SEIU Members Taking Leave from Jobs to Campaign for Obama Budget

Hundreds of members of the Service Employees International Union are taking off from their jobs to join the fight to pass President Obama’s $3.55 trillion budget, a union official said on Wednesday.

“SEIU intends to bring the full force of the union and its 2.1 million members to bear,” Khalid Pitts, director of political accountability at the SEIU said on a conference call. “Right now, we have hundreds of our workers, who have taken leave from their jobs in 18 crucial states to moving this budget.”

Pitts said that the members will be going door-to-door to convince their neighbors to support the budget as well as organizing house parties and other events. The hope is that the hundreds will turn into thousands as members of Congress arrive in their districts during Easter recess.

The comments came on a call to announce a coalition of progressive groups that are joining forces to battle for the passage of the budget. Their argument is that this is the kind of bold change Americans voted for last November when they elected President Obama.

Bertha Lewis, CEO and chief organizer of ACORN said the group was “excited” to play a role in the effort.

“ACORN is gearing up to get it on,” she said.

Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change, said that the coalition would spend roughly $5 million to $7 million on the effort, which will include 1,500-1,800 events nationwide as well as television and radio ads.

Among the other groups represented in the call were the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, USAction, the League of Conservation Voters, the National Women’s Law Center, and Environment America.

Rush and the Michael Moore Precedent

David Frum is correct that while Rush Limbaugh is popular among his audience and the conservative base, he’s very unpopular among the public at large. And it’s pretty clear that Democrats are using Limbaugh in an attempt to marginalize the Republican Party and to portray any criticism of President Obama’s agenda as extremism. But Frum is being too shortsighted in his analysis.

If you remember, back around 2004, there was an attempt by Republicans to portray Democrats as the party of Michael Moore. Over and over again, Republicans reminded people that Moore was invited to sit in Jimmy Carter’s box at the Democratic National Convention, and that Democrats had become the anti-war, anti-American, party of surrender. At the time, it worked. John Kerry was forced to vacillate between criticizing the war that he voted for to satisfy the anti-war base of his own party while tempering his position to appeal to the center and stave off charges that he would be a weak commander in chief. It reinforced the flip-flopper label.

Moore was seen by most moderate Americans as an extremist and propagandist, but the position that he represented —echoed by the likes of MoveOn and DailyKos — was that the Iraq War was a failure and the Democratic Party had to be unapologetically anti-war. And what happened? By 2006, the idea that the Iraq War was a failure had become more or less a mainstream opinion, and the Democrats took back Congress vowing to bring it to an end. In 2008, a guy just a few years removed from the Illinois state senate was able to win the Democratic nomination in large part because of his early opposition to the war which his chief rival had voted for — and in the general election, he beat a war hero as things improved in Iraq and the focus turned to the economy. It didn’t matter anymore when Republicans screamed about Democrats waving the white flag of surrender, or of them being the party of Michael Moore and MoveOn.

So, the important thing is not whether or not Limbaugh himself can attract moderates to the party (he is not a candidate last I checked), but whether, at some point in the future, a party built on conservative principles can win a majority again. That’s the essence of Rush’s message when you get beyond the theatrics. Republicans have a choice. They can work with Obama and give him bipartisan cover. They can hope to extract token concessions while Obama gets 99 percent of what he wants. They can decide that the era of small government is over, and that the only way to win again is to become the party that makes big government run more efficiently. OR. The Republican Party can return to the limited government principles on which it won landslide victories in 1980, 1984, and 1994 — so that when the Obama administration’s policies fail, Republican candidates can offer a genuine alternative.

The bottom line is that a few years from now, if we’re looking at some variation of high unemployment, tepid growth, and double-digit inflation, moderates will be receptive to a conservative message, and Democratic efforts to portray Republicans as beholden to Limbaugh will fall on deaf ears. And if, for the first time in history, a massive expansion of government leads to an economic boom, then Republicans will be doomed anyway.

