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Leading With The Left
The daily view from the oasis

August 2, 2002
This Is Your Congress On Prescription Drugs

(posted August 2, 1 AM ET)

For Campaign 2002, the prescription drug debate will be boiled down to: the Republicans passed something and the Democrats didnāt.

Itās an unfair reality of course. Dems were pushing a real prescription drug benefit for everyone in Medicare. The GOP plan will not cover everyone and relies heavily on the goodwill of the beloved insurance industry.

But the Dems are partly to blame, because they blinked.

Put in a box because of the massive tax cut, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was unable to corral the votes for a $594 billion comprehensive plan.

Then the Dems had a tough decision. Stand on principle, but guarantee that no seniors have prescription drug benefits for the foreseeable future. Or compromise so some seniors would get coverage.

Dems are not heartless. If there ever was an issue where half a loaf is better than none, itās this one.

So they went for the compromise, and it blew up in their face.

They backed a bill that would save money by not covering everyone, but unlike the House GOP plan, it would rely on Medicare, not private insurers, to deliver the benefit.

Faced with the compromise, some Senators stuck to their principles, though between the two parties, those principles were quite different.

A few Dems were lost because coverage was not universal.

But most GOPers didnāt support it solely because the private insurers were cut out of the deal.

If you think LiberalOasis is being cynical about GOP motives, look at what is happening with the program Medicare+Choice.

Medicare+Choice is an attempt to save money by steering seniors out of traditional Medicare and into private HMOs. The program was pushed by Republicans and signed into law by President Clinton.

The theory was that the government pays the HMOs a subsidy and the HMOs offer relatively cheaper coverage that includes prescription drug benefits.

In practice, the HMOs complained the subsidies werenāt big enough, the cost of coverage wasnāt all that cheap, and more and more HMOs donāt even offer prescription drug benefits.

Even worse, every year more HMOs pull out of the program altogether.

In rural areas where only one or two HMOs were operating, that has left many seniors with a broken promise and no recourse to obtain prescription drug coverage.

Since the program is widely seen as failure, youād think the government would cut its losses.

But Dubya wants to shovel more money into the program and further subsidize the HMOs.

His plan to shell out $14 billion over 10 years for Medicare+Choice even made his House comrades queasy, as it was scaled back in their bill.

Nevertheless, the Republican party showed what is most important to them, fattening the pockets of insurers. And not just through privatization, but with direct cash payments. Some free market.

In any event, the Senate bill is now dead. Dems are pegged as the political losers because they tried to reach out to other side and failed. The GOP gloats until election day.

August 1, 2002
We’re Working on the Economic Fundamentals...

...On Second Thought, Let’s Go on Vacation
(posted August 1, 12:45 AM ET)

When the government announced that the gross domestic product (GDP) only grew 1.1% in the second quarter of 2002, Bush’s three-day-old PR strategy on the economy ended.

As you recall, on Sunday Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and White House adviser Larry Lindsey were dispatched to emphasize how good the fundamentals of our economy are, an effort to turn the focus away from scandal and shaky markets.

Of course, three days ago, the most recent GDP growth number was a hot 6.1%. Now, with the 1.1% figure, the fundamentals suck.

What does this mean politically?

1) Bush will have no usable economic talking points for the next three months.

Bush Inc.’s credibility on the economy will be nil between now and October (at least), when the next quarter’s figures are released.

There will be continued talk of a double-dip recession, and Bush can only play defense against it.

As LiberalOasis noted on July 16, Bush and Greenspan are both powerless against a potential economic downturn right now.

Bush has already enacted a major stimulus -- the $1.7 trillion tax cut -- and he can’t plausibly propose any other stimulus while the deficit is ballooning. Greenspan has interest rates so low, he can’t push them down much farther.

Not only is Bush unable to say things are OK now. He is unable to argue how he and his party can make things better in the future.

2) The continued economic unrest will make it even harder for Republicans to hold on to the House.

Consider that your average voter does not really feel the impact of a bad economy when the GDP stats are announced. There’s a lingering ripple effect.

For example, higher unemployment is what usually comes after a recession, not before or during.

Think back to a decade ago. The recession under Poppy Bush happened in late 1990 and early 1991. By 1992, the growth numbers weren’t so bad.

