Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 4, 2010

Puzzling Out the Health-Care Vote

With my friend Yuval Levin, than whom no one seems more able to maintain a grasp on the slippery thread of this business, I’ve been trying to work through just what exactly the procedure for a successful health-care vote is. It would seem to be this (and don’t blame Yuval if I get any of this wrong).

Stage 1. The House of Representatives must now pass the Senate bill, which passed in December. In so doing, it will effectively be voiding its own bill, which was passed with a 5-vote margin in early November — because none of the  goodies and bargains House members negotiated among themselves are present in the Senate bill. Specifically, there’s no “public option” in the Senate bill, as there is in the House bill; and there’s no “Stupak amendment” forbidding the use of public funds for abortion in the Senate bill. That amendment was necessary for House Democratic leaders to secure its five-vote victory in November.

Ordinarily, the House and Senate bills would go to a conference committee, which would negotiate over the differences in them, combine them into a single bill, and send that new bill back to both chambers for a final vote. This single bill would be considered a new piece of legislation, and therefore would have to be voted on again by everybody. Once that is done, the single bill would go to the president’s desk for signature.

But because of Scott Brown’s election, there are no longer 60 votes in the Senate for a health-care bill—and 60 votes are needed in the Senate to end discussion of a bill and bring it to a vote. Without 60 votes bringing the discussion to “cloture,” a bill can remain open for debate forever in the process called “filibustering.” So there can’t be a health-care bill if the Senate has to take up a new version of it, because any new version will be fillibustered by Republicans.

So the House has to vote on the Senate bill to avoid another vote in the Senate. For then there is a single piece of legislation all tied up in a bow that doesn’t have to go to committee.

So why doesn’t that just happen?

Well, if there is to be a health-care bill, it will happen. The House will have to vote through the Senate bill without changing it. That’s just the reality. But that’s only going to happen if House members are promised that some of their concerns are taken into consideration. And so there will have to be a second bill. Immediately afterward. A second bill that fixes what’s wrong with the first bill. And this is where all this talk about “reconciliation” comes in.

Stage 2. Reconciliation. The second bill will function as a series of amendments to and fixes of the first bill. Now, ordinarily, that  should kill the whole process outright, because the same problems the first bill faced should apply to a second bill in the Senate—the need for 60 votes to close debate, etc. But that wouldn’t be the case if the second bill is treated as a “reconciliation” measure. A reconciliation measure is a the only one in the Senate that bypasses the 60-vote cloture rule and allows a simple majority vote. Keith Hennessey describes it thus:

A reconciliation bill is a special type of bill.  The full name is a “budget reconciliation” bill.  It’s purpose is to combine into one bill the work of multiple committees that are changing federal spending and tax laws.  It is an incredibly powerful tool that bypasses [unlimited debate and cloture] but only for very limited purposes.  Senators, and the Senate as a whole … allow these rules to be bypassed only for a specific purpose.

The use of “reconciliation” to pass health-care measures would be unprecedented. And there are real questions about whether the parliamentarian of the Senate will be able, even bending so far over he turns himself into a pretzel, to say that a vote on (for example) stripping abortion coverage from the bill fits the legal definition of what “reconciliation” is.

But forget that for a second. Let’s assume the Senate parliamentarian is entirely pliable. A reconciliation bill will be written. What then?

Stage 3. The House takes all the heat. Ah. Here’s the rub. It appears that, in an effort to make this as easy as possible on the Senate, the House is now under pressure from the Senate and the White House to vote for the reconciliation bill before the Senate. At which point the Senate will take it up and ramrod through the second bill with 51 votes, Obama signs it, and there’s health-care.

This strategy requires the House not only to vote for a wildly unpopular bill once, but then to vote on its sequel almost immediately afterward. In other words, House members are going to be forced to cast two wildly unpopular, highly visible votes in succession, without anybody else taking the heat. And there is going to be deal-making and back-scratching and all manner of sleazy behavior to achieve it, all of which will just increase the public sense of a corrupt process that has ensnared Democrats just as corruption seemed to ensnare Republicans in 2006. All so the Senate can sneak it through. And the House has good reason not to trust that the Senate will hold to its part of the bargain. What if there is a colossal meltdown in public support just before the reconciliation vote? What if the Senate decides to change it a little and throws it all back into chaos again? What if House members were to cast two votes and there was no health care at the end of the process?

The only thing that can make this insane business tolerable or bearable for House Democrats is geniune conviction —  conviction that this is the once-in-a-lifetime chance to put the country on the glidepath to a national health-care system. That is what can make the process seem to transcend the sleazy deals and buyoffs for those who are going to have to face voters and explain themselves and their votes.

So if, in the end, this process works as the White House wants it to work, it will do so because of core Democratic and liberal beliefs. Republicans and conservatives need to understand that; the political horror faced by every Democrat who does not have an entirely safe seat can be mitigated in part by the belief that there may be enough Democrats who can live their lives proud to have brought this measure to fruition.

Thus, the best hope of derailing health care will not derive from high motives – stopping this dreadful measure before it becomes law — but rather very low motives —sheer, panicked self-preservation on the part of Democratic pols hoping against hope to hold on in spite of the looming Republican wave.

With my friend Yuval Levin, than whom no one seems more able to maintain a grasp on the slippery thread of this business, I’ve been trying to work through just what exactly the procedure for a successful health-care vote is. It would seem to be this (and don’t blame Yuval if I get any of this wrong).

Stage 1. The House of Representatives must now pass the Senate bill, which passed in December. In so doing, it will effectively be voiding its own bill, which was passed with a 5-vote margin in early November — because none of the  goodies and bargains House members negotiated among themselves are present in the Senate bill. Specifically, there’s no “public option” in the Senate bill, as there is in the House bill; and there’s no “Stupak amendment” forbidding the use of public funds for abortion in the Senate bill. That amendment was necessary for House Democratic leaders to secure its five-vote victory in November.

Ordinarily, the House and Senate bills would go to a conference committee, which would negotiate over the differences in them, combine them into a single bill, and send that new bill back to both chambers for a final vote. This single bill would be considered a new piece of legislation, and therefore would have to be voted on again by everybody. Once that is done, the single bill would go to the president’s desk for signature.

But because of Scott Brown’s election, there are no longer 60 votes in the Senate for a health-care bill—and 60 votes are needed in the Senate to end discussion of a bill and bring it to a vote. Without 60 votes bringing the discussion to “cloture,” a bill can remain open for debate forever in the process called “filibustering.” So there can’t be a health-care bill if the Senate has to take up a new version of it, because any new version will be fillibustered by Republicans.

So the House has to vote on the Senate bill to avoid another vote in the Senate. For then there is a single piece of legislation all tied up in a bow that doesn’t have to go to committee.

So why doesn’t that just happen?

Well, if there is to be a health-care bill, it will happen. The House will have to vote through the Senate bill without changing it. That’s just the reality. But that’s only going to happen if House members are promised that some of their concerns are taken into consideration. And so there will have to be a second bill. Immediately afterward. A second bill that fixes what’s wrong with the first bill. And this is where all this talk about “reconciliation” comes in.

Stage 2. Reconciliation. The second bill will function as a series of amendments to and fixes of the first bill. Now, ordinarily, that  should kill the whole process outright, because the same problems the first bill faced should apply to a second bill in the Senate—the need for 60 votes to close debate, etc. But that wouldn’t be the case if the second bill is treated as a “reconciliation” measure. A reconciliation measure is a the only one in the Senate that bypasses the 60-vote cloture rule and allows a simple majority vote. Keith Hennessey describes it thus:

A reconciliation bill is a special type of bill.  The full name is a “budget reconciliation” bill.  It’s purpose is to combine into one bill the work of multiple committees that are changing federal spending and tax laws.  It is an incredibly powerful tool that bypasses [unlimited debate and cloture] but only for very limited purposes.  Senators, and the Senate as a whole … allow these rules to be bypassed only for a specific purpose.

The use of “reconciliation” to pass health-care measures would be unprecedented. And there are real questions about whether the parliamentarian of the Senate will be able, even bending so far over he turns himself into a pretzel, to say that a vote on (for example) stripping abortion coverage from the bill fits the legal definition of what “reconciliation” is.

But forget that for a second. Let’s assume the Senate parliamentarian is entirely pliable. A reconciliation bill will be written. What then?

Stage 3. The House takes all the heat. Ah. Here’s the rub. It appears that, in an effort to make this as easy as possible on the Senate, the House is now under pressure from the Senate and the White House to vote for the reconciliation bill before the Senate. At which point the Senate will take it up and ramrod through the second bill with 51 votes, Obama signs it, and there’s health-care.

This strategy requires the House not only to vote for a wildly unpopular bill once, but then to vote on its sequel almost immediately afterward. In other words, House members are going to be forced to cast two wildly unpopular, highly visible votes in succession, without anybody else taking the heat. And there is going to be deal-making and back-scratching and all manner of sleazy behavior to achieve it, all of which will just increase the public sense of a corrupt process that has ensnared Democrats just as corruption seemed to ensnare Republicans in 2006. All so the Senate can sneak it through. And the House has good reason not to trust that the Senate will hold to its part of the bargain. What if there is a colossal meltdown in public support just before the reconciliation vote? What if the Senate decides to change it a little and throws it all back into chaos again? What if House members were to cast two votes and there was no health care at the end of the process?