Fighting ObamaCare

In a piece for our Febraury print issue, I wrote about how the health care battle would be much different this time around than it was in 1993/94 because conservatives will have few allies in the private sector. Even insurers, who ran the famous “Harry and Louise” ads, for instance, are now willing to cede ground on key issues. Enter Richard Scott, the former head of the Hospital Corporation of America, who has launched a new group, Conservatives for Patients Rights, to demosntrate the consequences of government-run health care and push for a free market alternative based on choice and competition. In the Politico, Jonathan Martin reports on the group’s TV, radio, and web advertising strategy which launched today to coincide with the White House’s health-care week. Scott started the group with $5 million of his own money, but he hopes to raise more and spend up to $20 million on the campaign. Over at TNR, liberal health-care journalist Jonathan Cohn has already dubbed Scott, “Public Enemy Number One.”

The United States of Freedonia

With each passing day, the Obama administration looks more and more like it’s taking its cues from the Marx Brothers. The budget battle is just the latest example. After signing a pork-laden economic stimulus package that the administration claimed didn’t have any earmarks, it’s now pushing an omnibus spending bill with 8,750 of them. The Christian Science Monitor reports:

The president barred earmarks from last month’s $787 billion stimulus package, but advisers say the fiscal year 2009 omnibus bill, including earmarks, is old business.

“This is last year’s business. We just want to move on. Let’s get this bill done, get it into law and move forward,” said Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

This recalls the cabinet meeting lead by Freedonia’s President Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) in Duck Soup:

PRESIDENT FIREFLY: Members of the cabinet, we’ll take up old business.

CABINET MEMBER: I wish to discuss the tariff.

PRESIDENT FIREFLY: Sit down, that’s new business.

(Nobody else speaks up)

PRESIDENT FIREFLY: No old business? Very well, we’ll take up new business.

CABINET MEMBER: About that tariffâ€_

PRESIDENT FIREFLY: Too late! That’s old business already!

New Health Czar Raked in $2.4 Mln from Industry Board Service in 06-07

Over on the main site, we just posted a my story based on an analysis of SEC filings, showing that Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, who President Obama appointed as director of the White House Office of Health Care Reform on Monday, took home at least $2.4 million in 2006 and 2007 from serving on the corporate boards of health-care companies whose businesses she would be in a position to affect in her new position.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed concerns about her extensive board service yesterday, saying,  “No.  I mean, obviously, the White House has confidence in her and her abilities as part of the health care reform effort here.”

But this demonstrates the untenable nature of the Obama administration’s position on the revolving door between Washington and corporate America. Either you have the philosophy that you want to tap the best available candidates for any given job, regardless of whether they have ties to large corporations, or you limit yourself to picking career civil servants who never left the public sector. But trying to have it both ways — to grant top positions to people with deep ties to big business while saying you’re doing something different — truly takes chutzpah.

New Health Czar Challenges Obama’s Ethics Reforms

Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, who President Obama appointed as director of the White House Office of Health Care Reform on Monday, took home at least $2.4 million in 2006 and 2007 from serving on the corporate boards of health-care companies whose businesses she would be in a position to affect in her new position.

Since leaving the Clinton administration in 2001, DeParle has made a fortune by serving on 10 boards in the health-care industry in addition to her lucrative career as a managing director at private equity firm CCMP Capital and a senior adviser at JP Morgan Partners. Her journey from the public sector to the private sector and back again would seem to represent the type of revolving door relationship between Washington and corporate America that President Obama pledged to put an end to during the campaign and in an executive order.

Tom Daschle, who was originally supposed to hold the same “health czar” position in addition to serving as Secretary of Health and Human Services, came under fire after it was revealed that he received $220,000 for giving speeches to health groups over two years. But DeParle’s ties to the health-care industry run much deeper.

In just 2006 and 2007 alone, DeParle earned $376,140 in cash and stock from Cerner Corp., according to a TAS analysis of the company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Cerner is a leader in the field of health information technology, which the Obama administration has made a key part of its health-care agenda. During the same time, she also was awarded $377,319 by DaVita Corp., which specializes in kidney dialysis, and $224,749 from medical device maker Boston Scientific Corp.

