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Topic: Dana Milbank

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

It sounds like a joke, but it’s all too real. John McCormack reports: “Senator Roland Burris is claiming credit for a provision in Harry Reid’s ‘manager’s amendment,’ unveiled Saturday morning, that could funnel money to ACORN through the health care bill.” And your problem is? Really, this is a graft-athon, so it’s only fitting that the senator selected by the most notoriously corrupt governor in America (a senator, by the way, who also lied about his connection to that same governor, only to be given a stern look and a slap on the wrist by his colleagues) would insert into the bill an earmark for “the Office of Minority Health” to be voted on in the middle of night so as to deliver a goodie bag for the most notoriously corrupt organization in America. It’s as if there were a conspiracy to see if Jon Stewart can be left speechless.

McCormack explains:

Earlier this year, Congress passed and the president signed into law a ban on federal funding for ACORN, but a judge ruled that that law was unconstitutional. If a higher court reverses that ruling, ACORN may be prohibited from receiving funds through the Office of Minority Health earmark. But according to the Senate legislative aide, ACORN would still “absolutely” qualify for federal funding through the provision in the underlying Reid bill because the anti-ACORN appropriations amendment would not apply to funds provided through the health care exchanges.

A spokesman for Sen. Harkin, chairman of the HELP committee, wrote in an email that he “will look into” which organizations qualify for funding under these provisions. Spokesmen for Senators Reid and Dodd did not immediately reply to emails.

This is what comes from a legislative process as noxious as this. (It almost obscures another issue: why do we fund health care by race?) Dana Milbank dubs it the “cash for cloture” bill. Indeed, it may replace the infamous transportation bill that gave us the “Bridge to Nowhere” as the symbol par excellence of congressional graft. He explains:

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) even disavowed Nelson’s Cornhusker Kickback. “Nebraskans are frustrated and angry that our beloved state has been thrust into the same pot with all of the other special deals that get cut here,” he reported.

The accusations must worry Democrats, for Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), facing a difficult 2010 reelection contest, went to the Senate floor to declare: “I’m not happy about the backroom deals.”

I think Burris isn’t likely to be worried or embarrassed. But perhaps it’s just a bit too ludicrous to defend, so the conference committee might see fit to lose the ACORN handout. I’m sure Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid can come up with an appropriate substitute to satisfy the junior senator from Illinois. Maybe a public-works project to improve and expand this structure.

It sounds like a joke, but it’s all too real. John McCormack reports: “Senator Roland Burris is claiming credit for a provision in Harry Reid’s ‘manager’s amendment,’ unveiled Saturday morning, that could funnel money to ACORN through the health care bill.” And your problem is? Really, this is a graft-athon, so it’s only fitting that the senator selected by the most notoriously corrupt governor in America (a senator, by the way, who also lied about his connection to that same governor, only to be given a stern look and a slap on the wrist by his colleagues) would insert into the bill an earmark for “the Office of Minority Health” to be voted on in the middle of night so as to deliver a goodie bag for the most notoriously corrupt organization in America. It’s as if there were a conspiracy to see if Jon Stewart can be left speechless.

McCormack explains:

Earlier this year, Congress passed and the president signed into law a ban on federal funding for ACORN, but a judge ruled that that law was unconstitutional. If a higher court reverses that ruling, ACORN may be prohibited from receiving funds through the Office of Minority Health earmark. But according to the Senate legislative aide, ACORN would still “absolutely” qualify for federal funding through the provision in the underlying Reid bill because the anti-ACORN appropriations amendment would not apply to funds provided through the health care exchanges.

A spokesman for Sen. Harkin, chairman of the HELP committee, wrote in an email that he “will look into” which organizations qualify for funding under these provisions. Spokesmen for Senators Reid and Dodd did not immediately reply to emails.

This is what comes from a legislative process as noxious as this. (It almost obscures another issue: why do we fund health care by race?) Dana Milbank dubs it the “cash for cloture” bill. Indeed, it may replace the infamous transportation bill that gave us the “Bridge to Nowhere” as the symbol par excellence of congressional graft. He explains:

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) even disavowed Nelson’s Cornhusker Kickback. “Nebraskans are frustrated and angry that our beloved state has been thrust into the same pot with all of the other special deals that get cut here,” he reported.

