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Sen. Lamar Alexander: 'I don’t see how you can pare back the current bill'

senator-rgb.jpgSen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) was a co-sponsor of the Wyden-Bennett bill. As recently as July, he said "we should support legislation like the Wyden-Bennett plan I’ve co-sponsored" rather than the health-care legislation before the Senate. So it caught my eye when he began attacking the very idea of comprehensive legislation. We spoke this afternoon about the Wyden-Bennett bill, whether the Senate can pass large pieces of legislation and why Democrats can't pare their bill back with Republican support. What follows is a transcript with light edits for clarity and grammar.

Let me read this quote back to you. You said, "It is arrogant to imagine that 100 senators are wise enough to reform comprehensively a health-care system that constitutes 17 percent of the world's largest economy and affects 300 million Americans of disparate backgrounds and circumstances." Yet you also co-sponsored the Wyden-Bennett health-care plan, which was a much more radical reform than anything the Senate is currently considering.

I made an entire speech on this subject. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Senate doesn’t do comprehensive well. Watching the immigration bill and cap-and-trade and health care all fall beneath their own weight, I’ve come to believe we need to go step by step. On health care, I think that means just doing cost.

Presumably, you still believe Wyden-Bennett is good legislation. It sounds to me like you’re saying that the Senate is simply too broken to take on bills of that magnitude, or even far less.

That’s partly right. I sponsored Wyden-Bennet. In fact, I sponsored it twice. What I was trying to do with Wyden-Bennett was encourage bipartisanship. I wanted a solution that broadened access but used the private market. The central idea in Wyden-Bennett was that you rearrange the tax benefits and instead of dumping more people into public programs, you bring them into private insurance. As a former governor who struggled with Medicaid, I liked the idea of dramatically cutting the number of people on Medicaid rather than putting more people into it. The bill was also simple: 168 pages long or so. I said I had reservations and wouldn’t vote for it in its present form, but I wanted to encourage it.

But yes, as I’ve watched the Senate, particularly over the past couple of years, I’ve watched immigration, which had some of the best people in both parties working as hard as they could, as it fell of its own weight. Cap-and-trade fell of its own weight. Health care looks to be falling under its own weight. So I thought back on my own experiences as governor where I made efforts which went step by step. And recently, I had legislation called "America Competes," and I asked for 10 steps that would help us keep our position in the world and they gave us 20 and we passed most of them. We’d be better off if we set a clear goal and took discrete steps towards that goal. We can accomplish more that way.

On the question of comprehensive versus incremental reform, the premise of Wyden-Bennett is that we need to solve this problem or it will overwhelm us. And I don’t know anyone who believes we can handle cost in a non-comprehensive fashion. I don’t disagree with the premise that the Senate is broken, but if you guys aren’t going to fix these problems, then who will?

That would be the conclusion that a lot of people will come to. The way professors and academicians and lawyers approach a problem is to try to rationalize large areas of society and come to a general conclusion. But most people don’t live and work that way. If your roof has a leak in it, you don’t have a comprehensive plan for a new house; you fix the leak.

In health care, Republicans have suggested six specific steps in legislative form that would reduce cost. You can have a small-business health plan without reforming the whole system. Another step would be allowing insurance to be purchased across state lines. Another would be some form of legislation on medical malpractice. You might think of pilot programs.

But with all due respect, those solutions, and I’ve looked at them, are miniscule in comparison to the size of the problem. The thing about fixing the hole in your roof is that you actually have to fix it. These would fix a small fraction of the whole and the water would still get in and eventually your house will be ruined. In the House, your colleague Paul Ryan has come out with a plan that does deal with the cost problem, but it’s enormous, and it’s radical. Wyden-Bennett also dealt with cost, but it too was big and radical. Both of these were more radical than what the Senate is proposing.