The only thing that can make this insane business tolerable or bearable for House Democrats is geniune conviction —  conviction that this is the once-in-a-lifetime chance to put the country on the glidepath to a national health-care system. That is what can make the process seem to transcend the sleazy deals and buyoffs for those who are going to have to face voters and explain themselves and their votes.

So if, in the end, this process works as the White House wants it to work, it will do so because of core Democratic and liberal beliefs. Republicans and conservatives need to understand that; the political horror faced by every Democrat who does not have an entirely safe seat can be mitigated in part by the belief that there may be enough Democrats who can live their lives proud to have brought this measure to fruition.

Thus, the best hope of derailing health care will not derive from high motives – stopping this dreadful measure before it becomes law — but rather very low motives —sheer, panicked self-preservation on the part of Democratic pols hoping against hope to hold on in spite of the looming Republican wave.

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Follow the Money

This phrase, made famous by Deep Throat, should become the guiding principle for people concerned with the growing effectiveness of the NGO movement’s effort to convince the Western world that Israel is a uniquely guilty human-rights and international-law violator.

An important introductory guide to the largely unscrutinized world of NGO funding has been provided by Jonathan Rosenblum. I bet you didn’t know how large the annual budget of the New Israel Fund is: last year, it was $32 million. That’s an immense amount of money, and a great deal of it is doled out to NGOs with innocuous-sounding names, like The Coalition of Women for Peace, but that, in fact, support the boycott, divest, and sanction movement, the “right of return,” the branding of Israel as an “apartheid state,” and other causes antithetical to peace.

It might turn out that the Goldstone Report, despite all the damage it has done, will end up serving a worthy purpose: it is awakening the pro-Israel community to the reality that many organizations that traffic in the language of human rights and international law have no interest in either — their real goal is the crippling of one particular state, and they have merely discovered an effective vocabulary to employ that gives their ugly cause a patina of nobility. To understand how the NGO movement works, follow the money.

This phrase, made famous by Deep Throat, should become the guiding principle for people concerned with the growing effectiveness of the NGO movement’s effort to convince the Western world that Israel is a uniquely guilty human-rights and international-law violator.

An important introductory guide to the largely unscrutinized world of NGO funding has been provided by Jonathan Rosenblum. I bet you didn’t know how large the annual budget of the New Israel Fund is: last year, it was $32 million. That’s an immense amount of money, and a great deal of it is doled out to NGOs with innocuous-sounding names, like The Coalition of Women for Peace, but that, in fact, support the boycott, divest, and sanction movement, the “right of return,” the branding of Israel as an “apartheid state,” and other causes antithetical to peace.

It might turn out that the Goldstone Report, despite all the damage it has done, will end up serving a worthy purpose: it is awakening the pro-Israel community to the reality that many organizations that traffic in the language of human rights and international law have no interest in either — their real goal is the crippling of one particular state, and they have merely discovered an effective vocabulary to employ that gives their ugly cause a patina of nobility. To understand how the NGO movement works, follow the money.

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Not the Voters!

Greg Sargent observes:

One possible scenario that reform proponents dread is that Congress fails to pass reform before the Easter break — leaving Congressional Dems in the position of returning to their constituents empty-handed, just as they did over last summer’s recess. In the Capitol just now, a top spokesperson for Nancy Pelosi refused to endorse the White House’s prefered timetable for passing reform. Yesterday Robert Gibbs declared, perhaps unrealistically, that the White House would like the House to pass the Senate bill by March 18th, before the President goes abroad.

There are a few points worth noting. First, it’s quite obvious that Pelosi is a long way from getting her votes lined up. There is no reason to drag this out, unless, of course, Pelosi still can’t put together a majority. Jake Tapper has been keeping an unofficial whip count and there is far more bad news than good news for Pelosi, as the no’s are hardening and previous supporters are turning undecided. Second, the underlying problem, as it was last year, is that their members need to be kept as far from the voters as possible. Send them back home with the vote still pending and they risk an avalanche of opposition. Not in recent memory (or ever?) can I recall congressional leaders so wary of their members’ encounter with the electorate. That alone should tell those wavering members something. And finally, the time when Congress took the White House very seriously is over: the White House can no longer influence the substance, let alone the timing, of the vote on the bill. Right now it comes down to House Democrats — can they be bullied into doing something so plainly not in their self-interest? Stay tuned.

Greg Sargent observes:

One possible scenario that reform proponents dread is that Congress fails to pass reform before the Easter break — leaving Congressional Dems in the position of returning to their constituents empty-handed, just as they did over last summer’s recess. In the Capitol just now, a top spokesperson for Nancy Pelosi refused to endorse the White House’s prefered timetable for passing reform. Yesterday Robert Gibbs declared, perhaps unrealistically, that the White House would like the House to pass the Senate bill by March 18th, before the President goes abroad.

There are a few points worth noting. First, it’s quite obvious that Pelosi is a long way from getting her votes lined up. There is no reason to drag this out, unless, of course, Pelosi still can’t put together a majority. Jake Tapper has been keeping an unofficial whip count and there is far more bad news than good news for Pelosi, as the no’s are hardening and previous supporters are turning undecided. Second, the underlying problem, as it was last year, is that their members need to be kept as far from the voters as possible. Send them back home with the vote still pending and they risk an avalanche of opposition. Not in recent memory (or ever?) can I recall congressional leaders so wary of their members’ encounter with the electorate. That alone should tell those wavering members something. And finally, the time when Congress took the White House very seriously is over: the White House can no longer influence the substance, let alone the timing, of the vote on the bill. Right now it comes down to House Democrats — can they be bullied into doing something so plainly not in their self-interest? Stay tuned.

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Paul Ryan Day at the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal reprints the remarks of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., at last week’s health-care summit, with an accompanying editorial, “Paul Ryan v. the President.” Together, they provide an excellent case about why White House claims about the true costs of health care are – let’s be generous here – mistaken. Both pieces are worth reading.

The Wall Street Journal reprints the remarks of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., at last week’s health-care summit, with an accompanying editorial, “Paul Ryan v. the President.” Together, they provide an excellent case about why White House claims about the true costs of health care are – let’s be generous here – mistaken. Both pieces are worth reading.

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The Reconciliation Dodge

House Democrats should be wary, says Sen. Judd Gregg, who smells a set-up on “reconciliation.” He explains:

“If you’re in the House and you’re saying, ‘Well, I’m going to vote for this because I’m going to get a reconcilation bill,’ I would think twice about that,” Gregg said. “First because, procedurally, it’s going to be hard to put a reconciliation bill through the Senate. Second because I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot of energy to do it, from the president or his people.”

“In my opinion, reconciliation is an exercise for buying votes, which, once they have the votes they really don’t need it,” he said.

And indeed, some House Democrats such as Shelley Berkley smell a rat. (“I would like something more concrete than a promise. The Senate cannot promise its way out of a brown paper bag.”) And if the House Democrats walk the plank but there is no reconciliation fix by the Senate, what then? Jeffrey Anderson sketched out the nightmare scenario:

Target squarely on their chests, they would now get to face their fuming constituents after having passed a $2.5 trillion bill that would allow public funding of abortion, would send $100 million to Nebraska, $300 million to Louisiana, $100 million to Connecticut, would exempt South Florida’s Medicare Advantage enrollees from annual $2,100 cuts in Medicare Advantage benefits, would raise taxes, raise deficits, raise health costs, empower Washington, reduce liberty, politicize medicine, and jeopardize the quality of health care.  Most of all, they would feel the citizenry’s wrath for having voted to pass a bill that only 25 percent of Americans support.

What in such circumstances should wary House Democrats do? Well, voting “no” and proposing a bare-bones, focused list of reforms might be a good idea. But who thinks Pelosi would go along with that gambit? She intends to make her members walk the plank. Unless and until she is convinced she will lose a floor vote, she’ll keep twisting arms and promising that ObamaCare’s passage is just around the corner. But of course, if they had the votes, they’d be voting. But they don’t — in large part because House Democrats have wised up.

House Democrats should be wary, says Sen. Judd Gregg, who smells a set-up on “reconciliation.” He explains:

“If you’re in the House and you’re saying, ‘Well, I’m going to vote for this because I’m going to get a reconcilation bill,’ I would think twice about that,” Gregg said. “First because, procedurally, it’s going to be hard to put a reconciliation bill through the Senate. Second because I’m not sure there’s going to be a lot of energy to do it, from the president or his people.”

“In my opinion, reconciliation is an exercise for buying votes, which, once they have the votes they really don’t need it,” he said.

And indeed, some House Democrats such as Shelley Berkley smell a rat. (“I would like something more concrete than a promise. The Senate cannot promise its way out of a brown paper bag.”) And if the House Democrats walk the plank but there is no reconciliation fix by the Senate, what then? Jeffrey Anderson sketched out the nightmare scenario:

Target squarely on their chests, they would now get to face their fuming constituents after having passed a $2.5 trillion bill that would allow public funding of abortion, would send $100 million to Nebraska, $300 million to Louisiana, $100 million to Connecticut, would exempt South Florida’s Medicare Advantage enrollees from annual $2,100 cuts in Medicare Advantage benefits, would raise taxes, raise deficits, raise health costs, empower Washington, reduce liberty, politicize medicine, and jeopardize the quality of health care.  Most of all, they would feel the citizenry’s wrath for having voted to pass a bill that only 25 percent of Americans support.

