Four more years for Barack Obama

President Obama was re-elected last night with an impressive margin in the electoral college. The popular vote margin was much narrower, but it looks like he’ll be over 50% with roughly a 2 point margin.

I’ll have much more to say about this, but most of us will acknowledge that this was a very important election. The pundits liked to mock both campaigns for not discussing big issues, but that truly missed the point. Both sides offered very different paths for our future, and most voters understood the profound differences.

With an Obama victory, his signature accomplishment from his first term, health care reform, will now be fully implemented. Mitt Romney would have either repealed or gutted Obamacare, but now the notion of universal health care will be cemented as part of the social compact. We’ll all have to wait and see how Republicans react to Obama’s victory, but hopefully on health care we’ll see a shift away from a reflexive attempt to overturn Obamacare to constructive negotiations to improve it and cut medical costs in general. We’ve heard Republicans pontificate for years about malpractice reform. Perhaps now we’ll actually get some constructive proposals.

We may have a continuation of the political wars, but now we know that any deal will have to be more balanced than the GOP plan of just hacking away at spending on the elderly and the poor. We’ll see how that plays out.

It will also be interesting to see if some conservatives will break out of the right wing media bubble. Conservatives were told to ignore the poll numbers that pointed to an Obama victory, and that the “real” numbers would lead to a Romney landslide. These projections were pure fantasy, just like the Romney/GOP budget numbers that claimed you could miraculously balance the budget by slashing taxes. We live in a divided country and many on both sides are guilty of just listening to their own partisan news sources, but the dogma and partisanship on the right has become absurd. Even respectable pundits like George Will and Micheal Barone drank the Cool Aid and ended up looking just as clueless as partisan hacks like Dick Morris with their predictions of the Romney landslide.

Finally, conservatives and Republicans need to stand up to the lunatic fringe. You can’t encourage the crazies on your side, and then lament when idiot candidates like Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin say stupid things about rape and abortion. You can’t cater to the haters who demonize illegal immigrants and then complain that you got crushed by the Latino vote. We’ll see if there’s anyone in the GOP who has a spine. Chris Christie is an obvious candidate as he’s called out the crazies before, but now he’s on serious probation with the right for saying something nice about President Obama. Perhaps Marco Rubio can help on that front. We can expect serious fireworks within the GOP as they hash out these issues. If they don’t work it out, I’ll be happy to see them forfeit the Latino, African American, Asian and much of the female vote in future elections.

Health care high fives

Yesterday was a good day for those of us who want universal health care coverage. It was also a good day for those of us who think CNN and Fox both suck. The video below from Politico mashes up some of the funniest reactions to the Supreme Court decision and the massive fail by CNN and Fox News.

Republicans block benefits for 9/11 first responders

After demagoguing 9/11 for the past decade and constantly talking about the heroes of that terrible time, the Republicans blocked benefits for 9/11 first responders. Many of the have become seriously ill and some have died due to what they had to breath while responding to the terrorist attack. Jon Stewart lets them have it.

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Bob Dole calls out GOP obstructionists on health care

Bob Dole is stating the obvious, which is a very rare thing in Washington, particularly among Republicans.

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kans.) told a group of local Kansas reporters on Wednesday, that opposition to the president’s health care package had been driven by knee-jerk partisanship and urged Congressional Republicans to get on board a version of reform.

* * * *

“Sometimes people fight you just to fight you,” he said, according to The Kansas City Star. “They don’t want Reagan to get it, they don’t want Obama to get it, so we’ve got to kill it…

We’ve also seen an AP poll today that shows a rebound in President Obama’s approval rating and the approval for health care reform, along with a score from the CBO that shows the Senate Finance bill would actually reduce the deficit by over $80 billion, which would give plenty of negotiating room for liberals who want to expand certain parts of the bill.

The status of the health care debate

Ezra Klein has an excellent summary of the health care debate and where it currently stands. He does a great job of separating the actual policy debates going on in Congress from some of the silly issues being argued by the public.

Does health care really need to be for-profit?

Wouldn’t a not-for-profit system work better, at least with respect to hospitals?

Going after the insurance companies

Anyone who wondering why health care premiums are exploding just needs to take a look at the insurance industry.

Schumer pointed to the profits of the 10 largest insurance companies — which shot up 428 percent between 2000 and 2007, from $2.4 billion to $12.9 billion — as a reason health care reform is needed.

The insurance industry has not been playing ball on reform, and now Senate Democrats are getting fed up.

With other industry groups pledging savings to help pay the cost of health care reform, Senate Finance Committee Democrats slammed insurers for holding out — and threatened to impose new fees on the industry that could cost it as much as $100 billion.

The Finance Committee members are currently hunting for hundreds of billions of dollars to help finance reform, and with the hospital and pharmaceutical industries having pledged $235 billion, the senators said it was time that the insurers paid their share.