You make a good argument, but let’s come back to another example. In 2005, at the end of a budget hearing, I was so discouraged looking at the federal budget and thinking that all we’d be paying for were war and health care and Social Security and debt and we wouldn’t be investing in ourselves, that I walked down to the National Academies and asked if you can tell me the 10 things we could do to ensure America retains our competitiveness. And we did two-thirds of them. That succeeded. Republicans have four steps on clean energy. It’s not cap-and-trade, but it’s four steps.

That seems like a good example of the problem, though. The science says that we have greenhouse gases that are sitting in the atmosphere and warming the climate. That warming is having certain effects on the landscape that are accelerating the process. If you don’t bring emissions beneath a certain level, the process accelerates out of control, as the ice caps are melted and carbon sinks open up and all the rest of it. At some point, you either solve the problem or you don’t. How does your theory deal with something like global warming? It’s like the roof. If you don’t patch the hole, the house still gets ruined.

Well, the four steps that we suggest actually help us reach the Kyoto goals for the year 2030. Step 1 was double nuclear power production. Two is offshore exploration of natural gas. Three is make half our cars and trucks electric in 20 years. And finally doubling energy R&D spending to make solar costs competitive. By our computation, we’d actually get where we want to go.

I’ve not seen your computation. But that gets to the conceptual core of my question: You’re saying your plan is doing enough. But you’re also saying there are limits on how much the Senate can do. It’s certainly possible to believe that there’s a difference between what we need done and what we’re able to do.

It could be. But I think it’s more the nature of the country. If we were Belgium or Denmark, we could do comprehensive things all day long. But we’re 300 million people. Anything comprehensive doesn’t seem to work very well. Over 30 years in public life I’ve had more success when I’ve tackled problems step by step. I was glad to endorse Wyden-Bennett as a starting point, but I said I wouldn’t vote on it.

But you liked at least part of it. The Senate health-care bill seems like Wyden-Bennett on the margins. If you were willing to build on Wyden-Bennett, which is a comprehensive solution, why not theSenate plan? Are they so different in theory?

I think they are. One thing is you can’t be sure what’s in the Senate bill because it's 2,100 pages long. You just know there are surprises in it. Two, Wyden-Bennett largely eliminates Medicaid. It gives people money to go into the private sector instead. The Senate plan adds 18 million people to Medicaid. The Medicare cuts are a big difference.

Is there anything in the Senate bill you’d keep? If Democrats came to you and said, fine, let’s pare this back, what would you tell them?

I don’t see how you can pare back the current bill. First, you have to take out the Medicare funding. Second, you have to take out the Medicaid mandates, and that loses more funding. Then you need to put the doc fix in. I think it’s biting off more than you can chew. I think this whole thing is conceptual and philosophical. I think thinking a small group of people are smart enough to impose, by law, a top-to-bottom change, is too much.

But you thought Wyden-Bennett was a good starting point. I understand you wanted to change it. But that was much more radical, including getting rid of Medicaid. So how do you square that with your belief that small groups of legislators shouldn’t attempt to reform this sector?

The Wyden-Bennett bill was simpler, with fewer surprises, and more straightforward. I liked it because it was bipartisan. I wouldn’t have voted for it. But over the past two years, I’ve looked at all these issues and come to the conclusion that the policy skeptics are right. We don’t do comprehensive well in the Senate. It’s not because we don’t do our job well. It’s because we’re such a complicated country.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 9, 2010; 3:42 PM ET
Categories:  Interviews  
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Comments

Wait, he cosponsored a bill he wouldn't have voted for? I don't even know what to say. That's a stunning admission.

Posted by: jmalbin | February 9, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Interview in Brief:

Ezra: So, you're in the Senate. What about healthcare?

Lamar Alexander: We don't do big things well, because they're hard. So we like to do things that are easy. If it's hard, we won't do it.

Ezra: So, how do you deal with these big problems that face the country?

Lamar Alexander: By offering homespun metaphors and talking out of both sides of my mouth until the interview is over.

Ezra: Now, About Wyden-Bennet . . .

Lamar Alexander: I was for it before I was against it.

That's my senator!

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 9, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

"But I think it’s more the nature of the country. If we were Belgium or Denmark, we could do comprehensive things all day long. But we’re 300 million people. Anything comprehensive doesn’t seem to work very well."