What in such circumstances should wary House Democrats do? Well, voting “no” and proposing a bare-bones, focused list of reforms might be a good idea. But who thinks Pelosi would go along with that gambit? She intends to make her members walk the plank. Unless and until she is convinced she will lose a floor vote, she’ll keep twisting arms and promising that ObamaCare’s passage is just around the corner. But of course, if they had the votes, they’d be voting. But they don’t — in large part because House Democrats have wised up.

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Consistently Rotten Results

You have to give the Obami credit. They have doggedly applied their engagement tactic to a variety of regimes – and gotten remarkably similar results. It so happens that the result has been to embolden our adversaries. In response to our efforts to ingratiate ourselves with the mullahs and pipe down about democracy, we have been scorned and snubbed. In response to our decision to redeploy our ambassador to Syria, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran and joined in the pummeling of the U.S. In response to our suck-uppery, the Chinese have become ever bolder, continuing their opposition to sanctions and their despotic treatment of dissidents. The same is true, we now learn, of Burma.

This report explains:

The Obama administration, concerned that Burma is expanding its military relationship with North Korea, has launched an aggressive campaign to persuade Burma’s junta to stop buying North Korean military technology, U.S. officials said.

Concerns about the relationship — which encompass the sale of small arms, missile components and technology possibly related to nuclear weapons — in part prompted the Obama administration in October to end the George W. Bush-era policy of isolating the military junta, said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

But we’ve been having meetings with them and engaging them! Some now fret that this is getting us nowhere:

Congress and human rights organizations are increasingly criticizing and questioning the administration’s new policy toward the Southeast Asian nation, which is also known as Myanmar. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and generally a supporter of the administration’s foreign policy, recently called for the administration to increase the pressure on Burma, including tightening sanctions on the regime.

“Recent events have raised the profile of humanitarian issues there,” Berman said Friday. “Support is growing for more action in addition to ongoing efforts.”

There is good reason to conclude that things are moving in the wrong direction. (“On Feb. 10, a Burmese court sentenced a naturalized Burmese American political activist from Montgomery County to three years of hard labor; he was allegedly beaten, denied food and water, and placed in isolation in a tiny cell with no toilet. Burma recently snubbed the United Nations’ special envoy on human rights, Tomás Ojea Quintana, denying him a meeting with Suu Kyi and access to Burma’s senior leadership.”) As one expert succinctly put it, “The bad behavior has increased.”

This will no doubt disappoint Sen. Jim Webb, who has been leading the charge to lessen Burma’s “isolation.” As the report notes, “Webb’s trip to Burma in August — the first by a member of Congress in a decade — has been credited with giving the Obama administration the political cover to open up talks with the junta.” Credited, indeed.

The Obami conclude from all of this that they must redouble their efforts — engage more! They seem never to learn from experience — never to examine the motives and conduct of our foes as a means of assessing whether our policies are working. For a group that declared ideology to be “so yesterday,” they seem to be trapped in the the grips of their own. They are convinced that despotic regimes will respond to unilateral gestures and American obsequiousness. Repeated failure seems not to impact their analysis. Too bad there aren’t any realists to be found.

You have to give the Obami credit. They have doggedly applied their engagement tactic to a variety of regimes – and gotten remarkably similar results. It so happens that the result has been to embolden our adversaries. In response to our efforts to ingratiate ourselves with the mullahs and pipe down about democracy, we have been scorned and snubbed. In response to our decision to redeploy our ambassador to Syria, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran and joined in the pummeling of the U.S. In response to our suck-uppery, the Chinese have become ever bolder, continuing their opposition to sanctions and their despotic treatment of dissidents. The same is true, we now learn, of Burma.

This report explains:

The Obama administration, concerned that Burma is expanding its military relationship with North Korea, has launched an aggressive campaign to persuade Burma’s junta to stop buying North Korean military technology, U.S. officials said.

Concerns about the relationship — which encompass the sale of small arms, missile components and technology possibly related to nuclear weapons — in part prompted the Obama administration in October to end the George W. Bush-era policy of isolating the military junta, said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

But we’ve been having meetings with them and engaging them! Some now fret that this is getting us nowhere:

Congress and human rights organizations are increasingly criticizing and questioning the administration’s new policy toward the Southeast Asian nation, which is also known as Myanmar. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and generally a supporter of the administration’s foreign policy, recently called for the administration to increase the pressure on Burma, including tightening sanctions on the regime.

“Recent events have raised the profile of humanitarian issues there,” Berman said Friday. “Support is growing for more action in addition to ongoing efforts.”

There is good reason to conclude that things are moving in the wrong direction. (“On Feb. 10, a Burmese court sentenced a naturalized Burmese American political activist from Montgomery County to three years of hard labor; he was allegedly beaten, denied food and water, and placed in isolation in a tiny cell with no toilet. Burma recently snubbed the United Nations’ special envoy on human rights, Tomás Ojea Quintana, denying him a meeting with Suu Kyi and access to Burma’s senior leadership.”) As one expert succinctly put it, “The bad behavior has increased.”

This will no doubt disappoint Sen. Jim Webb, who has been leading the charge to lessen Burma’s “isolation.” As the report notes, “Webb’s trip to Burma in August — the first by a member of Congress in a decade — has been credited with giving the Obama administration the political cover to open up talks with the junta.” Credited, indeed.

The Obami conclude from all of this that they must redouble their efforts — engage more! They seem never to learn from experience — never to examine the motives and conduct of our foes as a means of assessing whether our policies are working. For a group that declared ideology to be “so yesterday,” they seem to be trapped in the the grips of their own. They are convinced that despotic regimes will respond to unilateral gestures and American obsequiousness. Repeated failure seems not to impact their analysis. Too bad there aren’t any realists to be found.

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RE: RE: Like 2006 All Over Again

Rick Klein of ABC.com surveys the landscape and concludes:

An obscure congressman is fending off odd allegations being vetted by the ethics committee and is creating yet another vacancy. Then there’s Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y., apparently in this for the long haul, even as prosecutors close in.

All while a legislative agenda stalls, with the White House pinning its hopes for a political comeback on an uncertain vote with less certain consequences.

Beyond the specific Republican opportunities this bizarre series of events is creating — and you can put Rep. Eric Massa’s, D-N.Y., seat near the top of your likely takeover list now — Democrats are falling into what’s become the pattern of power.

That pattern of legislative excess, corruption, and incompetence is what brought the Democrats into the majority in 2006. But parties rarely internalize the lessons and errors of the other side — so the cycle repeats itself again and again. Chalk it up to hubris or the inevitable isolation that occurs when one is trapped in the Beltway bubble. But if the Democrats get swept from power, they will have only themselves to blame, in large part for thinking they were immune to popular will and insulated from scrutiny.

Rick Klein of ABC.com surveys the landscape and concludes:

An obscure congressman is fending off odd allegations being vetted by the ethics committee and is creating yet another vacancy. Then there’s Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y., apparently in this for the long haul, even as prosecutors close in.

All while a legislative agenda stalls, with the White House pinning its hopes for a political comeback on an uncertain vote with less certain consequences.

Beyond the specific Republican opportunities this bizarre series of events is creating — and you can put Rep. Eric Massa’s, D-N.Y., seat near the top of your likely takeover list now — Democrats are falling into what’s become the pattern of power.

That pattern of legislative excess, corruption, and incompetence is what brought the Democrats into the majority in 2006. But parties rarely internalize the lessons and errors of the other side — so the cycle repeats itself again and again. Chalk it up to hubris or the inevitable isolation that occurs when one is trapped in the Beltway bubble. But if the Democrats get swept from power, they will have only themselves to blame, in large part for thinking they were immune to popular will and insulated from scrutiny.

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Spokesman For Evil

Busy, busy, busy — a trip to Iran, a series of cringe-inducing (for non-Kool-aid-drinking readers) blogs, and then a debate. Flynt Leverett is working overtime for the mullahs. In his face-off with Michael Ledeen at the Atlantic Council, he chides Obama, who just isn’t living up to expectations — the mullahs’ expectations, that is:

Hillary [Mann Leverett] and I have just come back from a trip to the region and we were able to spend the better part of a week in Tehran.  And I can tell you from discussions with Iranian officials that the Iranian leadership had a certain amount of hope about President Obama.  And when he changed the rhetorical tone about Iran early in his administration, in his inaugural address, in some interviews, in the Nowruz message last year, this had an effect.

Two days after the Nowruz message, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, came out publicly and said, okay, if you change – you, the United States change – your policies towards us, we will change, too.

From an Iranian perspective, there has been no change.  There’s no change in the red lines on the nuclear issue, there’s no change in U.S. support for both overt and covert activities which the Iranians see as threatening to their internal stability.  And in that kind of climate, the Iranians will not respond favorably to American overtures.

But, if the United States put on the table a real author of a grand bargain, a real author aimed at a fundamental realignment of U.S.-Iranian relations, I believe that the Iranian leadership, under successive presidents and throughout Ayatollah Khamenei’s tenure as leader, has wanted that kind of fundamental realignment and that they would respond positively to it.

The key is to realize America is washed up and to give the Iranian regime what it wants. The Iranian people? Leverett says those darn neocons have been expecting a revolution, and they’re not going to get it. And besides, what’s the protestors’ beef? Ahmadinejad won fair and square:

Many advocates of regime-change in Iran – those who have been uniformly wrong about the Islamic Republic’s internal politics for 30 years – say, okay, maybe we were somewhat ahead of our time, premature in our judgment, but look at the situation today.  There’s never been anything like the Green movement; we have to be right now.

