John McCain, Guardian of Entitlements

Sen. John McCain just offered the first Republican motion as part of the Senate health care debate, which would remove roughly $500 billion in Medicare cuts and send the legislation back to the Finance Committee.

While Republicans don’t have the votes to pass their amendments, the Senate floor debate gives Republicans the opportunity to highlight areas of the Democratic health care bills that are unpopular, and the proposed cuts to Medicare are a large reason why older Americans remain among the most opposed to the health care push.

But even though it’s true that Democrats should be called out on their claims that the proposed cuts will not affect benefits, Republicans have gone overboard in demagoging the issue to the point where they themselves are protectors of entitlement programs that are bankrupting the nation.

McCain, who typically raises hell about any earmark, no matter how tiny, was just on the Senate floor urging his fellow lawmakers to “preserve the solemn obligations we have made to our senior citizens.”

Statements such as these, aside from making a mockery out of the idea of Republicans as the party of small government, help enshrine the third rail status of entitlement programs that need to be substantially cut if we have any chance of averting the looming fiscal collapse of the United States.

More Huckabee Background

I wrote about Mike Huckabee’s record on pardons and clemencies in depth during the presidential campaign here. The key thing to keep in mind is that these were not isolated incidents, but part of a broader pattern throughout his time as governor.

An excerpt:

Over the course of his 10 and a half years as governor, Huckabee granted a staggering 1,033 clemencies, according to the Associated Press. That was more than double the combined 507 that were granted during the 17 and a half years of his three predecessors: Bill Clinton, Frank White, and Jim Guy Tucker.

In many cases, Huckabee’s actions set loose savage criminals convicted of grisly murders over the passionate objections of prosecutors and victims’ families.

“I felt like Huckabee had more compassion for the murderers than he ever did for the victims,” Elaine Colclasure, co-leader of the Central Arkansas chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, a group that works on behalf of victims’ families, told TAS. “He was kind of like a defense attorney. He couldn’t see the pain and suffering that the victims were going through.”

Among the violent criminals Huckabee granted clemency to were Denver Witham, who was “convicted of beating a man to death with a lead pipe at a bar,” according to the AP; Robert A. Arnold Jr., who was convicted of killing his father in law; Willy Way Jr., who pled guilty to shooting a grocery store owner as his wife looked on; and James Maxwell, who murdered a reverend. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, when the reverend’s daughter met with Huckabee to plead that Maxwell be denied clemency, Huckabee “‘affectionately referred’ to her father’s killer as ‘Jim.'”

CBO: Senate Health Care Bill Would Raise Premiums 10-13 Percent

In another blow to Democrats’ health care claims, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis on Monday projecting that the Senate health care bill would raise premiums by more than $2,000 on family policies compared to what the cost otherwise would be if Congress were simply to do nothing.

The report, prepared at the request of Sen. Evan Bayh, found that premiums on policies individuals purchase on their own or through the government-run exchanges would cost 10 percent to 13 percent more in 2016 than under current law. In dollar terms, in 2016 an individual policy would cost $5,800 and a family policy would cost $15,200 if the Senate bill were enacted, according to the CBO, compared with $5,500 and $13,100 under the status quo.

In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Bayh, a moderate Democrat from Indiana, said that the CBO report would figure prominently in his decision making process as he evaluates whether he should support the legislation.

“I’m going to be looking at – and we haven’t gotten the score from the CBO yet; they’re about to give it to us – what does this do for the cost of insurance for people who currently have it,” Bayh said. “We want to cover the uninsured, yes, but we don’t want to do it in a way that’s going to drive up the costs for folks who currently have it. That’s one of the biggest complaints that I hear from people. So I’m going to be looking very carefully at what the bean counters have to say about that.”

The major driver of the increased premium costs are the new mandates that will force insurers to offer more comprehensive coverage, and effectively bar individuals from purchasing less benefit rich insurance at a lower price.

The CBO said the legislation would have less of an affect on group coverage — small employers may see their premiums go up 1 percent or down 2 percent, while larger employers could see no change, or see their premiums go down 3 percent.

