Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bill McKibben: The Attack on Climate-Change Science Why It's the O.J. Moment of the Twenty-First Century

Bill McKibben: The Attack on Climate-Change Science Why It's the O.J. Moment of the Twenty-First Century: "

Crossposted with

Twenty-one years ago, in 1989, I wrote what many have called the first book for a general audience on global warming. One of the more interesting reviews came from the Wall Street Journal. It was a mixed and judicious appraisal. “The subject,” the reviewer said, “is important, the notion is arresting, and Mr. McKibben argues convincingly.” And that was not an outlier: around the same time, the first president Bush announced that he planned to “fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect.”

I doubt that’s what the Journal will say about my next book when it comes out in a few weeks, and I know that no GOP presidential contender would now dream of acknowledging that human beings are warming the planet. Sarah Palin is currently calling climate science “snake oil” and last week, the Utah legislature, in a move straight out of the King Canute playbook, passed a resolution condemning "a well organized and ongoing effort to manipulate global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome" on a nearly party-line vote.

And here’s what’s odd. In 1989, I could fit just about every scientific study on climate change on top of my desk. The science was still thin. If my reporting made me think it was nonetheless convincing, many scientists were not yet prepared to agree.

Now, you could fill the Superdome with climate-change research data. (You might not want to, though, since Hurricane Katrina demonstrated just how easy it was to rip holes in its roof.) Every major scientific body in the world has produced reports confirming the peril. All 15 of the warmest years on record have come in the two decades that have passed since 1989. In the meantime, the Earth’s major natural systems have all shown undeniable signs of rapid flux: melting Arctic and glacial ice, rapidly acidifying seawater, and so on.

Somehow, though, the onslaught against the science of climate change has never been stronger, and its effects, at least in the U.S., never more obvious: fewer Americans believe humans are warming the planet. At least partly as a result, Congress feels little need to consider global-warming legislation, no less pass it; and as a result of that failure, progress towards any kind of international agreement on climate change has essentially ground to a halt.

Climate-Change Denial as an O.J. Moment

The campaign against climate science has been enormously clever, and enormously effective. It’s worth trying to understand how they’ve done it. The best analogy, I think, is to the O.J. Simpson trial, an event that’s begun to recede into our collective memory. For those who were conscious in 1995, however, I imagine that just a few names will make it come back to life. Kato Kaelin, anyone? Lance Ito?

The Dream Team of lawyers assembled for Simpson’s defense had a problem: it was pretty clear their guy was guilty. Nicole Brown’s blood was all over his socks, and that was just the beginning. So Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, Alan Dershowitz, F. Lee Bailey, Robert Kardashian et al. decided to attack the process, arguing that it put Simpson’s guilt in doubt, and doubt, of course, was all they needed. Hence, those days of cross-examination about exactly how Dennis Fung had transported blood samples, or the fact that Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman had used racial slurs when talking to a screenwriter in 1986.

If anything, they were actually helped by the mountain of evidence. If a haystack gets big enough, the odds only increase that there will be a few needles hidden inside. Whatever they managed to find, they made the most of: in closing arguments, for instance, Cochran compared Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler and called him “a genocidal racist, a perjurer, America’s worst nightmare, and the personification of evil.” His only real audience was the jury, many of whom had good reason to dislike the Los Angeles Police Department, but the team managed to instill considerable doubt in lots of Americans tuning in on TV as well. That’s what happens when you spend week after week dwelling on the cracks in a case, no matter how small they may be.

Similarly, the immense pile of evidence now proving the science of global warming beyond any reasonable doubt is in some ways a great boon for those who would like, for a variety of reasons, to deny that the biggest problem we’ve ever faced is actually a problem at all. If you have a three-page report, it won’t be overwhelming and it’s unlikely to have many mistakes. Three thousand pages (the length of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)? That pretty much guarantees you’ll get something wrong.

Indeed, the IPCC managed to include, among other glitches, a spurious date for the day when Himalayan glaciers would disappear. It won’t happen by 2035, as the report indicated -- a fact that has now been spread so widely across the Internet that it’s more or less obliterated another, undeniable piece of evidence: virtually every glacier on the planet is, in fact, busily melting.

