in Medicare spending over time and expansions of Medicaid. As some administration officials acknowledge, that effectively takes those fast-growing entitlement programs off the table for deficit reduction just as Mr. Obama’s bipartisan commission to reduce the mounting national debt gets to work. That leaves Social Security, the other big entitlement benefits program and one that Mr. Obama has suggested in the past that he is willing to tackle. While its looming problems are not of the scale of those afflicting Medicare, it now stands as the likeliest source of the sort of large savings needed to bring projected annual deficits to sustainable levels, many budget analysts agree...

It's not until paragraph 14 of the article that an actual person surfaces saying something on the point of the article's lead, and then it is:

“Whether or not the budget commission reaches a conclusion, and I think the odds have to be against that, Obama is going to have to say something about the long-term budget, and ignoring Social Security altogether is not politically possible if you want to do that,” said Henry J. Aaron, an economist at the Brookings Institution, who has defended the program against deep cuts or privatization but acknowledges that it is not sustainable without some combination of benefit cuts or tax increases...

Worth Reading #2: Dan Froomkin: Social Immobility: Climbing The Economic Ladder Is Harder In The U.S. Than In Most European Countries (March 26, 2010)

Dan Froomkin:

Social Immobility: Climbing The Economic Ladder Is Harder In The U.S. Than In Most European Countries: Is America the "land of opportunity"? Not so much. A new report from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) finds that social mobility between generations is dramatically lower in the U.S. than in many other developed countries. So if you want your children to climb the socioeconomic ladder higher than you did, move to Canada.

The report finds the U.S. ranking well below Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany and Spain in terms of how freely citizens move up or down the social ladder. Only in Italy and Great Britain is the intensity of the relationship between individual and parental earnings even greater. For instance, according to the OECD, 47 percent of the economic advantage that high-earning fathers in the United States have over low-earning fathers is transmitted to their sons, compare to, say, 17 percent in Australia and 19 percent in Canada. Recent economic events may be increasing social mobility in the U.S. -- but only of the downward variety. Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren, for example, argues that America's middle class had been eroding for 30 years even before the massive blows caused by the financial crisis. And with unemployment currently at astronomical levels, if there are no jobs for young people leaving school, the result could be long-term underemployment and, effectively, a lost generation. According to the OECD report, the main cause of social immobility is educational opportunity. It turns out that America's public school system, rather than lifting children up, is instead holding them down.

One particularly effective way governments can help children from disadvantaged backgrounds improve their prospects, according to the report, is to increase the social mix within schools. Doing so "appears to boost performance of disadvantaged students without any apparent negative effects on overall performance." Early childhood education also helps a lot. Another big factor in social mobility is inequality, the report finds. The greater a nation's inequality, the harder it is for its children to improve their lot. That confirms findings by other researchers. "The way I usually put this is that when the rungs of the ladder are far apart, it becomes more difficult to climb the ladder," Brookings Institution economist Isabel Sawhill tells HuffPost. "Given that we have more inequality in the U.S. right now than at any time since the 1920s, we should be concerned that this may become a vicious cycle. Inequality in one generation may mean less opportunity for the next generation to get ahead and thus still more inequality in the future"...

Worth Reading #1: Linda Beale on Duffie on Speculative Trading (March 26, 2010)

Linda Beale:

Duffie on speculative trading: Darrell Duffie, a finance professor at Stanford's business school, argues "In Defense of Financial Speculation" (Wall St. J., Feb. 24, 2010, at A15).... [S]peculators are beneficial. Here's his argument. 1) speculators absorb risk that others don't want, permitting investors to hedge their positions; 2) speculators provide information about investments--if they buy, fundamentals appear favorable; if they sell, fundamentals are not. That information helps market prices be more accurate; 3) speculation--defined as "accurately forecasting an investment's fundamental strength or weakness"--is not the same as manipulation--defined as "when investors 'attack' a financial market in order to profit by changing the value of an investment....

Are Duffie's arguments strong enough to think, as he suggests, that curbing speculation in the credit default market isn't necessary? Note that item 2 stems directly from the "efficient markets hypothesis"--that markets price items appropriately through sharing of information. But what we know suggests this isn't true. We have an entire vocabulary for talking about the fact that without stabilizing intervention and protective regulation, market pricing--and the kinds of speculation that Duffie praises--tends to lead to market bubbles. The housing markets are a good example...

RomneyCare Passage Aftermath: Is It Lead or Mercury in the Water at the Brookings Institution?