Well, sorry, no, you’re not.  Hillary and I have been arguing since June of last year that there is no hard evidence that the Islamic Republic’s presidential election of June 12, 2009, was stolen.  I say no “hard evidence,” not “must have been,” “had to have been,” “no way Ahmadinejad could have won” stuff, but “hard evidence.”  Even the suggested evidence that some people claim to find in the election results, supposedly more votes cast in some districts than there were registered voters in those districts, how could Ahmadinejad have won in Azeri-majority areas when Mousavi was ethnically Azeri, et cetera?

And in case that wasn’t clear, he explains that the protestors dying on the streets are on a fool’s errand: “This is not a place that is on the verge of revolution.  They had a revolution 31 years ago.  They don’t want another one.” They? Who is they? (Maybe the gang that orchestrated his tour and provides that precious access so Leverett can regurgitate the regime’s talking points.) What would help matters? Why, if America renounced any intention to “interfere in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic.” The regime really wants to engage America — they told Leverett, so it must be true. (“I heard from Iranian officials that they want to engage with the Obama administration.  But they want to see signs, indications that the United States really does want a fundamentally different kind of relationship with the Islamic Republic.”)

And on it went. One questioner, an Iranian woman, could barely contain herself. She told Leverett:

But Mr. Leverett, you are – for the last 30 years, you’ve had negotiations with the regime of Iran from Mr. Reagan with – (inaudible) – and on through Mr. Clinton, eight years, through Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright and through Ms. Rice and during Bush administration, and now 14 months with Obama administration.

Iranian regime is not going to make any deals because they cannot.  They took over Iran by anti-Western civilization – America being the symbol of it.  And they are not going to give it up.

Indeed. Back to the talking points (the regime’s, that is). Leverett — and his regime pals — have a larger goal in mind: the U.S. must simply retreat. “What does Iran need to do to signal – look, I think that, in itself, reflects a certain mindset that the United States is still the hegemonic power that it was in the 1990s and can basically dictate the terms by which problem states realign with the United States. You know, that model might have worked with Libya – I was involved to some degree in that process, think that it was a very successful outcome for the United States.  It’s not going to work with Iran.”

You get the picture. Makes one’s blood run a bit cold, doesn’t it — to hear the rhetoric of the butchers of Tehran articulated through an American mouthpiece with such stunning sincerity? Really, who are we to say Iran can’t have its nuclear program?

The polls, which show that the public is perfectly supportive of trading off aspects of the nuclear program that might be purely weapons-related in return for better relations with the United States, but they do not see uranium enrichment fuel cycle activities in that light.  That is seen as something that Iran has a right to do.  It is part of Iran becoming a technically modern and advanced society.  And I don’t think there is any political appetite or support in Iran, at this point, for giving up uranium enrichment.

The regime continues to say, the government continues to say to its own people that this is a peaceful nuclear program.  Iran does not have nuclear weapons, does not want nuclear weapons, and that Shia Islam forbids the acquisition of nuclear weapons.  But I think that there is very, very broad popular support for the nuclear program, including fuel cycle activities.

The mullahas must be delighted. All their points covered, all their arguments made. Look how their visit with Leverett and his wife has paid off!

Busy, busy, busy — a trip to Iran, a series of cringe-inducing (for non-Kool-aid-drinking readers) blogs, and then a debate. Flynt Leverett is working overtime for the mullahs. In his face-off with Michael Ledeen at the Atlantic Council, he chides Obama, who just isn’t living up to expectations — the mullahs’ expectations, that is:

Hillary [Mann Leverett] and I have just come back from a trip to the region and we were able to spend the better part of a week in Tehran.  And I can tell you from discussions with Iranian officials that the Iranian leadership had a certain amount of hope about President Obama.  And when he changed the rhetorical tone about Iran early in his administration, in his inaugural address, in some interviews, in the Nowruz message last year, this had an effect.

Two days after the Nowruz message, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, came out publicly and said, okay, if you change – you, the United States change – your policies towards us, we will change, too.

From an Iranian perspective, there has been no change.  There’s no change in the red lines on the nuclear issue, there’s no change in U.S. support for both overt and covert activities which the Iranians see as threatening to their internal stability.  And in that kind of climate, the Iranians will not respond favorably to American overtures.

But, if the United States put on the table a real author of a grand bargain, a real author aimed at a fundamental realignment of U.S.-Iranian relations, I believe that the Iranian leadership, under successive presidents and throughout Ayatollah Khamenei’s tenure as leader, has wanted that kind of fundamental realignment and that they would respond positively to it.

The key is to realize America is washed up and to give the Iranian regime what it wants. The Iranian people? Leverett says those darn neocons have been expecting a revolution, and they’re not going to get it. And besides, what’s the protestors’ beef? Ahmadinejad won fair and square:

Many advocates of regime-change in Iran – those who have been uniformly wrong about the Islamic Republic’s internal politics for 30 years – say, okay, maybe we were somewhat ahead of our time, premature in our judgment, but look at the situation today.  There’s never been anything like the Green movement; we have to be right now.

Well, sorry, no, you’re not.  Hillary and I have been arguing since June of last year that there is no hard evidence that the Islamic Republic’s presidential election of June 12, 2009, was stolen.  I say no “hard evidence,” not “must have been,” “had to have been,” “no way Ahmadinejad could have won” stuff, but “hard evidence.”  Even the suggested evidence that some people claim to find in the election results, supposedly more votes cast in some districts than there were registered voters in those districts, how could Ahmadinejad have won in Azeri-majority areas when Mousavi was ethnically Azeri, et cetera?

And in case that wasn’t clear, he explains that the protestors dying on the streets are on a fool’s errand: “This is not a place that is on the verge of revolution.  They had a revolution 31 years ago.  They don’t want another one.” They? Who is they? (Maybe the gang that orchestrated his tour and provides that precious access so Leverett can regurgitate the regime’s talking points.) What would help matters? Why, if America renounced any intention to “interfere in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic.” The regime really wants to engage America — they told Leverett, so it must be true. (“I heard from Iranian officials that they want to engage with the Obama administration.  But they want to see signs, indications that the United States really does want a fundamentally different kind of relationship with the Islamic Republic.”)

And on it went. One questioner, an Iranian woman, could barely contain herself. She told Leverett:

But Mr. Leverett, you are – for the last 30 years, you’ve had negotiations with the regime of Iran from Mr. Reagan with – (inaudible) – and on through Mr. Clinton, eight years, through Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright and through Ms. Rice and during Bush administration, and now 14 months with Obama administration.

Iranian regime is not going to make any deals because they cannot.  They took over Iran by anti-Western civilization – America being the symbol of it.  And they are not going to give it up.

Indeed. Back to the talking points (the regime’s, that is). Leverett — and his regime pals — have a larger goal in mind: the U.S. must simply retreat. “What does Iran need to do to signal – look, I think that, in itself, reflects a certain mindset that the United States is still the hegemonic power that it was in the 1990s and can basically dictate the terms by which problem states realign with the United States. You know, that model might have worked with Libya – I was involved to some degree in that process, think that it was a very successful outcome for the United States.  It’s not going to work with Iran.”

You get the picture. Makes one’s blood run a bit cold, doesn’t it — to hear the rhetoric of the butchers of Tehran articulated through an American mouthpiece with such stunning sincerity? Really, who are we to say Iran can’t have its nuclear program?

The polls, which show that the public is perfectly supportive of trading off aspects of the nuclear program that might be purely weapons-related in return for better relations with the United States, but they do not see uranium enrichment fuel cycle activities in that light.  That is seen as something that Iran has a right to do.  It is part of Iran becoming a technically modern and advanced society.  And I don’t think there is any political appetite or support in Iran, at this point, for giving up uranium enrichment.

The regime continues to say, the government continues to say to its own people that this is a peaceful nuclear program.  Iran does not have nuclear weapons, does not want nuclear weapons, and that Shia Islam forbids the acquisition of nuclear weapons.  But I think that there is very, very broad popular support for the nuclear program, including fuel cycle activities.

The mullahas must be delighted. All their points covered, all their arguments made. Look how their visit with Leverett and his wife has paid off!

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Iran Draws Closer to Nuclear Capability as World Watches

Last Friday, the New York Times ran an interesting piece by David Sanger about a puzzling element that emerged in the latest IAEA report on Iran — namely Iran’s decision to bring most of its LEU stockpile to the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant for further enrichment to 19.75 percent levels. The move was puzzling for the simple reason that Iran did not need to feed its entire stockpile for further enrichment in order to address its shortage of 19.75 percent uranium needed at the Tehran Research Reactor for medical isotopes. But the transfer of so much uranium to the surface gave rise to wild theories: why would Iran put its entire stockpile at risk? Would Israel not be tempted to attack and destroy the likely source of Iran’s future nuclear weapons, thus delaying Iran’s nuclear quest? And why would the regime expose itself to such a risk? Perhaps it was a clever ploy by the Revolutionary Guards, who may have wished to get the country attacked so as to rally the restive population around a regime with a dwindling popular support?