Similarly, if you managed to hack 3,000 emails from some scientist’s account, you might well find a few that showed them behaving badly, or at least talking about doing so. This is the so-called “Climate-gate” scandal from an English research center last fall. The English scientist Phil Jones has been placed on leave while his university decides if he should be punished for, among other things, not complying with Freedom of Information Act requests.

Call him the Mark Fuhrman of climate science; attack him often enough and maybe people will ignore the inconvenient mountain of evidence about climate change that the world’s scientific researchers have, in fact, compiled. Indeed, you can make almost exactly the same kind of fuss Johnnie Cochran made -- that’s what Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) did, insisting the emails proved “scientific fascism,” and the climate skeptic Christopher Monckton called his opponents “Hitler youth.” Such language filters down. I’m now used to a daily diet of angry email, often with subject lines like the one that arrived yesterday: “Nazi Moron Scumbag.”

If you’re smart, you can also take advantage of lucky breaks that cross your path. Say a record set of snowstorms hit Washington D.C. It won’t even matter that such a record is just the kind of thing scientists have been predicting, given the extra water vapor global warming is adding to the atmosphere. It’s enough that it’s super-snowy in what everyone swore was a warming world.

For a gifted political operative like, say, Marc Morano, who runs the Climate Depot website, the massive snowfalls this winter became the grist for a hundred posts poking fun at the very idea that anyone could still possibly believe in, you know, physics. Morano, who really is good, posted a link to a live webcam so readers could watch snow coming down; his former boss, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), had his grandchildren build an igloo on the Capitol grounds, with a sign that read: "Al Gore’s New Home." These are the things that stick in people’s heads. If the winter glove won’t fit, you must acquit.

Why We Don’t Want to Believe in Climate Change

The climate deniers come with a few built-in advantages. Thanks to Exxon Mobil and others with a vested interest in debunking climate-change research, their “think tanks” have plenty of money, none of which gets wasted doing actual research to disprove climate change. It’s also useful for a movement to have its own TV network, Fox, though even more crucial to the denial movement are a few rightwing British tabloids which validate each new “scandal” and put it into media play.

That these guys are geniuses at working the media was proved this February when even the New York Times ran a front page story, “Skeptics Find Fault With U.N. Climate Panel,” which recycled most of the accusations of the past few months. What made it such a glorious testament to their success was the chief source cited by the Times: one Christopher Monckton, or Lord Monckton as he prefers to be called since he is some kind of British viscount. He is also identified as a “former advisor to Margaret Thatcher,” and he did write a piece for the American Spectator during her term as prime minister offering his prescriptions for “the only way to stop AIDS”:

"...screen the entire population regularly and… quarantine all carriers of the disease for life. Every member of the population should be blood-tested every month... all those found to be infected with the virus, even if only as carriers, should be isolated compulsorily, immediately, and permanently.”

He speaks with equal gusto and good sense on matters climatic -- and now from above the fold in the paper of record.

Access to money and the media is not the only, or even the main reason, for the success of the climate deniers, though. They’re not actually spending all that much cash and they’ve got legions of eager volunteers doing much of the internet lobbying entirely for free. Their success can be credited significantly to the way they tap into the main currents of our politics of the moment with far more savvy and power than most environmentalists can muster. They’ve understood the popular rage at elites. They’ve grasped the widespread feelings of powerlessness in the U.S., and the widespread suspicion that we’re being ripped off by mysterious forces beyond our control.

Some of that is, of course, purely partisan. The columnist David Brooks, for instance, recently said: “On the one hand, I totally accept the scientific authorities who say that global warming is real and it is manmade. On the other hand, I feel a frisson of pleasure when I come across evidence that contradicts the models… [in part] because I relish any fact that might make Al Gore look silly.” But the passion with which people attack Gore more often seems focused on the charge that he’s making large sums of money from green investments, and that the whole idea is little more than a scam designed to enrich everyone involved. This may be wrong -- Gore has testified under oath that he donates his green profits to the cause -- and scientists are not getting rich researching climate change (constant blog comments to the contrary), but it resonates with lots of people. I get many emails a day on the same theme: “The game is up. We’re on to you.”