Duncan Black is seriously worried:

Eschaton: Insert Inappropriate Dick Nixon Joke Here: I just got this in my inbox, subject "Brookings Institution scholars Jonathan Rauch, Tom Mann and Henry Aaron offer their thoughts on what a shift to Republican control of the House this fall would mean for President Obama. "

Jonathan Rauch: “The country’s biggest problems are too large for one party to handle, at least in any consistent way. The Democrats did pass health reform on a party-line basis, a remarkable accomplishment, but they did it by the skin of their teeth and with a Senate supermajority which has evaporated. That is not a trick they can keep performing. Under those conditions, the only way to achieve sustainable bipartisanship is to divide control of the government, forcing the parties to negotiate in order to get anything done. That pulls policy toward the center, which encourages reasonableness.”

Someone really needs to check the mercury content of the water cooler there.

The scary thing is that is far from being the most unhinged thing Rauch says:

Jonathan Rauch: Would Republican Control of the House be Better for the Obama Administration?: Obama cannot rest on his laurels, and the country cannot afford a power nap. The remaining challenges are daunting: the economy (especially employment); financial reform; energy and the environment; above all, an impending fiscal train wreck. In the face of those challenges, here is a two-word prescription for a successful Obama presidency: Speaker Boehner.... I think a bipartisan health-care reform would have been only, say, 30 percent different from the one the Democrats passed, but it would have been 50 percent better (many of the Republicans’ ideas were good) and 200 percent more popular, which would have made it 80 percent more likely to succeed. (All figures are approximate.) It is true... today’s Republicans are ideologically more extreme and less diverse than today’s Democrats.... The best way of inducing Republicans to behave responsibly is to give them responsibility.... To regard the prospect of a House turnover this fall as a calamity for Democrats is understandable but short-sighted. Speaker Gingrich made it possible for Bill Clinton to leave office with glowing approval ratings by allowing him to govern from the center of the country, instead of the center of his party. Speaker Boehner would do the same for Barack Obama.

I would evacuate the building. Seriously.

Thomas Mann says that Jonathan Rauch is bats--- insane:

Around the Halls: [T]he Republican minority in Congress made a rational calculation before Obama was inaugurated to pursue a strategy to kill or discredit every major policy initiative of the new administration.... Obama and Democrats in Congress struggled to govern in the face of horrendous economic conditions, major policy ambitions, and a disciplined opposition party. It wasn’t pretty but it was largely successful.... Their policies were neither ideologically extreme nor substantially at odds with consensus views of policy experts. Necessary political compromises... made the final products less than optimal but nonetheless responsive to the problems faced.... For this Democrats should be punished and Republicans rewarded?... I think it is better if Democrats have an opportunity to continue to try to deliver on their and the country’s agenda, and then be judged by the electorate on their results.

As does Henry Aaron:

Around the Halls: The [Republican] party for many years was a blend... Tory conservatives who believed that government should make capitalism work by caring for those who lose... big-business advocates of fiscal prudence, small-town conservatives deeply suspicious of the federal government, libertarians... and nut-cases.... Increasingly, the Congressional Republican party has come to represent the last three groups.... They voted with complete unanimity against a health reform bill that, as conservative David Frum argues persuasively, rested heavily on conservative ideas that many current Republican members of Congress once supported.... Jon suggests is that if the Republicans win a smashing victory in November with this strategy, those who designed it will stand back and say: "We just won control of the House. We gained several seats in the Senate. Hey, time to stop with that strategy!"... [A]lthough I tend to go along with... Damon Runyon: ‘nothing in this life is longer than 8 to 5,' I have to say, Jon, that your suggestion that... John Boehner would suddenly embrace bipartisanship... [is not a] bet I would... accept, even at odds vastly longer than 8 to 5.

Worth Reading #4: Digby: Now They Tell Us (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? for March 25, 2010)

Digby finds Wolf Blitzer saying that he hasn't been doing his job for a year:

Hullabaloo: Now They Tell Us: CNNs Rick Sanchez was all confused about why so many people might suddenly be in favor of the HCR bill when they thought it was a bad idea before. Blitzer explains:

Well, you know, when people are asked, we did that poll CNN Opinion Research Poll, that said, "you like this health care bill or not like it", we just assumed that the people who said they didn't like it didn't like it because it was too much interference, or too much taxes or whatever. But if you take a closer look at people who didn't like it, about 12% of those people who said they didn't like it they didn't like it because they didn't think it went far enough. They wanted a single payer option, they wanted the so-called public option, they didn't like not from the right, they didn't like it because it wasn't left or liberal enough. That's how you got 50% of the American people who said, "we don't like this plan." But only about 40 or 38% were the ones who said it was too much government interference.