In addition, she served on the board of Triad Hospitals from 2001 through its merger with Community Health Systems in 2007. When the $54-per share deal was approved, she was paid $1,059,205 for the stock options she held in Triad and she sold an additional $349,164 in common stock, for a windfall of $1,408,369.

This analysis only scratches the surface on her overall earnings from corporate boards since 2001. The reason is that some corporations did not specify how much each individual board member received in compensation in their filings in a given year.

For instance, at medical device-maker Guidant Corp., where she served from 2001 until its merger with Boston Scientific in 2006, its filings specify that board members would have received a $36,000 annual retainer, plus $3,000 for every meeting attended in person and $1,000 for every telephone meeting. Without knowing which meetings she attended, it’s impossible to say precisely how much she would have earned. In addition, at the time of the Boston Scientific merger, she was able to exercise options on 35,000 shares of Guidant stock, allowing her to convert it into shares in the newly formed entity.

This analysis also leaves out any compensation she would have received for her board work in 2008, because that information is not yet available.

Her service also included stints on the board of Specialty Laboratories Inc. from 2001-2004; pharmacy network Accredo Health Group Inc. from 2002-2005; and diagnostic imaging company Medquest Associates Inc. since 2002. In 2008, she also joined the board of Legacy Hospital Partners Inc., which was formed by former Triad executives and mail order pharmacist Medco Health Solutions Inc. (which took over Accredo).

In her new role as the so-called “health czar” DeParle will be tasked with leading the White House efforts on overhauling the system. Asked yesterday whether her extensive board service would present a problem, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said,  “No. I mean, obviously, the White House has confidence in her and her abilities as part of the health care reform effort here.” Gibbs said he anticipated she would leave the boards she is currently serving on.

Daschle eventually withdrew his nomination over controversy stemming from his failure to pay taxes in addition to the uproar over his health-care industry income. As a cabinet nominee, he would have faced Senate confirmation, but DeParle will not since the Obama administration split Daschle’s dual role, and tapped Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Shortly after taking office, President Obama issued a widely-touted executive order requiring appointees to take a pledge declaring, “I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.”

As her web of relationships to the medical industry becomes known in greater detail, the administration will be pressed to explain how DeParle could take on overhauling the entire health-care system without violating the spirit, if not the letter, of President Obama’s ambitious ethics requirements.

Sebelius, DeParle to Replace Daschle

As expected, President Obama has announced the appointment of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to be director of Health and Human Services and, in splitting up the duties originally intended for Tom Daschle, Nancy-Ann DeParle was appointed to be director of the newly-created White House Office for Health Reform. Taken together, neither one of them has the legislative experience and clout on Capitol Hill as Daschle did, so it still raises the question of who will shepherd any health care reform effort through Congress.

Interestingly, De-Parle has served as a director on a number of corporate boards within the health care industry including Boston Scientific, Cerner, Medeco, DaVita, and Triad Hospitals, which could create potential conflicts of interest. The White House post, however, is not subject to Senate confirmation.

Some Thoughts on Rush

I’ve had my differences with Rush Limbaugh (“Operation Chaos” comes immediately to mind), but I also admire his ability to transmit conservative ideas to a mass audience and make it entertaining. Seeing him on the same stage as Ann Coulter on the same day really demonstrated that he’s in a league of his own as far as conservative media personalities goes. Listening to Coulter you would have suffered through a series of lame and dated one-liners that communicated Obama voted “present” in the Illinois state senate, had no executive experience, and that Jeremiah Wright was his pastor. But Limbaugh actually took his time on the stage to do something useful. He reaffirmed, on a basic level, what it means to be a conservative — to believe in the power of individuals to make better decisions for themselves than the government. Even to those conservatives who aren’t Limbaugh fans, it was hard to listen to his speech, which went on for about 90 minutes, without agreeing with his central point.

He was also right on target by saying that Republicans need to make not procedural but philosophical arguments against liberalism and for conservatism. And yes, we need to root out those who claim to be conservatives, but argue that the only way to win is to embrace big government. This “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality is bad politics in addition to being bad philosophy.