When I say it resonates with lots of people, I mean lots of people. O.J.’s lawyers had to convince a jury made up mostly of black women from central city L.A., five of whom reported that they or their families had had “negative experiences” with the police. For them, it was a reasonably easy sell. When it comes to global warming, we’re pretty much all easy sells because we live the life that produces the carbon dioxide that’s at the heart of the crisis, and because we like that life.

Very few people really want to change in any meaningful way, and given half a chance to think they don’t need to, they’ll take it. Especially when it sounds expensive, and especially when the economy stinks. Here’s David Harsanyi, a columnist for the Denver Post: “If they’re going to ask a nation -- a world -- to fundamentally alter its economy and ask citizens to alter their lifestyles, the believers’ credibility and evidence had better be unassailable.”

“Unassailable” sets the bar impossibly high when there is a dedicated corps of assailants out there hard at work. It is true that those of us who want to see some national and international effort to fight global warming need to keep making the case that the science is strong. That’s starting to happen. There are new websites and iPhone apps to provide clear and powerful answers to the skeptic trash-talking, and strangely enough, the denier effort may, in some ways, be making the case itself: if you go over the multi-volume IPCC report with a fine tooth comb and come up with three or four lousy citations, that’s pretty strong testimony to its essential accuracy.

Clearly, however, the antiseptic attempt to hide behind the magisterium of Science in an effort to avoid the rough-and-tumble of Politics is a mistake. It’s a mistake because science can be -- and, in fact, should be -- infinitely argued about. Science is, in fact, nothing but an ongoing argument, which is one reason why it sounds so disingenuous to most people when someone insists that the science is “settled.” That’s especially true of people who have been told at various times in their lives that some food is good for you, only to be told later that it might increase your likelihood of dying.

Why Data Isn’t Enough

I work at Middlebury College, a topflight liberal arts school, so I’m surrounded by people who argue constantly. It’s fun. One of the better skeptical takes on global warming that I know about is a weekly radio broadcast on our campus radio station run by a pair of undergraduates. They’re skeptics, but not cynics. Anyone who works seriously on the science soon realizes that we know more than enough to start taking action, but less than we someday will. There will always be controversy over exactly what we can now say with any certainty. That’s life on the cutting edge. I certainly don’t turn my back on the research—we’ve spent the last two years at building what Foreign Policy called “the largest ever coordinated global rally” around a previously obscure data point, the amount of atmospheric carbon that scientists say is safe, measured in parts per million.

But it’s a mistake to concentrate solely on the science for another reason. Science may be what we know about the world, but politics is how we feel about the world. And feelings count at least as much as knowledge. Especially when those feelings are valid. People are getting ripped off. They are powerless against large forces that are, at the moment, beyond their control. Anger is justified.

So let’s figure out how to talk about it. Let’s look at Exxon Mobil, which each of the last three years has made more money than any company in the history of money. Its business model involves using the atmosphere as an open sewer for the carbon dioxide that is the inevitable byproduct of the fossil fuel it sells. And yet we let it do this for free. It doesn't pay a red cent for potentially wrecking our world.

Right now, there’s a bill in the Congress -- cap-and-dividend, it’s called -- that would charge Exxon for that right, and send a check to everyone in the country every month. Yes, the company would pass on the charge at the pump, but 80% of Americans (all except the top-income energy hogs) would still make money off the deal. That represents good science, because it starts to send a signal that we should park that SUV, but it’s also good politics.

By the way, if you think there’s a scam underway, you’re right -- and to figure it out just track the money going in campaign contributions to the politicians doing the bidding of the energy companies. Inhofe, the igloo guy? Over a million dollars from energy and utility companies and executives in the last two election cycles. You think Al Gore is going to make money from green energy? Check out what you get for running an oil company.

Worried that someone is going to wreck your future? You’re right about that, too. Right now, China is gearing up to dominate the green energy market. They’re making the investments that mean future windmills and solar panels, even ones installed in this country, will be likely to arrive from factories in Chenzhou, not Chicago.

Coal companies have already eliminated most good mining jobs, simply by automating them in the search for ever higher profits. Now, they’re using their political power to make sure that miner’s kids won’t get to build wind turbines instead. Everyone should be mighty pissed -- just not at climate-change scientists.