That's so interesting, don't you think? Maybe Blitzer should put something in the suggestion box about that. All we've been hearing for months now is that the "American people" don't like the bill because it's a government takeover. The Republicans turned that into their entire rationale for opposition, claiming that the Democrats are going against "the will of the people" and somehow usurped the Democratic process. And here it turns out that it's only the Republicans and a few conservative "independents", 38% or so of the country, who think the bill is a government takeover. That's quite a different story don't you think? One that might have been told before now by the news networks? It might have changed the whole damned debate, actually.... This is a perfect example of the village advancing its narrative of a great conservative majority that doesn't exist. It's a pathology with these people.

Worth Reading #3: James Fallows: Why This Moment Matters (March 25, 2010)

James Fallows:

Why This Moment Matters - Politics - The Atlantic: [T]he significance of the vote is moving the United States FROM a system in which people can assume they will have health coverage IF they are old enough (Medicare), poor enough (Medicaid), fortunate enough (working for an employer that offers coverage, or able themselves to bear expenses), or in some other way specially positioned (veterans; elected officials)... TOWARD a system in which people can assume they will have health-care coverage. Period. That is how the entire rest of the developed world operates, as noted yesterday. It is the way the United States operates in most realms other than health coverage. Of course all older people are eligible for Medicare. Of course all drivers must have auto insurance. Of course all children must have a public school they can attend. Etc. Such "of course" rules offer protection for individuals but even more important, they reduce the overall costs to society, compared with one in which extreme risks are uncontained. The simplest proof is, again, Medicare: Does anyone think American life would be better now, on an individual or a collective level, if we were in an environment in which older people might have to beg for treatment as charity cases when they ran out of cash? And in which everyone had to spend the preceding years worried about that fate? There are countless areas in which America does it one way and everyone else does it another, and I say: I prefer the American way. Our practice on medical coverage is not one of these. Despite everything that is wrong with this bill and the thousand adjustments that will be necessary in the years to come, this is a very important step.

Worth Reading #2: Kaphtor: Information Is The New Coal (Without The CO2)


Kaphtor: Information Is The New Coal (Without The CO2): The era immediately following the rise of the printing press was an Information Age. The spread of information via the press gave rise to the liberal triad: capitalism (and economic information networked system), representative government (a political information networked system), and a skeptical society (a social information networked system--primarily manifesting as tolerance and science). The "Industrial Age" which followed it is perhaps what is misnamed, not the "Information Age". In the first Information Age, information was the input, not the salable output. What made the Information Age from 1500-1700 hum was the cheapness of information. So what about the Industrial Age? What was its analogous input? Fossil Fuel.

Information was the coal (or oil, or gas) of the Gutenberg Revolution, and it will be the same in this era. What would have happened in the Industrial Era had industrialists, instead of making things from fossil fuel energy, tried to simply hoard the energy instead? No Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution took fossil fuel and turned it into something you could sell which people could then use as they saw fit. The biggest problems with the current approach to intellectual property are: 1) Trying to restrict the flow of input, instead of driving its cost to zero 2) Trying to restrict use of output in the new milieu. Sining along to your copy of a Britney Spears album in front of your friends used to be good clean fun--but do it on YouTube, and it's a DMCA violation. 3) Focusing on the sale of copies of something since that is now free. I don't know how to resolve this. I don't know what the new model is. But I think we need to stop thinking about these intellectual outputs as the equivalent of "cars, houses, and refrigerators" and start thinking about them as fuel. It doesn't mean it can't be commercial, but it means we have to figure out how to make it cheap, abundant, and free (in the sense of "free speech", not "free beer") to use.

Let me give a concrete example.

The rise of the Web looked like a godsend for academic publishers. Suddenly, they could reach an even wider audience, massively cut their costs, since they no longer needed to make and deliver physical print versions, and in the process, even slash their online subscription fees to the bone, boosting their volume like crazy. This helped relieve the normal market pressures on both for profit and non-profit journals for years. Everybody wins. Except, they didn't. What the publishers should have realized was that they weren't being paid for content. They were being paid because the only way to distribute content was to own a very expensive printing press, and because the only way to sort good from bad content was to concentrate the good content in prestigious journals. The journal publishers could not get it through their heads that scientists weren't paying them for the articles. Why not?

The journals never made the articles. The scientists did. The journals just organized peer review, typeset them, and distributed them. The journals forgot that the content wasn't their content. A scientific journal is like a major record label that thinks it's responsible for the production of the great music, instead of being responsible for scouting (peer review), studio production (typesetting), and distribution (distribution). The Open Source Community long ago discovered that post-publication peer review, (what ESR calls "massively parallel peer review) is far superior to pre-publication peer-review. Typesetting is now relatively trivial, and there's certainly no reason it needs to be done by someone who does the other two jobs. And distribution?Come on. That's. Now. Free.

So why do we still have journals?

