Yellin and Bash perform The Full Stolberg: Democrats may pass health reform through a process called reconciliation. Trust us: In this country, very few people could explain the way that process works.
(As readers may know, reconciliation is a way of avoiding a Senate filibuster. In a recent poll, very few people were able to say how many votes it takes to defeat a filibuster. Most people dont know these things.)
In a slightly more rational world, this situation would call for simple, clear explanation. But alas! Yesterday morning, Sheryl Gay Stolberg offered a murky explanation of reconciliation on the front page of the New York Timesan explanation which was a bit tilted (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/23/10). Last night, things may have gotten worse as Jessica Yellin served as guest host on CNNs Anderson Cooper.
What the heck is reconciliation? Trust us: Very few people could tell you. But this was the start of the explanation they heard on CNN:
YELLIN (2/23/10): In Raw Politics: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he may use a controversial parliamentary short-cut to pass a health-care bill. This fast-track approach is known as reconciliation, and it would allow Democrats to pass health-care reform without any Republican support.
Now this, of course, is just days ahead of the president's big health-care summit that's supposed to be all about bipartisanship. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, joins us now live.
Dana, hi! And how likely is it really that Democrats are going to use this tactic, reconciliation, to push through health-care reform?
What the heck is reconciliation? So far, weve been told that its a controversial parliamentary short-cuta fast-track approach, a tactic. The controversial tactic would allow Democrats to pass health-care reform without any Republican support. HOWLER readers may know what that meansbut many CNN viewers did not. Who knows? According to what they had just heard, such viewers may have thought that reconciliation would let health reform pass by a majority vote among Democrats. More likely, they still didnt have any real idea how the tactic worksalthough the very first thing they had been told is that its controversial.
Guess what, kids? Thats loaded language.
So far, Yellin had failed to offer this simple, clear explanation: Under reconciliation, a bill can pass the Senate by a simple majority vote of the 100 senators.
Its very easy to say those words. Most likely, many viewers would wonder why such a procedure (sorrywhy such a tactic) would be controversial. But as Yellin threw to Bash, the murky explanations continued. So did the loaded language:
BASH (continuing directly): It seems very likely, Jessica.
Look, it is a very cumbersome, very complicated tactic, but you know, the reality is that, as soon as Democrats lost their Massachusetts Senate seat and lost their 60-vote super-majority in the Senate, they knew that this was the most likely scenario for salvaging their health-care scenarios.
And the Senate Democratic leader, as you said, he was really the strongest that he ever has been today in suggesting he would use the parliamentary short-cut to pass the Democrats' version of health care.
The process was still a parliamentary short-cut, a tacticbut Bash instantly said it was very cumbersome, very complicated. (Plainly, it was too complicated for these dopes to explain.) Bash did make a passing remark about Democrats losing their 60-vote super-majority. Question: If a viewer didnt already know what that meant, do you think that remark would explain it?
Now, viewers were offered some video clips. In these clips, two major solons discussed reconciliation. Are things getting clearer yet?
BASH (continuing directly): And you walk through the halls like I did today, and you hear Republicans saying, "Wait a minute. Why are we planning to go to this six-hour live summit at the White House to talk about health care when Democrats are already planning on going ahead without us?"
Listen to the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, and then Harry Reid after that.
MCCONNELL (videotape): We're happy to go down there. I'm always pleased to see him. He's fun to be around. And I'm sure we'll have a great six hours. But it looks to me like he's already posted on the Internet what he would like to see the majority jam through.
REID (videotape): Nothing is off the table. We'll be happy to take a look at that, but realistically, they should stop crying about reconciliation as if it's never been done before. It's done almost every Congress. And they're the ones that used it more than anyone else.
Reid said that Republicans should stop crying about reconciliation, since they have used it before. From his opposite number, we only heard that Democrats were planning to jam something through.
Question: Would most people think youre jamming something through if you pass it by a majority vote?
By now, viewers had heard a tremendous amount of loaded language about this process (which was constantly called a tactic). It was a tactic; it was a short-cut; it was very controversial; it was very cumbersome. (It was parliamentary.) It seemed that the tactic had something to do with jamming health reform throughwith salvaging the Democrats plan. If you already knew how the process works, none of this would likely confuse you. But if you didnt know how reconciliation works, you still had no real idea.