When the story of this period of the conservative movement is written, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rush’s talk to CPAC this year is considered a historically significant speech. At a time when conservatives are demoralized, he reaffirmed why we’re all part of this thing in the first place. For those who weren’t there, it was quite a sight. Not only did he have the packed audience inside the ballroom on its feet, but at one point I slipped out to the bathroom, and I saw people watching on TV screens in all of the hallways and sitting on staircases.

If you missed the speech, the transcript and video is available here.

Romney’s Swipe at Palin

I thought it was pretty classless for Romney to take an underhanded shot at Palin during his remarks at CPAC:

There are so many conservative leaders here this weekend. I was looking forward to seeing Governor Palin again. There’s a rumor that she has been offered an 11-million- dollar book contract. My publisher has been talking to me about an 11-millon-dollar deal as well. I’m just not sure I can come up with that kind of money.

The point, of course, is to remind everybody that Palin didn’t make it to CPAC, as well as to mock her celebrity status. Save it for 2011.

Parade of GOP Presidential Hopefuls

At CPAC this year, a number of speakers made the point that President Obama would be a one-termer because his policies would fail. Rush Limbaugh drew applause when he said, “We can take this country back. All we need is to nominate the right candidate. It’s no more complicated than that.” But the problem is, finding the right candidate is easier said than done.

CPAC featured a number of 2012 hopefuls, and being perfectly honest, it was hard to look at any of them and say, “This is the one who is going to beat Obama.”

You could make the argument that Romney, who won the CPAC straw poll, is the early frontrunner for the nomination in 2012, because the economy is likely to be a big issue and there’s historically an “it’s his turn” bias to the GOP primaries. At the same time, his speech at CPAC really didn’t evolve much from the sort of checklist conservatism that categorized his campaign.  He also maintains the credibility problem. At one point, he blasted President Obama for wanting a government takeover of health care, while touting the Massachusetts system as a free market model for the nation. But in reality the Massachusetts plan is a big government plan that is actually quite similar to Obama’s campaign proposal. In both cases, the government provides subsidies to individuals to purchase government-designed health plans on a government-run exchange. Romney tries to give himself some wiggle room by saying, “the final bill and its implementation aren’t exactly the way I wanted,” but he signed the bill knowing that he wasn’t running for reelection and that it would be implemented by a liberal successor. It’s amazing how this guy continues to treat us like we’re idiots.

Mark Sanford is somebody to keep a close eye on. Though he ended up near the bottom of the straw poll, I think that had more to do with lack of name recognition. The poll showed that size of government was overwhelmingly the most important issue to conservatives, and I expect that sentiment to grow as frustration mounts with Obama administration spending over the next few years. This plays into the hands of Sanford, one of the few Republicans who can actually claim to be a consistent defender of limited government. His Friday night speech was thoughtful and introspective meditation on, among other things, the ability of individuals to shape history when they’re willing to take on losing battles. At the same time, it was a bit meandering, and I’m just not sure if he has the charisma, TV savvy, or ambition to go the distance.

Huckabee is trying to use his opposition to the bailout and stimulus projects to make economic conservatives more comfortable with him, but his appeal is still limited in scope, and if he runs again in 2012, he’ll face more competition from evangelicals from Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin, should she run.

Pawlenty, meanwhile, gave a decent speech, and could emerge as a more plausible version of Huckabee. He appeals to the same sort of working class and evangelical voters. As a Midwesterner, he could be a threat in Iowa. But he’ll have a difficult time appealing to economic conservatives, and it’s hard to see him really lighting a fire under anybody.

The point in all of this is that before conservatives get too attached to the idea of Obama messing up so badly that Republicans take back the White House in four years, it’s important to keep in mind that in America there tends to be a bias that favors incumbent presidents. Back in 2004, Bush was very beatable, and at several points during the year his approval rating dropped below the 50 percent threshold, but given the alternative of John Kerry, Americans decided to give him a second term. In 1980, Republicans had Reagan waiting the wings when Carter faltered, but would that election had ended up the same if there weren’t a Reagan, and somebody like Dole or Bush I were the Republican nominee?

UPDATE: Yes, Ron Paul spoke. And no, I don’t think he’ll be a viable presidential candidate in 2012 — at 77.