In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Check out this amazing line from RNC chairman Michael Steele this past Friday, via Matt Yglesias, explaining how we don't need the government to be involved in health care -- we just need get the interested people in the room and "do the deal":

STEELE: So if it's a cost problem, it's easy: Get the people in a room who have the most and the most direct impact on cost, and do the deal. Do the deal. It's not that complicated.

If it's an access question, people don't have access to health care, then figure out who they are, and give them access! Hello?! Am I missing something here? If my friend Trevor has access to health care, and I don't, why do I need to overhaul the entire system so I can get access he already has? why don't you just focus on me and get me access?

This sounds kind of like Kenan Thompson's "Fix It!" routine from Saturday Night Live last fall, explaining the solution to the financial crisis. "Take it one step at a time: Identify the problem -- fix it! Identify another problem -- fix it! Repeat as necessary until it's all fixed!"

This afternoon, the South Carolina state Senate Democratic Leader John C. Land III released this interesting statement about Mark Sanford's mysterious disappearance:

"We've been concerned by the Governor's erratic behavior for some time. We're praying for him and his family. I hope he is safe and that he contacts the First Lady and his family soon."

So what exactly does he mean by erratic behavior? I just spoke on the phone with the state Senate Dem caucus director Phil Bailey.

"Number one, is actively rejecting our own stimulus dollars back here in South Carolina. Number two is - gosh, where to begin with Mark Sanford, it goes on," said Bailey. "Suing the legislature to prevent our own tax dollars from coming back there to South Carolina to save teachers jobs, and prevent layoffs in law enforcement and prison officers. Sen. Land certainly believes that is erratic."

The conservative Power Line blog today has been vigorously attacking the CBS/New York Times poll showing overwhelming support for a public option -- criticism that was repeated on TV today by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). But a close examination shows that their supposed deconstruction of the poll doesn't actually have any merit.

Power Line says that this poll is worthless, because respondents were asked who they'd voted for in 2008, with the answer coming up as Obama 48%, McCain 25%. "Since Obama won the election by a 53%-46% margin, the poll obviously skews left," they say.

A big problem occurred to me, though, one known to anyone who's read about polling for a long time: The who-you-voted-for question is good for a lot of things -- except for finding out how people actually voted. It's really an indicator of people's willingness to say they voted for the incumbent (regardless of whether they're telling the truth) or to say they voted for the challenger. All this poll really tells us is that some people are eager to say they voted for Obama, and others won't readily admit they voted for McCain.

I checked with Prof. Larry Sabato, and he agreed with me that this is not in any way a good reason to impeach the credibility of the poll -- though he did add a caveat that due to the ongoing complexity of the health care debate, the listed support for the public option might not be reliable, either!

Check out Sabato's comment, after the jump.

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Taking just a moment to keep score, we now know quite a bit about three rather different health care draft bills. If reform efforts are to succeed through the regular legislative process (i.e. not through the budget reconciliation process) those proposals will have to be merged into one, and key players will have to make a number of compromises along the way.

Significantly--both on policy and political grounds--the government insurance option proposals run the gamut from the House bill, which contemplates a robust public insurance option comparable to Medicare, to the Senate Finance Committee bill, which scraps the idea of a national government-run plan in favor of a series of regional co-ops.

If bipartisanship does win the day, the action's in the Senate Finance Committee, so it's important not to assume this proposal will disappear just as the "trigger" proposal disappeared. But it's also worth remembering that the co-op proposal doesn't in practice or in spirit amount to a public option. The stated idea behind the public option is that, forced to compete with a national, not-for-profit, government-run system, private insurers will have to dramatically cut the wasteful practices that drive up the price of care. Regional co-ops would not be able to serve this function.

But it's also worth recalling that not all public options are created equal.

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Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), a champion of both economic and social conservatism, has gone missing, and has not been seen since this past Thursday.

From The State:

First lady Jenny Sanford told The Associated Press today her husband has been gone for several days and she doesn't know where he is.

The governor's personal and state phones have been turned off and he has not responded to phone and text message since Thursday, a source said.