The accusations must worry Democrats, for Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), facing a difficult 2010 reelection contest, went to the Senate floor to declare: “I’m not happy about the backroom deals.”

I think Burris isn’t likely to be worried or embarrassed. But perhaps it’s just a bit too ludicrous to defend, so the conference committee might see fit to lose the ACORN handout. I’m sure Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid can come up with an appropriate substitute to satisfy the junior senator from Illinois. Maybe a public-works project to improve and expand this structure.

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Another “Never Mind”

The number of “never minds” is increasing in the name of health-care “reform.” Candidate Obama promised that no one earning less than $250,000 would have his taxes raised. Oh well, that was then. (The White House cheered as an amendment by Sen. Mike Crapo to strip out taxes on anyone below the $250,000 threshold went down to defeat 45-54, with five Democrat defections.) Candidate Obama was in favor of drug reimportation, allowing U.S. citizens to buy cheaper drugs at rates available outside the U.S. Oh well, that was then. Yesterday the Senate voted down a drug-reimportation measure brought by Byron Dorgan. As Dana Milbank points out, Obama sided with “Big Pharma”:

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to take on the drug industry by allowing Americans to import cheaper prescription medicine. “We’ll tell the pharmaceutical companies ‘thanks, but no, thanks’ for the overpriced drugs — drugs that cost twice as much here as they do in Europe and Canada,” he said back then.

On Tuesday, the matter came to the Senate floor — and President Obama forgot the “no, thanks” part. Siding with the pharmaceutical lobby, the administration successfully fought against the very idea Obama had championed. “It’s got to be a little awkward,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

Only a little. The Obami really aren’t capable of being shamed by evidence that they have reneged on campaign promises or that positions are taken willy-nilly without regard to any coherent ideology or legislative scheme. They have a higher objective: getting anything passed. Understandably, liberals who don’t like drug companies on principle, and reformists who think the fix is in from moneyed lobbyists, are shocked, shocked, to find that the Obami are without principles.

The result may be a truly awful bill, a lot of disappointed voters, and many, many effective campaign ads for Republicans. At some point a smart Democrat or two looking at this might want to consider whether “never mind” is the best response to a health-care bill that reforms nothing and demonstrates only that Obama snookered a whole bunch of voters.

The number of “never minds” is increasing in the name of health-care “reform.” Candidate Obama promised that no one earning less than $250,000 would have his taxes raised. Oh well, that was then. (The White House cheered as an amendment by Sen. Mike Crapo to strip out taxes on anyone below the $250,000 threshold went down to defeat 45-54, with five Democrat defections.) Candidate Obama was in favor of drug reimportation, allowing U.S. citizens to buy cheaper drugs at rates available outside the U.S. Oh well, that was then. Yesterday the Senate voted down a drug-reimportation measure brought by Byron Dorgan. As Dana Milbank points out, Obama sided with “Big Pharma”:

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to take on the drug industry by allowing Americans to import cheaper prescription medicine. “We’ll tell the pharmaceutical companies ‘thanks, but no, thanks’ for the overpriced drugs — drugs that cost twice as much here as they do in Europe and Canada,” he said back then.

On Tuesday, the matter came to the Senate floor — and President Obama forgot the “no, thanks” part. Siding with the pharmaceutical lobby, the administration successfully fought against the very idea Obama had championed. “It’s got to be a little awkward,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

Only a little. The Obami really aren’t capable of being shamed by evidence that they have reneged on campaign promises or that positions are taken willy-nilly without regard to any coherent ideology or legislative scheme. They have a higher objective: getting anything passed. Understandably, liberals who don’t like drug companies on principle, and reformists who think the fix is in from moneyed lobbyists, are shocked, shocked, to find that the Obami are without principles.