We haven't figured out how to filter the good from the bad, and do massively parallel peer review as scientists yet. But we will. And the heads of the journals had better figure it out, and figure out how to put scientists together to make it happen instead of trying to take a cut as if we still needed their hierarchical organization. Or we'll be inviting them to "Eat our Diet of Worms" soon enough.

Worth Reading #1: David Schaengold: Torture Fatigue (March 25, 2010)

David Schaengold:

Torture Fatigue: Is the GOP really becoming the party of torture? For the past several years I have been assuming that the torture would eventually stop, that both parties would disown what had been done, and that we would return to being a country of people who believe that all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. I felt especially hopeful when McCain, whose anti-torture stance was both adamant and personal, won his party’s nomination instead of Giuliani or Romney. The reaction to Bob Barr at CPAC, National Review’s refusal to call a spade a spade, Thiessen’s interview on EWTN, and a hundred other considerations have forced me to realize that this assumption was unrealistic. The GOP seems to becoming a party whose considered, institutional policy is that we should torture everyone the executive branch suspects to be a terrorist.... With the recent release of the OPR report, I feel obliged to weigh in again somehow, lest anyone mistake my silence for an iota of consent. But the battle seems fundamentally lost, and I have personally lost a good deal of the stamina required to make the same basic arguments over and over again.... Should we prepare to open a new front of the culture war? Are we ready to slog away for decades with the hope of convincing our compatriots that torture is a discredit to our country and a betrayal of our most basic political principles?

links for 2010-03-25

Passage of Moderate RomneyCare Drives Republicans Insane

UPDATE: Two slots left...

UPDATE2: All ten slots are filled.

What are people's favorites?

The insane Republicans:

(1) Michael Steele: 'The End Of Representative Government':

Today, America witnessed the first vote for the end of representative government. ... The American people are sick of the blatant arrogance of President Obama, Speaker Pelosi and the Senate Majority Leader Reid. Congressional Democrats can be sure that voters in their districts will not forget this vote that will negatively affect Americans for generations to come. It is time to fire Nancy Pelosi and send a message to President Obama that it's time to stop their partisan liberal agenda of government takeovers...

(2) Megan McArdle on Life Under RomneyCare:

Are we now in a world where there is absolutely no recourse to the tyranny of the majority?  Republicans and other opponents of the bill did their job on this; they persuaded the country that they didn't want this bill. And that mattered basically not at all. If you don't find that terrifying, let me suggest that you are a Democrat who has not yet contemplated what Republicans might do under similar circumstances. Farewell, social security!  Au revoir, Medicare!  The reason entitlements are hard to repeal is that the Republicans care about getting re-elected. If they didn't--if they were willing to undertake this sort of suicide mission--then the legislative lock-in you're counting on wouldn't exist.... [T]here are a lot of GOP members out there tonight who think that they should get at least one free "Screw You" vote to balance out what the Democrats just did. If the GOP takes the legislative innovations of the Democrats and decides to use them.... What I hope is that the Democrats take a beating at the ballot boxand rethink their contempt for those mouth-breathing illiterates in the electorate. I hope Obama gets his wish to be a one-term president who passed health care. Not because I think I will like his opponent--I very much doubt that I will support much of anything Obama's opponent says. But because politicians shouldn't feel that the best route to electoral success is to lie to the voters, and then ignore them. We're not a parliamentary democracy, and we don't have the mechanisms, like votes of no confidence, that parliamentary democracies use to provide a check on their politicians. The check that we have is that politicians care what the voters think. If that slips away, America's already quite toxic politics will become poisonous...

(3) Bill Kristol Adopts a Marxist Analysis of Barack Obama:

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Barack Obama: [T]he famous opening of Karl Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire.... "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”... Now we have the second appearance of ’60s liberalism in the... Obama administration. Marx noted... “only the ghost of the old revolution circulated,” producing an “adventurer” who... who was “only a caricature of the old Napoleon.” Similarly, in the America of our time, we have a ghostly version of the liberalism of the 1960s, led by a man who is only a caricature of the vigorous if often mistaken liberals who once sought to reshape the nation...

(4) Peter Robinson:

From... Dostoyevsky’s story-within-a-story in The Brothers Karamazov

Know then, that now, and only now, Thy people feel fully sure and satisfied of their freedom; and that only since they have themselves and of their own free will delivered that freedom unto our hands by placing it submissively at our feet.... Wouldst Thou go into the world empty-handed?  Wouldst Thou venture thither with Thy vague and undefined promise of freedom, which men, dull and unruly as they are by nature, are unable so much as to understand, which they avoid and fear?—for never was there anything more unbearable to the human race than personal freedom…!  I repeat to Thee, man has no greater anxiety in life than to find someone to whom he can make over that gift of freedom with which the unfortunate creature is born.... They will have no secrets from us.  It will rest with us to permit them to live with their wives and concubines, or to forbid them, to have children or remain childless, either way depending on the degree of their obedience to us; and they will submit most joyfully to us the most agonizing secrets of their souls—all, all will they lay down at our feet, and we will authorize and remit them all in Thy name, and they will believe us and accept our mediation with rapture, as it will deliver them from their greatest anxiety and torture—that of having to decide freely for themselves...