From the start of the process, one of primary rationales President Obama has given for the urgent need to pass health care legislation is that the cost of premiums are skyrocketing, and putting more pressure on family budgets. In a speech to the American Medical Association in June, Obama declared that, “if we fail to act, premiums will climb higher.” Now the CBO has estimated that if we do act — at least in the way Democrats are proposing — premiums will climb even higher than the unsustainable levels that supposedly prompted the drive for reform in the first place.

Earlier this month, the actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that the bill passed by the House would raise overall health care spending in the United States, despite pledges to the contrary.

UPDATE: TNR‘s Jonathan Cohn, via Twitter, asks why I didn’t mention the federal subsidies that would more than offset the cost of the increased premiums for about 57 percent of those obtaining insurance on their own. The reason I didn’t is that the subsidies do not change the underlying cost of the policies — the only difference is that other taxpayers are picking up the rest of the higher tab. And 14 million Americans who earn too much to qualify for subsidies (the cutoff is $43,320 for individuals; $88,000 for a family of four) would see their premiums go up. The point is that when the health care push began, we were led to believe that legislation would reduce the economic burden of health care costs by lowering premiums and containing the growth of health care spending. But the current legislation does not accomplish that goal. If liberals still want to argue that helping more Americans obtain coverage is worth the costs, that’s fine. But saying that government will subsidize the higher premium costs created by health care legislation is a far cry from boasting that reforming our health care system will lower the actual price of insurance.

With that said, rereading my post, I realize that the way I phrased things originally made it sound as if anybody purchasing insurance on their own would personally be paying more for insurance than under the status quo, and that wouldn’t be the case for those receiving subsidies — regardless of whether their costs are ultimately borne by others. I just went back and tweaked the language.

Gallup Still Finds More Americans Opposed to Dems’ Health Care Bills

As the Senate prepares to take up debate on Democrats’ 2,074-page bill, Gallup finds that 49 percent of Americans are leaning toward advising their member of Congress to vote against health care legislation, compared with just 44 percent who say they would advise their member to vote for it. Meanwhile, among independents, support is only at 37 percent.

Asked about President Obama’s handling of health care, a majority of 53 percent now disapprove, compared with only 40 percent who approve.

Checklist Conservatism

I started using the term “checklist conservatism” during the candidacy of Mitt Romney, who ran a presidential campaign geared toward methodically checking off the favored conservative position on any given issue, without regard to his record or prior positions. I’m reminded about the phenomenon when reading about this absurd proposed resolution to institute a “purity test” that would require the RNC to only send contributions to candidates who agree with eight out of 10 items. Practically, many of the principles are too subjective. For instance, one principle is “Legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants” and another one is “Containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat.” How would either of these be judged? Even most Democrats would say they oppose amnesty, but the devil is in the details. Some people would say that making illegal immigrants legal is not amnesty if there are enough fines and hoops to jump through to become legalized, while others believe that anything short of deportation is amnesty. Same thing on nuclear weapons. Even liberals say they want to contain Iran and North Korea, but the debate is what constitutes “effective action.” 

But beyond the practical aspect, this sort of thing is exactly the wrong message for conservatives to send to possible candidates. Candidates who merely regurgitate a set of pre-selected ideas to conform with the diktats of the national party will not do anything to advance conservatism. What conservatism needs is more thoughtful candidates who have a grounding in policy, are competent, have genuine accomplishments, and are able to persuade undecided voters that conservative ideas are superior. The RNC doesn’t need to support more trained seals who can talk a big game to conservative audiences and check all the right boxes, without having the ability to deliver the goods even if they managed to get elected. 

Lieberman Says He’s “Stubborn” on Gov’t Plan

Sen. Joe Lieberman reiterated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he would be prepared to filibuster a health care bill that included any sort of government plan.

“I’m going to be stubborn on this,” Lieberman told the WSJ. In follow up questions, he said that he would not support any kind of a government plan, even the so-called “trigger” option that would create such a plan if insurers did not meet certain government targets.