But keep in mind as well that fear and rage aren’t the only feelings around. They’re powerful feelings, to be sure, but they’re not all we feel. And they are not us at our best.

There’s also love, a force that has often helped motivate large-scale change, and one that cynics in particular have little power to rouse. Love for poor people around the world, for instance. If you think it’s not real, you haven’t been to church recently, especially evangelical churches across the country. People who take the Gospel seriously also take seriously indeed the injunction to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless.

It’s becoming patently obvious that nothing challenges that goal quite like the rising seas and spreading deserts of climate change. That’s why religious environmentalism is one of the most effective emerging parts of the global warming movement; that’s why we were able to get thousands of churches ringing their bells 350 times last October to signify what scientists say is the safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere; that’s why Bartholomew, patriarch of the Orthodox church and leader of 400 million eastern Christians, said, “Global warming is a sin and 350 is an act of redemption.”

There’s also the deep love for creation, for the natural world. We were born to be in contact with the world around us and, though much of modernity is designed to insulate us from nature, it doesn’t really work. Any time the natural world breaks through -- a sunset, an hour in the garden -- we’re suddenly vulnerable to the realization that we care about things beyond ourselves. That’s why, for instance, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts are so important: get someone out in the woods at an impressionable age and you’ve accomplished something powerful. That’s why art and music need to be part of the story, right alongside bar graphs and pie charts. When we campaign about climate change at, we make sure to do it in the most beautiful places we know, the iconic spots that conjure up people’s connection to their history, their identity, their hope.

The great irony is that the climate skeptics have prospered by insisting that their opponents are radicals. In fact, those who work to prevent global warming are deeply conservative, insistent that we should leave the world in something like the shape we found it. We want our kids to know the world we knew. Here’s the definition of radical: doubling the carbon content of the atmosphere because you’re not completely convinced it will be a disaster. We want to remove every possible doubt before we convict in the courtroom, because an innocent man in a jail cell is a scandal, but outside of it we should act more conservatively.

In the long run, the climate deniers will lose; they’ll be a footnote to history. (Hey, even O.J. is finally in jail.) But they’ll lose because we’ll all lose, because by delaying action, they will have helped prevent us from taking the steps we need to take while there’s still time. If we’re going to make real change while it matters, it’s important to remember that their skepticism isn’t the root of the problem. It simply plays on our deep-seated resistance to change. That’s what gives the climate cynics ground to operate. That’s what we need to overcome, and at bottom that’s a battle as much about courage and hope as about data.

Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books, including the forthcoming Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (Times Books, April 2010). He’s a scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont. Catch the latest TomCast,’s audio interview with Bill McKibben on what to make of the climate-science scandals.

Copyright 2010 Bill McKibben


Mike Lux: The Philosophy of Me (First and Only)

Mike Lux: The Philosophy of Me (First and Only): "

Conservative philosophy has been on full-throated display in recent days. Between the Republican talking points at the Health Care Summit (which essentially boiled down to 'we don't care about the uninsured or less healthy people, especially if it might cost any rich people a penny in taxes'), the Senate floor where Republicans held hostage a bill to help unemployed people because they wanted a chance to let mega-millionaires off the hook on inheritance taxes, and the speeches at the CPAC conference, the last few days have allowed us all to see the modern conservative philosophy in all its undisguised glory.

My reaction to all this is that I owe Ayn Rand an apology. Given that she's been dead for a while, she's not likely to care, but even so Ayn: I'm sorry. I underestimated your influence. Where I wrote my book about the history of the American political debate, The Progressive Revolution: How The Best In America Came To Be, I neglected to mention Rand. I did this for a couple reasons. One was because her extreme form of libertarianism seemed to me only one modest strand compared to the intellectual and/or political giants of historical American conservatism such as John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, John C. Calhoun, the Social Darwinists, or even the modern day conservative movement builders like Buckley, Helms, Goldwater, or Reagan.

