Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

There's nothing new about deals

The Nelson deal may be galling, but the media has done the public a real disservice by pretending that it's rare. As reader HF explains, the Clear Air Act, to take just one example, was rife with this sort of thing:

I am totally mystified by criticisms like those of David Ignatius' Jan. 24 column, asserting that the process that produced the House and Senate HCR bills is an "abomination" that has gone "haywire" with "logrolling and special pleading," and produced a "monstrosity."

The assumption underlying such criticisms is that making concessions to get votes is a recent innovation that was cooked up this year by the proponents of the current HCR bills. In reality, though, such concessions have long been a routine feature of legislating.

For example, the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments generally prevented polluters from evading cleanup by dispersing their pollution through tall smokestacks. Section 123, 42 USC 7423.

However, to get that provision passed, the sponsors of the bill had to include a special exemption at the urging of Sen. Howard Baker.

As a federal court observed, "Section 123 itself in effect exempts the stacks at a single power plant in Tennessee, known as the Kingston Station".

This example is particularly instructive, because it refutes another notion floating around -- namely, that somehow the logrolling on HCR is occurring only because the Democrats are moving forward without any Republican votes. Even with Republicans (like Sen. Baker) involved in a legislative effort, concessions must still be made to smooth passage.

Nor is the above example unique. The Clean Water Act includes various special exemptions, such as for oil and gas production and agriculture (to name just two). See 33 USC 1362(6) and (14). Link.

Surely the relevant question is not whether there have been special concessions, but whether the finished product is an improvement over the status quo. Few would dispute that the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act -- even with their flaws -- represented huge steps forward. If the HCR legislation would likewise make substantial progress, then the concessions it contains aren't a reason to torpedo the whole effort. If there are unwise concessions that can be removed (for example, by a reconciliation amendment linked to passage of the House bill), by all means do so. But if it's not possible to remove every concession, that doesn't prove the bill isn't worth passing.


By Ezra Klein  |  January 25, 2010; 11:02 AM ET
 
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: How presidents polarize
Next: 'Stealth Democracy'

Comments

Ezra,

you're 100% right there's nothing new about deals but the problem is this president ran on the platform of ENDING the special deals. Its like the irony of Charlie Rangel being the head of the committee on taxes or the religious right whenever they have a Jim Bakker "cheating on your spouse" moment. You can't say you're going to do one thing and be the exact opposite and expect not to take a hit and whether he likes it or not this is Obama's baby and its jam packed full of special interests.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 25, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

"Surely the relevant question is ... whether the finished product is an improvement over the status quo."

Set the bar low enough, and it's pretty easy to get over.

Posted by: ostap666 | January 25, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

@visionbrkr
"this president ran on the platform of ENDING the special deals"

Did he really? I don't remember Obama saying he would end earmarks and pork and special interest spending during the campaign. I DO remember him saying he would take on big problems, bridge the partisan divide, and finally reform health care.

Even if he did promise to end "special deals" in legislation, thanks to GOP obstructionism, there was no way health care reform was going to get passed without them. So he had a choice: (1) scuttle the entire reform effort because of a few ugly deals cut by Harry Reid, or (2) get the reform bill through the legislative meat-grinder, whatever it takes. He chose (2), wisely in my view, because he thought that covering 40 million people and beginning bend the cost curve was worth a few unseemly deals.

What you are saying is that 40 million people need to suffer because you can't stomach a few special deals that have no real bearing on the overall legislation.

That attitude is childish, foolish, and will eventually lead this country to bankruptcy.

Posted by: Tractarian | January 25, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

People arguing against special deals for certain states are actually arguing against the senate itself. The senate exists so that each state would be represented as a "special interest" even if the majority of the country was more skeptical of the claims of that individual state.

Of course, the blame here lies in Bill Nelson who held the bill hostage. A more skillful backroom deal would have bought his vote in exchange for non-health-care-related favors or a better position with more authority in the senate.