Didn't Bill O'Reilly have a similarly stupid thing to say involving coping with large populations not long ago?

oh yeah, http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2009/07/bill_oreilly_on_life_expectanc.php

Posted by: bdballard | February 9, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Those are some of the most un-American comments I've heard from a major public official. Apparently, he believes that Americans can't do big things anymore - only small countries like Belgium can do big things, I guess.

Alexander is basically admitting that our problems are too big and the Senate is not up to the job. We can tinker around the edges of things, but that's it.

Pathetic.

Posted by: mcgutierrez31 | February 9, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

That is some weak tea. If an elected representative in the most complicated economy and most powerful nation in the world thinks that the government can't do "comprehensive" well, what good is he? It isn't like we need people to solve the small, easy parts of the big problems, we need people to dig in and solve the hard parts of the big problems. That is probably the most flabbergasting interview you have published.

Posted by: StokeyWan | February 9, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Jesus. This is so sad I almost feel sorry for this idiot.

"I endorsed this bill..twice....I liked this bill...this bill was simple and straightforward........I could not vote for this bill".

That says it all right there. With Senators like these we are truly screwed as a country.

Posted by: truth5 | February 9, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

As long as Congress is mis-reading the public sentiment on healthcare, they will get nothing done. Pelosi has poisoned the well; and Obama's inner circle is so far out of touch, it is unbeleiveable! Where is the common sense?

visit: http://eclecticramblings.wordpress.com

Posted by: my4653 | February 9, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

What StokeyWan said.

Posted by: ctnickel | February 9, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Well done, Ezra. That was a great interview. I could almost feel the frustration rising as he kept saying that he like the legislation but couldn't vote for it. Oh, and representative democracies don't work, evidently. We'd be much more able to solve the big problems if we had a Athenian democracy where everyone participated and voted on everything.

As said above, he basically said that the Senate can't solve big problems because they're hard. That's pretty disgraceful.

Posted by: MosBen | February 9, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

huh?

Posted by: ggandol | February 9, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Remind me not to call this guy if my house is on fire.

Posted by: Chris48 | February 9, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Alexander has, I think, a knee-jerk reaction against anything involving government intervention. He opposes ending subsidies for banks to make student loans (which is essentially a giveaway to the banks) and substituting direct government loans instead, claiming that it's just another government "takeover." http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/11/education/11educ.html But if the government really can do this job more cheaply, what is there to object to? If there were a market solution to student loans for low-income families, wouldn't the market already have dealt with it? Is Alexander for wasting taxpayer money out of some ideological opposition to "government"?

In the interview, Alexander keeps coming back to the claim that "Anything comprehensive doesn't seem to work very well." But where is the evidence to back this up? When was the last time we tried something "comprehensive"? Social Security and Medicare are pretty "comprehensive" for their populations, and they've worked pretty well so far. We have "comprehensive" anti-discrimination laws. We have "comprehensive" safety rules. Perhaps these systems are not ideal, and I don't have an objection to skepticism over government operations, but we do have some comprehensive systems that seem to work in general.

Regarding health care, Alexander seems to think it's a leak in the roof. But this roof is leaking because the house is structurally unsound and needs "comprehensive" renovation. But he just wants to fix the leak. (By the way, I never understood why one would use a metaphor when one could talk about the issue directly. The only thing the metaphor gets you is a loss of accuracy.)

Posted by: dasimon | February 9, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I agree on both counts- Amazing interview, and it must have been incredibly frustrating.

Posted by: Quant | February 9, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

they really shouldn't let him speak in public again. I wonder how the coverage for dementia is on the FEHBP.

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 9, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

If seasoned legislators think the Senate won't work, I'm pretty sure it won't.

Posted by: davemaz | February 9, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Why don't we ever see that humility about fixing complicated problems when we talk about invading countries?