(5) Mark Steyn:

[I]t's hard to overestimate the magnitude of what the Democrats have accomplished. Whatever is in the bill is an intermediate stage... we'll be on the fast track to Obama's desired destination of single payer as a fait accomplis... this will make him one of the most consequential presidents in history.... Their bet is that... over time, as I've been saying for years now, governmentalized health care... changes... the very character of the people... there's plenty of evidence to support that from Britain, Canada, and elsewhere.... [I]t's also unaffordable... one of the first things that middle-rank powers abandon once they go down this road is a global military capability.... [I]f you think that America has been the ultimate guarantor of the post-war global order, it's less cheery. Five years from now, just as in Canada and Europe two generations ago, we'll be getting used to announcements of defense cuts to prop up the unsustainable costs of big government at home. And, as the superpower retrenches, America's enemies will be quick to scent opportunity. Longer wait times, fewer doctors, more bureaucracy, massive IRS expansion, explosive debt, the end of the Pax Americana, and global Armageddon. Must try to look on the bright side...

(6) Clive Crook: A Tainted Victory:

[A] tainted victory. [Scott] Brown won in Massachusetts... the country dislikes... this particular bill.... People struggle to understand how extending health insurance to 32 million Americans, at a cost of a trillion dollars over ten years, can be a deficit-reducing measure.... The CBO notwithstanding, the public is right not to believe these claims.... [T]he law the Democrats just passed is unpopular... is opposed by most of the country... is this trampling down of public opinion going to be habit-forming? Recall Pelosi's recent comment that once the Democrats have "kicked through this door", they can move on to the rest of their (equally unpopular) agenda.... Obama has broken faith with American voters. He promised post-partisan leadership. He promised to moderate the warring tribes on Capitol Hill, and strive for common-sense, centrist solutions. Then, on this epic issue, he allied himself with--in fact, subordinated himself to--liberal Democrats in Congress... he has divided the country more deeply than ever. And he has pushed through a far-reaching measure that country does not want...

(7) Mitt Romney: A Campaign Begins Today to Repeal RomneyCare:

America has just witnessed an unconscionable abuse of power. President Obama has betrayed his oath.... He calls his accomplishment “historic” — in this he is correct, although not for the reason he intends. Rather, it is an historic usurpation of the legislative process — he unleashed the nuclear option, enlisted not a single Republican vote in either chamber, bribed reluctant members of his own party, paid-off his union backers, scapegoated insurers, and justified his act with patently fraudulent accounting.... [T]he act should be repealed. That campaign begins today.

(8) John Derbyshire: Calm Despair:

I am of course neither shaken nor stirred at the passing of the health-care bills. It was to be expected.... Western civilization, over my lifetime, has been a slow-sinking ship. The few who have known what is happening have worked desperately.... It's been a losing fight, though. The tilt of the decks is harder and harder to ignore. Last night, a major bulkhead gave way. Soon a funnel will topple over with a great crash and a shower of sparks. Yet still the band is playing, the people are dancing, the food coming up from the galley.... It'll be over soon. We'll be down in the cold, lightless depths of imperial despotism — in which, after all, the great majority of human beings, throughout history, have always lived.... I once tried to compute the sheer quantity, in man-years, of lives lived under the despotic order — Egyptians and Assyrians, Persians and Chinese, Romans and post-Alexander Greeks, Incas and Aztecs, Umayyads and Abbasids, Ottomans and Zulus, Tsars and General Secretaries . . . as against humans in liberty, ruled by common consent. It came out at around a hundred to one.

Here are some interstellar travelers chatting at a cocktail party:

"But tell me: How were things when you left? Especially, how is the United States getting along with its Noble Experiment?" ""Noble Experiment'?" I had to think; Prohibition was gone before I was born. "Oh, that was repealed." "Really? I must go back for a field trip. What have you now? A king? I could see that your country was headed that way but I did not expect it so soon." "Oh, no," I said. "I was talking about Prohibition." "Oh, that. Symptomatic but not basic. I was speaking of the amusing notion of chatter rule. 'Democracy.' A curious delusion — as if adding zeros could produce a sum..." -- Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road

(9) John McCain:

There will be no cooperation [in the Senate] for the rest of the year. They [the Democrats] have poisoned the well in what they've done and how they've done it...