Though youd heard a lot of loaded language about the controversial very cumbersome tactic.
We thought of curling as we watched. In the last week, weve watched a bunch of Olympic curling, marveling at the way the announcers refuse to explain how the games scoring works. The announcers all seem to be Canadians; they seem to assume that their viewers know all the rules of the game. But what explains the reluctance of Yellin and Bash to offer this simple explanation? Why didnt Yellin start her report by saying this?
YELLIN REWRITTEN: In Raw Politics: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he may use a process called reconciliation to pass a health-care bill. This procedure would allow Democrats to pass health-care reform by a simple majority vote of the Senate.
From there, youd probably want to explain that this would avoid a filibuster. And youd have to explain what that is.
Why didnt Yellin start her report with that simple explanation? Wed guess the key words here are fear and intimidation. But we will say this once again: If Yellin had started her piece that way, very few viewers would understand why this approach was so damn controversial.
That said, another key word comes to mind. That third key word is inept.
Completing the Stolberg: As the conversation continued, Bash made a fleeting attempt at offering a simple, clear explanation. (For unknown reasons, she seemed to think she had already said it.) Please note the way the loaded language persisted right to the end:
BASH: Jessica, Reid said that reconciliation has been used 21 times since 1981. Just the fact that he was armed with those statistics and a defense shows how seriously they are considering using this parliamentary tactic, which again, would just need 51 votes to pass health care.
One interesting thing I heard from Democratic sources I'm sure you'll find interesting, as well, and that is that one of the main reasons the president came out with his plan yesterday is actually to bridge the Democratic divide ahead of this summit in the hopes of, once they do that, using this tactic to get a health-care bill to his desk.
YELLIN: So let's talk about the politics of reconciliation. Because Democrats have to be concerned that there's at least some political danger in looking like they're jamming through health-care reform when they're trying to talk about bipartisanship.
BASH: Absolutely. And there certainly is some concern. For example, Blanche Lincoln, Democrat from Arkansas, she's in a very tough re-election battle this year. She has already said no way, she can't support this.
But it actually surprised me and our congressional producer, Ted Barrett, today. We were walking around, talking to someinformally polling Senate Democrats, and we found that there was actually more support than we thought there would be for using this.
I think the main reason is that there still is a feelingeven though this is very controversial, this Democratic health-care plana feeling it is worse politically to do nothing.
And there's something else, and that is that there is a growing backlash among the Democratic base, inside the Democratic base, Jessica, saying a majority is a majority and you have a huge, huge control over Washington, both in Congress, of course, and the White House. And, you know, we can't take no for an answer. Get something done on this health-care bill. And that's why you're seeing more and more talk, serious talk about trying to push it through with this tactic that certainly is controversial.
YELLIN: It's going to be a lively next week and a half, I guess, Dana. Thanks for staying on top of this.
BASH: Thanks, Jess.
Again, Bash said, this parliamentary tactic...would just need 51 votes to pass health care. In fact, no one had said that before. And by the way: How many viewers understood that 51 votes in the Senate constitutes a simple majority?
Sorrythat was an awful report. Nothing they said was literally wrong. But almost everything they said was murky; they constantly used loaded language. Poor Bash said the tactic was certainly controversial in her dying breath.
By the way: Is use of the filibuster controversial in any way? The ladies never asked.
Can we talk? The pair were kissing Big GOP Keister as they churned this gruesome report. In simple terms, an objective observer might say they did The Full Stolberg.
Special report: Watching us clearly explain!
LEONHARDT (2/24/10): Three years ago this month, a presidential candidateJohn Edwards, in factas a matter of factstarted a debate on health reform by announcing a plan to cover the uninsured. Since then, we've had an election, town hall meetings, speeches, Congressional hearings and a special election in Massachusetts.
Now comes Thursday's bipartisan meeting at the White House, which feels a bit like the start of the final act.
It has been three years since the current discussion started! Put it this way: Weve been discussing this topic so long, John Edwards wasnt known as a porn star when the discussion began!