Posted by: windshouter | February 9, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Alexander sounds somewhat reasonable at times during the interview. But he is basically willing to avoid addressing problems rather than trying to really fix the problems. Doing things "step-by-step" delays fixing the problem, it allows the problems to fester and multiply until the final steps of the "fix" are complete. He just does not appear to grasp that.

Clearly he would rather keep the status quo than address the myriad problems faced by American society.

Posted by: OHIOCITIZEN | February 9, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

I grew up in the 1980s where, just a few years before I was born, the United States had landed on the moon, defeated fascism, and protected western europe from the Soviet menace. It seemed like the mindset was at the time, well within the memory of people just a little bit older than I was, "when America really gets its act together, it can do anything." I'm really not happy with the evolving narrative that sounds like it's taking hold -- particularly among Republicans -- of, "America is just too broken to get anything right, so me might as well give up and muddle through." The anxieties of the 1980s, revolving around America's declining manufacturing and encroaching economic threat from the Japanese were considered temporary states of affairs. What I'm hearing now from many of our leaders is that America is *structurally* unable to function. That's not really a good thing to hear.

My guess is that the long-term solution is for incumbents pushing this line to get outwitted by challengers who run on a platform of, "Americans can do whatever we set our mind to," but that's the optimistic side of me thinking, and that's not really dominant right now.

On the other hand, windshouter makes a good point: we think our own problems are too complicated to bother attempting to solve, but we think we'd be just great at solving everyone else's problems.

Posted by: constans | February 9, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

"One thing is you can’t be sure what’s in the Senate bill because it's 2,100 pages long. You just know there are surprises in it. "

And reading is hard.

I agree that the bill length points to likely flaws (quality of the bill being inversely proportional to the length of the bill) but I still think that's funny, coming from a senator. An admission that they don't (fully) read the legislation they vote on, support, or oppose.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 9, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Basically Alexander would rather have the country stuck in neutral rather than moving forward. That is preferable to most Republicans as the more conservative and reactionary Republicans want to move the country in reverse, back to the 1950s in the case of conservatives, or to the 1920s in the case of the far-right reactionaries.

Posted by: OHIOCITIZEN | February 9, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Boy, he sure is obsessed with how "long" a bill is. (That's why I am keeping this comment very short: maybe he'll read it.)

Posted by: JJenkins2 | February 9, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

This interview is a good example of the folly of the notion of raising the retirement age. Alexander will be 70 in a few months; I believe a recent study showed that at least 1/4 of 70 year olds are showing signs of dementia. Even if they are nominally functional, they loose the ability to absorb new information and deal with complex problems, and start to fall back on cliches and rote responses to virtually every problem. Unfortunately, the syndrome seems to be especially widespread in the Senate.

Posted by: exgovgirl | February 9, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

EZRA! EZRA! EZRA!

You should have asked him about how eliminating the filibuster would effect PASSING any reform.

Posted by: TigerCats | February 9, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

You shoulda asked him if he would have voted to filibuster Wyden-Bennett in addition to voting against the bill.

Posted by: TigerCats | February 9, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

It is worth bearing in mind that the Senate does not need to do anything large or comprehensive at this point.

All they have to do now is to gather a simple majority to pass a relatively simple budget reconciliation package in exchange for House passage of the Senate bill.

It IS hard to do comprehensive anything in the Senate, especially when you need 60 votes against the robotic Republican voting block, but we are past all of that now with HCR.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 9, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

@OHIOCITIZEN: "That is preferable to most Republicans as the more conservative and reactionary Republicans want to move the country in reverse, back to the 1950s in the case of conservatives, or to the 1920s in the case of the far-right reactionaries."

In what manner to conservative and "reactionary" Republicans want to move the country back to the 1950s? Or the 1920s? What specifically do you think I--as a conservative Republican--likes about the 1950s or the 1920s that we want to return to it?

I don't know about you, but I like the Internet. I like Netflix, Roku, vaccines for almost everything, microwave dinners, ubiquitous air conditioning, and blogs.