(10) Tony Blankley:

RomneyCare: Sunday’s Socialist Triumph: Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday launched the Democrats’ argument for the health-care bill, claiming, “This is an American proposal that honors the traditions of our country.” Does that suggest that opposition is un-American? And what are the American traditions that this law fulfills? The Democrats argue that the bill fulfills the “right” of all Americans to government-assured health-care services. The congressional Democrats claim many other things that a majority of the country believes to be inconsistent with truth and reality....

What House Minority Leader John A. Boehner has called the Battle of Capitol Hill is over. I expect that the Battle of the Electorate is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of a nonsocialist America. Upon it depends our own American way of life and the long continuity of our institutions and our history. The whole fury and might of the media and the Democratic party must very soon be trained on the electorate. If they can stand up to the coming propaganda, America may be free, and the life of the wider free world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if the voters succumb to those seven months of blandishments and deceptions, then free America — including all that we have known and cared for — will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let the public therefore brace itself to its duties, and so concentrate its mind on the true facts, that if the American spirit of freedom and dignity last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was the American voters’ finest hour”...


As a reality-check baseline on the passage of RomneyCare, David Frum:

[T]he gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994. Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now.... This bill will not be repealed.... [H]ow many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal? We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?...

And Obamacare:

Not everything about the Democrats’ healthcare proposals is bad from a free-market, limited-government point of view. But... I would determinedly vote “nay.”...

1) The House bill finances health insurance subsidies in part with a highly redistributive tax: a 5.4% surtax on individuals earning more than $500,000 per year and families earning more than $1 million... a wedge to open the way to further redistributive taxes.... Some measure of redistribution is inescapable in modern healthcare: Insurance has become so expensive that the less affluent half of the population cannot afford coverage unaided. But... it is super-dangerous to load costs on a few at the top of the income distribution....

2) The House bill imposes heavy new costs on small business at the beginning of what looks to be a weak and fragile job recovery....

3) Where are the cost controls? The excise tax on high-coverage plans is postponed into the wild blue yonder....

4) Illegal aliens do not qualify for subsidies under the House plan, but they can buy into the health exchanges. We should be focusing on making the U.S. labor market less attractive to illegal labor, not more so.

5) Medicaid is perhaps the single most dysfunctional major social welfare program we have. The House bill makes it bigger...

(I would say that (1), (2), and (4) are not serious worries, but (3) and (5) may be.) That's what a not-insane Republican said. Here's another: And Andrew Samwick:

We On The Right Should Remember 2003 When We Lament 2010: I was distressed to read this post by Megan McArdle.... There seem to be three complaints here. The first is that the American people don't want health care reform, or at least this version of health care reform. I don't think anyone will hold up the bill that will pass as exemplary, but it does reflect elements of health care reform that Democrats campaigned on and won on in 2008.  So I have a hard time seeing this as doing violence to the will of the people as it is typically expressed in our electoral system. Elections matter. This is how they matter. The second complaint is that the Democrats have done violence to the legislative process to get the bill passed  I am not a fan of these crazy parliamentary tricks, but just rewind the clock, as Bruce Bartlett does so well, to the 2003 legislative process on Medicare Part D.... I am going to need to be convinced that what happened in March 2010 is a more hideous affront to standards of legislative conduct than what happened in November 2003... calling BS on claims that the Democrats have somehow stooped to a new low. Sadly, they have not. The third complaint is the most legitimate of the three, that we have created a new entitlement with dubious financing and greater government involvement in the provision of health care. This is more true than I would like it to be, but given what Republicans passed with Medicare Part D, they have surrendered the fiscally responsible high ground. And, more importantly, they surrendered the political high ground when they failed to propose a coherent alternative that addressed the critical problems of pre-existing conditions in health insurance markets.... That was the fight they should have had. To say that they lost would not be right. They simply didn't show up.

I would say Republican Mitt Romney did show up--in Massachusetts--but then concluded he could not get the Republican presidential nomination if he showed up to the national debate (and that he was probably right to think so).

RomneyCare Passage Aftermath: Senator Vitter's Amendment to Completely Repeal RomneyCare

Mike Allen:

McConnell eyes majority, then repeal of bill: Refusing to concede permanent defeat on health reform, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell wants to “repeal the whole bill” and replace it with insurance reforms and other measures that could get bipartisan agreement. “They got health care,” McConnell told POLITICO with a mischievous glint in his eye. “We’ll see whether that’s a gift worth receiving.” McConnell said that if Republicans were to win back the Senate majority in November, “at the top of our list would be to repeal and replace this health care bill”...

Vitter says: Repeal RomneyCare because it is $500 billion of Medicare cuts on our seniors--which is wrong!