Posted by: constans | January 25, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, here is another (timely) example of the American tradition of ugly deal-cutting to pass legislation:

(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Orleans_Saints)

the Saints were actually secretly born in a backroom deal brought about by Congressman Hale Boggs and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. The NFL needed congressional approval of the proposed AFL-NFL merger. Dixon and a local civic group had been seeking a NFL franchise for over 5 years, and had hosted record crowds to NFL exhibition games. To seal the merger, Rozelle arrived in New Orleans within a week, and announced on November 1, 1966 that the NFL officially had awarded the city of New Orleans an NFL franchise.

Posted by: Tractarian | January 25, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

*this president ran on the platform of ENDING the special deals. *

Actually, he ran on a platform of transparency and bipartisanship and consensus building. And the way you do that is offer people special deals to get them on your side. Where on earth did you get the idea that this wasn't part of the process? Even you, an insurance industry dependent, are always demanding that the nature of HCR fall into place in a way that advantages you, and in certain ways, to get "buy in" from the insurance companies, their needs were addressed. Yet you spend you time complaining that "unions" are special interests while your interests and demands are somehow universal, rather than reflecting a narrow interest of an interest group.

Posted by: constans | January 25, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

So you had to go back to 1977 in order to find a similar "backroom deal" done by republicans? And then it amounted to one concession for one smokestack? How does that compare to the current deals made by the dems in congress?

Posted by: Holla26 | January 25, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

"you're 100% right there's nothing new about deals but the problem is this president ran on the platform of ENDING the special deals. Its like the irony of Charlie Rangel being the head of the committee on taxes or the religious right whenever they have a Jim Bakker "cheating on your spouse" moment. You can't say you're going to do one thing and be the exact opposite and expect not to take a hit and whether he likes it or not this is Obama's baby and its jam packed full of special interests."

Don't all Presidents say broadly the same thing when they're running for President? (Or at least all over the more recent elections...I'm not sure if McKinley was saying this stuff). You know: Washington is corrupt, blah blah blah, I'll change it.

Why in the hell does anybody believe that stuff? I mean, there are certain measures a President would have control over (say, freeing up historical records), and others he'd have much less power over (say, deal-making in Congress).

Posted by: y2josh_us | January 25, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

tractarian and constans,

Here is an excerpt directly from Obama's speech in Ohio last week and I'm sure if I had the time or cared enough I could find similar statements in speeches during his campaign:

"Now, we've gotten pretty far down the road, but I have to admit, we've run into a bit of a buzz saw along the way. The long process of getting things done runs headlong into the special interests, their armies of lobbyists, and partisan politics aimed at exploiting fears instead of getting things done. And the longer it's taken, the uglier the process has looked."

How are unions not PART of just a different special interest? So if I'm a small business owner not in a union I'm just SOL?

Another snippet:

"Let me tell you - so long as I have the privilege of serving as your President, I'll never stop fighting for you. I'll take my lumps, too. I'll never stop fighting to bring jobs back to Elyria. I'll never stop fighting for an economy where hard work is rewarded, where responsibility is honored, where accountability is upheld, where we're creating the jobs of tomorrow."


I guess accountability only applies if you're in a union because the union deal smacks of not holding them accountable to their share of the costs. I guess if I'm not in a union he'll fight just a little bit less hard for me??

And constans,

I've never argued that insurers should have a "special deal" in fact I have a problem with the subsides and have said this before because they don't control costs although in the current system there's no way to avoid that and still make it affordable for everyone. If we're immune from the costs because the government is paying for it then its wrong too. I've advocated for cost control FOREVER on here and you know what cost control does to me? It lowers premium. You know what lower premium does to me, it costs me money. So please don't go on here all high and mighty that I'm benefiting from this when all along I've advocated to cut costs so I make less. But i'm fine with making less and working harder as long as it gets everyone covered and everyone is treated the same. As I've said before EVERYONE needs to take a "haircut" to get to universality. That includes unions, pharma, insurers, hospitals etc. EVERYONE.

Sure I know this is the process of legislating and it doesn't help that much of it has been out in the open but that was a promise Obama made. If he didn't want it that way he never should have promised to have everything on C-Span. You can't make campaign promises and not keep them and then not expect to be called out on the carpet for them.


Posted by: visionbrkr | January 25, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse


Between Jan. 20, 2009 and Jan. 22, 2010 — roughly Obama’s first year in office — the Washington Post ran 260 front page stories on "health care reform."

