Free Markets, Free People

Jim Webb


Cognitive Dissonance

Few will disagree that Scott Brown’s solid victory last night was meant to send an important message to Washington. Sure, there will be some whistling past the graveyard, but for the most part the political punditry and policy-makers will understand that something needs to change, and fast. Like dog whistles and Irish brogues, however, not everyone will hear the same thing.

It will not escape those who are truly paying attention that the Senate health care bill currently residing in the House was a huge catalyst behind Brown’s come-from-nowhere win. Brown’s potential cloture-busting vote looms large in a debate where Washington elites have tuned out those whom they mean to rule. It looms so large, and its power to lure slightly more than half the registered voters to the polls on a snowy day for a special election with nothing else on the ballot sends such a strong statement, that even Barney Frank seemed to get the message:

I have two reactions to the election in Massachusetts. One, I am disappointed. Two, I feel strongly that the Democratic majority in Congress must respect the process and make no effort to bypass the electoral results. If Martha Coakley had won, I believe we could have worked out a reasonable compromise between the House and Senate health care bills. But since Scott Brown has won and the Republicans now have 41 votes in the Senate, that approach is no longer appropriate. I am hopeful that some Republican Senators will be willing to discuss a revised version of health care reform because I do not think that the country would be well-served by the health care status quo. But our respect for democratic procedures must rule out any effort to pass a health care bill as if the Massachusetts election had not happened. Going forward, I hope there will be a serious effort to change the Senate rule which means that 59 votes are not enough to pass major legislation, but those are the rules by which the health care bill was considered, and it would be wrong to change them in the middle of the process.

Virginia Senator Jim Webb said much the same thing last night:

In many ways the campaign in Massachusetts became a referendum not only on health care reform but also on the openness and integrity of our government process. It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders. To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated.

Yet, somehow, even while recognizing that Democrats playing a legislative game of keepaway with the bill before the House (that was drafted behind closed doors, it should be noted) will only serve to undermine public confidence in the law (and Congress), progressives like Jane Hamsher still think that’s what’s called for now:

In the wake of Martha Coakley’s defeat, both Representative Barney Frank and Senator Jim Webb have said that jamming a health care bill through before Scott Brown can be seated is not the right thing to do.

They’re right. Health care legislation would be viewed — with some justification — as illegitimate.

But many on the Hill tonight are saying that the Massachusetts defeat also means that health care reform is dead, fearful that what happened to Martha Coakley will happen to them, too, in 2010.

That’s about as feasible as Wile E. Coyote trying to turn around and run back across the bridge that is crumbling behind him. There’s only one way to go.

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The non-budgetary “fixes” like banning the exclusion of those with pre-existing conditions have already passed the Senate. A public option — or an expansion of Medicare — can be added through reconciliation, which takes 51 votes. The Republicans certainly had no fear of using reconciliation when George Bush was in office. And the Democrats are going to need to do so in order to make good on their promise to fix the excise tax to benefit of the middle class, which will cost roughly $60 billion. But their options for doing that are limited by the process itself: they can pay for it by the savings from a government program like a public option or an expansion of Medicare. Or, they can piss everyone off and raise taxes.

That looks to be where Gerald Nadler and Anthony Weiner are headed tonight. They indicate that “the only way they could sign on to the Senate bill is if it was accompanied immediately, or even preceded by, a separate bill, making a number of major preemptive changes to what they regard as an inferior package,” per Brian Beutler.

It’s called sidecar reconciliation. And the 65 members of the House who have pledged to vote against any bill that does not have a public option should be looking into it seriously tonight.

Got that? Passing a bill that circumvents Brown’s vote will be viewed “with some justification” as illegitimate, so let’s go ahead and do just that! Do these people even listen to themselves? Using the reconciliation process (“sidecar” or otherwise) to shove health care legislation down Americans’ throats simply eschews the very legislative process that Barney Frank and Jim Webb cited as the reason to forgo further action on health care until Brown is seated. Yet, Hamsher and her cohorts advocate for legislative legerdemain anyway. Cognitive dissonance in action.

The reason, of course, is that passing health care legislation is such a fundamental issue for progressives that they have thrown all sense (such as was possessed) to the wind. It has nothing to do with what people want, but instead with what progressives want people to want. Apparently it doesn’t even matter that the rosy economic projections upon which these health care bills are based have little to no basis in reality. I guess, since the ultimate goal is a utopian fantasy, employing imaginary thinking is the only way to get there.

If nothing else, the reaction of progressives to the Massachusetts race reveals how dangerous they are when wielding power. Inconvenient facts are dismissed, and constituents are ignored, because what the progressive lacks in having any grasp of reality is more than made up for by resounding confidence and self-righteousness. Fortunately for us, the electorate does not appear to be willing to indulge their fantasies anymore.