But the economy still felt bad on the ground, and politically, that’s what mattered.

Now look at today. Dubya’s first recession was last year, and we’re still feeling it with higher unemployment.

Bush Inc. hoped that with the tax rebate checks plus the patriotic fervor, they could string a few good economic quarters in a row, and a feeling of recovery could prevail in time for November this year. That hope is gone.

And an even worse fear is going to set in.

3) The dreaded double-dip could destroy Dubya’s re-election prospects.

If the numbers keep going down, in part because Bush and Greenspan can’t stop them, the next quarter could well have negative GDP growth.

That would likely be the beginning of the second dip, in the third quarter of the second year of Dubya’s term.

Which is the exact same quarter when the Poppy Bush recession began.

(Aug. 1, 10:45 AM ET -- A clarifying comment regarding point #1 above.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis will revise the second quarter GDP stat at least two more times: on Aug. 29 and Sept. 27, so the 1.1% number could move up or down.

A significant upward revision, say 2%, may be welcomed by Bush Inc., but would not be a strong enough number to base a good PR strategy around.

But a significant downward revision would put growth near zero. That would be unspinable.)

(Aug. 1, 12:45 PM ET -- Terminus took on this topic last night.)

July 31, 2002
Gore to DLC: Drop Dead

(posted July 31, 12:45 AM ET)

There has been much yabbering over Al Gore’s snub of the Democratic Leadership Council's cattle call of 2004 candidates.

Many DLCers exploited his absence to take pot-shots at his 2000 campaign rhetoric.

ABC’s July 30th The Note said he risked alienating the second-most important Democratic organization.

The American Prowler, which is run by the anti-Clinton scandal-mongerers from the defunct American Spectator, spread gossip that Gore refused to go because he didn’t want to be treated like the other speakers.

But based on Gore’s recent public statements, it seems like he doesn't want to be associated with the centrist group (even though he was a founding member), and for good reason.

The DLC, which receives plenty of corporate cash, was created to moderate the party and establish closer ties to the business community.

That doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem. Paul Tsongas was right when he said you can’t be pro-jobs and anti-business.

But at the same time, the business community is not exactly a pack of warm and fuzzy Care Bears.

So Dems need to make sure they don’t get totally co-opted by Corporate America and their ready cash.

DLC CEO Al From is totally co-opted. In the midst of corporate scandals, he begged Democrats to refrain from stirring up class resentment and class warfare.

That gives the GOP ammo to classify legit criticism of lax regulations as class warfare.

While the ingrate, Joe Lieberman, disassociated himself from the entire rhetorical basis of his own campaign: fighting for the people, not the powerful.

Perhaps this is because Lieberman has enjoyed fighting for the powerful during his entire Senate career.

That kind of talk will certainly endear him to the DLC, which was peddling its self-serving analysis “Why Gore Lost” before Dubya was even inaugurated, an attempt to preemptively undercut any claims by Gore at popular vote legitimacy.

Thankfully, Gore is turning his back on the DLC second-guessers.

On Thursday, he spoke to young Democrats on Capitol Hill, and said:

The Republican Party today is in the hands of an elite which embodies wealth and power and represents them at the expense of citizens, many of them Republican voters, who really are the true backbone of this country...

...When I warned of this during the last presidential election, it was considered by some to be quaint, old-fashioned, anti-business, and of course, over the top partisanship.

It was nothing of the sort. It was based on a plain reading of the history of Republican governance under presidents Reagan and Bush...and I believe that every passing day demonstrates that it was in fact, purely and simply, the truth.

That’s what a candidate sounds like when he’s on the offensive, not playing defense like the DLC corporate apologists.

It’s that kind of straight talk that will make Democratic voters happy, and will keep Gore’s polling numbers among Democrats high. That’s the goal of the game from now until primary season is over.

Which is why Gore doesn’t need to bow to From and the DLC. Unique among primary candidates, Gore does not require Establishment approval to run, raise money and attract media attention.

The Note noted that Gore had lunch with a wealthy Dem funder just a few blocks away during the DLC event. The Note felt it was bad form to ditch an event because of a “scheduling conflict” when you’re really around the corner.

But LiberalOasis suspects that was part of the point: to send a message to the DLC that says “I don’t need you.”