Yesterday, the Post buried the death of Obamacare in Congress on page 6


Posted by: jeffreid1 | January 25, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

The so-called BRIDGE TO NOWHERE is another example of backroom dealing. That whacko Palin even denied supporting it (though she did).

Every major law passed in the USA since 1776 involved backroom deals.

Posted by: Lomillialor | January 25, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

tractarian,

You misunderstand. I'm for the reform. I'd sign the Senate bill today and let that become law. I'm not for letting the millions go without healthcare although I would have preferred a lot more cost control that's in here if we're going to spend a trillion dollars or so. We could have held insurers, pharma, docs, hospitals feet to the fire much more than we are in any of this reform. All we're doing is making a bad situation worse but I'd sign it today so we got much closer to 100% coverage. I'm just as upset that the insurers MLR was dropped from 85% to 80% in small group and 75% on individuals as I am about the sweetheart deal unions are proposed to get. Pharma raised prices in leiu of reform and then are taking that back supposedly but then getting all these new patients. They made out like bandits with that and the biologics deal. I think when we look back on this in 5 years (if it does happen) we'll see that and complain as much about that deal as we're doing now about the Medicare Part D fiasco done by the Republicans.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 25, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

@visionbrkr

"I'm sure if I had the time or cared enough I could find similar statements in speeches during his campaign"

Don't bother, because I've read the excerpts you cited three times and I still don't see where Obama promises to end "special deals" to pass legislation (what you said in your original post).

He does seem to refer negatively to "special interests" but that was in the context of explaining how those interests are responsible for how ugly the process has been. Who can deny that?

"EVERYONE needs to take a "haircut" to get to universality."

I totally agree with that statement, but it is neither here nor there. Without these "special deals", health care reform dies in Congress and we're no closer to universality.

Posted by: Tractarian | January 25, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

@visionbrkr

"You misunderstand. I'm for the reform."

I gotcha, sorry if I misunderstood. Still, I disagree with your original statement, that Obama somehow promised to end special deals in legislation. Criticism on those grounds juts isn't warranted.

Posted by: Tractarian | January 25, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Forgot to mention that the Bush/Cheney energy policy was all about backroom deals too.

It was such a backroom deal that we still don't know which corporate execs exactly met with Bush/Cheney or what they agreed to.

Two things are for certain though:

One: because of that deal, Bush followed Ken Lay's (of Enron) lead and appointed Pat Lay to become the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and he then proceeded to sabotage FERC's efforts to put an end to the fake energy crisis of 2000/2001.

Two: Bush suspended the requirement for oil companies to pay the US royalty payments for resources obtained on public lands.

Posted by: Lomillialor | January 25, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Tractarian,

I guess you're (and many others on here) are seperating special interests getting their paws on the legislation and backroom deals required to pass legislation. I'm not and I probably should be. Another pet peeve of mine is the subtle tact taken by the beverage industry to warn us not to tax sugary drinks that help to raise costs (via the increase in obesity etc). I guess I just wish legislators from both sides had blinders on when it came to these deals and should do what is right (although what I think is right and what some others may think is right is necessarily different due to opinion).

I guess I'm just naive when it comes to what I want from my legislators.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 25, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

When I hear people reacting negatively to special deals, their thinking is that its evidence (not proof) that the bill isn't good enough on the policy merits to pass without them. That might be overly sensitive to the fact that lawmakers appease partial interests for political rather than policy reasons, but it's not hard to see where they're coming from.

Posted by: CatfishHunter | January 25, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

"You misunderstand. I'm for the reform."

I gotcha, sorry if I misunderstood. Still, I disagree with your original statement, that Obama somehow promised to end special deals in legislation. Criticism on those grounds juts isn't warranted.


What politicos fail to understand is that the whole change (TM) message that got Obama elected is coming unglued by the opacity and business-as-usual tactics of the current HCR debate. You can say all you want that Obama never campaigned on this or never said that. The campaign was deliberately vague enough that whatever your particular discontent, Obama was the answer.

But you have to admit running against teh Republican "culture of corruption," which includes double dealing, special deals for favored constituencies, earmarks and quid-pro-quo vote selling, was a pretty big part of the whole message thing.

Posted by: luko | January 25, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company