Bill Moyers Journal: Why Robert Kuttner’s ‘Party Line’ Mindset Ensures The Status Quo
On Friday night Bill Moyers hosted a fascinating debate on the Senate’s health care bill between Matt Taibbi, contributing editor for Rolling Stone, and Robert Kuttner, co-editor of the American Prospect. (The video can be viewed here: Bill Moyers Journal). Taibbi and Kuttner both describe the just-passed health care bill as disastrous. They outline how it is a complete giveaway to the health insurance industry, how it will do nothing to lower costs, and how it will be extremely unpopular to the American public once it’s implemented.
The following highlights some key points in their discussion:
BILL MOYERS: So are you saying that this, what some call a sweetheart deal between the pharmaceutical industry and the White House, done many months ago before this fight really began, was because the drug company money in the Democratic Party?
ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, it’s two things. Part of it was we need to do whatever it takes to get a bill. Never mind whether it’s a really good bill, let’s get a bill passed so we can claim that we solved health insurance. Secondly, let’s get the drug industry and the insurance industry either supporting us or not actively opposing us. So that there was some skirmishing around the details, but the deal going in was that the administration, drug companies, insurance companies are on the same team. Now, that’s one way to get legislation, it’s not a way to transform the health system. Once the White House made this deal with the insurance companies, the public option was never going to be anything more than a fig leaf. And over the summer and the fall, it got whittled down, whittled down, whittled down to almost nothing and now it’s really nothing.
MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, and this was Howard Dean’s point this week was that this individual mandate that’s going to force people to become customers of private health insurance companies, the Democrats are going to end up owning that policy and it’s going to be extremely unpopular and it’s going to be theirs for a generation. It’s going to be an albatross around the neck of this party.
ROBERT KUTTNER: Think about it, the difference between social insurance and an individual mandate is this. Social insurance everybody pays for it through their taxes, so you don’t think of Social Security as a compulsory individual mandate. You think of it as a benefit, as a protection that your government provides. But an individual mandate is an order to you to go out and buy some product from some private profit-making company, that in the case of a lot of moderate income people, you can’t afford to buy. And the shell game here is that the affordable policies are either very high deductibles and co-pays, so you can afford the monthly premiums but then when you get sick, you have to pay a small fortune out of pocket before the coverage kicks in. Or if the coverage is decent, the premiums are unaffordable. And so here’s the government doing the bidding of the private industry coercing people to buy profit-making products that maybe they can’t afford and they call it health reform.
As you can see, everyone is on the same page here — they both HATE this horrible insurance industry giveaway — to be awarded off the backs of struggling Americans. Both believe the bill does more harm than good.
And then Moyers asks them this simple question, and you quickly see where the real debate here will lie:
BILL MOYERS: Yes or no. If you were a senator, would you vote for this Senate health care bill?
MATT TAIBBI: No.
BILL MOYERS: Bob?
ROBERT KUTTNER: Yes.
Did you get that? Robert Kuttner would vote for this Senate health care bill that he had just described as disastrous. An astounded Moyers confronts Kuttner:
BILL MOYERS: Why? You just said it’s designed to enhance the fortunes of the industry.
ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, it’s so far from what I think is necessary that I don’t think it’s a good bill. But I think if it goes down, just because of the optics of the situation and the way the Republicans have framed this as a make or break moment for President Obama, it will make it easier for the Republicans to take control of Congress in 2010. It will make Obama even more gun-shy about promoting reform. It will create even more political paralysis. It will embolden the republicans to block what this President is trying to do, some of which is good, at every turn. So I would hold my nose and vote for it. […]
BILL MOYERS: Aren’t you saying that in order to save the Democratic President and the Democratic Party in 2010 and 2012 you have to have a really rotten health insurance bill?
ROBERT KUTTNER: Well, when you come down to one pivotal moment where a bill is before Congress and the administration has staked the entire presidency on this bill and you’re a progressive Democrat are you going to vote for it or not? Let me put it this way, if I were literally in the position that Joe Lieberman is in and it was up to me to determine whether this bill live or die, I would hold my nose and vote for it even though I have been a fierce critic of the path this administration has taken. […]
Matt Taibbi gets it absolutely right in this exchange with Kuttner:
ROBERT KUTTNER: I mean, I was making the same criticisms that you were at the time. But now we’re down to a moment of final passage. And maybe my views are very ambivalent. But I would still vote for it because I think the defeat would be absolutely crushing in terms of the way the press played it, in terms of the way it would give encouragement to the far right in this country that we can block this guy if we just fight hard enough, if we just demagogue it.
MATT TAIBBI: But couldn’t that defeat turn into- that crushing defeat, couldn’t that be good for the Democrats? Couldn’t it teach them a lesson that, you know, maybe they have to pursue a different course in the future?
