Four Democratic senators joined a half dozen House leaders from both parties at the session with Mr. Obama, but Senators Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican whip, were absent. … “He had a long-scheduled, multi-member meeting here at the same time,” [McConnell spokesperson Don] Stewart said. “And as the invitation came in late yesterday, it was tough to move things around.”
In a penetrating lecture Wednesday, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, explained that “religious communities are ‘failing profoundly in what is expected of us‘ in energizing a response to climate change in society.” The Archbishop told his audience at York Minster that “we are near a tipping point” of global warming “and that the church, and other religious communities, are not doing their part to lead the world against it.” He fiercely defined an “unintelligent and ungodly relation with the environment“:
It is impatient: it seeks returns on labour that are prompt and low-cost, without consideration of long-term effects. It avoids or denies the basic truth that the environment as a material system is finite and cannot indefinitely regenerate itself in ways that will simply fulfil human needs or wants.
Warning there “is no guarantee that the world we live in will ‘tolerate’ us indefinitely if we prove ourselves unable to live within its constraints,” the Archbishop eviscerated the false claims of right-wing evangelical campaigns like We Get It, launched by James Dobson, Jim Inhofe, and other conservative climate deniers:
We Get It: “The science is not settled on global warming.”
The Archbishop: “I don’t intend to discuss in detail the rhetoric of those who deny the reality of climate change, except to say that rhetoric (as King Canute demonstrated) does not turn back rising waters. If you live in Bangladesh or Tuvalu, scepticism about global warming is precisely the opposite of reasonable: ‘negotiating’ this environment means recognising the fact of rising sea levels; and understanding what is happening necessarily involves recognising how rising temperatures affect sea levels.”
We Get It: “A recent Barna study of evangelicals found that only 33% consider global warming to be a major challenge.”
The Archbishop: “As is true in various ways throughout the whole created order, humanity and its material context are made so that they may find fulfilment in their relationship. Without each other they are not themselves. And the deliberate human refusal of this shared vocation with and within the material order of things is thus an act of rebellion against the creator.”
We Get It: “Efforts to cut greenhouse gases hurt the poor.”
The Archbishop: “The world is less than it might be so long as human beings are less than they might be, since the capacity of human beings to shape the material environment into a sign of justice and generosity is blocked by human selfishness. In the doomsday scenarios we are so often invited to contemplate, the ultimate tragedy is that a material world capable of being a manifestation in human hands of divine love is left to itself, as humanity is gradually choked, drowned or starved by its own stupidity.”
President Obama has signaled that he is open to using the tactic of budget reconciliation to advance health care reform and cap-and-trade. Reconciliation allows some legislation to be protected from filibusters and passed by a simple majority vote. Speaking at the Heritage Foundation today, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) conceded that when Republicans were in power, they had laid the “groundwork” for reconciliation by frequently employing the procedure to pass major Bush agenda items:
MCCAIN: I fully recognize that Republicans have in the past engaged in using reconciliation to further the party’s agenda. I wish it had not been done then, and I hope it will not be done now that the groundwork has been laid.
McCain has a mixed record on reconciliation bills. Though he opposed the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts passed through reconciliation, he supported other Bush agenda items passed through reconciliation, such as legislation to reduce spending on Medicaid.
McCain’s comments today stand in stark contrast with the central argument being made by other Republican Senators on reconciliation — that it is somehow a radical shift in Senate procedure. For example, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), the GOP ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, compared reconciliation to “running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River.”
McCain is right that Republicans laid the groundwork for using reconciliation. Since 1995, Republicans have pushed everything from the Contract with America, to welfare reform, to tax cuts targeted at the rich, to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, using reconciliation. Republican leaders even fired successive Senate parliamentarians who disagreed with their use of reconciliation.
Will other Republican Senators wake up from their political amnesia and accept that they have no standing to reject budget reconciliation now?
But just critical as a factor in explaining why ISI factions continue to bedevil the U.S. is Pakistan’s civilian government’s inability to exercise authority over the military. Even if there were better relations between Pakistan and India, you would still have to face the reality that neither the government nor the Military is able to prevent ISI elements from collaborating with insurgents who have come to threaten not just Afghanistan, but also Pakistan itself.
This is fair enough. But I think that in many ways it loops back to the regional situation. The outsize role the military plays in Pakistani society is closely linked to Pakistan’s long-running conflict with India. A Pakistan that didn’t see the struggle with India as of paramount importance wouldn’t just turn its a large and powerful military establishment in a direction that’s more favorable to our policy objectives, it actually wouldn’t need such a large and powerful policy military establishment.
Incidentally, when I observe that turning Pakistan’s regional calculus around would be integral to achieving maximalist American goals in Afghanistan, I mean that not-so-much in the spirit of saying I think Richard Holbrooke needs to work ’round the clock to accomplish that but rather in the spirit of raising doubts about the feasibility of maximalist goals. This is, after all, the land of “If India builds the Bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry—but we will get one of our own.” Pakistan is very committed to its position on the Kashmir issue, and thus to the conflict with India, and has been for decades.