One Republican senator did not vote for the amendment that would attach complete repeal of RomneyCare to the reconciliation bill...


UPDATE: senatus messages:

Isakson is in the hospital w/ bacterial infection and has missed all the votes...

So that means every single Republican senator voted for complete repeal of RomneyCare--that is, voted against the motion to table the Vitter amendment attaching the complete repeal of RomneyCare to the reconciliation bill. Every single Republication senator. Every. Single. One. For the elimination of the ban on preexisting conditions. Against portability. For job lock. Against the exchanges to keep individuals and small businesses from having to bargain from a position of great weakness.

I think that they are all marching over a cliff.

UPDATE 2: Erick, son of Erick, thinks that they think and Minority Leader McConnell agree that they are all marching over a cliff:

Senate GOP Trying To Scuttle “Repeal It” Amendment: Mitch McConnell and his leadership team are trying to scuttle Republican efforts to force a vote on repeal of the entire health care legislation during the reconciliation process.... [M]oderate Republican senators who voted against Obamacare in December do not want to vote against it again....  McConnell agrees and is not inclined to push Republicans to go along with any effort to force a vote on repeal during reconciliation, despite David Vitter offering up an amendment to do just that...

However, you trust anything Erick, son of Erick, says at your own peril...

John Emerson Has a Clever Plan!

Hoisted from Comments: he writes:

Well, There Goes My Plan to Contribute to and Vote for Tom Campbell for Governor of California...: If the circumstances of my life were different I would fix myself up to seem like The Last Eisenhower Republican in the World and fleece Brad out of every goddamn cent he's got. He's so desperate to find one. His poor family would end up living off deposit bottles they found in ditches and vacant lots, but that would be just too bad.

We do have an Eisenhower Republican Party, and it's called the Democratic Party-DLC. Our problem is that we also have a near-fascist Republican Party, and we do not have a viable progressive-populist-radical party. There is syuch a faction in the Democratic Party, but the Eisenhower Democrats have been completely successful in squashing them.

The weird, weird, weird thing is this: as far as I know Brad thinks that single payer would be better than the Eisenhower Romney Obama medical care monster we got. But as a DLC neoliberal Eisenhower Democrat, he will never affiliate with the progressive-popuist-radical branch of the Democrats, and he'll spend the rest of his like looking for a sane Republican (i.e., unicorn) to love.

It would probably work, too...

Well, There Goes My Plan to Contribute to and Vote for Tom Campbell for Governor of California...

All fellow Dewey-Eisenhower-Rockefeller Republicans and bipartisan technocratic centrists take note.

Tom Campbell has just revealed that he is bad news in calling for the complete repeal of RomneyCare.

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga:

Daily Kos: The "repeal" trap: We see the difficulties Republicans will have -- especially in Blue districts and states -- in running on that repeal platform the teabagger base is demanding.... Those Republicans supporting repeal include California's Tom Campbell, New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, Florida's Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio, Nevada's Sue Lowden, North Carolina's Richard Burr, Missouri's Roy Blunt, Kentucky's Rand Paul and Trey Grayson, and Louisiana's David Vitter...

Worth Reading #7: The Great Orange Satan on the Politics of RomneyCare Repeal

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga:

Daily Kos: The "repeal" trap: We see the difficulties Republicans will have -- especially in Blue districts and states -- in running on that repeal platform the teabagger base is demanding. Fact is, this health care reform law (yes, law!) is not as unpopular as they think it is. Already, we're seeing a marked shift in popular opinion in its favor, and the intensity gap the GOP has enjoyed all year should narrow significantly as Democrats finally have something worth fighting about. Those trends will be particularly pronounced in those solid blue states Republicans need to win to take a significant bite out of the Democratic majorities. Like Illinois:

If elected, U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk is promising he will "lead the effort" to repeal the health care reform package Democrats are working furiously to pass. The North Shore Republican made the statement at a New Trier GOP Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner last Friday.

That may win him plaudits from Rush Limbaugh and some fundraising juice, but Rasmussen's last poll of the race showed that 52 percent supported reform, while 46 percent opposed (and that's with Rasmussen's cooked numbers). You can bet Kirk won't be bragging about "leading" the repeal effort, but that cat's out of the bag (the Giannoulias campaign has Kirk's vow on tape), and he voted against the reform in the House. Same with Mike Castle in Delaware, where his reputation as a "moderate" has propelled him to a dominant lead in the race for Joe Biden's old Senate seat. Thus far, Castle has dodged the repeal question, refusing to answer whether he's for repeal. Yet he voted with his party to obstruct reform, against eliminating recissions and pre-existing conditions.

The DSCC is certainly pushing Republicans hard to make their feelings on repeal known.