The result may be a truly awful bill, a lot of disappointed voters, and many, many effective campaign ads for Republicans. At some point a smart Democrat or two looking at this might want to consider whether “never mind” is the best response to a health-care bill that reforms nothing and demonstrates only that Obama snookered a whole bunch of voters.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling observes that Sen. Michael Bennet is trailing all Republicans in a potential 2010 race, one by as much as nine points. He notes that this “is a reminder that Democratic Governors sure didn’t do their party in the Senate any favors with their appointments last year. The appointments of Michael Bennet in Colorado, Ted Kaufman in Delaware, Roland Burris in Illinois, and Kirsten Gillibrand in New York put all of those seats in play for next year and it really didn’t have to be that way.”

James Capretta and Yuval Levin explain ReidCare: “In other words, rather than build on the failed cost-control model of Medicare, they now want to actually further burden Medicare itself. Why take a roundabout path to failure when a direct one is available? The irrationality of this solution is staggering. But, of course, it’s a solution to Reid’s political problem, not to the nation’s health care financing crisis.”

The New York Times thinks ReidCare is in trouble too: “Democratic leaders hit a rough patch Friday in their push for sweeping health care legislation, as they tried to fend off criticism of their proposals from a top Medicare official, Republicans and even members of their own party. . .Republicans said [the Medicare actuary's] report confirmed what they had been saying for months. ‘It is a remarkable report,’ said Senator Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska. ‘It is a roundhouse blow to the Reid plan.’” We’ll see.

Dana Milbank thinks Senate Democrats could find a better leader. He explains that “as his public-option gambit demonstrated, merely dangling proposals, regardless of how meritorious they may be, doesn’t cause them to become law — and it may cause Democrats from more conservative states, such as Lincoln’s Arkansas, to lose their jobs.” And lose his own as well. Millbank thinks his caucus might be happier with Dick Durbin or Chuck Schumer. Well, they might get their wish, given Reid’s polling.

Looking at the dismal polling on ObamaCare and the CBS polling showing Obama leading George W. Bush by only a 50-to-44-percent margin, James Taranto argues that “these results almost surely represent a backlash against Obama and Congress’s Democrats. Their insistence on pushing ahead and forcing on the country a health-care scheme that by now is almost as unpopular as it is monstrous is without a doubt a major factor here.” And it might be that a cold, ultra-liberal president who blames his problems on his predecessor really isn’t what they all had in mind.

An excellent development, and perhaps a sign that the Obami are waking up to the reality of the thugocracy of Iran: “More than $2 billion allegedly held on behalf of Iran in Citigroup Inc. accounts were secretly ordered frozen last year by a federal court in Manhattan, in what appears to be the biggest seizure of Iranian assets abroad since the 1979 Islamic revolution. . .President Barack Obama has pledged to enact new economic sanctions on Iran at year-end if Tehran doesn’t respond to international calls for negotiations over its nuclear-fuel program.”

Obama is still sliding: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday shows that 25% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-one percent (41%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -16. That’s the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President.”

It’s the “international community” after all: “Iranian Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe plan to address negotiators at international climate talks in Copenhagen next week.”

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling observes that Sen. Michael Bennet is trailing all Republicans in a potential 2010 race, one by as much as nine points. He notes that this “is a reminder that Democratic Governors sure didn’t do their party in the Senate any favors with their appointments last year. The appointments of Michael Bennet in Colorado, Ted Kaufman in Delaware, Roland Burris in Illinois, and Kirsten Gillibrand in New York put all of those seats in play for next year and it really didn’t have to be that way.”

James Capretta and Yuval Levin explain ReidCare: “In other words, rather than build on the failed cost-control model of Medicare, they now want to actually further burden Medicare itself. Why take a roundabout path to failure when a direct one is available? The irrationality of this solution is staggering. But, of course, it’s a solution to Reid’s political problem, not to the nation’s health care financing crisis.”

The New York Times thinks ReidCare is in trouble too: “Democratic leaders hit a rough patch Friday in their push for sweeping health care legislation, as they tried to fend off criticism of their proposals from a top Medicare official, Republicans and even members of their own party. . .Republicans said [the Medicare actuary's] report confirmed what they had been saying for months. ‘It is a remarkable report,’ said Senator Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska. ‘It is a roundhouse blow to the Reid plan.’” We’ll see.