Lieberman’s position complicates Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s efforts to obtain the 60 votes necessary to pass health care legislation, though in and of itself it may not be enough to block the bill’s passage. Sen. Olympia Snowe has been a proponent of a “trigger” option, and it’s possible that Democrats could afford to lose Lieberman if they can get her on board. And in the interview, Lieberman still insists that they’ll end up passing a bill.

Yet even if Reid can get some sort of agreement in principle on a compromise with Lieberman and other wobbly Democratic moderates, there’s no guarantee that it will make it through the Senate. That’s because now that the bill is on the floor, 60 votes are required to make any changes, and Democratic Senators will be under heavy pressure from liberal activists to not cave on the government plan.

And this doesn’t even take into account the dispute over abortion language, and the fact that even after passing the Senate, the bill would still have to be reconciled with the House version, and then pass both chambers again.

Fiorina: White Men Can’t Beat Boxer

U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina said at an American Spectator Newsmaker Breakfast this morning that her primary opponent, Chuck DeVore, could not beat Sen. Barbara Boxer in a general election because Boxer knows how to win against “white men.”

Fiorina focused her opening remarks on contrasting herself with Boxer, who she painted as a liberal Democrat who has not accomplished much during her three terms in office and has advanced tax, spending, and regulatory policies that have crippled California’s economy.

When asked what set her apart from DeVore, she said that they agreed on the issues, but that she wasn’t a career politician and she had a better chance of beating Boxer.

“He is an honorable man,” Fiorina said of DeVore. “He has every right to run. But he cannot beat Barbara Boxer.”

She continued, “With all due respect and deep affection for white men — I’m married to one — but [Boxer] knows how to beat them. She’s done it over and over and over.”

Diane DeVore, Chuck’s wife, responded on Twitter that, “Carly, I’m married to that ‘white guy’ & I can tell u he can win against mods and libs. Has record to prove it!”

Fiorina said her strategy was to “bang away at [Boxer’s] voting record, from which she cannot hide.” Fiorina also used the morning to expand on her beliefs on a wide range of issues including taxes, spending, the role of unions, and abortion. She also defended her record as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Fiorina described herself as a fiscal and social conservative.

“I am pro-life,” Fiorina said. “I believe that life begins at conception.” She also said she supported the Stupak amendment in the House health care bill that bars women from using government subsidies to purchase policies that cover abortion.

I asked her to clarify her comments given that labels can mean different things to different people, and some who may describe themselves as personally pro-life may still believe that individual women should have the right to choose abortion.

“Well, that is the situation in the world today,” Fiorina responded. “That is reality. What I think about it is, I’m not sure, relevant to the job I’m seeking other than of course Supreme Court nominees, but the reality is that a woman can walk into Planned Parenthood today and get an abortion. Now, I believe we should all be working to limit the number of abortions, so in that sense, no I do not believe that everyone should have that choice. But they do today. I’m just trying to be realistic. That’s why I think this Stupak amendment is so important, and frankly, I think the debate the Stupak amendment has created is quite instructive about what the motivations mean behind some of these things. I believe that life begins at conception and I believe we must protect the rights of the unborn. And I believe that science continues to demonstrate that a fetus is viable at a younger and younger age, and I know, as a realist, that not everyone agrees with me. So the common ground that we can find is how to reduce abortions.”

She also said that she believed in the sanctity of marriage as being between a man and a woman, and said she voted for Proposition 8, the California ballot measure to amend the state constitution to keep marriage between a man and a woman.

Responding to a question about her position on U.S. Supreme Court nominations, she said that she “probably” would have voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor because “elections have consequences” and “she seemed qualified.” Fiorina cautioned that she was dealing with her own breast cancer at the time and thus was not in a position to closely examine the judge’s record.

Fiorina said that she was opposed to bailouts and President Obama’s economic stimulus package. Instead, she said, she supports low taxes and spending, and described the nation’s debt as “unsustainable.”

In response to a question about the dominant role of public sector unions in her state, she said that “there is growing anger in California over the vice grip that unions have over the state.” She said that they have a disproportionate influence relative to the amount of workers they represent.