How does Americas discourse work? Weve been discussing this topic for three solid years. And yesterday, the editors of the New York Times came up with a brilliant idea. Obama should go before the country, they said, and clearly explain his ideas!
Sometimes, you just have to laugh at what you read in the newspapers.
At present, clear explanation plays little role in American discourse. The editors themselves showed little such skill; in their own clear explanation, they cherry-picked certain basic factsincluding some facts which are disputablewhile ignoring the basic facts which drive opposition to the health care plan. Thats a bad way to explain a proposal. And it aint a great way to change polling numbers, which currently oppose this plan.
Lets be honest: Up till now, Obama hasnt been very good at clearly explaining his plan. In fairness, he works at a disadvantage; in the past few decades, the liberal world has done a very poor job at laying the groundwork for success, even as the conservative world has continued to churn the familiar claims which predispose many voters to oppose current plans. Big government never did anything right! We have the best health care in the world! European-style health care has failed everywhere its been tried! These talking-points predispose many voters to oppose the current health reform plans. Our side has been too lazy, too inept, too detached, too uncaring to develop answers and alternate frameworks which may tilt the field our way.
How inept is our mighty team? Last year, a no-name state legislator from Arizona presented another such claim to Ed Schultz. (Americans have seen what other nations have been going through with their 900,000 people on a waiting list in Britain waiting for care, 25,000 Swedes waiting for heart surgery!) How did Schultz respond to that well-worn pointa talking-point which has influenced tens of millions of voters? Thats why I got to do a field trip, he replied. I got to go find out about all this stuff. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/2/09.)
On the whole, we like Schultz around here. But for our money, that was one of the most telling moments of those last three years. And no, it isnt Obamas fault that he lives in a nation where the two sides have functionedor have failed to functionthat way for so many years. In the short run, clear explanation will make little headway, given that tilt in the field.
In fact, the liberal world has done a very poor job explaining the health reform planor the stimulus package, for that matter. In recent weeks, our ferocious and inept bold leaders have adopted a wholly new tack. Each night, brave freedom fighters like Rachel Maddow denounce Republican for being such hypocrites. In this way, we signal a form of defeat. Weve given up on our own half-hearted attempts to explain the merits of what we propose. Instead, we seek to advance our interests in a more circuitous wayby attacking the character and the good faith of those on the other side.
Even in this, we arent very smartand frankly, we arent very honest. Tomorrow and Friday, well take a look at the gruesome work of Maddow, whose perfervid claims rarely survive a fact-check. For today, we thought wed review what happened on Monday when another hapless cable player tried to advance the hypocrisy issuethe issue Maddow and others have raised. In fairness, you cant blame Maddow for the gong-shows which transpire on CNN. But the general claim of hypocrisy is exceptionally easy to make; unless its advanced in careful ways, its a type of claim which is easily turned against those who advance it. Well suggest that what follows inevitably happens when pseudo-liberals like Maddow rise up and clown for the world.
What happened on Monday night? Gaze on the hapless Anderson Cooper, as helped the world understand that Dennis Kucinich is a hypocrite too.
Is anyone dumber than Anderson Cooper? So far, were not sure its been tried. On Tuesday, he affected his trademark furrowed brow to let us know he was really concerned. He then invited Ali Velshi to help us see that Kucinich is a hypocrite too.
Or something. We still arent sure.
This was one of the dumbest reports weve ever seen on cable. And by the way: It gives an idea of where things go when we liberals start clowning around with films called Where The Hypocrites Are, instead of pushing our pea-sized brains to explain the actual merits of our actual proposals.
What makes Dennis Kucinich a hypocrite? Cooper started by briefly describing Obamas new health care proposal. Then, he turned to the murk found below. His brow was furrowed, which sent a clear signal that he was deeply concerned:
COOPER (2/22/10):Missing from that [new health care] proposalthat big earmark for Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson that drew so much criticism. It's that kind of wheeling and dealing to win votes that really sours people on government. The same, of course, goes for lawmakers voting against legislation but still grabbing for the goodies.
Ali Velshi is looking at four congresspeople who tried to do just that. Ali.