Iran has put the matter to rest by removing much of the stockpile from the surface site and sending it back to underground storage, but the episode has urged some fresh thinking about Iran’s capabilities as well as its intentions. In a freshly released report by ISIS, David Albright and Christina Walrond discuss the puzzling transfer decision in relation to the overall centrifuge performance at the Natanz site, where IAEA reports have indicated a steady decrease of active centrifuges alongside an increase in monthly output of LEU from the dwindling number of functioning centrifuges. Nobody knows why Iran has fewer and fewer centrifuges working — are they malfunctioning, is it maintenance? — and Iran is not about to tell. But the move of its LEU (3.5 percent) to produce higher enrichment grade uranium (19.75) while few centrifuges work at all may have troubling implications for its military program. In particular, Albright and Walrond note that,

Iran’s recent decision to start producing 19.75 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) in the pilot plant from 3.5 percent LEU, ostensibly for civil purposes, is particularly troubling.  If Iran succeeds in producing a large stock of 19.75 percent LEU, in a worst-case scenario, the FEP is large enough to turn this LEU into sufficient weapon-grade uranium for a weapon within a month.  Its production could even occur between visits by IAEA inspectors, a time period that Iran could easily lengthen by positing some emergency or accident that requires a delay in permitting the inspectors inside the plant.

The important caveat for this scenario to play out, from a technical point of view, is that Iran has enough 19.75 percent uranium stockpiled to go to higher enrichment levels. This is not the case yet, at least not as far as declared stockpiles are concerned. But that could change.

Albright and Walrond note other possibilities. First of all, weapon-grade uranium could be produced in parallel, clandestine sites — the Fordow site exposed in September might have been designed precisely for that purpose. Though it was discovered, there is no guarantee that Iran has no other such facility around the country. According to Albright and Walrond, “the discovery of Fordow eliminates its usefulness in producing weapon-grade uranium in a parallel secret program starting with uranium hexafluoride made outside of safeguards. Its potential role in a breakout strategy using 3.5 percent LEU is also diminished, since Iran is likely to want a secret site if it pursues nuclear weapons.” But their assessment is that a facility like Fordow could serve that purpose — and if Fordow had twins buried elsewhere around the country, then Iran could be close to breakout capacity in more than one way. As Albright and Walrond add,

A major unknown is how much dedicated enrichment capacity Iran has established in secret outside Natanz and Fordow.  Available, albeit limited, evidence about clandestine activities, the discovery of the incomplete Fordow site, and the struggles Iran is encountering with cascades at Natanz would suggest that Iran has not completed a centrifuge facility operating with a nuclear-weapons significant number of P1 centrifuges.  However, it may well be building one now.

This possibility might explain the lull in the centrifuge-spinning frenzy at Natanz that characterized the early phases of the site, when every few months Iran would announce many more cascades being installed, in defiance of UN resolutions.

It now looks ominous to see all the installed centrifuges sitting idle — some are new, and never once were fed uranium hexafluoride; a significant number have been disconnected from their module; and a number of new cascades were either removed from their module or are in the process of being removed. Where will they be transferred?

But fear not. The UN is about to spring into action — and thanks to China’s constructive role, the Security Council seems set to produce at best another spineless resolution adding a name or two to the already short list of sanctioned Iranian entities and individuals, and at best a presidential statement that will do little to stop Iran’s march to the ultimate weapon.

Congratulations to the Iranians then: their diplomacy, alongside their subterfuge and acts of nuclear brinkmanship playing with the IAEA and its safeguards, may be gaining them a few more weeks, if not months, in a year that, by everyone’s judgment, may be the critical one for their nuclear ambitions.

Last Friday, the New York Times ran an interesting piece by David Sanger about a puzzling element that emerged in the latest IAEA report on Iran — namely Iran’s decision to bring most of its LEU stockpile to the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant for further enrichment to 19.75 percent levels. The move was puzzling for the simple reason that Iran did not need to feed its entire stockpile for further enrichment in order to address its shortage of 19.75 percent uranium needed at the Tehran Research Reactor for medical isotopes. But the transfer of so much uranium to the surface gave rise to wild theories: why would Iran put its entire stockpile at risk? Would Israel not be tempted to attack and destroy the likely source of Iran’s future nuclear weapons, thus delaying Iran’s nuclear quest? And why would the regime expose itself to such a risk? Perhaps it was a clever ploy by the Revolutionary Guards, who may have wished to get the country attacked so as to rally the restive population around a regime with a dwindling popular support?

Iran has put the matter to rest by removing much of the stockpile from the surface site and sending it back to underground storage, but the episode has urged some fresh thinking about Iran’s capabilities as well as its intentions. In a freshly released report by ISIS, David Albright and Christina Walrond discuss the puzzling transfer decision in relation to the overall centrifuge performance at the Natanz site, where IAEA reports have indicated a steady decrease of active centrifuges alongside an increase in monthly output of LEU from the dwindling number of functioning centrifuges. Nobody knows why Iran has fewer and fewer centrifuges working — are they malfunctioning, is it maintenance? — and Iran is not about to tell. But the move of its LEU (3.5 percent) to produce higher enrichment grade uranium (19.75) while few centrifuges work at all may have troubling implications for its military program. In particular, Albright and Walrond note that,

Iran’s recent decision to start producing 19.75 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) in the pilot plant from 3.5 percent LEU, ostensibly for civil purposes, is particularly troubling.  If Iran succeeds in producing a large stock of 19.75 percent LEU, in a worst-case scenario, the FEP is large enough to turn this LEU into sufficient weapon-grade uranium for a weapon within a month.  Its production could even occur between visits by IAEA inspectors, a time period that Iran could easily lengthen by positing some emergency or accident that requires a delay in permitting the inspectors inside the plant.

The important caveat for this scenario to play out, from a technical point of view, is that Iran has enough 19.75 percent uranium stockpiled to go to higher enrichment levels. This is not the case yet, at least not as far as declared stockpiles are concerned. But that could change.

Albright and Walrond note other possibilities. First of all, weapon-grade uranium could be produced in parallel, clandestine sites — the Fordow site exposed in September might have been designed precisely for that purpose. Though it was discovered, there is no guarantee that Iran has no other such facility around the country. According to Albright and Walrond, “the discovery of Fordow eliminates its usefulness in producing weapon-grade uranium in a parallel secret program starting with uranium hexafluoride made outside of safeguards. Its potential role in a breakout strategy using 3.5 percent LEU is also diminished, since Iran is likely to want a secret site if it pursues nuclear weapons.” But their assessment is that a facility like Fordow could serve that purpose — and if Fordow had twins buried elsewhere around the country, then Iran could be close to breakout capacity in more than one way. As Albright and Walrond add,

A major unknown is how much dedicated enrichment capacity Iran has established in secret outside Natanz and Fordow.  Available, albeit limited, evidence about clandestine activities, the discovery of the incomplete Fordow site, and the struggles Iran is encountering with cascades at Natanz would suggest that Iran has not completed a centrifuge facility operating with a nuclear-weapons significant number of P1 centrifuges.  However, it may well be building one now.

This possibility might explain the lull in the centrifuge-spinning frenzy at Natanz that characterized the early phases of the site, when every few months Iran would announce many more cascades being installed, in defiance of UN resolutions.

It now looks ominous to see all the installed centrifuges sitting idle — some are new, and never once were fed uranium hexafluoride; a significant number have been disconnected from their module; and a number of new cascades were either removed from their module or are in the process of being removed. Where will they be transferred?

But fear not. The UN is about to spring into action — and thanks to China’s constructive role, the Security Council seems set to produce at best another spineless resolution adding a name or two to the already short list of sanctioned Iranian entities and individuals, and at best a presidential statement that will do little to stop Iran’s march to the ultimate weapon.

Congratulations to the Iranians then: their diplomacy, alongside their subterfuge and acts of nuclear brinkmanship playing with the IAEA and its safeguards, may be gaining them a few more weeks, if not months, in a year that, by everyone’s judgment, may be the critical one for their nuclear ambitions.

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“Israel Apartheid Week” Reality Check

The Israelis are so racist that a woman named Futna Jabber, “a proud Arab Muslim who prays five times daily, calls the Koran her favorite book, obsessively puffs on a hookah pipe and proudly wears a keffiyah,” has been voted one of the finalists on Israel’s version of Big Brother.

The Israelis are so racist that a woman named Futna Jabber, “a proud Arab Muslim who prays five times daily, calls the Koran her favorite book, obsessively puffs on a hookah pipe and proudly wears a keffiyah,” has been voted one of the finalists on Israel’s version of Big Brother.

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But Why Should House Democrats Listen to Nonsense?

Gary Andres summarizes the reasons why congressional leaders feel compelled to try to cram through a massive health-care bill the public hates:

Passing health care reform is a bit of a Holy Grail for Democrats.  It is one of the most important debates and potential accomplishments for the party’s most ardent partisans — and has been for many years.  Failure to enact this legislation would render a crippling blow to those most apt to volunteer, talk to their friends about politics, give money and vote in the upcoming midterm election.  These base voters may not always guarantee the party’s victory, but without them defeat is assured.

Oh, and they’ll sell the dupes — the voters, that is, who don’t know what’s best for them — on it later, convincing them how wrong they were to oppose the heroic efforts of  lawmakers. Or something like that.

This and complete cluelessness about what the public’s objections are to the bill and a pattern of ultra-liberal excess explain a lot. As Democratic consultant Dan Gerstein put it, “the Democrats have seemed to be operating in a hermetically sealed political vacuum, impervious to the public’s changing post-crash priorities and diminishing tolerance for big government solutions.” He thinks its political madness to plunge ahead:

Those hell-or-high-water Democrats are banking on the context to change again once they pass their bill. Their theory is that once the program benefits kick in, the political benefits will soon do the same. Public support will grow over time, the system will become as ingrained and untouchable as Medicare and Medicaid, and this year’s election liability will gradually become a campaign asset. It might be a plausible argument–if this were any other year, if health care were the only issue dragging down the Democrats’ credibility, if the anti-government Tea Party movement had not gotten such traction, and of course, if the bill ends up working reasonably well. …

The best course for Democrats would be to skip the all-or-nothing trap and pass a center-out bill that contains the 80% of insurance reforms on which both sides already agree. But that’s a moot point: The Democrats are going for broke (in more ways than one). The more salient question is when will the Democrats start connecting the dots–and recognize that the American people are not going to accept a government that is not willing to heed their doubts.