The other reason that I discounted her was, well -- how do I put this diplomatically? She was such a freak. Her twisted novels extolling selfishness and cruelty -- apparently based in part on her admiration of a kidnapper and murderer who dismembered his twelve-year-old victim and threw her head and torso at the girl's father as he sped away in a car -- are so twisted and nasty that I had trouble believing she really merited note in a discussion of influential conservatives.

But the victory of libertarian Ayn Rand disciple Ron Paul at the CPAC straw poll, the strong influences of her thinking on such CPAC heroes as Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck, and the increasingly strident me-first-and-only-me rhetoric of a Republican party utterly captured by Tea Partiers have made me realize just how big Rand's influence is. Rand's philosophical magnum opus was a book she entitled 'The Virtue of Selfishness.' In it she argues not only that selfishness is moral and good, but that altruism, charity, and even kindness are evils - a 'moral cannibalism' is what she called it. Like Glenn Beck, who glorified (to the laughter and cheers of the CPAC audience) the 'lion eating the weak,' people who are poor or weakened or in trouble for any reason are just parasites, nothing more.

Rand went even further, writing that people who place even their families and friends above their own work and desires are immoral. Rand and Beck's philosophy that selfishness is the ultimate virtue, and that any kindness or generosity or compassion toward others - even your own family and friends -- is so the opposite of what all the world's great religions and moral traditions teach us that you would think Bible toting conservatives would run from these beliefs. You'd think that the contradictions would be too great, and there are certainly rifts at times between the true libertarians and the Christian conservatives. But for political reasons conservatives try hard to keep a combination of these two philosophical strains in place at the same time, a sort of hybrid conservative that scours the Bible for quotes that can be somehow interpreted as pro-free market and against taxing the rich. My personal favorites in this genre include a Christian Coalition issues guide which argues against labor unions by quoting a verse about how slaves should obey their masters, and a guy named David Barton who argues that the Parable of the Talents (which some Bible readers might have thought was an analogy about spiritual matters) means that there should be no Capital Gains tax.

The great irony is that the length these conservatives go to in order to find and squeeze every last verse they can find to justify selfish libertarianism is overwhelmed by the literally hundreds and hundreds of verses about helping the poor, loving thy neighbor, showing mercy and kindness, lifting up the oppressed, etc., etc. The fact that the parable of the talents verse that Barton uses to justify not taxing the wealthy is immediately followed by the famous passage in which Jesus we could all be judged by how we treated 'the least of these' is completely ignored by him and all the Rand-Beck libertarian conservatives.

It seems so strange to have to actually point out to the modern Rand-Beck conservatives' movement that most Americans do not value selfishness as the ultimate good and giving to others as immoral. We don't believe that cruelty is ever justified, or that letting a dying man die alone on the side of the road because he is 'weak' and a 'parasite' is a good thing. We don't laugh when thinking about the 'lions eating the weak.' We don't attack the idea of community and altruism and giving each other a helping hand; we embrace it.

Ayn Rand/Glenn Beck -- the glorifiers of selfishness, cruelty, and the lions eating the weak -- have become the dominant players of modern day conservatism. Let's hope they never take control of our country.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

John R. Bohrer: Third Parties, Invisible Senators and Why Conservatism Is Still Dead

John R. Bohrer: Third Parties, Invisible Senators and Why Conservatism Is Still Dead: "

Whether it comes from Lincoln Chafee, Michael Bloomberg or (speculation about) Evan Bayh, all this 'What America Really Needs Is a Third Party' talk of late is hooey. Absolute hooey.

The polarization of Washington has not come about because moderates and centrists have no place to go. In fact, moderates are doing just as well as anyone else in today's politics.

Of course, the Tea Party puritans dominating the GOP would sooner die than allow a Chafee, a Bloomberg or a Bayh to carry their banner in even a statewide election. But while those three are not completely in sync with the Democratic base either, they would certainly find themselves welcome there. In fact, there are many office-holding, high-ranking Democrats to their right.

Don't believe the base would buy it? Just this morning, Markos Moulitsas tweeted that he would support Charlie Crist switching parties to run as a Democrat in Florida's Senate race. So just because the Republicans take no moderates doesn't mean the Democrats don't either.