Uh-oh! According to Cooper, four congresspeople had voted against legislationbut they were still grabbing for the goodies! This, of course, resembles the formula we liberals have been pimping of late, in reports which are almost as dumb as the one Cooper and Velshi now proffered. (In the case of Maddow, our presentations have often been less honest.) At any rate, Cooper threw to Velshi, who may be the second biggest dope on the planet. Prepare to read carefully, trying to figure what these well-twinned boobs were charging. For now, well only take you through the part about Kucinich:
VELSHI (continuing directly): Anderson, we're here at the earmarks desk at CNN. This is what we're doing this week. We're looking at the more than 9,500 pieces of legislation that are included in other legislation; sometimessometimes unrelated legislation, and sometimes under the shroud of secrecy.
I want to show you four congressmen. All four congressmen voted against the health-care legislation. Weve taken three projects by Representative Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, Republican of Pennsylvaniathree projects worth $1.6 million, all designed to reduce health-care costs, extend clinic hours at a particular clinic where doctors work, and transfer records into electronic records, a goal that the administration has shared. There's one.
Number two, Dennis Kucinich you've heard of him, he ran for president, Democrat of Ohio. We took three projects of his. Three earmarks, worth $3.45 million. The stated goal, in his words: reduce health-care costs, serve more patients and reduce hospitalizations.
Let's take a third one. Representative Chris Lee, a Republican of New York...
Does anyone have the slightest idea what Velshi is talking about? According to Velshi, Kucinich voted against the House health care legislation (thats true). It would seem that he also sponsored three earmarks in some unnamed piece of legislation, earmarks whose stated goal was to reduce health-care costs, serve more patients and reduce hospitalizations. (We say this because Velshis report came from the earmarks desk.) Does anyone have the slightest idea what the one thing has to do with the otherwhy something would be wrong with that, unless youre simply opposed to earmarks altogether? We dont. Nor did we have the slightest idea after Velshi completed his baffling report and threw it back to Cooper:
VELSHI (continuing): Let's take a third one. Representative Chris Lee, a Republican of New York. We've got two projects worth $880,000. His stated goal for these earmarks: improve the quality of health care and more care for the under-served.
And finally, Representative Harry Teague of New Mexico, a Democrat. Three projects, three earmarks worth $2.19 millionwe just chose these randomlyto deal with electronic medical records, helping the mentality ill and purchasing, purchasing equipment.
All four of these men voted against health-care reform. Doesn't mean they're against health-care reform in general. They voted against the bill, but they took money in to help their own constituents. Anderson.
All four men voted against health-care reform, Velshi said. But, in some unrelated bill, they took money in to help their own constituents. Cooper, nicely scripted this evening, instantly knew what this bag of bones meant; he quickly turned to the newly-chic H-word. Groaning and writhing as we go, well take you through to the end:
COOPER (continuing directly): So I mean, critics will say, Look, this is a prime example of hypocrisy that so many Americans think is coming out of Washington.
VELSHI: Right. Now these people will argue that these are targeted plans. They're more affordable than the whole health-care plan, now about $1 trillion. That's their argument.
But the bottom line is, these are examples of things people will do under a bit of a shroud of secrecy. It doesn't get done in the wide-open light that is shone on them when they're doing something like the health-care bill. Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Ali, thanks.
Truly, that may have been the dumbest report weve ever seen on cable. What could the argument possibly be? By the time Velshi concluded, he had collapsed his bottom line to a murky complaint about sponsoring earmarks. But along the way, the dim-witted Cooper had managed to surf the new, and newly-chic, hypocrite wave. Kucinich voted against the House billbut he had sought out funds to serve patients.
Critics will call this hypocrisy, Cooper said. Does anyone know why they should?
Cooper and Velshi made little real sense as they advanced a newly-chic claim. Their report didnt really make any sense, unless youre opposed to all earmarks. But the gentlemen worked in a bipartisan manner, sliming two members of each major party. And to tell you the truth, their report wasnt much dumber than the work Maddow keeps churning out.
On the Maddow Show, our side has given up on explaining the actual merits of our own proposalssomething Maddow never much tried. Instead, we cluck and clown five nights a week about the other sides hypocrisy. In truth, our reports arent much smarter than Coopers. In the case of Our Own Rhodes Scholar, our reports are often less honest.
Tomorrowpart 3: Gruesome, childish, not real honest