He starts with strong support from the base, and the support will only grow as he raises his profile and speaks out more frequently.

The fact is, there are more people than powerful, just as there are more investors than CEOs.

And in times when it becomes transparent what the powerful are doing, good politicians seize the opportunity and remind the people why regulations, checks on reckless power, are needed. The people, in turn, will appreciate that someone is looking out for them.

Gore, with his 2000 campaign rhetoric increasingly seen as prescient, is the most credible, best positioned candidate for this task.

Appearing in front of the DLC would have weakened that credibility, so Gore did the gutsy thing and walked away.

(July 31, 11:20 AM ET -- Lots more Gore/DLC analysis today. Check the July 31st The Note, New York Observer, and Political Wire.)

July 30, 2002
Bush’s Homeland Security: Politics On Top of Politics

(posted July 30, 1:45 AM ET)

If you’re like LiberalOasis, you asked yourself last week: is Dubya really going to veto a Department of Homeland Security over civil service worker protections?

Bush said on Friday:

“...it is important that we have the managerial flexibility to get the job done right. We can't be...micro-managed....The [Senate] bill doesn't have enough managerial flexibility, as far as I'm concerned.”

White House officials told reporters to interpret that as a veto threat.

Why would Bush Inc. risk a PR fiasco by vetoing Homeland Security over “managerial flexibility”? Buzzwords from the boardrooms are not likely to rally the public.

To answer that, you need to know where this is all coming from. And this is coming from three places.

1. The Heritage Foundation (surprise, surprise)

Right before Dubya assumed the presidency, the Heritage Foundation put out a paper giving Bush advice on federal personnel policy.

It’s a nuanced document. But it’s main argument is that Bush should diminish the influence of career government appointees, and increase the influence of political appointees.

The explicit rationale is simple: political appointees are more likely to do the Administration’s bidding.

Never mind that the entire premise of the civil service is to put a check on executive power, minimize nepotism and ensure that experienced hands provide wisdom and stability.

And never mind that increasing the influence of political appointees will lead to more “micro-managing” from the White House.

How do we know that Heritage’s thinking is influencing the Administration on this issue?

Because Bush’s director of the Office of Personnel Management -- the human resources department of the federal government -- is Kay Coles James, a former Heritage official.

(James was also known for being perhaps the only high-ranking African-American member of the Christian Coalition.)

Delegator that Dubya is, he relies heavily on the views of the staff. And when you pack your staff with ideologues, you risk getting highly political, myopic advice.

2. Union politics

The implicit rationale to take the civil service down a notch is that career government employees are union members.

The main federal employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees, is 600,000 strong, about 5% of the AFL-CIO. (Another 10% of the AFL-CIO are state and local government employees.)

Since their union dues help finance the Democratic Party, if there are fewer federal employees, there are fewer dollars for the Democrats.

And if the Administration has “managerial flexibility,” it would much easier to “consolidate” agencies by firing people without cause.

You might wonder why Bush Inc. would actively irritate unions. After all, the Karl Rove PowerPoint presentation lists unions as a constituency to cultivate, ostensibly to pick up Michigan and Pennsylvania come 2004.

Furthermore, the Administration has worked with the Teamsters on energy policy, and it likes doing public events with the Carpenters Union.

But those are both unions not affiliated with the AFL-CIO, which encompasses the vast majority of the nation's union members.

The Teamsters have a history of flirting with the GOP, and the head of the Carpenters Union had a falling out with the AFL-CIO that has led his rank-and-file to view him with suspicion.

But standing next to them makes for nice photo ops.

And by issuing a veto threat based on a clearly anti-union stance, Bush Inc. has made it known: its union-cultivation strategy will be based on photo ops, not substance.

3. Conservatives want a veto

There’s been a bizarre clamoring among Beltway conservatives for Bush to veto something, anything, just to show he won’t be rolled on everything.

Conservatives didn’t like campaign finance reform, imported steel tariffs and the corporate governance bill. They’re worried Bush II will be a “squish” like, in their view, his old man.

And many conservatives are unconvinced about creating a new Cabinet department, since they generally go for abolishing Cabinet departments.

They would at least like to see a Cabinet department with weak worker protections. That gives some hope to reducing the federal workforce.

