Posts Tagged ‘Steve Benen’

Must-Reads of the Week: Ezra Klein, Sleeper Issue of 2010, Success, Virtual Insanity, Abdulmutallab, Obstruction, and Madden

Friday, February 5th, 2010

1. Ezra Klein on Rep. Paul Ryan, Health Care, and the Deficit. If you want a serious, policy-oriented daily take on health care and fiscal issues, turn to Ezra Klein. This week, he began the opinionosphere’s discussion of Rep. Paul Ryan’s serious attempt to balance the budget (which has no chance of being embraced even by the Republicans or Democrats.) Later, he interviewed Rep. Ryan – though it read more like a discussion between two serious people about fiscal policy and health care reform. Klein later attempted to see where along the political spectrum the Senate health care reform bill fell:

Take Rep. Paul Ryan’s health-care plan…as the conservative pole on this issue. Then take single-payer and place it on the other side of the spectrum. Where does the Senate bill fall?

It’s closer to Ryan’s plan than to single-payer. A lot closer, in fact.

Yet this basic fact – that Obama has taken a rather conservative approach to health care substantively similar to the 1994 plan Republicans counter-proposed to Bill Clinton – has been obscured by a Republican Party intent on obstructing Obama’s agenda to gain partisan advantage. As Klein explains, the problem is that the incentives for each party don’t line up:

[T]hat’s the underlying reality of health-care reform. Substantive compromise is easy. In fact, the bill is a substantive compromise. It’s a deficit-neutral, universal-coverage scheme that relies on the private insurance market and looks like one of the Republican alternatives from 1994. What’s hard is political compromise. Because there, the two positions are that Democrats are helped if a bill passes and Republicans make gains if a bill fails. There’s no way to split the difference between those positions.

At the same time, however, Klein castigates Democrats as well as Republicans for failing to put the national good over their own political situations:

The distinguishing feature of the budget conversation, however, is that it happens at a very abstract level. This red line needs to come down to meet this black line, and this huge number needs to eventually become this slightly-smaller number. That’s all fine for a floor speech, but when you start trying to muscle the red line into position or subtract from the very big number, things get real specific, real quick. Suddenly, you’re telling seniors that there are treatments they just can’t get and you’re telling workers that the insurance system is going to have to change. And just as Conrad doesn’t have much appetite for doing that to his constituents on the small things that most of them don’t notice, very few legislators have demonstrated much appetite for doing this to the country on the big things that pretty much everyone notices.

2. I do not accept second place for the United States of America. Edward Alden and E. J. Dionne comment on what is brewing to become the big issue of the 2010 elections, not coincidentally countering the main narrative put forth by the right wing.

3. A successful first year. Norm Ornstein and John P. Judis explain some of the significant accomplishments of Obama’s first year in office.

4. Virtual insanity. Andrew Sullivan’s main theme this week has been the virtual insanity of the Republican Party. He writes: “On every single major issue of the day, they are incoherent.” He quotes Daniel Larison:

Republicans have been treating temporary, tactical political victories as if they were far more significant, strategic victories, when, in fact, they have no political strategy worth mentioning.

Then of course are the highlights from that Daily Kos poll in which – for example – 59% of Republicans believe Obama should be impeached for something-or-other.

5. Reid v. Abdulmutallab. Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly gets some hard hits in on the ridiculousness of the Republican response to Obama’s handling of the panty-bomber. And Benen doesn’t even get into the fact that Abdulmutallab is now cooperating.

6. Obstruction. I examined some of the theories of why the Republicans are so uniformly obstructionist.

7. Madden vs. Real Life. As a football-related article for this Super Bowl weekend, Chris Suellentrop for Wired explored how the video game Madden is affecting the real game of football.

[Image by Doug Kim, used with permission of the creator, and in anticipation of the snowstorm that might rock Manhattan today as I’m commuting home.]

The Lessons of 1993/1994 (cont.)

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Usually I try to contextualize a writer – for example by saying what publication they write for. Other times, I presume the name conveys enough. But I don’t know Sean Trende from Adam. However, he has an interesting column published in Real Clear Politics about what he calls the “myth circulating in the blogosphere and the punditry.” (He gives Steve Benen, Mark Kleiman, Matt Yglesias, and Senator Jim DeMint as examples; I also made this point.) He says this myth is “threatening the Democrats’ majorities.” He describes it:

It goes like this: In 1994, Democrats failed to pass a healthcare bill, and they lost their majorities. Ergo, if Democrats fail to pass a healthcare bill in 2009, they will be at serious risk of losing their majorities in 2010, so to save their majorities, they should make certain above all else to get something passed.

He parses through the data – read his column for the figures – and concludes:

In other words, the problem for Democrats in 1994 was not that they didn’t support Clinton’s agenda enough. It was that they got too far out in front of their conservative-leaning districts and supported the President too much.

Overall, I found his piece rather persuasive – as Trende styles himself a poor man’s Nate Silver – at least on the narrow question of whether or not a Democrat in a right-leaning district would be hurt by rejecting any controversial measure pushed by Obama. But what he doesn’t deal with is the counterfactual – as there isn’t the data available in the set he is looking for to take this on. (Reading a bit more of Trende, it also seems he isn’t that sympathetic to health care reform or the Democrats – making his adopted pose of concern that a “myth” is “threatening” the Democrats’ power in Washington a bit grating.)  While it’s true that Democrats in right-leaning districts might save their seats by opposing cap-and-trade legislation, the stimulus, and health care reform, the party as a whole will undoubtedly suffer from their failure to advance the issues they were most passionate campaigning on.

Kevin Drum – in a post which is overall worth reading about why he is optimistic about reform – makes this persuasive counterpoint:

[I]f they [the Democrats] cave in to the loons and demonstrate that their convictions were weak all along — they’re probably doomed next year.  Their only hope is to pass a bill and look like winners who get things done.

This is exactly the counterfactual that Trende doesn’t address – and it was the fear of Bill Kristol and many other Republicans in 1994 that this is exactly what would happen if the Democrats passed a successful health care reform. It clearly seems to be the fear many Republican leaders are feeling now – as they seem determined to resist any pressure to work towards a bill they can accept in favor of simply continuing with the unsustainable status quo.