Kuttner’s mindset is precisely why politicians continue to undermine their constituents at every turn. Politicians believe that their party members and constituents — even those further to the Left (like Kuttner) who routinely criticize their actions — will ultimately hold their noses and walk the party line. It is exactly why Rahm Emanuel confidently asserted to the Wall Street Journal they need not worry about the Left. It is why real meaningful change will never occur in Washington, because politicians — a crafty bunch — are banking that Kuttner’s mentality is prevalent amongst their constituency.
Politicians respond to one very simple and primal motivator: FEAR.
- FEAR that entrenched interests will stop funding their campaigns, and instead will begin to fund their opponents.
- FEAR that their constituency will suddenly turn on them, and vote them out of office.
In a legislative initiative such as health care reform, entrenched interests would have to take a serious hit to their profits in order to stop the needless suffering of the American public. These companies reap incredible profit from their government-protected monopoly/oligopoly status (no competition), and by denying claims and coverage. There is no way around this. Either Obama protects their profits at the expense of the public, or he pushes legislation that harms their profits.
Emanuel and Obama very astutely calculated that entrenched interests would be unforgiving — mercenary, in fact — if their profits were in any way threatened. But they suspected Kuttner’s ‘party line’ mindset would ultimately prevail amongst their liberal colleagues in the House and in the electorate; that they would ultimately walk the party line, given a two party system where choosing between the lesser of two evils is the name of the game.
This ‘party line’ mindset — exemplified perfectly by Kuttner — is one that not only enables the status quo, it guarantees its perpetuity. The entrenched interests’ stranglehold over our government will continue as long as people mechanically support whatever policies their party leaders have decided to push, even if it’s something they themselves believe to be disastrous, a giveaway to interest groups, and harmful to Americans. Kuttner is essentially saying he would support a terrible, harmful policy only for the sake of denying a political victory to the opposition. That’s the entire crux of his explanation.
Kuttner’s message is exactly the wrong one to be sending to our political representatives. It plays right into the strategic calculations these politicians make whenever they must choose between pursuing something exceedingly difficult — like meaningful change — or pursuing something far easier, and more predictable — like status quo. Observing Kuttner’s quick capitulation should help us to better understand why Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama have chosen to serve special interests at the expense of the public interest. They really only FEAR the special interests, because special interests are the only ones certain to hold them to account. After all, the Left — as Kuttner demonstrated — would never do anything that might inadvertently help to put a Republican back in power. Right?
As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently put it: “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
New Poll: Majority of Americans Reject ‘Obama-Lieberman’ Health Care Bill
New results from a national poll, conducted by Research 2000 between December 16 and 17, reveal that a majority of American voters are now AGAINST each and every aspect of the Senate’s ‘Obama-Lieberman’ health care bill — which President Obama is now urging for a quick passage.
The questions asked in the poll follow below:
- PUBLIC OPTION: Would you favor or oppose creating a public health insurance option administered by the federal government that would compete with plans offered by private health insurance companies?
All Americans: 59% FAVOR, 31% OPPOSE, 10% NOT SURE
Democrats: 88% FAVOR, 9% OPPOSE, 3% NOT SURE
Independents: 57% FAVOR, 29% OPPOSE, 14% NOT SURE
Republicans: 24% FAVOR, 64% OPPOSE, 12% NOT SURE
So naturally, the Obama-Lieberman health care bill offers: NO Public Option.
- PUBLIC OPTION + MEDICARE BUY-IN: If Congress proposed passing a strong public health insurance option PLUS allowing people age 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare, would you favor or oppose this idea?
All Americans: 58% FAVOR, 31% OPPOSE, 11% NOT SURE
Democrats: 88% FAVOR, 8% OPPOSE, 4% NOT SURE
Independents: 57% FAVOR, 27% OPPOSE, 16% NOT SURE
Republicans: 22% FAVOR, 69% OPPOSE, 9% NOT SURE
So naturally, the Obama-Lieberman health care bill offers: NO Public Option + NO Medicare Buy-In.
- MANDATE – NO PUBLIC OPTION, NO MEDICARE BUY-IN: Would you favor or oppose a health care bill that does NOT include a public health insurance option and does NOT expand Medicare, but DOES require all Americans to get health insurance?
All Americans: 33% FAVOR, 56% OPPOSE, 11% NOT SURE
Democrats: 37% FAVOR, 51% OPPOSE, 12% NOT SURE
Independents: 31% FAVOR, 57% OPPOSE, 12% NOT SURE
Republicans: 30% FAVOR, 61% OPPOSE, 9% NOT SURE
So naturally, the Obama-Lieberman health care bill includes a Mandate with penalty, but with NO Public Option + NO Medicare Buy-In.