Nor is the gridlock in Washington a two party-problem. America has a 59-vote Senate at the moment, meaning only 59 senators are interested in actually legislating. Tonight's jobs bill is an exception, but there are dozens of silent Republican filibusters taking place not because of the motions themselves, but because it shuts down the government. As Tom Coburn recently said, 'I love gridlock.'

And so, 41 members of the Senate are obstinately absent from their duties, but they might as well be considered invisible. They've been motionless for so long that people have forgotten they're still alive. A few weeks back, President Obama declared that if the Republicans were so determined to hold everything up, they better be prepared to start taking some of the responsibility for the government's failure to act.

Fat chance, Mr. President. The Republicans are no sooner to accept any consequential public blame for the gridlock than they are to reexamine why the Bush administration left the country in such peril.

Take the recent Conservative Political Action Conference -- CPAC -- where Benjamin Sarlin observed, 'If last year's CPAC was Bush's funeral, then this year's is Easter.' But the clamor was nothing more than sound bites; no sound analysis of the Bush administration's supposed success was offered.

And that lack of introspection is what leaves the Republican Party so imperiled. Sam Tanenhaus was right in February 2009, and he's right now: they have no real direction, and thus no pulse. Paul Krugman said their ideas are so dead, they're subsisting on a 'zombie doctrine... even though it should be dead, it keeps on coming.'

The only pulse Republican hopefuls want to take is that of their base. As Rachel Maddow excellently highlighted, these are men (all of CPAC's 2012-ers were men) who are mainlining the radicalization of the old and venerable Party of Lincoln. Why wouldn't Chafee and Bloomberg be looking for a new political home?

The Washington Independent's Dave Weigel had the best observation, though, with his post on the John Birch Society booth at CPAC. Let me repeat that: CPAC LET THE JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY SPONSOR THEIR PROGRAM. The organizers of CPAC, of all people, should know that Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley, Jr., conspired to steer the GOP away from the radical conspiracies put forward by the group, like the one arguing that President Eisenhower was a Communist agent.

What happens next? Only time will tell. The Tea Party wave has swelled and absorbed the GOP completely, leaving no room whatsoever for moderates. But it has yet to crest and crash. Given how low-key the obstruction in the Senate has been -- no Mr. Smith's standing hoarse on the floor -- their radicalization might go unnoticed. Or not.

After all, one of the celebrated centrists of the day, Evan Bayh, is pushing hard for the Senate to throw cold water on the invisible filibuster. Soon, the public might have a better handle on why even the smallest items are held up, where all the moderates have gone, and where the Republican Party hasn't.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Will the Republicans Post Their Health Plan… and When?

Will the Republicans Post Their Health Plan… and When?: "

The President believes strongly that Thursday’s bipartisan meeting on health insurance reform will be most productive if both sides come to the table with a unified plan to start discussion – and if the public has the opportunity to inspect those proposals up close before the meeting happens.

That’s why yesterday the White House posted online the President’s proposal for bridging the differences between the Senate- and House-passed health insurance reform bills. The proposal puts American families and small business owners in control of their own health care. It makes insurance more affordable by providing the largest middle-class tax cuts for health care in history, it ends discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, holds insurance companies accountable, and reduces our deficit by $100 billion over the next 10 years.

But you don’t have to take our word for it: the proposal is posted right here at for everyone to examine. You can read through the plan’s bipartisan ideas section by section, or you can select your health care status and find out what the proposal would mean for you. You can even submit a question for our policy staff to answer.

What you can’t do just yet is read about the Republicans’ consensus plan – because so far they haven’t announced what proposal they’ll be bringing to the table. To be sure, there are many Republicans who share the President’s conviction that we need to act on reform, and there are several pieces of Republican health care legislation out there. Previously we were told this was the House Republican bill. Is it still? We look forward to hearing whether this the proposal they'll bring. The Senate Republicans have yet to post any kind of plan, so we continue to await word from them. As of right now, the American people still don’t know which one Congressional Republicans support and which one they want to present to the public on Thursday.

President Obama has been clear that his proposal isn’t the final say on legislation, and that’s what Thursday’s meeting is all about. But after a year of historic national dialogue about reform, it’s time for both sides to be clear about what their plan is to lower costs, hold insurance companies accountable, make health insurance affordable for those without it, and reduce the deficit. A collection of piecemeal and sometimes conflicting ideas won’t do.