Dana Milbank thinks Senate Democrats could find a better leader. He explains that “as his public-option gambit demonstrated, merely dangling proposals, regardless of how meritorious they may be, doesn’t cause them to become law — and it may cause Democrats from more conservative states, such as Lincoln’s Arkansas, to lose their jobs.” And lose his own as well. Millbank thinks his caucus might be happier with Dick Durbin or Chuck Schumer. Well, they might get their wish, given Reid’s polling.

Looking at the dismal polling on ObamaCare and the CBS polling showing Obama leading George W. Bush by only a 50-to-44-percent margin, James Taranto argues that “these results almost surely represent a backlash against Obama and Congress’s Democrats. Their insistence on pushing ahead and forcing on the country a health-care scheme that by now is almost as unpopular as it is monstrous is without a doubt a major factor here.” And it might be that a cold, ultra-liberal president who blames his problems on his predecessor really isn’t what they all had in mind.

An excellent development, and perhaps a sign that the Obami are waking up to the reality of the thugocracy of Iran: “More than $2 billion allegedly held on behalf of Iran in Citigroup Inc. accounts were secretly ordered frozen last year by a federal court in Manhattan, in what appears to be the biggest seizure of Iranian assets abroad since the 1979 Islamic revolution. . .President Barack Obama has pledged to enact new economic sanctions on Iran at year-end if Tehran doesn’t respond to international calls for negotiations over its nuclear-fuel program.”

Obama is still sliding: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday shows that 25% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-one percent (41%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -16. That’s the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President.”

It’s the “international community” after all: “Iranian Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe plan to address negotiators at international climate talks in Copenhagen next week.”

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Losing His Touch?

Barack Obama, many conservatives would argue, has lots of faults. But being a poor orator isn’t generally thought to be one of them. Nevertheless, there seems to have been an outbreak of applause failure at Obama’s recent speeches.

The New York Times provides a harsh review of Obama’s speech to the Building Trades Council today, noting he “seemed to offer another rationale for the self-inflicted brouhaha that has dominated the political debate for four days running.” And the crowd? The Times reports:

As Mr. Obama spoke about the controversy, the crowd largely listened in silence. When he concluded, applause broke out, but it was far from the standing ovation Mr. Obama received when he addressed the matter to voters late last week in Indiana.

Must have been an off day.

But what about his speech yesterday before the AP? Dana Milbank tells us: “On the same day, the two media darlings of the presidential election cycle came to address their base–and McCain easily bested his likely opponent.” Obama was “defensive and somber.” The crowd? “McCain got a standing ovation–an honor Obama did not receive when his turn came two hours later.”

Has the Great Inspirer lost his touch? It could be that the bloom is off the rose, as far as the press is concerned. (He certainly is getting a lot of harsh criticism from the non-Kool Aid-drinking Left, which has essentially given up trying to help him get out of his fix.) Or perhaps Obama is less engaging when under fire. It may be that his initial stump speech–the one he trotted out endlessly about good ideas dying in Washington–was the best he had. But what does he say now? “I am not a snob” doesn’t seem to be working.

Barack Obama, many conservatives would argue, has lots of faults. But being a poor orator isn’t generally thought to be one of them. Nevertheless, there seems to have been an outbreak of applause failure at Obama’s recent speeches.

The New York Times provides a harsh review of Obama’s speech to the Building Trades Council today, noting he “seemed to offer another rationale for the self-inflicted brouhaha that has dominated the political debate for four days running.” And the crowd? The Times reports:

As Mr. Obama spoke about the controversy, the crowd largely listened in silence. When he concluded, applause broke out, but it was far from the standing ovation Mr. Obama received when he addressed the matter to voters late last week in Indiana.

Must have been an off day.

But what about his speech yesterday before the AP? Dana Milbank tells us: “On the same day, the two media darlings of the presidential election cycle came to address their base–and McCain easily bested his likely opponent.” Obama was “defensive and somber.” The crowd? “McCain got a standing ovation–an honor Obama did not receive when his turn came two hours later.”

