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A tale of two Mitches


Steve Pearlstein's column today compares Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, "a principled but practical conservative who respects the intelligence of voters and would rather get something done than score political points," with Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, "the charmless and shameless hypocrite who offers up a steady stream of stale ideology and snarky talking points but almost never a constructive idea."

"We got the wrong Mitch," he concludes, and maybe he's right. But this is also the difference between governors and minority leaders: Governors have to make their state work. Minority leaders have to win seats in the next election. Telling this story in terms of good people and bad people doesn't give enough weight to the structural incentives that make people of all sorts do good and bad things. My interview yesterday with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had more on that.

Photo credit: Harry Hamburg/AP.

By Ezra Klein  |  December 11, 2009; 3:07 PM ET
Categories:  Congress  
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'Structural incentives' don't 'make" Congressmen do anything. McConnell and company are not prisoners of 'incentives.' They choose to pursue personal interest over the public good. The minority party has always wanted to win more seats in the next election, but the strategy of trying to win these seats through a 'scorched earth' policy of total obstruction and endless demagoguery is the creation of the post-1980, and particularly, the post-2000, Republican party. Hell, there was even a time when Republicans would vote for something that might nnt be popular with their constitutents because they thought it was the right thing to do (i.e., the civil rights bill.)

Posted by: exgovgirl | December 11, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Let me get this straight. I'm a terrible person because I think Obamacare is a Rube-Goldberg-on-steroids monstrosity that creates perverse incentives and unintended consequences on a massive scale. I'm in good company, though, since support for Obamacare is dropping below 40%.

Donne-moi a break.

Posted by: dturnerc | December 11, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Dturnerc, Ezra said nothing of the sort, but yes, you are a terrible person. Opposing reform is equivalent to fighting for the awful, inefficient, monstrosity of a system that is the status quo. It fails to take care of those who need it most even as it threatens to bankrupt families and government at all levels. If you oppose efforts to make the system less bad, then you are terrible person.

Posted by: daw3 | December 11, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

daw3: Respectfully, yes he did. I know the health care "system" is jacked up, often because of previous Democratic interventions which hinder the insurance market place. For example, you can't buy insurance out-of-state. The only Democratic solution so far is Obama/Pelosi/Reidcare whose drawbacks far exceed its benefits.

Posted by: dturnerc | December 11, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

dturnerc - I'm curious whether you actually know the details of the current senate health care bill, or you are just anti-reform outright. The main drawback I can see is that the bill doesn't go far enough in its reforms (i.e. it basically preserves the employer-based system we have now and the exchanges are limited to those outside of that).

Ezra has detailed several of the cost controlling measures on this blog which are vital, and furthermore both the House and Senate bills achieve near universal coverage, while saving money. The Republicans submitted a "plan" of their own which saved less money and didn't even make a dent in the projected number of uninsured.

So if you have any evidence to back up your claims, I'm all ears - but just blasting reform and then blaming it on state insurance restrictions isn't really helpful.

Posted by: kmani1 | December 11, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse


Thanks for your comment.

Yes, I'm very familiar with the current Senate bill and all the other versions of this "re-form" effort. That's why I adamantly oppose it.

The whole edifice is built of a foundation of budget gimmicks and rosy scenarios. For example, the CBO scores Sen. Reid's bill as causing a surplus over the first 10 yrs. only because the tax increases begin immediately and the spending only happens in the last five years of the 10 year period. To even get these numbers, the bill assumes the "doc fix" will never occur, something Sen. Reid, in fact, promises to fix. The Medicare savings include a lot of arbitrary numbers regarding inefficiencies, waste, and fraud, which both parties have had decades to address and haven't.

Spending over the 10 years beginning when the federal benefits kick in is in excess of $2.5 trillion. Since spending in the first 10 years is $900 billion (actually only 5 years), there's no way the spending won't far exceed the revenue brought in.

Then there's the flat out lies about abortion in the Senate bill. Despite the bill creating a special fund to pay for abortions with mandatory customer premiums, they tell us the Hyde Amendment won't let federal money be used to pay for abortions. Do they think we're totally stupid?

I could go on, but I've run out of time. I'd hope you're reading some experts on blogs that are lot more skeptical of this effort than Mr. Klein is, e.g., Commentary Contentions, National Review, Weekly Standard. Any proposal that hastens the day the federal government totally runs one-sixth of the economy seems fine by him.

Posted by: dturnerc | December 11, 2009 8:52 PM | Report abuse

Actually I'd disagree with the rosy scenario argument (among others) - it's true that there's a delay between the excise tax and federal subsidies kicking in, but that doesn't change the fact that there are very legitimate cost-controlling mechanisms in this bill. These policies are likely the reason for the improved savings over the 2nd decade.

Furthermore, the CBO isn't known for being generous on savings estimates either, so it's possible that they're underestimating the true value. See

for more details.

The independent Medicare commission and innovation center (to experiment with bundle payments, etc) are two big items in particular, in addition to the "cadillac" tax. Changes to Medicare are generally propagated to the private sector so this could mean big improvements once they are proven to work.

And honestly trying to claim the government is taking over one sixth of the economy in this bill is probably the weakest right wing talking point left - the entire private system is preserved (with 30 million new subsidized customers) and the ONE new government-run idea (the public option) has pretty much been removed. A single-payer system wasn't even considered as an option by the Finance Committee.

Posted by: kmani1 | December 11, 2009 9:51 PM | Report abuse


To address your last paragraph, the truth is not a right-wing talking point. All these bills contain onerous regulations. And, yes, the public option is a big, almost irreversible step toward a single-payer system. President Obama said so himself, in an unguarded moment. Rep. Anthony Weiner was quoted today in the NY Times saying the same thing about the Reid Medicare expansion plan: "Extending this successful [??] program...would perhaps get us on the path to a single-payer model." Excuse me, but I'll pass on becoming subject to another National Health Service.

Posted by: dturnerc | December 12, 2009 12:25 AM | Report abuse


We're probably going to have to agree to disagree here, but I appreciate the debate nonetheless.

I don't think banning insurance practices like checking for pre-existing conditions and dropping coverage once someone gets sick are "onerous" regulations. Health insurance companies are also one of the only industries not subject to antitrust laws (sadly a correction for this nonsense was taken out of the current senate bill). Every industrialized country that has a private health insurance market regulates them more heavily than the US and they fare much better than us as a result (Switzerland is a good example).

Having said that, this bill is an overall win for the private insurance industry - no government competitor and millions of new customers. I'd imagine once you sign up for Medicare, however, your opinion of those dreaded government-run programs might change - it's extremely popular AND more efficient than the private sector - this bill is likely to improve it even more.

Lastly, I couldn't agree more that the truth is not a right-wing talking point :-).

Posted by: kmani1 | December 12, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Is there any history or research of the effectiveness of senators who were former governors versus senators who were only legislators, especially in the past 50 years?

Posted by: arieswym | December 13, 2009 3:30 AM | Report abuse

I agree with daw3, Dturnerc, you are a terrible person.

Posted by: leoklein | December 13, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

As a Hoosier - don't overestimate Mitch Daniels.

Just sayin'


Posted by: Jonnan | December 14, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

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