I like The Simpsons. I like Southpark. I like Lost, I like Fringe. No chance for anything like that in the 50s, much less the 20s. I enjoyed The Hangover and World's Greatest Dad. Neither of which are movies that would have been made in the 50s, I don't think. There is a nostalgic place in my heart for Leave it To Beaver and Andy Griffith, and I can watch and enjoy those shows without feeling compelled to ridicule them as false and phony, or populated with backwoods rubes. But there was no Girls Gone Wild back in the 50s, and it's that sort of nobel entrepreneurship that I, as a conservative Republican, embrace.

I could go on with examples of modernity that I find indispensable, and given the huge number of conservatives in new media--and some even use the Internets!--I don't think I'm alone. So rather than just making the bald assertion conservatives what to roll back the clock on the country until we're living in some black & white Bobby Sherman paradise, what is it exactly about modern life that you believe conservatives reject?

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 9, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

I am a partial defender of what Senator Alexander has to say. Supporters of the bill have to admit that there are serious unintended consequences to a 2100 page bill of this magnitude. Alexander was wary of those concerns, as am I.

I too believe in difficult situations, a step by step approach is generally better.

Finally, I also am very skeptical of a central planners making decisions concerning how hundreds of millions of people get medical care.

Where the good Senator and I part ways is the extent that the status quo is broken. He appears to think that we can sustain the current system further into the future. I think change is necessary asap. That is why the Senate bill, or a variation comprehensive reform should be seriously considered by this Senator and many others on the Republican side of the isle.

Posted by: lancediverson | February 9, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

@ exgovgirl:

"Even if they are nominally functional, they loose the ability to absorb new information and deal with complex problems, and start to fall back on cliches and rote responses to virtually every problem" ....

That's not the aging process, it's "RCS" (Republican Congressman Syndrome).

Posted by: onewing1 | February 9, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Abolish the Senate. Now.

Posted by: daw3 | February 9, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Funny. My experience with holes in roofs is that it's usually indicative that you need a new roof. Sure, some of the time you just got unlucky with a particular shingle or two, but usually the reason that you get a hole is that the roof is old and you need to put a new one on top of it -- and if that's already been done too often, you need to tear everything off and start over.

Posted by: BridgeportJoe | February 9, 2010 5:28 PM | Report abuse

@ exgovgirl:

Oops, make that RSS (Republican Senator Syndrome).

Posted by: onewing1 | February 9, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

@lancediverson said:

"Finally, I also am very skeptical of a central planners making decisions concerning how hundreds of millions of people get medical care."

So you're against Medicare?

You're comment reminds me of various seniors who scream, "KEEEP GOVERNMENT OUT OF MEDICARE!"

Posted by: TigerCats | February 9, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Kevin: conservatives don't all think in lock-step. In particular there is a fault line between social conservatives and libertarians. But here are a few recent gems:

Tom Tancredo wants to being back literacy tests for non-whites and 1950s immigration laws limiting non-whites.

Paul Ryan and friends want to repeal Medicare, going back to the 1950s and Social Security, going back to the 1920s.

Many GOPers would like to repeal anti-discrimination laws, going back to the 1950s.

Many would like to put gays back in the closet, back to the '60s if not the '50s.

Many would like women to stop working outside the home. Back to the '50s and '60s again. And they'd like Roe v. Wade overturned. Back to the '60s.

Personally I'd like us to go back to workers and CEOs getting the relative share of the pie they got in the '50s and '60s. But I don't think any of these things are likely.

Posted by: Mimikatz | February 9, 2010 5:54 PM | Report abuse

One assumes that Lamar Alexander can't even tie his own shoe-laces - much too complicated, and anyway, someone else can surely be found to do it for him.

Posted by: palarran | February 9, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Gosh, that's so sad. But at least you got him to admit that the Senate is broken. Maybe someone in the print side of the Post might think it was newsworthy that one of the Republican obstructionists think the Senate is broken...

Other than that, I'm with Kevin Willis and BridgeportJoe. It is scary when a senator (or his designated staff person) cannot find the time over 3 months to read 2100 double/triple-spaced pages with really wide margins to determine "what is in the bill". At 100 pages a day that would consume a FULL MONTH of working days.