Has the Great Inspirer lost his touch? It could be that the bloom is off the rose, as far as the press is concerned. (He certainly is getting a lot of harsh criticism from the non-Kool Aid-drinking Left, which has essentially given up trying to help him get out of his fix.) Or perhaps Obama is less engaging when under fire. It may be that his initial stump speech–the one he trotted out endlessly about good ideas dying in Washington–was the best he had. But what does he say now? “I am not a snob” doesn’t seem to be working.

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The “Emergencies” of the Stem-Cell Debate

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank offers a portrait of the debate on stem-cell research that took place in the Senate over the last two days. He notes the extent to which Senators, especially those working to remove the boundaries governing federal funding of embryo research, focused on sad, often quite touching stories of illness and suffering in their own lives and those of their families and friends.

This makes sense, of course, since the debate was about medical research. But on the other hand, it does raise the question of exactly what case those stories were intended to make. The stem-cell debate is not about whether our country should support medical research—there is an absolute consensus on that point. The federal government spends about $30 billion on such research through the National Institutes of Health each year. The debate is not even about whether to support stem-cell research. The federal government has spent about $3 billion on various forms of stem-cell research since 2001, including more than $130 million on embryonic stem-cell research.

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The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank offers a portrait of the debate on stem-cell research that took place in the Senate over the last two days. He notes the extent to which Senators, especially those working to remove the boundaries governing federal funding of embryo research, focused on sad, often quite touching stories of illness and suffering in their own lives and those of their families and friends.

This makes sense, of course, since the debate was about medical research. But on the other hand, it does raise the question of exactly what case those stories were intended to make. The stem-cell debate is not about whether our country should support medical research—there is an absolute consensus on that point. The federal government spends about $30 billion on such research through the National Institutes of Health each year. The debate is not even about whether to support stem-cell research. The federal government has spent about $3 billion on various forms of stem-cell research since 2001, including more than $130 million on embryonic stem-cell research.

But that money has been spent under the constraints of President Bush’s embryonic stem-cell funding policy, which says only research that uses lines of cells created before the policy was enacted can be funded. Those created from embryos destroyed after the policy came into effect are not eligible. The idea is to prevent taxpayer dollars from offering an incentive to destroy human embryos–which is precisely what the bill the Senate passed last night (by a vote of 63 to 34, falling short of the margin needed to override a veto) would do.

What’s wrong with such research? The President believes (as do I) that human embryos—human beings in their earliest developmental stages—should not be treated as raw materials for scientific experimentation. America’s commitment to equality requires us to treat all human beings with at least that minimal regard. (I laid out this case on the New York Times op-ed page a few months ago.) Others believe that human embryos are not worthy of that degree of regard or protection, because they’re not developed enough, or large enough, or possessed of the capacity for cognition or pain.

These are legitimate arguments about the nature of the human embryo and the appropriate attitude toward it. But what bearing does a Senator’s story about his neighbor’s diabetes have on the argument? The point of these stories in the stem-cell debate is to argue not that one approach or another is ethical, but that the fact that so many of us and our loved ones suffer from serious ailments should cause us to put ethics aside. It is a case for approaching medical research—and indeed the very fact of illness, if not of death itself—with what might best be called a crisis mentality. Our illnesses, our deaths, are an emergency, and until the emergency is over we can’t bother with abstractions about equality and dignity.

This, too, is not a senseless attitude. But it is deeply misguided and dangerous. The “emergency” will never be over. Disease and death will haunt us always. We are right to struggle against them, and modern medicine offers us some formidable tools in that effort, which we ought to use and develop further. But we must do so with a sense that medicine is a science of postponement and an art of delay, not a crusade for final victory over death. That means the mission of medicine is permanent, not temporary. And that in turn means modern medicine must find its place in everyday life, rather than insist that we treat everyday life as an emergency that requires the suspension of moral and ethical rules. If we can have no recourse to ethics until we’re done fighting disease, then we can have no ethics at all.

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