Saturday :: Mar 13, 2010

The Votes are There to Fix it Later! Yay!

by eriposte

I guess I had to force myself to come back from oblivion to post this because the arguments from the Pass Health "Reform" and Fix It Later (PHRFILTM) crowd are becoming more and more hilarious by the day.

The latest entry in this drama is from Steve Benen at Washington Monthly (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

But this observation, related to the public option, was even more striking.

Kucinich says he doesn't buy Obama's latest argument to progressives that there will be other opportunities to improve upon the legislation once they help him pass this bill.

"Fix it later, are you kidding?" he said. "If you don't get it in the bill up front, it's not going to happen."

Now, the president really has told progressive lawmakers that Congress can return to the public option later, and incorporate the idea into this reform framework. The notion that improvements like the public option are gone forever if they don't pass immediately is foolish.

The fun starts with that passage, where we learn that since The President Has Said It, It Must Therefore Be True. That's just great!

Steve then goes on to explain using the examples of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security how all those programs were improved with time. There are some problems with this argument, including the one small detail he left out - namely, that it is much easier to enhance programs that are explicitly Government-run (like Medicare or Social Security, for example) once the Government actually starts running them and delivers benefits to people. The problem with applying this argument to the current bill is that the option of a Government-run health insurance program is being explicitly rejected in the current bill, with the excision of the already watered down "public option" from the bill. So, this argument is rather misleading to say the least.

Steve digs a much deeper hole for himself by using Nate Silver's recent post - Obama's No F.D.R. -- Nor Does He Have F.D.R.'s Majority - to seemingly bolster his case:

Even the Civil Rights Act, in order to secure passage, needed to drop its voting rights provision. It wasn't there up front, but it happened soon after.

Notice a pattern here? FDR and LBJ had huge electoral mandates and gigantic Democratic majorities in Congress (bigger than the congressional majorities Obama currently enjoys), but they still couldn't get everything they wanted.

Yes, there is a pattern, but it's not one that Steve wants you to believe. The Civil Rights Act passed in July 1964. The Voting Rights Act passed in August 1965. According to Nate's chart, the size of the Democratic majority in the Senate was higher in 1965-66 than in 1964-65 and the size of the Democratic majority in the House was notably higher in 1965-66 compared to 1964-65. Unless Steve is postulating that the Democrats today are about to significantly increase their majorities in the House and Senate after the passage of the current bill (which I doubt even the most ardent Democratic partisans are postulating) the LBJ comparison makes little sense.

Nate's post suffers from the same delusion, and worse. His basic argument boils down to this: FDR and LBJ had super-fabulous Democratic majorities, unlike Obama - so it's no surprise they were able to accomplish more and Obama has been able to accomplish less. Yet, when you subject his argument to even a slight amount of scrutiny it falls apart. Let's use Nate's own words:

When F.D.R. took over the Presidency in 1933, the Democrats controlled 64 percent of the Senate seats and 73 percent (!) of the House seats, counting independents who were sympathetic to the party. And those numbers only increased over the next couple of midterms -- during their peak during 1937-38, the Demorats actually controlled about 80 percent (!) of the seats in both chambers. Obama, by contrast, came into his term with 59 percent majorities in both chambers. That's not much to complain about by the standards of recent Presidencies, but is nevertheless a long way from where F.D.R. stood during his first two terms, or for that matter where L.B.J.'s numbers were during the 1965-66 period, when the bulk of the Great Society programs were implemented.

First, like Steve, Nate fails to note that the policies of FDR and LBJ in their first year did not lead to diminished Democratic majorities in the House and Senate in the immediately following year(s). Quite the opposite. Second, Nate conveniently does not remind readers of what FDR actually got passed, through astonishingly strong leadership, just in his first 100 days:

As historian Jean Edward Smith discusses in his book "FDR", in the first 100 days of his Presidency FDR managed to push through an astonishing number of key initiatives: the Emergency Banking Act, a revision of the Volstead Act (prohibition), the Economy Act, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act, the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Truth-in-Securities Act, the de-linking of the US dollar from the gold standard, the Homeowners Refinancing Act, the Glass-Steagall Act, the Farm Credit Act, the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act, and the National Industrial Recovery Act.

The conditions that FDR inherited from Hoover and the negative impressions the broader public had of Republicans, were, I would argue, fairly comparable to what Obama and the Democrats inherited after 8 years of George Bush. The Democratic majority that FDR had in the Senate in his first year was just slightly higher than what Obama had. The majority he had in the House was significantly higher, but that is irrelevant to Nate's argument because back in Nov 2009 the current House already passed a Bill that included a (weakened) "public option". So, the argument that Obama is not like FDR and LBJ because he lacked their Democratic majorities has little merit. [As another recent Democratic President said at a recent event - paraphrasing - "I would have loved to have had 59 Senators".]

This is why the PHRFILTM crowd is not getting much respect in some circles. This is also why many progressives have not just legitimately questioned the value of the current bill but have also rightly expressed skepticism about the ability of the Democratic party to do better in the future with a smaller majority (if they manage to preserve it), after they utterly failed to capitalize in 2009, in an environment that was enormously favorable to them.

eriposte :: 10:19 AM :: Comments (7) :: Digg It!