What do we pay these guys for again?

Regarding roof leaks, yeah, you patch them, but you immediately start thinking about replacing the roof or getting a good, permanent repair.

The Ryan bill doesn't tackle 'the cost issue' -- it just shunts all the costs to the consumer. Insurance becomes unaffordable. People die. "So what, I've got mine", says the (rich cohort of the ) GOP. The costs paid by the Government are contained (eventually); the costs paid by society or by "the governed" or "the citizens" go through the roof both in dollar terms and in the non-dollar costs (e.g. early death, increased morbidity, poorer health, etc.)

Posted by: grooft | February 9, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

Reading and re-reading the interview, I'm not sure what Alexander means when he says "comprehensive."

He says: "If we were Belgium or Denmark, we could do comprehensive things all day long. But we’re 300 million people. Anything comprehensive doesn’t seem to work very well. Over 30 years in public life I’ve had more success when I’ve tackled problems step by step."

I don't know if he's saying:

1. the U.S. is so large and the population so diverse that comprehensive solutions don't work very well (which I think is wrong),

2. that major changes are difficult to implement and you're likelier to get things right if you make the changes incrementally (which is right in some circumstances), or

3. that major changes are hard to get through a 60-seat majority in the Senate (which the Republicans are themselves imposing).

Regardless, it's all cover for: We want you to get a big nothing on health care so we can take over the Senate in 2 or 4 years.

Posted by: MisterSavannah | February 9, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

I'm tired of complaints of how long the bill is. Alexander wants a short, simple bill? OK, how's this one: "From now on, all American citizens shall be eligible for Medicare." See how many Republican votes can be rounded up for that one.

Lamar, are you in?

Posted by: dasimon | February 9, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

"If we were Belgium or Denmark, we could do comprehensive things all day long."

Tennessee's population is slightly larger than that of Denmark.

Why didn't Lame-Ass Alexander do comprehensive things all day long when he was governor of Tennessee?

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | February 9, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

The good Senator should be embarrassed to be seen in public after this interview.

"You make a good argument, but let’s come back to another example. In 2005..."

I almost fell out of my chair.

Well done sir.

Posted by: cbaratta | February 9, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Brillian interview, Ezra! Probing and detailed questions that expose the illogic and small mindedness of people like Lamar Alexander.

He ties himself in knots to explain why "comprehensive" reform can't be done, and why he sponsored a comprehensive bill that would radically restructure 17% of our economy but won't vote for it himself! Maybe he could get Sarah Palin to come in and help him with his logic.

Can we get more Republicans on the record for detailed interviews like this? And while you're at it, how about interviews with hypocritical turncoats like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson?

Posted by: sambam | February 9, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Really outstanding work. Thank you so much!

Posted by: SamPenrose | February 9, 2010 10:35 PM | Report abuse

Why are all of you shocked? Does any of this come as a surprise?

Republicans, and a large amount of conservatives, believe that government is inefficient and ineffective. Naturally, a Republican Senator is going to believe that anything the government does will not impact the problems addressing the country. Free markets will work themselves out, so government's role should be minimized to allow the free market to deal with the situation.

It's perfectly logical!

That is, if the underlying assumptions are: truly free markets are self-regulating, efficient, effective, and perfect, and government is ineffective, inefficient, and malicious.

So what's with the surprise? He's a pessimist. He hates his job, and the very institution he works for. He's a government-hating government worker. He's a PETA member working at a slaughterhouse, hoping that if he taints enough packets of beef, the slaughterhouse will be shut down.

Posted by: flightofheaven | February 9, 2010 11:34 PM | Report abuse

I work in policy and I have read my share of legislative language. Any member of Congress pointing to the number of pages as a reason to oppose a bill is flat out lying. Most bills have a lot of pages of strikeout text, and a lot of the remaining text is repetitious boilerplate. If the bill is overly complex, say it's overly complex. The number of pages has little to do with the complexity of the legislation.