As we said today, we’ll be happy to post the Republican plan on our website once they indicate to us which one we should post. We hope they won’t pass up this opportunity to make their case to the American people.

Dan Pfeiffer is White House Communications Director


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Robert Reich: It's Time to Enact Health Care Reform With 51 Senate Votes

Robert Reich: It's Time to Enact Health Care Reform With 51 Senate Votes: "

This week the president is hosting a bipartisan gab-fest at the White House to try to tease out some Republican votes for health care reform. It's a total waste of time. If Obama thinks he's going to get a single Republican vote at this stage of the game, he's fooling himself (or the American people). Many months ago, you may recall, the White House and Democratic party leaders in the Senate threatened to pass health care with 51 votes -- using a process called 'reconciliation' that allows tax and spending bills to be enacted without filibuster -- unless Republicans came on board. It's time to pull the trigger.

Why haven't the President and Senate Democrats pulled the reconciliation trigger before now? I haven't spoken directly with the President or with Harry Reid but I've spent the last several weeks sounding out contacts on the Hill and in the White House to find an answer. Here are the theories. None of them justifies waiting any longer.

  1. Reconciliation is too extreme a measure to use on a piece of legislation so important. I hear this a lot but it's bunk. George W. Bush used reconciliation to enact his giant tax cut bill in 2003 (he garnered only 50 votes for it in the Senate, forcing Vice President Cheney to cast the deciding vote). Six years before that, Bill Clinton rounded up 51 votes to enact the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the largest expansion of taxpayer-funded health insurance coverage for children in the U.S. since Medicaid began in the 1960s. Through reconciliation, we also got Medicare Advantage. Also through reconciliation came the COBRA act, which gives Americans a bit of healthcare protection after they lose a job ('reconciliaton is the 'R' in the COBRA acronym.) These were all big, important pieces of legislation, and all were enacted by 51 votes in the Senate.

  2. Use of reconciliation would infuriate Senate Republicans. It may. So what? They haven't given Obama a single vote on any major issue since he first began wining and dining them at the White House. In fact, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and company have been doing everything in their power to undermine the President. They're using the same playbook Republicans used in the first two years of the Clinton administration, hoping to discredit the President and score large victories in the midterm elections by burying his biggest legislative initiative. Indeed, Obama could credibly argue that Senate Republicans have altered the rules of the Senate by demanding 60 votes on almost every initiative - a far more extensive use of the filibuster than at any time in modern history - so it's only right that he, the President, now resort to reconciliation.

  3. Obama needs Republican votes on military policy so he doesn't dare antagonize them on health care. I hear this from some quarters but I don't buy it. While it's true that Dems are skeptical of Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan and that Republicans are his major backers, it seems doubtful R's would withdraw their support if the President forced their hand on health care. Foreign policy is the one area where Republicans have offered a halfway consistent (and always bellicose) voice, and Dick Cheney et al would excoriate them if they failed to back a strong military presence in the Middle East. This is truer now than ever.

  4. Reid fears he can't even get 51 votes in the Senate now, after Scott Brown's win. Reid counts noses better than I do, but if Senate Democrats can't come up with even 51 votes for the health care reforms they enacted weeks ago they give new definition to the term 'spineless.' Besides, if this is the case, Obama ought to be banging Senate heads together. A president has huge bargaining leverage because he presides over an almost infinite list of future deals. Lyndon Johnson wasn't afraid to use his power to the fullest to get Medicare enacted. If Obama can't get 51 Senate votes out of 58 or 59 Dems and Independents, he definitely won't be able to get 51 Senate votes after November. Inevitably, the Senate will lose some Democrats. Now's his last opportunity.

  5. House and Senate Democrats are telling Obama they don't want to take another vote on health care or even enact it before November's midterms because they're afraid it will jeopardize their chances of being reelected and may threaten their control over the House and Senate. I hear this repeatedly but if it's true Republicans have done a far better job scaring Americans about health care reform than any pollster has been able to uncover. Most polls still show a majority of Americans still in favor of the basic tenets of reform - expanded coverage, regulations barring insurers from refusing coverage because of someone's preexisting conditions and preventing insurers from kicking someone off the rolls because they get sick, requirements that employers provide coverage or pay into a common pool, and so on. And now that many private insurers are hiking up premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, the public is even readier to embrace reform.

