Monday, March 22, 2010

Lawrence O'Donnell dead wrong about healthcare

It always bothered me that a person who used to work in the U.S. Senate on the Democratic side was so confidently saying that health reform couldn't pass. Here after the Scott Brown election he doubled down. It should be noted for now and the future about how wrong he was. He got extra creditibility because he "knew" more than us. I still like him for being an honest liberal (most of the time) but am sure glad he was completely wrong. Part of his mistaken calculus was how he overestimated the effectiveness of the Republicans.

O'Donnell: Reform is dead

Feb. 01, 2010

Carrie and I have a story out today that looks at the parallels between the health care reform effort in 1994 and now. For the piece, I talked to Lawrence O'Donnell, who argued that reform is dead even though Democrats won't admit it.

The former Democratic Hill staffer turned MSNBC talker sounded off on the Democratic leadership, the process, and the spin. Here's the expanded write up of the interview:

Lawrence O’Donnell, the Democratic Senate Finance Committee staff director during the ’93-’94 health care debate, said we’re now witnessing reform’s death throes – and Democrats know it. The party will not be able to pass another reform bill through the Senate, period.

“Pelosi said that, ‘We don’t have the votes for passing the Senate bill’ and that should have just ended it. Any discussion of another scenario is juvenile,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Democrats knew they lost reform with the Massachusetts election and some of them like Rep. Barney Frank essentially said so. “The first reaction to the Massachusetts election was the honest reaction,” O’Donnell said. Frank later walked back his comments.

But since Election Night, he said, Democrats have moved into “full bluff mode.”

“We’re absolutely in full fake cheerleading mode. I think Nancy Pelosi has absolutely no moves left. I think she knows that now. I think Harry Reid knows that. And that’s why they don’t bring it up,” he said. “They had a Senate leadership press conference (Thursday) and it was as if (reporters) were asking about World War I” when they asked about reform.

O’Donnell attributes the theatrics to the need to deal with a liberal base that will go bonkers if Democrats quit on reform. And the cue cards are nothing new. He pointed to Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer’s statements during the fall that the Senate would pass the public option even though “he’s smart enough to know they were never going to get it.”

“No one who went on television was free to say anything realistic,” he said.

In 1994, Senate Democrats brought a health reform bill to the floor that Republicans successfully picked apart with targeted amendments that made Democratic no-votes politically impossible. After about a week, Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell pulled the bill from the floor saying they would tackle it again after recess, O’Donnell said.

When they returned, Democratic senators huddled for weeks in backroom meetings, struggling to find a workable alternative. Some of the attempts, he said, were genuine while others were cynical smokescreens only designed to demonstrate forward progress. After four or five weeks, the effort was abandoned as Democrats geared up for the mid-term elections.

This time, Democratic leaders are publicly acknowledging that they can’t see the way forward.

“I’ve never heard leadership admit publicly to being so lost,” O’Donnell said. “In ’94, we never admitted we didn’t know how to proceed after we crashed and burned in the Senate. We kept up a much better mirage.”

Not to mention that these are the same people who spent all of 2009 arguing that reform had to be passed quickly, no later than the end of the year. Now, they’re arguing reform is in a 7th inning stretch and will be finished by end of this year, O’Donnell said.

“They were right the first time,” he said. “There’s no such thing as ‘Let’s take a pause in legislating so that we can gain momentum on it.’ It’s insulting.”

A reconciliation bill won’t work, O’Donnell said. When people talk about its 51-vote threshold they’re forgetting that is just the final vote. Every day the bill is on the floor it will face 60-vote procedural hurdles. For instance, should Republicans challenge a provision’s inclusion and get a favorable ruling from the parliamentarian, without 60 votes, Democrats will be unable to overturn it – leading to a bill that looks more like Swiss cheese than health reform.

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