The far left is fond of proclaiming the power of corporations. For example, adBusters’ Micah White, who sparked OWS, speaks of the “overwhelming power of corporations.” Yet he hopes to achieve “reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall act” and the “the revocation of corporate personhood” by camping out in parks and holding all-day General Assemblies with up to 500 people. These have gained press coveraged, but the gap between that and reversing the Supreme Court is so fantastically large that Mr. White must have no comprehension of the power he is up against.
It is likely, though I can’t prove it, that no president could stand up to the full weight of corporate power and survive politically. That doesn’t mean presidents don’t have backbones, that means the world is not such a rosy place as the self-defeating left (SDL) extremists (for example Firedoglake-com) like to think. This is why, even the best politicians must act strategically.
The Petty Dark Side
But it’s the petty Dark Side that determines the crazy maneuvering that makes the daily papers and looks so dispiriting to the SDL regulars. Lets look at a well-known case, the health care bill and the reconciliation process.
Background: The senate can pass any bill 51 to 49, but if the 49 choose to, some of them can filibuster and block majority rule. But if 60 Senators vote for “cloture” that ends the filibuster. So, in reality the health care bill needed 60 votes — unless it was a reconciliation bill. That type of bill can only be used once a year and no filibuster is allowed.
The SDL reconciliation myth: The first part is that Obama blocked using a reconciliation bill because he wanted bipartisan support, which any fool could see was impossible.[F[“Maybe if a single person in Obama’s team of “political experts” had understood this most basic of political realities (Republicans won’t vote for taxes), health care reform would have been passed months ago using reconciliation–instead of wasting time chasing the futile hope of bipartisanship.” —Firedoglake]F] The second part runs as follows.
“If the Democrats had used reconciliation, a more progressive health care reform package could have been passed almost a year earlier. Instead every Democratic senator had to walk the plank by voting for the bill. That meant the bill had to be changed to appease every member of the caucus. At almost every step, the Democratic leadership made stupid decisions.” —SDL extremists at Firedoglake.
The actual story:
- According to the Byrd Rule, reconciliation can only be used for tax and spending measures.
- According to Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee that oversees reconciliation, “reconciliation for comprehensive health-care reform wouldn’t work.” The Byrd rule “would mean the insurance market reforms and delivery reforms would be stricken.” The result “would look like Swiss cheese.”
- So a complete health-care bill was passed by the House, 220 to 215 on 11/7/2009, and the vast bulk of the Affordable Care Act was passed, 60 to 39, by the Senate on 12/24/2009.
- But the differences could not have been ironed out under the Senate’s 60-vote requirement, so …
- The House passed the Senate version on 3/21/2010 by 219 to 212.
- This was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010.
- But to get the House version passed some deals were made concerning modifications, and a few other improvements were needed.
- So we have the “Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act,” to clean up financial-only details.
- Two chunks were passed by the House on 3/21/2010. And rest was passed by the House, and all of it by the Senate (56-43), on 3/25/2010.
- It was signed into law on March 30.
Some conclusions: Obama and the leading Democrats fought hard and strategically for all they could get, and as a consequence it passed by the narrowest of margins. This meant holding on to every single Senate Democrat and independent in the crucial Senate vote, and letting go of some Democrats in all other votes. Compared to, say Roosevelt’s passage of social security with huge margins from both parties, while leaving equally huge amounts of progressive policy on the table, this was extremely hard fought and brilliantly strategic.
But, given the Senate’s filibuster rule and small-state bias, the most conservative Democrats, and those who lobbied them had tremendously disproportionate power, and they used it. This is the petty Dark Side that causes us to lose faith in those we should trust. We can’t see them exercising their power, or we think there’s some magical way around it, but the Dark Side really is powerful, and progress is slow.
Another health care angle — some Darth Vaders:
The left was also incensed by the deal the White House cut with Big Pharmaprohibiting, as part of the legislation, direct negotiations with Medicare over prescription drug prices and excluding medicines imported from Canada. In return, the industry group PhRMA agreed to find $80 billion in discounts to Medicare, and to pay for an ad campaign supporting the legislation.
Was this wise, or was it a sellout? Given that there was not one vote to spare in the Senate, and only 7 in the House, I would say that it was. But let’s consult the man who knows best, John Boehner.
In the letter, which Boehner forwarded to the executives of PhRMA’s member companies, the House Minority Leader charges that PhRMA’s alliance with the White House on health care reform amounts to appeasement. “Appeasement rarely works as a conflict resolution strategy,” Boehner writes. “The simple truth is, two wrongs don’t make a right. And the short-sighted health care deal PhRMA struck with the Obama Administration at your urging provides confirmation of this time-tested maxim on an epic and tragic scale.” —TPM
The health insurance industry wrote an $86.2 million check to the Chamber of Commerce to mount a campaign against the legislation. “If Obama and the Democrats had been in a stronger position politically, they could have insisted on stronger cost containment and avoided making as large concessions to PhRMA and the hospitals as they did.” —Paul Starr
P.S. On Reconciliation:
There have been several other attacks on Obama for not using reconciliation, but a bill must be tagged for reconciliation early on, so the original Health-Care bill was tagged in April 2009. That used up the reconciliation quota for 2009 (one a year). I believe the actual Reconciliation bill that was passed March 25, 2010, used up the quota for 2010.