So a veto here, while politically sensitive, would please a part of Dubya’s base.

At this point, you still may be saying: this still doesn’t add up.

It was Bush that put the Homeland Security department on the table, in a hastily assembled prime-time speech, as a way to cut off talk about what he knew before Sept. 11 and what’s wrong with the FBI and CIA.

Since it is seen as Bush's baby, if the department is not in place by the November elections because of his veto, the GOP runs the risk of being blamed.

Undercutting their own political gambit because of dumb-ass Heritage staffers, payback to the AFL-CIO, and cranky Beltway right-wingers, is not really intelligent politics.

You’re right, it’s not. This Administration is not very intelligent.

The only way Bush will avoid embarrassment is if a mushy compromise is forged in House-Senate conference.

That’s why it’s so imperative that Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) go to the mat on this one. Because they’re in the right, and Bush doesn’t deserve an escape hatch.

While Lieberman has been showing what an ingrate he is regarding Gore this week, he also has showed resolve on this labor-protection issue. Let's see if he stays with it.

Dubya proposed the department for political reasons, not substantive ones. He should not be rewarded for adding politics on top of politics.

(July 30, 10:45 AM ET -- W. Post: Senate Delaying Vote on Homeland Security Dept.)

SIDE NOTE

You may recall on July 10, LiberalOasis called attention to Bush Inc.’s efforts to politicize welfare for the 2002 elections.

Dubya was back on the road yesterday talking about welfare reform, but this time he had a specific Democratic bill to criticize, and criticize he did:

“Under the way they're kind of writing it right now, out of the Senate Finance Committee, some people could spend their entire five years -- there's a five-year work requirement -- on welfare, going to college.

“Now, that's not my view of helping people become independent. And it's certainly not my view of understanding the importance of work and helping people achieve the dignity necessary so they can live a free life, free from government control.”

The man who could not shut up about his education proposals in the campaign, now says college won’t lead to independence and dignity. It’s not like college could lead to a good-paying job or anything.

There are many jokes that could be said now, so why don’t you think of your own and share them with the world.

FROM THE MAILBAG
(posted July 30, 10:15 AM ET)

Rebecca Allen writes in to take issue with last week's column supporting reduced Social Security benefits for the wealthy:

"I used to be in favor of this idea myself, but no longer am... Consider what happens to government programs, once they get identified as being primarily or entirely for poor people: they lose their advocates in Congress and the White House, and then get slashed. AFDC [what was welfare as we knew it] is the obvious example.

"Now consider that Medicaid--supposedly a poor people's program--has largely escaped the budget-cutters. Why? Because Medicaid has evolved from a program to provide medical care to poor families to one that also pays for seniors in nursing homes--many of whom have middle- and upper-class relatives who are benefiting from avoiding huge nursing-home bills (I'm in this category myself). Presto! Medicaid has powerful constituencies to advocate for its continued funding...

"My fear is that if Social Security becomes a means-tested program, it too will lose the upper-class constituencies it needs for its continued funding, and will eventually become another AFDC-type casualty."

July 29, 2002
The Sunday Talk Show Breakdown

A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted July 28, 7:45 PM ET)

After the Administration’s economic officials ducked the morning shows last week, the voice of Bush’s economic team surfaced today.

Or did he?

Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was dispatched to the top-rated Meet The Press to face Tim Russert, as well as CBS’ Face the Nation and Fox News Sunday, so he’s the voice, right?

But O’Neill would not directly answer the very first question from Russert: would he resign?

It would have been very easy to answer such a question with the standard, “I serve at the pleasure of the President.” Be he opted for a complete dodge. Start counting the days.

Well, if O’Neill’s not going to be the voice, it must be White House adviser Larry Lindsey, who popped up on ABC’s This Week and CNN’s Late Edition.

He gave the message that the economic fundamentals are strong, confidently predicting economic growth of “close to 4% this year.”

But O’Neill, on Meet The Press and Fox News Sunday, said flatly that he is the spokesman of Administration economic policy, while predicting slower growth for the year -- between 3% and 3.5%.

Then again, O’Neill didn’t even know who was invited to the President’s economic forum scheduled for next month. He was unable to answer why the Democratic congressional leadership was not invited.