Posted by: danimal1 | February 9, 2010 11:46 PM | Report abuse

I think what Lamar meant to say was, "I really like my job ('cause of the power and prestige it provides) and (because of the irrational fear my colleagues and I have stirred up) I'm worried I won't get to keep my job if I assist in passing this bill."

Posted by: CaptainNoble | February 9, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

So, basically, we're screwed. We have problems that demand comprehensive solutions, and the Republicans pledge to oppose any attempts to provide them, /on the grounds that they are comprehensive/.

Essentially, they're objecting, on principle, to the idea of actually attempting to solve problems.

This is a staggeringly large challenge to our Democracy.

Posted by: adamiani | February 10, 2010 1:48 AM | Report abuse

@MimiKatz:

Re: Conservatives supposedly wanting to "turn back the clock"

"Tom Tancredo wants to being back literacy tests for non-whites and 1950s immigration laws limiting non-whites."

Tom Tancredo (not my favorite guy) as, I understand, wants a civics literacy test for all voters, not just "non-whites". Why anyone should feel compelled to add that to further discredit a bad, and doomed, idea I do not know, but it's not accurate. But let's grant that the idea of civics test for voting and citizenship votes is "rolling back the clock". Which it's not, especially in regards to legal immigrants, most of whom would do much better on a U.S. History exam than 8th generation American citizens of any ethnicity. But let's say that it is. Tom Tancredo is *one guy*. Also, there is a difference between a literacy test and a civics literacy test, although a civics literacy test does imply literacy.

Which begs another question--if it's a literacy test, are you under the mistaken impression that he said (which he did not) that it should only apply to non-whites, or are you assuming--as it sounds--that white people would be inherently better at literacy and/or civics literacy test than non-whites? That any sort of civics literacy test would be discriminatory against non-whites because you don't believe that non-whites could do as well as, or better than, white people? If that's the assumption, I think someone's clock is already rolled back, and it's not Tom Tancredo.

I think the idea of a "civics literacy" test for voting is crazy, BTW. Especially given that as other critics have pointed out, elite academic liberals and avowed Marxist and Communists would probably do better than any Sarah Palin-loving common sense Americans on any kind of civics literacy test.

And, seriously. Find any where, in any place, where Tom Tancredo suggested that his civics literacy test applied only to non-whites. Unless *you* are assuming that white skin makes certain people inherently smarter about civics, I have difficulty understanding where that assertion comes from.

Okay. Moving on.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 10, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

@MimiKatz continued:

"Paul Ryan and friends want to repeal Medicare, going back to the 1950s and Social Security, going back to the 1920s."

The government was offering tax-payer funded Medical vouchers for healthcare and retirement plans back in the 1950s and the 1920s? If they weren't, then Paul Ryan's ideas aren't about "rolling back the clock". They are arguably about dealing with the future unsustainability of Social Security and Medicare. BTW, I'm a rock-ribbed conservative, and I think Paul Ryan's ideas are, at best, completely unworkable.

"Many GOPers would like to repeal anti-discrimination laws, going back to the 1950s."

Really? Are you sure about that? Are or you referring to positive discrimination laws, like Affirmative Action, that discriminate on the behalf of minorities in order to make up for past injustices or hidden racism? Still, attempting to repeal affirmative discrimination laws (under the theory that a legally color blind society is better than well-intentioned discrimination) is, technically, rolling back the clock.

"Many would like to put gays back in the closet, back to the '60s if not the '50s."

Perhaps. That may be broadly prevalent, especially on the religious right. That's a reasonable example.

"Many would like women to stop working outside the home."

A demographic slightly more common than unicorn wranglers, in my experience. My experience is that I'd love my wife to work outside the home, or pursue any career that she wants, but if she wants to stay home and raise the kids, then I have to make that happen.I'd like to roll back the clock to the 80s, when it seemed like there was more of a stigma on women who didn't pursue a full-time career. Does that count?

"Back to the '50s and '60s again."

