The president’s chief of staff states the obvious: he represents the camp inside Team Obama that could give a damn what the left/netroots/progressives think. His goal is to get a bill. Any bill that can be called “healthcare reform.” And of all the outlets to telegraph this to … Rahm chose the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal:
Turn off MSNBC. Tune out Howard Dean and Keith Olbermann. The White House has its liberal wing in hand on health care, says White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
“There are no liberals left to get” in the Senate, Emanuel said in an interview, shrugging off some noise from the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) that a few liberals might bolt over the compromises made with conservative Democrats.
As the White House leans on conservative Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska for the 60th health care vote, Emanuel has made the case that this generation of liberal political figures will not make the mistake of their predecessors. The late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s greatest regret was not cutting a deal with Richard Nixon on universal health care. Former President Bill Clinton has forever rued the day he did not take moderate Republican Sen. John Chafee up on a compromise that could have secured a health care bill early in his presidency.
Liberal senators nearly scuttled the creation of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program -– S-CHIP –- because Clinton compromised with Republicans and agreed to take the program out of Medicaid and involve private insurers.
“Every time they’ve gotten close to the deal, they’ve passed up the opportunity and chosen to walk away from a particular where they’ve lost the forest for the trees,” Emanuel said.
Now granted, Emanuel was talking about liberal legislators, not the rank and file members of the base, but it’s hard to argue that he isn’t right. Liberal lawmakers who have lived through serial failed attempts to do healthcare reform are not walking away from this legislation, no matter what. In fact, they were more prepared to fight Howard Dean (who at the end of the day is an outsider,) than they are to fight centrists inside their own caucus, in order to get this victory. And the White House will clearly cut any deal to get something for the president to take into the state of the union. However, without personalizing it (which is a waste of time, since he isn’t going anywhere) Rahm’s attitude should inform the leftward end of the base ahead of even trickier negotiations on things like cap and trade, immigration and financial regulatory reform.
We liberals may not like it, but Rahm Emanuel wields considerable influence with Mr. Obama, and liberals do not. He will continue to lead the pragmatist caucus inside the West Wing, and there really is no counterpart who represents activist liberalism inside the administration. With Teddy Kennedy is gone, there was no one in Congress who wields the kind of sway over the president personally who could have pushed him to take an ideological stand on healthcare. (That really is the central irony of the Obama presidency, which is viewed as this radical left-wing monster by the right, but which really is, at the end of the day, almost obsessively centrist.) Meanwhile, Rahm’s confidence reflects the fact that the White House, at the time of the interview, likely already knew Ben Nelson was full of crap. He’s voting for the bill. He was always voting for the bill. As was confirmed this morning, they’re all voting for it. Nelson’s recent Lieberman act was really all about extorting more goodies for his home state, and for his friends in the anti-abortion movement. From TPM:
Reid had to make significant concessions to centrists, including eliminating the public option, and tightening the language restricting federal funds from paying for abortion.
He also apparently had to guarantee that the federal government would cover the entire cost of expanding Medicaid in the state of Nebraska–home to Sen. Ben Nelson. Reid insisted today that this Medicaid agreement, contained in the manager’s amendment was a “small part” of winning Nelson’s support for the legislation, but it’s indicative of the sort of political trading that was necessary for Democratic leadership to win unanimous support for the legislation from the caucus.
And from Politico, news from Absurdistan:
Nelson agreed to support the bill after Democrats strengthened restrictions on federal funding of abortion, by allowing states to opt out from allowing plans to cover abortion in a new insurance marketplace. Also, enrollees in plans covering abortion must pay separate checks – one for abortion, one for the rest of services.
Nelson also won his own version of Sen. Mary Landrieu’s much-derided “Louisiana Purchase.” In Nelson’s case, the federal government will permanently pick up all the cost of new Medicaid enrollees in Nebraska, rather than splitting the tab with the state, as is usually done. Nelson’s Nebraska is the only state singled out for such treatment – a $45 million cost to federal taxpayers that shows the power of a single senator in this debate.
The federal government will also pick up the tab for all new Medicaid enrollees in the other 49 states through 2017.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said the move may prove permanent.
“In 2017, as you know, when we have to start phasing back from 100 percent, and going down to 98 percent, they are going to say, ‘Wait, there is one state that stays at 100?’ And every governor in the country is going to say, ‘Why doesn’t our state stay there?’” said Harkin.
“When you look at it, I thought well, God, good, it is going to be the impetus for all the states to stay at 100 percent. So he might have done all of us a favor.”
So the die is cast, and it looks like the left has in all likelihood already lost this one. But if progressives are smart, they’ll be more prepared, and apply pressure much earlier in the process, next time. Sort of like this:
Here’s a big development with potential implications for the 2010 U.S. Senate race in Arkansas: according to an SEIU official, SEIU is joining forces with other unions to work to retire the campaign debt of Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter from his Lt. Gov. race.
As you may know, Halter has been considering challenging Blanche Lincoln for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. Although SEIU’s move does not directly endorse such a challenge — the SEIU official says the union is taking this action because they believe Halter “has a very bright political future” — eliminating Halter’s campaign debt clears the path for him to focus exclusively on a U.S. Senate campaign. (Update: For the sake of clarity, the SEIU official was commenting on Halter’s future in general, not with respect to any particular race, and did not raise the Senate race.)
The union had appeared to be showing support for Lincoln earlier this year, but now, clearly, things have changed.
Blanche Lincoln is the only insurance industry toadie up for re-election this cycle, and along with Harry Reid, she represents the left’s strongest pressure point. As goes Lincoln, including whether unions, the netroots and other progressive interest groups lift a finger to help her win re-election — or not — will send, I think, a strong message to the 2012ers, particularly Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu. Joe Lieberman likely already understands that he will be seriously challenged by the left, and really by Democrats as a whole, next time. We just have to hope, and it’s by no means unlikely, that the White House hasn’t promised to help him should he run again. At this point, I’d say it’s likely that Lieberman will see the writing on the wall and retire in 2012 (and probably get a plum job in the insurance industry), since a jump to the Republican Party would be complicated by some of his positions on non-war, non-insurance issues (he’s supposedly pro choice, and definitely pro gun control.) Unless he seems unstoppable as a right-leaning independent, I don’t see why Republicans wouldn’t simply run a candidate against him in 2012, in hopes that he and the Democrat will cancel each other out.
So there it is. The left may have to concede defeat on healthcare, and just hope that all those 20 and 30-somethings don’t outright rebel against he party once they start having to pay those unwanted, government-mandated, monthly health insurance bills. But progressives should by no means stand down, and should probably start raising money (outside of the OFA process,) and querying potential candidates to primary against the unwanted centrists. But liberals should also learn from the lessons of New York 23, Virginia and New Jersey: if you pick a candidate, make sure they can win where they’re running.
UPDATE: the CBO score for the bill clocks in at $871 billion.