Now Pelosi-Reid-Obama are plainly not taking Gerstein’s advice, but that’s not what matters at this point. (Well, for many who will meekly accept their assignment to walk the plank for the greater good of Obama’s ego, I suppose it matters.) What really matters to the outcome is whether those one or two dozen House Democrats whose votes are still in play connect the dots and assess the arguments of their leadership in light of their own constituents.

Pelosi’s liberal donors may have been pining away for socialized medicine since the days of their nuclear-free-zone sit-ins at Berkeley, but that doesn’t mean a Michigan or Arkansas congressman’s constituents harbor the same dreams. Pelosi may think she can explain it all later, but those congressmen on the fence saw her explain things at the summit and likely had the same reaction as Gerstein — oh my. (“Led by Pelosi, they repeated their same unpersuasive arguments for universal coverage, recycled the same hollow CBO numbers as a crutch and too often resorted to the same partisan defenses in responding to what sounded like substantive Republican criticisms.”) Pelosi may worry about turning off  Democratic activists, but a Democratic congressman from a district that voted for John McCain in 2008 knows it’s the independents and the Republicans he needs to mollify.

The motives and interests of the congressional leadership and their members have diverged sharply. Before Scott Brown’s election, the Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika was successful in getting members to disregard that divergence. Now it’s a lot harder to get Democratic House members to overlook the obvious: a vote for ObamaCare will cost them their seats. Pelosi will try, but her members have seen just how ineffective Obama is, both in convincing the public of the bill’s merits and in providing cover for Democratic candidates (e.g., Creigh Deeds, John Corzine, Martha Coakley). Now they need to decide whether it’s worth sacrificing their careers for the sake of an awful bill – which Republicans will spend the rest of the year (and years to come, if need be) trying to repeal.

Gary Andres summarizes the reasons why congressional leaders feel compelled to try to cram through a massive health-care bill the public hates:

Passing health care reform is a bit of a Holy Grail for Democrats.  It is one of the most important debates and potential accomplishments for the party’s most ardent partisans — and has been for many years.  Failure to enact this legislation would render a crippling blow to those most apt to volunteer, talk to their friends about politics, give money and vote in the upcoming midterm election.  These base voters may not always guarantee the party’s victory, but without them defeat is assured.

Oh, and they’ll sell the dupes — the voters, that is, who don’t know what’s best for them — on it later, convincing them how wrong they were to oppose the heroic efforts of  lawmakers. Or something like that.

This and complete cluelessness about what the public’s objections are to the bill and a pattern of ultra-liberal excess explain a lot. As Democratic consultant Dan Gerstein put it, “the Democrats have seemed to be operating in a hermetically sealed political vacuum, impervious to the public’s changing post-crash priorities and diminishing tolerance for big government solutions.” He thinks its political madness to plunge ahead:

Those hell-or-high-water Democrats are banking on the context to change again once they pass their bill. Their theory is that once the program benefits kick in, the political benefits will soon do the same. Public support will grow over time, the system will become as ingrained and untouchable as Medicare and Medicaid, and this year’s election liability will gradually become a campaign asset. It might be a plausible argument–if this were any other year, if health care were the only issue dragging down the Democrats’ credibility, if the anti-government Tea Party movement had not gotten such traction, and of course, if the bill ends up working reasonably well. …

The best course for Democrats would be to skip the all-or-nothing trap and pass a center-out bill that contains the 80% of insurance reforms on which both sides already agree. But that’s a moot point: The Democrats are going for broke (in more ways than one). The more salient question is when will the Democrats start connecting the dots–and recognize that the American people are not going to accept a government that is not willing to heed their doubts.

Now Pelosi-Reid-Obama are plainly not taking Gerstein’s advice, but that’s not what matters at this point. (Well, for many who will meekly accept their assignment to walk the plank for the greater good of Obama’s ego, I suppose it matters.) What really matters to the outcome is whether those one or two dozen House Democrats whose votes are still in play connect the dots and assess the arguments of their leadership in light of their own constituents.

Pelosi’s liberal donors may have been pining away for socialized medicine since the days of their nuclear-free-zone sit-ins at Berkeley, but that doesn’t mean a Michigan or Arkansas congressman’s constituents harbor the same dreams. Pelosi may think she can explain it all later, but those congressmen on the fence saw her explain things at the summit and likely had the same reaction as Gerstein — oh my. (“Led by Pelosi, they repeated their same unpersuasive arguments for universal coverage, recycled the same hollow CBO numbers as a crutch and too often resorted to the same partisan defenses in responding to what sounded like substantive Republican criticisms.”) Pelosi may worry about turning off  Democratic activists, but a Democratic congressman from a district that voted for John McCain in 2008 knows it’s the independents and the Republicans he needs to mollify.

The motives and interests of the congressional leadership and their members have diverged sharply. Before Scott Brown’s election, the Obama-Reid-Pelosi troika was successful in getting members to disregard that divergence. Now it’s a lot harder to get Democratic House members to overlook the obvious: a vote for ObamaCare will cost them their seats. Pelosi will try, but her members have seen just how ineffective Obama is, both in convincing the public of the bill’s merits and in providing cover for Democratic candidates (e.g., Creigh Deeds, John Corzine, Martha Coakley). Now they need to decide whether it’s worth sacrificing their careers for the sake of an awful bill – which Republicans will spend the rest of the year (and years to come, if need be) trying to repeal.

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Dogging the NYT

Walter Russell Mead — hands-down the finest new addition to the blogosphere — has another barn-burner post about the New York Times‘s unwillingness to cover the scandals that have rocked the “climate change” movement. Mead writes that the Times

has been so wholly conquered by the spirit of enlightened upper-middle-class progressivism that it has lost the ability to view its own assumptions with the necessary skepticism.

CONTENTIONS readers will also enjoy this post, titled “Middle East ‘Realists’: Anti-Semites, or Just Dumb?”

Walter Russell Mead — hands-down the finest new addition to the blogosphere — has another barn-burner post about the New York Times‘s unwillingness to cover the scandals that have rocked the “climate change” movement. Mead writes that the Times

has been so wholly conquered by the spirit of enlightened upper-middle-class progressivism that it has lost the ability to view its own assumptions with the necessary skepticism.

CONTENTIONS readers will also enjoy this post, titled “Middle East ‘Realists’: Anti-Semites, or Just Dumb?”

Read Less

RE: Like 2006 All Over Again

Rep. Eric Massa denies the allegation of sexual harassment and says he’s leaving due to health concerns. Politico reports that the issue is an allegation that “the New York Democrat, who is married with two children, made unwanted advances toward a junior male staffer. ” The ethics committee is said to have already interviewed another Massa staffer who brought the issue forward.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer released a statement:

The week of February 8th, a member of Rep. Massa’s staff brought to the attention of Mr. Hoyer’s staff allegations of misconduct that had been made against Mr. Massa. Mr. Hoyer’s staff immediately informed him of what they had been told. Mr. Hoyer instructed his staff that if Mr. Massa or his staff did not bring the matter to the attention of the bipartisan Ethics Committee within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer would do so. Within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer received confirmation from both the Ethics Committee staff and Mr. Massa’s staff that the Ethics Committee had been contacted and would review the allegations. Mr. Hoyer does not know whether the allegations are true or false, but wanted to ensure that the bipartisan committee charged with overseeing conduct of Members was immediately involved to determine the facts.

Some insist it’s just preposterous to bring Mark Foley into this (“But let’s get one thing straight: Massa is not Mark Foley. … Foley was forced to resign in ’06 after he admitted making inappropriate sexual advances to underage House pages”). Well, yes, it could always be worse. But it was Hoyer who knew what everyone was thinking and tried his best to make this a bipartisan matter: “I don’t think it helps anybody in the institution, any one of us on either side of the aisle. It certainly didn’t help Mr. Foley. … When there were allegations about Mr. Foley or others, I think the institution suffers.” Actually, the Republicans suffered mightily, in no small part because they didn’t quite have their act together about who knew what and what they did about it. Perhaps the Democrats have less vulnerability there.

But let’s be clear: every moment Democrats spend making the argument that their ethics sex scandal isn’t as damaging as the Republicans’ because their guy’s male victim wasn’t a minor is probably a bad one. Sure, it doesn’t have much to do with Charlie Rangel or health care or the other reasons Congress’s approval rating is in the teens. But in 2006 Foley’s scandal didn’t have anything to do with the Iraq war or voters’ upset over fiscal sloth (which seems innocuous compared with today’s runaway spending train). Then, as now, it was just one more reason for disgusted voters to say “Enough!” And lots of them will.