Jenny Sanford said she was not concerned.

She said the governor said he needed time away from their children to write something.

The governor's office issued a statement Monday afternoon: "Gov. Sanford is taking some time away from the office this week to recharge after the stimulus battle and the legislative session, and to work on a couple of projects that have fallen by the wayside.

Late Update: As a quick reminder to readers, Sanford has been a mainstay of conservative opposition to the stimulus bill and other Obama initiatives. So he's been at the center of some attention for quite a while.

As we all await a verdict from the Minnesota Supreme Court in the seemingly never-ending disputed 2008 Senate race between former Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic comedian Al Franken, the Associated Press points out an interesting piece of information about this ongoing dispute: It has now covered all four seasons.

The disputed result began in the fall of 2008, then continued into winter 2008-2009, then into spring 2009 -- and with yesterday's summer solstice, it's now gone into the summer months, too.

So the big question now is whether it will end during the summer, with a clear verdict from the courts and the seating of a U.S. Senator -- or whether we'll be headed into this autumn with the fight still going.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) made an interesting move recently for the upcoming Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings: He blew off meeting with her, because she was 10 minutes late to his office. "I decided to proceed on to the next meeting," said Corker.

Of course, it should be noted that Sotomayor's own schedule has been thrown off because she broke her ankle, and has had some difficulty getting from place to place.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) has also refused to meet with Sotomayor, though in his case it was on the grounds that he's voting against her, anyway.

As Think Progress points out, other Republicans have been much more open to her -- even David Vitter politely received her in his office, and offered her an ice pack and pillow to rest her ankle.

Here's an interesting number from the new Mason-Dixon poll of Nevada, which showed that Sen. John Ensign's (R-NV) favorable rating has fallen to a paltry 39% in the wake of the news about this affair: He's still more popular than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

As it turns out, Reid's own favorable rating is only 34%. And of course, nothing has happened recently to call Reid's personal life into question. And the polls are much more important for Reid, because he's up for re-election in 2010.

The interesting thing is that while Reid has consistently lousy ratings back home, he currently has the advantage of not having any real opponent. The Nevada GOP has been battered in recent elections, and no Republican has stepped up to the plate to challenge him -- for example, former Rep. Jon Porter, who was defeated in 2008, recently took himself out of the running. And Reid has millions of dollars in the bank, as well, which can both ward off opponents and of course overpower anyone who does emerge.

As I mentioned earlier today, the past week or so has given health reformers a severe case of whiplash. First, an early version of the Senate HELP committee bill was unveiled in an uncompleted form, after divisions between the committee's Republicans and Democrats on key issues like the public option, and the employer mandate couldn't be resolved in time for hearings. Unfortunately, that's the only legislation the Congressional Budget Office had to work with, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, they found it would cost about $1 trillion over 10 years while leaving, dozens of millions of people uninsured.

And this, remember, is the committee that's putting together a liberal bill, without worrying too much about rapprochement or bipartisan compromise. All of that bellyaching was going on in the Senate Finance Committee. The CBO determined that that bill would cost about $1.6 trillion over 10 years--significantly more than the conservative committee wanted to pay. And they've gone about making up the difference not by upping the ante on cost-cutting reform efforts, but by slashing the very benefits and subsidies reformers are fighting for--including the public option which has been scrapped, in the Finance bill, and replaced with a plan to create regional, non-profit co-operatives (more on that in a bit).

Hearings on that bill won't begin until next month, leaving Congress only days of session to complete the entire legislative process before their ambitious pre-August recess deadline.

But the story in the House is much different.

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If Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA) does end up running for Senate against GOP incumbent David Vitter -- pitting a relatively conservative Democrat against a Christian Right champion whose career became mired in the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal of 2007 -- it could be good news for the Republicans in at least one respect. That is, the GOP feels pretty good that they can pick up Melancon's open district.

"It is one of the few districts in the country that actually trended more Republican last cycle," a Republican source told us. The district voted 61%-37% for John McCain in 2008, up from 58%-41% for George W. Bush in 2004.

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