Yet Lindsey had full knowledge of who was invited, and on CNN, he explained why the Administration would not be asking the Democrats to participate.

It’s that kind of coordinated, coherent strategy that calms those jittery nerves. Way to go, boys.

Speaking of calming nerves, kudos to Meet The Press for digging up tape of Bush’s announcement of O’Neill’s nomination.

Dubya, in classic sleepy, stuttering mode, said:

“...we must have a steady voice coming out of our Administration. Someone, should the economy take a downturn, who can calm people’s nerves, calm the markets...That’s why naming Paul O’Neill as the Secretary of the Treasury is such an important decision, because he is the man who is capable of doing that job.”

The genius of airing the clip was undercut by Russert, who blew the set-up.

He could have made O’Neill eat his statement from just a minute prior:

“...I would challenge the notion, that when markets are doing their thing...that someone can say some words that would somehow be a magic elixir...If there’s someone who thinks that’s right, then they ought to say the magic elixir words.”

Instead, he repeated a question that O’Neill had already sufficiently answered: why was O’Neill in Kyrgrystan during the market turmoil?

O’Neill escaped by simply saying it’s possible to receive and convey information from abroad.

SIDE NOTES

On This Week, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joe Biden (D-DE) said he’d be “very surprised” if the Administration attacks Iraq before November.

...

Like on Fox last week, Biden was asked how he would vote on the nomination of hard-core pro-lifer Priscilla Owen for the federal Court of Appeals. Again, he didn’t take a position, but he hinted he may vote against Owen.

...

Also on This Week, Lindsey avoided taking a position on whether companies should report the issuance of stock options as expenses, while in the NY Times, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) was smacked on the same topic by a former Gore staffer.

...

Al Gore’s stature as the main Bush critic -- and, in turn, as party leader -- was enhanced on Sunday. Meet The Press ran a clip of Gore raising questions about invading Iraq without first firming up Arab support. Late Edition showed Gore lambasting Bush’s economic policy and team.

...

Meet The Press launched Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m a Plagiarist” campaign by having her on the show as an analyst, without asking her any questions about the scandal that prompted her to leave the Pulitzer Prize board.

...

On Face the Nation, Lieberman took a strong stance on protecting the rights of federal workers in the proposed Department of Homeland Security, not blinking in the face of Bush’s veto threat. LiberalOasis will take a detailed look at this issue tomorrow.

*********************

TODAY’S GOOD LINKS

Last week, LiberalOasis told Bush to pressure Israel on settlements. Bush Didn’t Listen

W. Post: The Military Still Doesn’t Want To Attack Iraq

LA Times: FBI Computer System Still Blows

Kevin Phillips: The Economic Fundamentals Look Awful

LA Times: Democratic Senate Candidates Looking Good in the South

W. Post: Bush Bought the Florida Recount

Eleanor Clift: Frank Luntz is Worried About November

From reader Skip Fox, comprehensive files on Harken and Halliburton.

The Sandbox
Humor by John Cougarstein

NEWS ALERT
Bush: Homeland Security Dept. Needs Our Nation’s Kids

The United States will remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks unless child labor laws are suspended for the proposed Department of Homeland Security, President Bush said today.

In comments made at Pinecrest Middle School in Akron, Ohio, Bush said, “I need the flexibility to hire willing and able 12-year-olds when the national interest is at stake.”

White House officials said the President will veto any legislation that does not include Bush’s proposed “Kiddie Kop Klause.”

“It’s about options,” said spokesman Ari Fleischer. “To hamstring the President in a time of war is not fair to him, the country, and especially, the kids.”

Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), who drafted the Senate version of the bill, insisted that hiring children would not provide any additional security.

“They’re good for crawling into small spaces, but that’s about it,” said Lieberman.

Fleischer said Lieberman was selling youngsters short.

“The President believes the children are our future, and that people of all age groups can contribute in the war on terror,” said Fleischer.

Fleischer brushed off concerns that Bush’s views were influenced by his love of the movie, Cop and a Half.

In his speech, Bush noted that children have proven their abilities time and time again.

“If they’re good enough for Nike, “said Bush, “they’re good enough for America.”

For more Cougarstein, check out The Cougarstein Ramble and download Cougarstein songs at Iuma.com

**************

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