Rep. Eric Massa denies the allegation of sexual harassment and says he’s leaving due to health concerns. Politico reports that the issue is an allegation that “the New York Democrat, who is married with two children, made unwanted advances toward a junior male staffer. ” The ethics committee is said to have already interviewed another Massa staffer who brought the issue forward.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer released a statement:

The week of February 8th, a member of Rep. Massa’s staff brought to the attention of Mr. Hoyer’s staff allegations of misconduct that had been made against Mr. Massa. Mr. Hoyer’s staff immediately informed him of what they had been told. Mr. Hoyer instructed his staff that if Mr. Massa or his staff did not bring the matter to the attention of the bipartisan Ethics Committee within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer would do so. Within 48 hours, Mr. Hoyer received confirmation from both the Ethics Committee staff and Mr. Massa’s staff that the Ethics Committee had been contacted and would review the allegations. Mr. Hoyer does not know whether the allegations are true or false, but wanted to ensure that the bipartisan committee charged with overseeing conduct of Members was immediately involved to determine the facts.

Some insist it’s just preposterous to bring Mark Foley into this (“But let’s get one thing straight: Massa is not Mark Foley. … Foley was forced to resign in ’06 after he admitted making inappropriate sexual advances to underage House pages”). Well, yes, it could always be worse. But it was Hoyer who knew what everyone was thinking and tried his best to make this a bipartisan matter: “I don’t think it helps anybody in the institution, any one of us on either side of the aisle. It certainly didn’t help Mr. Foley. … When there were allegations about Mr. Foley or others, I think the institution suffers.” Actually, the Republicans suffered mightily, in no small part because they didn’t quite have their act together about who knew what and what they did about it. Perhaps the Democrats have less vulnerability there.

But let’s be clear: every moment Democrats spend making the argument that their ethics sex scandal isn’t as damaging as the Republicans’ because their guy’s male victim wasn’t a minor is probably a bad one. Sure, it doesn’t have much to do with Charlie Rangel or health care or the other reasons Congress’s approval rating is in the teens. But in 2006 Foley’s scandal didn’t have anything to do with the Iraq war or voters’ upset over fiscal sloth (which seems innocuous compared with today’s runaway spending train). Then, as now, it was just one more reason for disgusted voters to say “Enough!” And lots of them will.

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Running Against Obama

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors see a lesson in the contrasting approaches of two governors — Charlie Crist and Rick Perry:

The different political fortunes have a lot to do with their relative distance from Washington policies. While Mr. Perry has loudly condemned ObamaCare, Mr. Crist has waffled. Mr. Crist embraced not only the President’s “stimulus” bill but the President himself during a now-infamous moment. Mr. Perry refused stimulus dollars for unemployment insurance and education because the funds would simply have increased the demand for state money once the federal aid runs out.

Mr. Crist approved a $2.2 billion tax increase for the fiscal 2010 budget, even though he had promised that “stimulus” money would obviate the need for tax increases. Regardless of Washington’s plans to distribute taxpayer money, Mr. Perry has shown a willingness to cut spending, and during his tenure enacted tax relief for businesses and property owners.

The key in all this, as the editors implicitly acknowledge, is the out-of-step policies of the Obami and the Congress. If not for the spending binge, the fixation on job-killing, and hugely unpopular measures like ObamaCare, Perry would not have a target and Crist would not have been ensnared. The Democrats and their media enablers have obsessively railed at the “party of no.” Putting aside the fact that the allegation is false (Obama’s health-care summit proved this), it ignores the obvious: voters want their representatives to say no. Perry was rewarded for being a stalwart opponent of Obamaism — as were Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, and Scott Brown. There isn’t a winning coalition out there for “More ObamaCare!” or “Give Obama all the help he needs!”

And that is a problem for congressional Democrats, who will face a nationalized election, the sole issue being — stop Obama or more of the same. Right now, that’s an untenable position for Democrats, nearly all of whom have assisted in passing one or more parts of the agenda that has riled up the electorate. They can try to put some distance between themselves and the Obama agenda, but it’s getting late in the game, and the voters are awfully mad. If you doubt it, take a look at Charlie Crist’s poll numbers.

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors see a lesson in the contrasting approaches of two governors — Charlie Crist and Rick Perry:

The different political fortunes have a lot to do with their relative distance from Washington policies. While Mr. Perry has loudly condemned ObamaCare, Mr. Crist has waffled. Mr. Crist embraced not only the President’s “stimulus” bill but the President himself during a now-infamous moment. Mr. Perry refused stimulus dollars for unemployment insurance and education because the funds would simply have increased the demand for state money once the federal aid runs out.

Mr. Crist approved a $2.2 billion tax increase for the fiscal 2010 budget, even though he had promised that “stimulus” money would obviate the need for tax increases. Regardless of Washington’s plans to distribute taxpayer money, Mr. Perry has shown a willingness to cut spending, and during his tenure enacted tax relief for businesses and property owners.

The key in all this, as the editors implicitly acknowledge, is the out-of-step policies of the Obami and the Congress. If not for the spending binge, the fixation on job-killing, and hugely unpopular measures like ObamaCare, Perry would not have a target and Crist would not have been ensnared. The Democrats and their media enablers have obsessively railed at the “party of no.” Putting aside the fact that the allegation is false (Obama’s health-care summit proved this), it ignores the obvious: voters want their representatives to say no. Perry was rewarded for being a stalwart opponent of Obamaism — as were Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, and Scott Brown. There isn’t a winning coalition out there for “More ObamaCare!” or “Give Obama all the help he needs!”

And that is a problem for congressional Democrats, who will face a nationalized election, the sole issue being — stop Obama or more of the same. Right now, that’s an untenable position for Democrats, nearly all of whom have assisted in passing one or more parts of the agenda that has riled up the electorate. They can try to put some distance between themselves and the Obama agenda, but it’s getting late in the game, and the voters are awfully mad. If you doubt it, take a look at Charlie Crist’s poll numbers.

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Blaming Rahm and the Economy

David Broder dissects the work of his Washington Post colleagues who’ve been covering and perpetuating the Rahm Emanuel “I’m smarter than Obama” story, which, as Broder bluntly puts it, have “portrayed [Obama] as a weakling and a chronic screw-up who is wrecking his administration despite everything that his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, can do to make things right.” Broder recites the White House spin (whose? in the hall of mirrors, is this Rahm’s version of events?) that it’s not Rahm but Rahm’s friends who are fanning the flames, and that it’s the economy that’s sunk the president’s approval ratings.

All this is interesting, if not amusing, and certainly a refreshing change from the “everyone is getting along splendidly” spin we heard just a short time ago. But the fact remains that whatever advice Obama has gotten from whichever advisers, he’s made a series of blunders — adopting an unworkable and dangerous criminal-justice model for combating terrorism, doubling down on his grossly unpopular health-care schemes, affecting a hyper-partisan demeanor toward critics, pushing a far-Left agenda, failing to “pivot” back to jobs, and doing positively nothing to impair the mullahs’ pursuit of nuclear weapons. Emanuel’s willingness to speak out, or to have surrogates speak out on his behalf, is simply confirmation that saner heads realize that this presidency is sinking fast. Debunking who gave what advice and trying to discern who the snipers are may be interesting asides, but ultimately irrelevant.

However, if Broder is correct that the White House actually believes its troubles are attributable to a listing economy, this suggests that no soul-searching or self-reflection has gone on, that the administration has learned nothing from the string of high-profile election losses, and that it intends to drive the Democratic party to the … what is it? … ah, precipice to achieve its own ideological aims. Now one might think that a group so convinced that the economy is the source of its travails might spend more time trying to fix the economy or figure out which of its policy proposals might retard the recovery. But, no. For this crew, the poor economy is a political excuse (like George W. Bush), not a policy focus.

Elections, as Obama concedes, matter, and come November the voters will hold those in power accountable. They aren’t much interested if Rahm was “right” — they simply want the Obami and the Congress to stop doing things they intensely dislike.

David Broder dissects the work of his Washington Post colleagues who’ve been covering and perpetuating the Rahm Emanuel “I’m smarter than Obama” story, which, as Broder bluntly puts it, have “portrayed [Obama] as a weakling and a chronic screw-up who is wrecking his administration despite everything that his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, can do to make things right.” Broder recites the White House spin (whose? in the hall of mirrors, is this Rahm’s version of events?) that it’s not Rahm but Rahm’s friends who are fanning the flames, and that it’s the economy that’s sunk the president’s approval ratings.

All this is interesting, if not amusing, and certainly a refreshing change from the “everyone is getting along splendidly” spin we heard just a short time ago. But the fact remains that whatever advice Obama has gotten from whichever advisers, he’s made a series of blunders — adopting an unworkable and dangerous criminal-justice model for combating terrorism, doubling down on his grossly unpopular health-care schemes, affecting a hyper-partisan demeanor toward critics, pushing a far-Left agenda, failing to “pivot” back to jobs, and doing positively nothing to impair the mullahs’ pursuit of nuclear weapons. Emanuel’s willingness to speak out, or to have surrogates speak out on his behalf, is simply confirmation that saner heads realize that this presidency is sinking fast. Debunking who gave what advice and trying to discern who the snipers are may be interesting asides, but ultimately irrelevant.

However, if Broder is correct that the White House actually believes its troubles are attributable to a listing economy, this suggests that no soul-searching or self-reflection has gone on, that the administration has learned nothing from the string of high-profile election losses, and that it intends to drive the Democratic party to the … what is it? … ah, precipice to achieve its own ideological aims. Now one might think that a group so convinced that the economy is the source of its travails might spend more time trying to fix the economy or figure out which of its policy proposals might retard the recovery. But, no. For this crew, the poor economy is a political excuse (like George W. Bush), not a policy focus.