I'm sorry if you met the one guy out there who doesn't prefer to have a second income in the household. Yes, I'm sure there more, probably about as many as there are liberals who thought Mao's strategy of productively occupying the poor and elderly in slave labor camps was a great way to reform China. But seriously, do those folks make up sufficient numbers to characterize liberals as folks who want to roll back the clock to return to the days of Stalin and Mao?

"And they'd like Roe v. Wade overturned. Back to the '60s."

Fair enough. Although, for the right-to-life crowd, that's like saying they want to roll back the clock to a time when infanticide was frowned upon.

"Personally I'd like us to go back to workers and CEOs getting the relative share of the pie they got in the '50s and '60s. But I don't think any of these things are likely."

So, then, it's fair to say that liberals want to roll back the clock, too?

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 10, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

lamar "code speak" alexander

he would like to eliminate medicaid and
expand the "for profit" health insurance industry

he would give the "for profit" health plans more customers by having the government pay premiums for poor people

the idea might be worth talking about if you eliminate the "for profit" health plans, but then that would not be the "crony capitalism" that dominates our economy

Posted by: jamesoneill | February 10, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

@Kevin_Willis

"Tom Tancredo (not my favorite guy) as, I understand, wants a civics literacy test for all voters, not just "non-whites"

No, he blamed voters whose first language is not English.

Tancredo : "People who could not even spell the word 'vote' or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House"

Posted by: twcunningham | February 10, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Dear Ezra,

So, wise one, where can we go to find and read a fair precis of the Senate bill?

So far I've read the House Bill and the HELP Senate Bill. Lots of words, but none wasted and none unnecessary. The US health/medical sector is 17 percent of our GDP, Alexander was right on that, and there's a complex legislative history that has to be referenced and rationalized for health reform to work. Getting the internal consistency straight has been a really hard task for the staffers drafting this thing. It took a few pages, no surprise there.

In Senator Alexander's defense, Ron Wyden was way out there and progressive on health care back in the day, and back-home a doctor and State Senator named Kitzhaber was leading Oregon into cutting edge health reform. It's not unethical nor unusual for legislators at every level to co-sponsor bills they don't or won't vote for. In this case perhaps it placated a constituency back home, and, dear friends, that's what representative democracy is all about. That's how it works.

The health reform bill has a problem. It seems that many Americans who've never paid much mind to the legislative process are finally noticing and being repulsed and outraged by the way the sausage machine chugs along, especially in the U.S. Senate. Yet, the procedures are quintessentially bipartisan.

I can only hope they don't believe the "behind-closed-doors" lies of the current Republican Leadership (sic) whose post-Reagan decades of hidden deals, hermetically-sealed doors, crude partisanship and outright lying to their colleagues and to their constituents is so shameful. By usual standards, and compared with Republican practices, the Democrats have been acting like angels.

The bill is already disgustingly bipartisan for my taste. I believe Senator Sharrod Brown when he says they've already gone overboard to meet the pro-market Republicrats on health reform. Then Max Baucus played kneesies with them for six months before they hung him out to dry.

I favor Obama making nice for the TV cameras; perhaps he'll begin the bipartisan conclave by pointing out, as Mike Madden recently did in Salon, that the reform bill meets the broad outlines of the Republicans Contract with America (or whatever those slimeballs call it.)

If the Republicans stand in the road, it's time to run over the bastards. It's time to do the right thing for our people, and time to prevent the 2,000 unnecessary deaths caused by every month of delay in enacting health reform in this country.

Posted by: sourdough70 | February 10, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

What we need in Washington are men and women of conviction. What happened to running for office because you had it in your heart to make a furtive effort at worthwhile change? Forget re-election and political grandstanding for the sake of doing what's in the best interest of our great nation. We became America because men like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton were willing to fight for what they believed in. They are venerated amongst the greatest of men for their passionate dedication to the achievement of ideals they believed pertinent to the building of a model republic. I say we clean house in the Senate. They are generally a sad bunch of spineless, inconsequential party puppets and I am so OVER IT!

Posted by: DaniC1 | February 16, 2010 9:04 PM | Report abuse

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