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Talk Left's Armando has a pretty thoughtful response to my post earlier this week -- part of a long series of arguments I've made -- that the so-called "progressive bloc" strategy on the public option was liable to fail and that near-variants of the strategy probably would not have made much difference. Armando brings up the counter-example of the unions who, he claims, "were willing to 'kill the bill' unless they received major concession on the excise tax issue" and indeed received "major concessions."
Let's look at this case, because it turns out to be pretty instructive. I can think of at least three fundamental differences.
First, the unions were worried about something -- a tax -- that was more linear in nature than something like a public option. Although there were certainly quite a few versions of the public option that emerged throughout the debate -- some much weaker than others -- it is a lot more on/off and therefore less easy tweak than something like the excise tax, on which is it relatively easy to slide around any of a number of thresholds. Nor did the unions get major concessions -- they got relatively minor ones like a $1,000 increase in the threshold at which the tax was applied, some of which have since been rescinded. Had progressives focused on something which was more granular in nature, such as the subsidy levels for working-class Americans, they might also have gotten some concessions, rather than coming away empty-handed.
Secondly -- and this is the much more important point -- the unions could make a much more credible threat to walk away from the bill. This is because, with a sufficiently cumbersome excise tax, the health care bill could reasonably be seen as a bad deal for unions, particularly for unions in the AFL-CIO family who tend to have older members with good health insurance benefits in the status quo. The unions were acting out of naked self-interest: threatening to walk away from a deal that would have been bad -- for them. Progressives, conversely, were threatening to walk away from a bill that would nevertheless have accomplished objectives of enormous magnitude and for which they've traditionally advocated. To claim that you'll walk away from a deal that would provide insurance to tens of millions of disadvantaged Americans and hundreds of billions of dollars of financial assistance to millions more is not credible -- it would be the rough equivalent of a conservative legislator arguing that she wouldn't vote to lower the capital gains tax unless the IRS's budget were also slashed by 50 percent. Why would anybody take such a threat seriously? Even if you were able to make the case that a bill without a public option was worse than the status quo -- and the kill-billers always struggled greatly with that -- it would be such a counterintuitive one (from the standpoint of "traditional" liberal values) that the counterparty in the negotiation would have trouble believing that you were arguing in good faith.
Finally, the unions actually had the more, rather than the less, nimble position. It's not clear that they directly threatened to kill the bill, for instance; they simply made clear to the White House that they would be very unhappy if the excise tax was not scaled down and let the White House fill in the blanks. The notion that the most daring, highest-stakes negotiating position is necessarily the best one is wrong in both theory and practice.
Progressives would do well to realize that their batting average in these situations is going to be pretty low. To assert that there should be an equivalence between those people on the left and Blue Dogs is wrong, because the position of the Blue Dogs is usually closer to that of both the median voter and (more relevantly) the median Congressperson. There are certainly exceptions -- particularly as political space is not always unidimensional. But in a two-party, plurality voting system like that in the United States, the ability of those on either end of the political spectrum to exert direct influence over policy is inherently going to be limited.
That's not to argue that progressives should just give up or cheerlead for the least-bad alternative. Certainly they have some leverage, most of which is not the product of any clever strategy but because of their importance (via fundraising, advocacy, etc.) in electing Democratic/progressive candidates. A more credible position, for instance, would have been to threaten not to donate to Democratic candidates if a public option were not included in the bill, something like what gay-rights activists have done over their dissatisfaction with the Administration's halting progress on those issues. This strategy does not rely on the trapeze act of enlisting members of Congress as proxies. Primary challenges -- although I sometimes disagree with progressives on their choice of targets -- are another promising pathway, and one of the most time-tested ways by which the "far" right has exercised a check on the Republican Party.
It feels good to assert that progressives just need to be tougher -- perhaps even to the point of feigning irrationality. These arguments are not necessarily wrong -- a reputation for being tougher bargainers would help at the margins -- but it misdiagnoses the problem on health care. The progressive bloc failed not because of any reputational deficiency on the part of the progressives but because their bluff was too transparent -- they claimed to be willing to wager enormous stakes (health care reform) to win a relatively small pot (the public option). That would have been beyond the capacity of any poker player -- or activist -- to pull off.
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It should be pretty clear that I’m bearish on the bond market. The massive budget deficits and debts we’re racking up should hammer Treasury prices. So should the steadily growing concern about the credit quality of sovereign debts.
In fact, Moody’s Investors Service just weighed in again on that front. It warned that both the U.S. and the U.K. are “substantially” closer to losing their AAA debt ratings. A key reason? Debt servicing costs — ongoing interest and principal payments — are surging!
By 2013, the U.S. will have…
Note: I am still on my OpenLeft hiatus, but I wanted to post this newspaper column that's out today[...]
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The critical issue on people?s minds these days is jobs: Where are they? What can we do to create them? How can we fix this problem?
With unemployment rates in our district ranging from 10 to 18 percent, families are hurting. Our district will recover from this economic downturn; families will take longer to heal.
Unlike South Carolina politicians of ?No Ideas, No Action?, I will tackle this tough issue ? and work hard with others in Congress to find answers to this crisis.
Please look at this video ? and join me as I seek to solve problems for the people of our state.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Once again risk aversion is taking center stage as traders are buying the Dollar and shedding higher risk currencies. The main concern driving the Dollar higher overnight is Greece?s
ability to obtain financial aid. Traders are pricing in the strong possibility that Greece will not receive aid from the European Union and be forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund for
Although Greece agreed to austere budget cuts to pacify the EU, it seems that despite these moves members still are against providing aid to the ailing Greek economy.…
Yesterday Mark Sanford settled 37 different ethics charges against him. He still didn't admit guilt, yet he paid $74,000 in fines and has reimbursed the state an additional $66,223 for the cost of the state investigation into his travel, use of the state airplane, expensive first class airline tickets and inappropriate expenditures from his campaign account. Even after settling the charges against him by paying a hefty fine, he still maintains his innocence.
Chalk yesterday up to yet another embarrassing day for South Carolina.
Mark Sanford didn't just introduce "Hiking the Appalachian Trail" to the American vocabulary. He misused thousands of taxpayer dollars, has done nothing to stem rising unemployment, and bungled his response to our current fiscal crisis. Now he's getting off easy while we will have to work for years to make up for his mismanagement.
Mark Sanford settled, but you shouldn't-- we need new, strong leadership, and we need it now. Please make a contribution to help set South Carolina in a new direction. Give 15, 25, or 50 dollars today. We'll use it to elect Democrats to lead our state.
Together, we can chart a new course for South Carolina.
Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.In 1999, when he purchased his first treadle pump, Robert Mwanza, a farmer in Lusaka, Zambia, was struggling to make ends meet...visit us at www.borderjumpers.org[...]
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The Georgetown County Democratic Party
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Bethel AME Church
417 Broad Street, Georgetown
« Vote for County Party Officers «Hear Candidates for 2010 Elections
« Elect Delegates to the State Democratic Party Convention
If you would like to run as a delegate to the
SC State Democratic Convention, please contact 843.359.9093 or GeorgetownCountyDemocrats@
(You may also sign up at the county convention.)
SEE YOU SATURDAY!
Even after a 40 minute meeting with the president yesterday, Rep. Lynch (D-MA) is still a no on Health Care Reform. Looking like a pretty likely primary challenge to come. [...]
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