Sunday, October 25, 2009

Things that puzzle me on Sunday afternoon

I watched This Week with George Stephanopoulos and Inside Washington this morning and am puzzled about some things.

On IW Mark Shields thought that Harry Reid thought that he had between 52 and 55 votes for a robust (not just a trigger, no opt in or opt out) public option in the health reform bill. Therefore if Reid can convince all the Democrats (and Democrat-caucusing Independents) to vote for cloture, he can get a vote on a robust public option and the option is likely to pass. Over at This Week there seemed to be more concern that if Olympia Snowe could not be persuaded to vote for a bill with a robust public option the Senate Democratic leadership wouldn’t even try to pass it because they did not want to pass a bill with just Democrats; they needed cover for moderate Democrats and/or they wanted to look at least somewhat bipartisan.

First of all, if Reid has 52 to 55 votes he is already counting on losing a few moderate Democrats. As long as he can hold them for the cloture vote he doesn’t need them for the substantive vote. And I think any moderate Democrat of reasonable intelligence could make a cloture vote palatable to his or her constituents.

Second - and I imagine this is terribly naive of me - if the Democrats are convinced the public option is the right thing to do, will improve the insurance picture for most Americans, and is supported by a majority of Americans, then they should welcome the chance to pass it without Republican support. Assuming the bill does what they believe it will, the Democrats will be heroes for a generation and the Republicans will look like fools.

I’m also now totally confused about what a robust public option actually is. On This Week’s roundtable Cynthia Tucker said - if I understood her correctly - that only about 12 million people would be covered under the public option. I don’t know if she means that the public option would be written in such a way that only 12 million people would be eligible to enroll or if she simply anticipates that only about 12 million people would choose to enroll, the rest presumably having insurance through work or being happy with their private insurance.

In a side puzzlement, not directly related to the Sunday shows, I wonder what creation of the Exchange and/or a public option would do to insurance in States like New Jersey. New Jersey essentially requires insurance companies to sell insurance to individuals; limits their ability to exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions; and has an extensive list of treatments the companies must cover. One result is to drive up insurance premiums in New Jersey. I would think that if Federal health reform passes then New Jersey would figure individuals could now get coverage via either the Exchange or the public option and would be quite tempted to relax requirements for insurance companies to sell to individuals in order to bring down insurance rates in the State.

I was more amused than puzzled to hear Senator Claire McCaskill carefully point out that the health reform bills the Senate is considering will require members of Congress and their staffs to purchase their health insurance through the “Exchange”. Since as far as I can tell the Exchange simply re-creates the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan this is sort of like announcing the Senate is going to build a second Senate Dining Room and start eating all its meals there rather than in the existing Senate Dining Room. It would have been much simpler to just let anyone who wants to buy into the existing FEHP. Cheaper, too, if we’re going to create a whole other bureaucracy to run the Exchange.

I’m also puzzled about Afghanistan. I know that General McChrystal has requested more troops; I seem to be hearing 40,000 although I also heard that there might be alternate plans for fewer (10,000 or 20,000) and for more (80,000). Obama has not decided whether to approve McChrystal’s request. The discussions this morning seemed to be about whether Obama is “dithering” or taking the time he needs to consider all options and make a prudent decision. What I don’t understand is what impact this is having on the troops already there. Colby King was asked specifically if Obama’s delay put the troops in danger; he said it did not. I don’t really understand that. Are we simply holding ground we already have in Afghanistan and as long as we continue to do that more troops aren’t really necessary? Or are we engaged in attacks (which is what I thought) but the scope of those attacks is such that more troops wouldn’t help?

The other thing that concerns - as well as puzzles - me about Afghanistan is that I’m not sure what range of options Obama is considering. If the troops currently in Afghanistan truly are not in greater danger because of the delay and Obama is simply deciding whether to hold troop levels where they are or increase them by whatever amount then so be it. But if Obama is seriously considering pulling all US troops out of Afghanistan then he needs to decide now before any more Americans die in Afghanistan.

Finally I’m puzzled by much of the reaction to the Obama Administration’s War on Fox. (I love that phrase.) I can understand that liberals and those who call themselves “progressives” would enjoy watching Obama go after Fox. (Although I do still hope that those on the Left will be attached enough to freedom of the press to realize this is a very dangerous road to start down, set aside their enjoyment, and oppose this war.) What I don’t understand is how they can claim with a straight face that the Obama Administration is justified in this war because Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity are so incredibly partisan (some say loony). Do they honestly not know that Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow were included in an Obama White House chat earlier this week? If they don’t know, they’re seriously uninformed. If they do know Olbermann and Maddow had a coffee klatch with the President, they’re seriously incapable of logical thinking. If Obama and his supporters are truly bad-mouthing Fox News because it’s partisan and not because it’s critical of his policies then there is no way to justify Obama meeting with Olbermann and Maddow - who can most charitably be described as “rabidly liberal”. This is hypocrisy on such a massive scale it’s almost incomprehensible.

A very puzzling day. I can only hope the Yankees beat the Angels and restore order to the universe.


Grim said...

The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, which means that the danger to our troops is increasing. We're actually at very high levels of troops there versus where the mission has been in the past; but the enemy developed a safe haven in Pakistan in 2005, and has since been able to increase in power an effectiveness to the point that they are a serious danger.

Unfortunately, even with the increased troops GEN McChrystal wants, what you're doing is buying time and space. What you have to do with that time and space that has to be filled by the Afghan government, who will need a ton of help from us -- and not just the military, but especially the State/USAID part. There's no guarantee that they can manage that kind of commitment; we've heard a lot about how the Iraq and Afghan wars have stretched and strained the military, but the interagency has almost no deployable resources for these conflicts.

Elise said...

Thanks, Grim. I was afraid the "no danger to troops" was too good to be true. Maybe the lack of resources in State/USAID is part of why the idea of nation-building makes some people shudder.

And thanks for the link. Not only did it explain the Pakistan safe havens it also cleared up that whole "request that sat on Bush' desk" for 8 months thing I kept hearing today. I figured it must have been at the end of his term and he didn't want to commit the next President but no one bothered to point that out.

I was looking around for a good overview of how the war in Afghanistan has gone and took a quick look at the Wikipedia entry. It seems to provide a chronological overview so maybe I'll see if I can make any sense of it. I seem to be transfixed by the whole health care thing - although I do have a "fun with polls" post in the works. That's a lot of what I planned to do when I started this blog and I haven't in a while. Then Social Security.

And I have no idea why I'm so chatty all of a sudden.

Grim said...

Your blog. Chat if you want to. :)