So what's been stopping Obama from using reconciliation? Even if some of the arguments held water before now, none does any longer.

My free advice to the president: If you want to get health care enacted you must use reconciliation and quickly. Host your bipartisan gab fest at the White House on Thursday. Tell Republicans you've been eagerly awaiting their ideas for over a year, but the American public can't wait any longer. Explain to them how our current economic mess is directly related to the health care mess -- we're paying 16 percent of our GDP for health care while health insurers are hiking rates and Americans are losing their health insurance every day. Then tell the House and Senate to get to work on putting their bills together (or tell the House Democrats to enact the Senate bill and then save their disagreements for reconciliation), and tell Harry Reid you want the Senate bill on a fast track of reconciliation.

Explain to the American people you understand their impatience. The Constitution does not require 60 votes in the Senate to pass legislation. A majority will do. That's called democracy.

Cross-posted from


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Gavin Newsom: An Open Challenge on Jobs to the Republican Leadership

Gavin Newsom: An Open Challenge on Jobs to the Republican Leadership: "

Repeating a lie over and over doesn't make it true. But if you listen to Republicans on the subject of job creation and the federal stimulus package, it's obvious they don't understand that or care.

Newly-elected Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown (R) recently declared that the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) - signed into law by President Obama a year ago this week - "didn't create one new job."

Taking dishonesty and hypocrisy a step further, House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) has shown the audacity to appear at press conferences celebrating federal stimulus-funded projects, despite vocal opposition to the federal stimulus package itself 'as completing failing to create jobs.'

It's time to stop misleading people and start telling the truth.

The truth in San Francisco is that thousands of people and their families (2,910 and counting to date) now have the dignity of work and a paycheck because of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. To Senator Brown and Representative Cantor and to all the other Republican leaders who knowingly mislead the American people, I invite you to come here to San Francisco to meet the families and individuals whose lives have changed because of the leadership of President Obama and the Democratic Congress in passing a much-needed federal stimulus package one year ago.

Top economists agree that the stimulus package has added between 1.6 to 1.8 million jobs to the U.S. economy at a time when we faced our greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. In California, our unemployment rate remains at 12%, but there's no question it would be far higher without federal stimulus funds.

In San Francisco, we have among the lowest unemployment rates in the State of California at 9.4%, but it is still unacceptably high. But through the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer, we are investing federal stimulus dollars to rebuild our city and regional infrastructure and put thousands of people back to work. Here are some of the facts about the federal stimulus package, San Francisco and jobs:

  • $32.2 million from a stimulus program for needy families with children that in San Francisco we call JobsNow! JobsNow! is a 100% wage subsidy program that allows private, nonprofit and public sector employers to hire unemployed San Franciscans. To date, San Francisco's Jobs Now! program has helped 1,854 residents get back to work - 70% in the private sector - and more are being hired every day.

  • $71.8 million in transit capital assistance grants benefitting the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency. At last report, the agency spent25.8 million and created more than 600 jobs.

  • $16.6 million in COPS funding for the San Francisco Police Department to hire and train 50 new police officers. And last year San Francisco had the lowest homicide rate since the 1960's.

  • $33.2 million in funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the San Francisco Housing Authority for building repairs, including weatherization, painting, health and safety and general site improvements. At last report, the Housing Authority spent3.2 million and created 192 jobs.

And the list goes on. It's one thing to have an honest disagreement about the best way to create jobs in a recession and whether government should play a role in our economic recovery. It's quite another thing to knowingly lie or mislead the American people to score political points for the next election. Thousands of San Franciscans - and millions of Americans - have the dignity of a job today as a direct result of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. Every time Republicans like Scott Brown and Eric Cantor deny this fact they show enormous disrespect to those millions of hardworking Americans. So Senator Brown, Congressman Cantor, come on out to San Francisco anytime. I'd be glad to personally introduce you to some of them.