“We need the insurance companies to step up to the plate and be part of the solution. Most of the negotiations so far, the insurance industry has been at the table but you can only sit there at the table with your arms crossed for so long,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

Schumer and Sens. John Rockefeller (D-WV), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) pounded the insurers, who they portrayed as unwilling to help pay for reform even while they have enjoyed exploding profits.

“The insurance companies are the people who are just rapaciously, greedily and unstoppably making money by underpaying the patient, by underpaying the provider and by overpaying, therefore, themselves,” Rockefeller said.

We’re seeing a new urgency from the White House and other Democrats on the health care reform issue, and it’s refreshing to see them ratchet up the pressure on the insurance industry.

House Democrats release health care reform proposal

Health care month is here. President Obama wants the House and the Senate to both pass health care reform bills before the August recess. It will be very difficult to get his done, but the House made progress as the Democrats released their proposal yesterday.

Liberal commentator Ezra Klein likes the proposal.

The Process Is the Message: Three separate committees — Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor — have come together on one bill. This is an incredible achievement. If you read histories of the 1994 health-care reform fight, all of them have a substantial section on the committee crack-up: One passed a version of single-payer, another a variant of Bill Clinton’s reform, another went further to the right. There was no unity.

There is unity now. And if it holds — if the House of Representatives manages to pass this plan with a substantial majority of enthusiastic Democrats — that significantly strengthens the House’s hand in its eventual negotiations with the more fractious Senate. That’s a big “if.” But so too would have been the idea that three separate committees could cooperate on a bill of this size.

The House proposal includes a tax surtax to help pay for the bill.

If I’m reading this correctly, about half is paid for through $500 billion or so in savings from Medicare and Medicaid. The rest comes from a surtax on the richest 1.5 percent. The surtax is 1 percent on income between $350,000 and $500,000; 1.5 percent on income between $500,000 and $1,000,000; and 5.4 percent in income above $1,000,000. The surtax can vary if the bill is less or more expensive than initially anticipated. There are also revenue expectations from the employer and individual mandates, though they’re relatively modest ($200 billion over 10 years is one estimate I’ve heard).

I’m not a big fan of this part of the proposal, though it’s important to get something on the table. Obama’s proposal to limit charity deductions for high-income taxpayers made more sense. A small surtax in the neighborhood 1% would be fine, but going up to 5% seems like a bad idea.

I would much rather see a tax on soft drinks. Liberals don’t like it because it’s regressive, but as we’ve seen with cigarette taxes an increase in price does affect consumption, and the American people are getting way too fat. That alone contributes to our soaring health care costs, so a tax on sugary drinks, just like taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, makes sense when we’re considering ways to fund health care reform.

Perhaps a compromise can be struck where we include a much more modest surtax along with a soda tax.

Broder is shocked by Obama’s ambitious agenda

David Broder has been in Washington for a long time, and President Obama seems to have stunned him with the breadth and boldness of his agenda. Broder sees Obama taking on significant risks, and he’s right about that. Obama doesn’t want to play it safe – he wants to seize the moment and make real efforts to solve long-standing problems.

The size of the gamble that President Obama is taking every day is simply staggering. What came through in his speech to a joint session of Congress and a national television audience Tuesday night was a dramatic reminder of the unbelievable stakes he has placed on the table in his first month in office, putting at risk the future well-being of the country and the Democratic Party’s control of Washington.

It was also, and even more significantly, a measure of the degree to which he has taken personal responsibility for delivering on one of the most ambitious agendas any newly inaugurated president has ever announced.

Most politicians, facing an economic crisis as deep as this one — the threatened collapse of the job market and manufacturing, retail and credit systems here at home, along with the staggering, unprecedented costs of the attempted rescue efforts — would happily postpone tackling anything else.

But not Obama.

Instead, no sooner had he finished describing his plans for spurring economic recovery and shoring up the crippled automotive and banking industries, he was off to the races, outlining his ambitions for overhauling energy, health care and education.

The House chamber was filled with veteran legislators who have spent decades wrestling with each of those issues. They know how maddeningly difficult it has been to cobble together a coalition large enough to pass a significant education, health care or energy bill.

And here stood Obama, challenging them to do all three, at a time when trillions of borrowed dollars already have been committed to short-term economic rescue schemes and when new taxes risk stunting any recovery.

Is he naive? Does he not understand the political challenge he is inviting?

Broder ends this column with the following line: “When we elected Obama, we didn’t know what a gambler we were getting.”

In one sense, he shouldn’t be surprised. Obama was clear about all these initiatives during the campaign. On the other hand, Broder is used to seeing politicians who are too worried about politics and too timid to take bold chances. Obama is not one of those politicians.

Bush the Incompetent

Harold Meyerson sums up George W. Bush’s entire presidency with that phrase. It’s amazing how a man can be so good at politics can be so bad at governing.

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