Elections, as Obama concedes, matter, and come November the voters will hold those in power accountable. They aren’t much interested if Rahm was “right” — they simply want the Obami and the Congress to stop doing things they intensely dislike.

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Democrats Need an Exit Plan in Illinois

The Chicago Sun Times reports:

State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias acknowledged Wednesday that his family bank, the Broadway Bank, will probably fail.

But Giannoulias strongly denied he ever engaged in “reckless” or “risky” loan-making when he served as chief loan officer for his family’s now-struggling Broadway Bank. Giannoulias ran for state treasurer four years ago touting his know-how as a bank executive.

Well, it gets better — or worse, depending on your perspective:

Giannoulias denied having any role in getting his former campaign policy director in 2006, Brent Adams, his current post as Acting Secretary of Financial and Professional Regulation for the state of Illinois, which has jurisdiction over Broadway Bank. …

He strongly denied the family was irresponsible for taking $69 million out of the bank just before the real estate collapse that he said they did not see coming.

“In 2007, if we knew the market was going to go sour, we would have stopped making loans,” Giannoulias said. “The bank was appraised in 2006 or 2007 for $300 million, so they could have sold the bank, even if just for $200 million.”

Giannoulias defended his use of “brokered deposits” — under his tenure they became 68 percent of the bank’s deposits compared to the industry standard of four percent — saying Broadway did not have a lot of branches and ATMs to bring in deposits.

And what about his bank’s Mob clients? Ah, those would be “‘a few colorful characters’ — convicted bookmaker Michael Giorango, Russian mobsters Boris and Lev Stratievsky, and convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko — [who] were not representative of his portfolio. Giannoulias denied, even though he went down to Florida to inspect the properties, that he was aware of Giorango’s mob ties.”

Really, what were the Democrats thinking when they nominated him? Well, the lieutenant-governor nominee already stepped down after his domestic-violence issue came to light. So I’m not convinced that Giannoulias is going to make it all the way to November. Frankly, if there isn’t a Frank-Lautenberg-for-Robert-Torricelli game plan in the works, I think that seat is a goner for the Democrats. After all, they don’t want to fall behind (jump ahead of?) New York in the most-embarrassing-political-culture race, do they?

The Chicago Sun Times reports:

State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias acknowledged Wednesday that his family bank, the Broadway Bank, will probably fail.

But Giannoulias strongly denied he ever engaged in “reckless” or “risky” loan-making when he served as chief loan officer for his family’s now-struggling Broadway Bank. Giannoulias ran for state treasurer four years ago touting his know-how as a bank executive.

Well, it gets better — or worse, depending on your perspective:

Giannoulias denied having any role in getting his former campaign policy director in 2006, Brent Adams, his current post as Acting Secretary of Financial and Professional Regulation for the state of Illinois, which has jurisdiction over Broadway Bank. …

He strongly denied the family was irresponsible for taking $69 million out of the bank just before the real estate collapse that he said they did not see coming.

“In 2007, if we knew the market was going to go sour, we would have stopped making loans,” Giannoulias said. “The bank was appraised in 2006 or 2007 for $300 million, so they could have sold the bank, even if just for $200 million.”

Giannoulias defended his use of “brokered deposits” — under his tenure they became 68 percent of the bank’s deposits compared to the industry standard of four percent — saying Broadway did not have a lot of branches and ATMs to bring in deposits.

And what about his bank’s Mob clients? Ah, those would be “‘a few colorful characters’ — convicted bookmaker Michael Giorango, Russian mobsters Boris and Lev Stratievsky, and convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko — [who] were not representative of his portfolio. Giannoulias denied, even though he went down to Florida to inspect the properties, that he was aware of Giorango’s mob ties.”

Really, what were the Democrats thinking when they nominated him? Well, the lieutenant-governor nominee already stepped down after his domestic-violence issue came to light. So I’m not convinced that Giannoulias is going to make it all the way to November. Frankly, if there isn’t a Frank-Lautenberg-for-Robert-Torricelli game plan in the works, I think that seat is a goner for the Democrats. After all, they don’t want to fall behind (jump ahead of?) New York in the most-embarrassing-political-culture race, do they?

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Joe Lieberman, who continues to confound his critics, is championing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The Left blogosphere will no doubt discern a plot to drive them bonkers.

The AP gets into the Rahm Emanuel drama – - “a narrative that some (though it’s still unclear who) think Obama’s chief of staff is smarter than the president, an awkward development in Washington’s deeply ingrained tradition of aides staying behind the scenes and not upstaging the boss. At the least, it creates an embarrassment and a distraction at a perilous time. And it belies Obama’s own prized no-drama culture, where neither dirty laundry nor disagreements are aired and theatrics aren’t tolerated. At worst, it sets in motion a dynamic that could lead to shakeups and further doubts about Obama’s leadership.”

Charles Krauthammer in defense of snail mail and scented love letters: “You can’t smell your e-mail.”

Scott Johnson: “The Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy K-8 public charter school in suburban St. Paul. It appears to be is an Islamic school operating illegally at taxpayer expense. Among other things, the school’s principal is an imam and almost all of its students are Muslim. It is housed in a building that was owned originally by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (I’m not sure who owns it now). The school has in any event had a mutually beneficial relationship with MAS Minnesota since the school’s inception. The study of Arabic is required at the school. The Arabic comes in handy for the Koranic studies that follow the regular school day.” The ACLU is suing, and there is evidence that “TiZA has sought to intimidate witnesses.”

Rep. Bart Stupak says there are 12 votes that will switch from “yes” to “no” on the ObamaCare abortion-subsidy issue.

Ron Kampeas shares my amazement at Maureen Dowd’s latest column:  “To suggest [Israel] – and even its Orthodox — are sliding into theocracy is just nutty.”

The Cook Political Report (subscription required): “The retirement announcement of Democratic Rep. Eric Massa puts his Upstate New York ‘southern tier’ seat in grave jeopardy for Democrats. Massa won by only the barest of margins in 2008 after outspending a badly flawed GOP incumbent. … This seat moves from the Lean Democratic column to the Lean Republican column.”

Jonathan Capehart or Matt Continetti on Sarah Palin’s Jay Leno appearance? “Palin’s comfort in front of the camera and with the material, not to mention her don’t-mess-with-me jeans-and-heels outfit, made Palin a feast for the eyes and ears.”

Rep. Pete Stark, new House Ways and Means chairman, is too much even for Democrats who are looking for an alternative: “Looming over his bid for the top job is a long history of rash public statements. In 2004, a San Francisco talk radio station posted a voice mail message that Mr. Stark left for a constituent that said, in part: ‘Probably somebody put you up to this, and I’m not sure who it was, but I doubt if you could spell half the words in the letter and somebody wrote it for you.’  In late 2007 he apologized for saying that Republicans were sending American youth to Iraq ‘to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.’”

Joe Lieberman, who continues to confound his critics, is championing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The Left blogosphere will no doubt discern a plot to drive them bonkers.

The AP gets into the Rahm Emanuel drama – - “a narrative that some (though it’s still unclear who) think Obama’s chief of staff is smarter than the president, an awkward development in Washington’s deeply ingrained tradition of aides staying behind the scenes and not upstaging the boss. At the least, it creates an embarrassment and a distraction at a perilous time. And it belies Obama’s own prized no-drama culture, where neither dirty laundry nor disagreements are aired and theatrics aren’t tolerated. At worst, it sets in motion a dynamic that could lead to shakeups and further doubts about Obama’s leadership.”

Charles Krauthammer in defense of snail mail and scented love letters: “You can’t smell your e-mail.”

Scott Johnson: “The Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy K-8 public charter school in suburban St. Paul. It appears to be is an Islamic school operating illegally at taxpayer expense. Among other things, the school’s principal is an imam and almost all of its students are Muslim. It is housed in a building that was owned originally by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (I’m not sure who owns it now). The school has in any event had a mutually beneficial relationship with MAS Minnesota since the school’s inception. The study of Arabic is required at the school. The Arabic comes in handy for the Koranic studies that follow the regular school day.” The ACLU is suing, and there is evidence that “TiZA has sought to intimidate witnesses.”

Rep. Bart Stupak says there are 12 votes that will switch from “yes” to “no” on the ObamaCare abortion-subsidy issue.

Ron Kampeas shares my amazement at Maureen Dowd’s latest column:  “To suggest [Israel] – and even its Orthodox — are sliding into theocracy is just nutty.”

The Cook Political Report (subscription required): “The retirement announcement of Democratic Rep. Eric Massa puts his Upstate New York ‘southern tier’ seat in grave jeopardy for Democrats. Massa won by only the barest of margins in 2008 after outspending a badly flawed GOP incumbent. … This seat moves from the Lean Democratic column to the Lean Republican column.”

Jonathan Capehart or Matt Continetti on Sarah Palin’s Jay Leno appearance? “Palin’s comfort in front of the camera and with the material, not to mention her don’t-mess-with-me jeans-and-heels outfit, made Palin a feast for the eyes and ears.”

Rep. Pete Stark, new House Ways and Means chairman, is too much even for Democrats who are looking for an alternative: “Looming over his bid for the top job is a long history of rash public statements. In 2004, a San Francisco talk radio station posted a voice mail message that Mr. Stark left for a constituent that said, in part: ‘Probably somebody put you up to this, and I’m not sure who it was, but I doubt if you could spell half the words in the letter and somebody wrote it for you.’  In late 2007 he apologized for saying that Republicans were sending American youth to Iraq ‘to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.’”

Read Less




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