- OBAMA vs LIEBERMAN: President Obama has said he favors a public health insurance option. Senator Joe Lieberman is widely credited with forcing Senate Democrats to take the public option off the table in order to win his vote. Do you think President Obama should have done more to pressure Lieberman to allow the public option to move forward?
All Americans: 63% FAVOR, 29% OPPOSE, 8% NOT SURE
Democrats: 87% FAVOR, 10% OPPOSE, 3% NOT SURE
Independents: 72% FAVOR, 18% OPPOSE, 10% NOT SURE
Republicans: 13% FAVOR, 76% OPPOSE, 11% NOT SURE
So naturally, President Obama — who was awarded a clear mandate for meaningful CHANGE from the American people — pressures his party to defy the will of the people and bend over for a single politician, Joe Lieberman, who takes a staggering amount of money from the health insurance industry.
What this poll reveals is that our government is no longer functioning as the democracy it was intended to be. When the will of a clear majority of the people, including a staggering overwhelming majority of the President’s own party, are being undermined so brazenly — as shown above — it tells you that special interests have successfully hijacked our government.
Please sign the MoveOn.org petition:
The petition reads: “America needs real health care reform—not a massive giveaway to the insurance companies. Senator Bernie Sanders and other progressives should block this bill until it’s fixed.”
Click HERE to sign.
Health Care Reform: WTF Just Happened? The Left Weighs In
The reaction to Obama’s Health Care Reform fiasco is getting rather explosive on the Left. There seems to be somewhat of a prevailing sentiment that Obama’s Administration bears the lions’ share of the blame for Lieberman and Blue Dog intransigence. Here’s some of the reactions:
Sam Stein from the Huffington Post is reporting that two of the country’s largest labor groups, the SEIU and the AFL-CIO, are holding emergency meetings, and are hinting they will formally oppose the ‘Lieberman-friendly’ bill. He described the labor leaders as “fuming at the concessions that Democratic leadership made in the last few days to win the support of the caucus’s most conservative members, notably Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.)” Listen to how one high-ranking labor official described who is to blame for this mess:
“What is really frustrating folks here is that it’s impossible to make and implement plans to pressure senators when the White House and Reid keep undermining the efforts no one from the outside can put any credible pressure on Senators because they know the White House will back that Senator up whatever they do. If the White House is going to cave to a Senator who spent the entire election campaigning with McCain and calling Obama a traitor how are we supposed to have any leverage over anyone?
“If Lieberman — who has done so many horrible things directly to Obama — can get away with this on Obama’s signature issue it makes it infinitely harder for us to pressure senators, on issues in the future, because there is no fear of retribution or coercion from the White House. They only pressure progressives, not anyone in the middle.”
Here’s the President of the United Steel Workers, Leo Gerard, who gives President Obama the benefit of the doubt, by calling him naive, and suggesting he “got hoodwinked” by the Health Insurance Industry. Leo, no offense, but I don’t think Obama is the one showing naivete. He goes on to state:
“I can tell you this — point blank — if we don’t get a meaningful health care bill that reduces costs and has everybody in and doesn’t have an excise tax, has a pay or play for employers, has a public option, or a medicare buy-in, we’re not gonna campaign for any Democrat that voted against this bill, and we’re going to go out and try and defeat them.”
I think Glenn Greenwald has BRILLIANTLY NAILED what’s been going on here, as he usually does. He doesn’t buy that Obama and Rahm Emanuel got bested, due to some sort of naivete. He believes they got EXACTLY the health care bill they always wanted, and shows how they had no problem flexing muscle to get legislation through the Houses in the past when it was something important to them:
Indeed, we’ve seen before what the White House can do — and does do — when they actually care about pressuring members of Congress to support something they genuinely want passed. When FDL and other liberal blogs led an effort to defeat Obama’s war funding bill back in June, the White House became desperate for votes, and here is what they apparently did (though they deny it):
The White House is playing hardball with Democrats who intend to vote against the supplemental war spending bill, threatening freshmen who oppose it that they won’t get help with reelection and will be cut off from the White House, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said Friday. “We’re not going to help you. You’ll never hear from us again,” Woolsey said the White House is telling freshmen.
That’s what the White House can do when they actually care about pressuring someone to vote the way they want. Why didn’t they do any of that to the “centrists” who were supposedly obstructing what they wanted on health care? Why didn’t they tell Blanche Lincoln — in a desperate fight for her political life — that she would “never hear from them again,” and would lose DNC and other Democratic institutional support, if she filibustered the public option? Why haven’t they threatened to remove Joe Lieberman’s cherished Homeland Security Chairmanship if he’s been sabotaging the President’s agenda? Why hasn’t the President been rhetorically pressuring Senators to support the public option and Medicare buy-in, or taking any of the other steps outlined here by Adam Green? There’s no guarantee that it would have worked — Obama is not omnipotent and he can’t always control Congressional outcomes — but the lack of any such efforts is extremely telling about what the White House really wanted here.
Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake weighs in with similar sentiments on the Administration:
“They were very good at making it look like they wanted a public option in the final bill without actually doing anything to make it happen,” said Jane Hamsher, publisher of the liberal blog Firedoglake. “It’s hard to believe that the two most powerful people in the country — arguably the world — could not do more to achieve their desired objective than to hand the keys over to Joe Lieberman. They would not be where they are if they are that bad at negotiation.”
Digby weighs in:
There are not a lot of good reasons why [Obama] wouldn’t use the power of his popularity when his numbers were stratospheric to insist on something other than cost controls. One can only assume he didn’t want to.
Even I knew that the Senate was full of a bunch of prima donnas who had to be deftly handled and given a tremendous amount of attention and engagement when you try to do something big. That’s just how it works in that chamber, especially when Democrats are in the majority. It was never going to be easy. But the president had a tremendous amount of good will and political power when he came into office and indicated from the beginning that instead of pushing through his agenda quickly and efficiently he would have the congress to “take the lead” and only inject himself when it was necessary to consecrate some (preferably bipartisan) compromise. That’s a recipe for slow action and bad legislation.
The president may not have the singular power to enact good domestic policy, but he is the only one with the power and public backing to knock heads and lead in his own party. And if the best he can do in that regard is tell the Democrats that they need to “protect him” by passing any bill, well, that’s pretty weak.
Most surprising of all, is the candor coming from Democratic politicians themselves. No more putting a nice spin on things, for the sake of the President. They are pulling-no-punches:
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wis.) told POLITICO:
“It’s ridiculous, and the Obama administration is sitting on the sidelines. That’s nonsense. The White House has been useless,” he said.
“Snowe? Stupak? Lieberman? Who left these people in charge? It’s time for the President to get his hands dirty. Some of us have compromised our compromised compromise. We need the President to stand up for the values our party shares. We must stop letting the tail wag the dog of this debate.”
Senator Feingold weighed in to The Hill:
“This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place, so I don’t think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the truth,” said Feingold.
Here’s what John Conyers had to say about it:
“The president keeps listening to Rahm Emanuel,” he said. “He doesn’t listen to” the Congressional Black Caucus.
As for the Senate health care bill, Conyers went through a list of defeats: “No public option, no extending Medicare to 55, no nothing, an excise tax, God! The insurance lobby is taking over.”
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus:
“Since the Senate won’t use reconciliation, which only requires 51 votes, it doesn’t look promising for any real change.” Grijalva said he would vote against the Senate bill unless the House is able to make significant changes in conference.
Rep. Peter DeFazio:
“There is unbelievable frustration with the Senate,” he said. “The Senate is a graveyard. They could run the place with 50 or 51 votes, but they don’t want to hurt the club,” he said. “They are relying on people like Joe Lieberman, who was thrown out of the Democratic Party by the voters of his state, to tell the Democratic Party what its agenda is. That’s a very sad state of affairs.”
Rep. Lynn Woolsey:
“Thirty percent of Democrats will not come out and vote if there is no public option in the health care bill,” she said. “What does that tell you?”
I think it’s safe to conclude that Obama and Emanuel have effectively divided the Democratic Party in two. Instead of applying an iota of pressure on Lieberman and the Blue Dogs they are doing the very opposite: hitting back at the base. Note: I didn’t say “hitting back at liberals or the ‘Left Wing of the Party’,” because 88% of ALL Democrats still favor a public option, as does 60% of ALL Americans.
The President has effectively been undermining the popular will of his own party AND country, and he’s furious that everyone isn’t bending over, and giving him his ‘political victory’.
Lieberman Threatens To Filibuster Medicare Buy-In, As New Video Surfaces Showing Him Endorsing It
I discovered this video (courtesy of the Connecticut Post) via Digby, originating back to Greg Sargent. Hopefully, it will continue to make its way throughout the net roots. Pass it on! In the video — shot just three months ago on September 8, 2009 — Joe Lieberman explains his support for a Medicare buy-in. The […]
Obama’s Silence On Public Option Emboldens Obstructionists
Obama met with Democratic Senators yesterday at a rare Sunday Democratic caucus to give something of a ‘pep talk’ — which is how he described it to reporters — to encourage them to complete their job of passing health care reform. He didn’t take questions from the Senators, most of whom were reported as complimentary […]
Public Option Dying In Senate, Just As New Poll Reveals 60% Of Americans Want It
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has yet to come up with the 60-required votes to pass ANY variation of a public option. The key obstructionists remain as dug in as ever, and any who’ve hinted at compromise are adamant that any public option be so watered down, as to lose any effectiveness: Sen. Joe Lieberman […]