Although many Republican Senate candidates have taken the pledge to repeal health care reform, other have stayed silent [..] Congressman Mike Castle in Delaware, Carly Fiorina in California, Jane Norton in Colorado, Linda McMahon and Rob Simmons in Connecticut, Rob Portman in Ohio, Senator Chuck Grassley in Iowa, John Hoeven in North Dakota, Congressman John Boozman in Arkansas, and Dan Coats and John Hostettler in Indiana.

Those Republicans supporting repeal include California's Tom Campbell, New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, Florida's Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio, Nevada's Sue Lowden, North Carolina's Richard Burr, Missouri's Roy Blunt, Kentucky's Rand Paul and Trey Grayson, and Louisiana's David Vitter...

Worth Reading #5: RomneyCare Passage Aftermath: Sam Stein on State Opt-Out of Mandate (March 23, 2010)

Sam Stein:

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has a message for all the attorneys general and Republican lawmakers who are threatening lawsuits and claiming that an individual mandate for insurance coverage is unconstitutional: You don't have to abide by it -- just set up your own plan. The Oregon Democrat isn't inviting opponents to defy the newly-enacted health care law. Instead, he's pointing out a provision in the bill that makes moot the argument over the legality of the individual mandate.

Speaking to the Huffington Post on Tuesday, Wyden discussed -- for one of the first times in public -- legislative language he authored which "allows a state to go out and do its own bill, including having no individual mandate." It's called the "Empowering States to be Innovative" amendment. And it would, quite literally, give states the right to set up their own health care system -- with or without an individual mandate or, for that matter, with or without a public option -- provided that, as Wyden puts it, "they can meet the coverage requirements of the bill." ...

Republican Senators: We Work too Hard

Ryan Grim:

Senate Republicans fuming over the passage of health care reform are now refusing to work past 2 p.m.... [T]he Judiciary Committee was forced to cancel a hearing, as was the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) tweeted today : "Disappointed. Rs refusing to allow hearings today. Had to cancel my oversight hearing on police training contracts in Afghanistan."... Making good on Sen. John McCain's threat to withhold all Republican cooperation from Democrats in the Senate in retribution for the majority party using reconciliation to pass health care reform, the GOP used an obscure rule that states committees can only meet [after 2 PM] when the chamber is in session with the unanimous consent of all members...

Refusing to work more than half a day while still taking all their pay--at the very least, they should return half their salaries to the Treasury...

Worth Reading #4: Josh Marshall: Make It Count (March 24, 2010)

Josh Marshall:

Make It Count | Talking Points Memo: After six years under President Bush and twelve years as the congressional minority, the Democrats took over Congress in 2006 and then expanded their majorities and elected a president in 2008. If they lose that majority only four years in it will be a painful reckoning for all the work, doggedness and creativity that went into building that rumbling machine that brought the Democrats back to power only a few years into what was formerly known as their permanent minority. But as I've mulled these possibilities over the last few weeks I keep coming back to two realizations. The first we know but tend to forget, that majorities are built to defend and better the country, not the other way around. If the bill passes, and should the worse befall the Dems and they wake up on November 3rd having lost both houses of Congress, they can look back on all the work in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 cycles and say, it wasn't wasted and it wasn't for nothing. This bill will be by far the most significant piece of social legislation in almost 50 years and will achieve, albeit imperfectly, something progressives have been trying to achieve for going on a century. If the Dems lose their majorities in November, they'll be able to say: we worked this hard, we built these majorities, and this is what we did with it.

Even more though, I come back to the central lesson of the Social Security battle in 2005, which was the realization that the key condition of political success is almost always a genuine willingness to lose well. Back in 2005 the question was, was it all going to be spinning and shuffling and whining and sputtering on about how bad the whole thing is? Or would they make it into a clear choice -- where Democrats supported Social Security for a clear set of reasons rooted in values and policy, and Republicans opposed it? If the lies about the program's unviability could volubly refuted, the party division made clear, and the reasons why Social Security is good for America ably argued, then let the chips fall where they may. On the other hand, if it all fell out to tactics, the outmoded bag of tricks and risk-aversion, playing at the margins, wringing of hands and hoping for a shameful compromise ... well, that would have been truly unforgivable. The Democrats won that battle because they said to themselves and the country: on this ground we're willing to lose. And in addition to all the hard work and everything else in their favor, that commitment stiffened their spines and made them credible to the public at large. It made the political victory possible.

A genuine willingness to lose means just that: you might lose. You might lose big. And the dynamics of a mid-term election, amidst crippling unemployment and an energized right, have certain unavoidable implications. But I suspect the effect for the Democrats of actual passing this legislation will be considerably more positive than people realize.