AHIP’s President and CEO Karen Ignagni (pronounced ig-NAH-nee) walks a tight rope when discussing the government’s role in the health care system. While rejecting direct competition between public and private insurance plans, Ignagni argues that the government should subsidize the industry’s insurance product (she calls it making health care “affordable”), provide coverage for the the poorest and sickest Americans, and require everyone to purchase insurance:
For government, then, as we think about responsibilities, our responsibility to get everybody in, to sustain coverage, to do it affordably, government, to begin to step in, require personal responsibility, but at the same time provide this helping hand or provide this assistance for people who are going to need help.
The government, Ignagni argues, should serve as a “helping hand” and provide peace of mind — but only so far as it benefits insurer interests. For instance, Ignagni and AHIP endorse a government-public hybrid health care system on one hand, but reject direct private/public competition on the other. Private insurers should have the exclusive right of insuring Americans under 65, because giving Americans a choice between a private and public plan would drive private insurers out of business, Ignagni argues.
But the stance is grounded in opportunism, not principle. While Ignagni is trying to keep a viable public program from entering the under 65 market, she strongly lobbied to increase the role of private insurers in Medicare — and argued that public-private competition in the over 65 market would increase patient choice. (Note that she did not ask for fair competition. Private plans participating in Medicare Advantage receive a 13-17 percent government subsidy). Here is Ignagni defending the subsidy:
- Are we going to maintain choices [in Medicare] in all markets or reduce or eliminate and the particular thing I would like to leave you with, I will be talking about the history in a moment. [Kaiser Foundation, 7/16/2007]
- But if you have the goal of maintaining choices in all the areas and if you have monopoly systems that refuse to contract with the health plans, if you are going to achieve that goal of maintaining choices in all areas, you have very few choices and that is also why private fee for service was developed. [Kaiser Foundation, 7/16/2007]
In short, Ignagni wants to play in the government’s sand-box but is desperately trying to keep the under-65 playpen all to herself.
Greg Sargent reports that Joe the Plumber has been tapped by the anti-labor Americans for Prosperity to do “a series of events throughout Pennsylvania rallying opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act.” Here’s why Americans for Prosperity spokesperson Mary Ellen Burke said Joe was chosen:
“The public loves Joe the Plumber,” the spokesperson, Mary Ellen Burke, claimed to me. “They see him as a role model.”
Asked whether Joe the Plumber had any particular knowledge or expertise about EFCA that might explain the decision to enlist him, Burke said that he was being enlisted to provide a “grassroots perspective” and “the working perspective” on the measure.
Pressed on whether Joe the Plumber has any particular claim to being a spokesperson on the issue, Burke replied that “he represents the American worker.”
Joe the Plumber may not represent the average worker — or at least not the average plumber. Remember that Joe never had a plumbing license, and many of the people in that profession are members of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry (UA). UA political and legislative director Rick Terven responded to the latest news, saying, “Real plumbers want and need the Employee Free Choice Act as a way to empower themselves to join a union, without fear of intimidation or losing their jobs. Joe the Plumber doesn’t speak for real plumbers.”
“Think of this from the perspective of individual citizens,” she said. “We’re the ones who are going to see a huge increase in homelessness, in people without health care, in people without unemployment benefits, and in people not getting the education they need. The Europeans are right to say that they have strong automatic stabilizers in effect. From the perspective of Americans, it’s worse for them. They’re undercapitalized, overleveraged, and they don’t have a serious safety net protecting the key things they need to worry about.”
This might, she implied, help explain why America has been so much more aggressive about countering the crisis. They are much more vulnerable to recession than the Europeans. As evidence, she brought up every economist’s favorite bugaboo: Japan’s lost decade. It was bad for growth, she argued, but not particularly devastating to individuals. “The Japanese households, in the last decade and a half, they never experienced the economy the way economists experienced it,” she said. “The economist saw the economy as in dire shape. You asked the average Japanese person if they were in dire shape, they didn’t see it that way.”
James Surowiecki makes a similar point in The New Yorker. Another issue that I think needs to be considered is the direction of political change. Political conversation in recent years in the United States has mostly been about expanding the social safety net (usually in the form of health care reform) and improving the quality of public services (usually education or infrastructure) whereas debate in Europe has predominantly been about paring back the safety net in the name of greater growth. Consequently, I think it’s difficult for European elites to pivot in the direction of additional spending no matter how bad the recession gets.
Meanwhile, it is worth keeping in mind that all the Europeans I’ve spoken to are expecting a U.S.-led or Asian-led recovery; they’re just kind of laying low and figuring that they’re well-positioned to weather the storm.
I’ve been saying this for a while now, but something people need to understand about the current state of American politics is that Rep Mike Pence (R-IN) is not a smart man. He lacks intelligence. He’s been able to rise into the House leadership and even somehow acquire a reputation as a policy thinker of the right larger because it’s extraordinarily rare for the media to ask a politician to answer a question about a policy issue. But when Pence is asked to do this—as Norah O’Donnell did below—he’s completely unable to deal with it.
Basically, Pence is very upset that Obama’s budget proposal would lead to high deficits. Pence is also the author of an alternative “budget” “plan.” O’Donnell, sensibly, asks him what the deficit would be under his plan. It’s not a tough question, it’s not a gotcha question, it’s not an ideological question. Indeed, if Pence knew the answer to the question, and if the answer made sense, it would actually count as an absurd softball. But Pence doesn’t know!
Now we’re told the Republicans will have more details next week. If so, it’ll be interesting to see if they submit the thing to the CBO for rigorous scoring.