She said that she would bring an outsider’s perspective to Washington as somebody who had spent her business career balancing billion-dollar budgets. She defended her tenure at HP, saying that she managed to double the size of the company during a severe “tech recession,” and created jobs on a net basis. While she did outsource, she said it was only because California’s tax code makes it difficult to employ people in the state. Remarking on her ouster from the company, she argued that subsequent revelations that her successor was spying on her and other board members vindicated her.

She said she wasn’t too concerned about polls showing her within a point of DeVore, noting that her campaign was just starting and he’s been campaigning for 18 months, and the primary isn’t until June.

Asked whether she expected Sarah Palin to endorse a candidate in the race, Fiorina said she didn’t know. But she added, “I share Sarah Palin’s values.”

UPDATE: A DeVore spokesman emails to say he has been running for 12 months.

The Road Ahead in the Health Care Battle

While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has secured the needed 60 votes to bring his health care bill to the Senate floor after Thanksgiving recess, there’s still a long road to go until President Obama can sign legislation into law.

The optimistic take for Democrats today is obviously that health care legislation has cleared another hurdle. And it must be said that however many ups and downs there have been throughout the process, at each stage Democrats have found a way to move the ball down field. They managed to get bills out of committees, cobble together enough votes to get the bill passed in the House, and today, to get the bill to the Senate floor. Comprehensive health care legislation has never come this close to passing at any time in American history. Thus, there’s good reason to believe that somehow the Democratic leadership, along with the White House, will be able to iron out their remaining differences, twist enough arms, and dole out enough goodies to get past the goal line.

With that said, there are plenty of ways for everything to completely fall apart for Democrats in the coming weeks and months. Though Reid was able to unite his caucus for tonight’s vote, at least two Senators — Joe Lieberman and Blanche Lincoln — have unequivocally said that they would block any bill that still included a government plan at the end of the upcoming amendment process. Sen. Mary Landrieu said that Reid wouldn’t have 60 votes unless Democrats agree to weaken the government plan so that it is triggered if private insurers don’t reach certain benchmarks. Sen. Ben Nelson has said he wants more restrictive abortion language in the bill. That doesn’t include other Democratic Senators whose votes could be in doubt depending on how the amendment process goes. It’s worth keeping in mind that once the bill reaches the floor, Reid will need 60 votes to make any changes. It’s really difficult to see how there could be 60 votes in the Senate to go as far as the House did to ensure that no taxpayer money covers abortions. And it’s also questionable whether there are 60 votes to remove (or at least weaken) the government plan.

Even if Reid figures out a way to get his caucus to fall into line and squeaks the bill through the Senate, the Senate bill would still have to be reconciled with the House version. And anything that gets negotiated in that conference (on abortion language, the government plan, etc.) could upset the delicate balance that enabled Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass the House bill by a narrow 220 to 215 vote margin.

Another thing to keep in mind is that with the bill first going to the Senate floor on November 30, this process is now all but assured to drag into next year. And there’s a reason why the White House had been emphasizing the need to get health care done by the end of the year. The longer this drags on, the more pressure there will be on Democrats to do something about the unemployment crisis, the more President Obama’s popularity can decline, the more chance there is that unforseen circumstances can get in the way, and the closer they get to the 2010 elections.

So, on one hand, Democrats scored a big victory today, but on the other hand, if it was this difficult to keep their caucus together on a vote to bring the bill to the floor, it may not bode well for the much tougher votes ahead.

UPDATE: As expected, the motion passed with 60 votes along straight party lines, shortly after 8 p.m. The Republicans had 39 votes against it — George Voinovich was the only Senator who wasn’t present. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he was back home observing the 30th anniversary of being elected mayor of Cleveland, with his old team. 

Blanche Lincoln Gives Reid Needed Votes to Advance Bill

Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas said she would vote to allow the Senate health care bill to advance, thus giving Majority Leader Harry Reid the needed votes to bring the legislation to the floor for debate after Thanksgiving recess.

Lincoln also put fellow Democrats on notice that she would vote against moving the bill in the next major vote if the government-run plan is not removed by the end of the amendment process.

“Although I don’t agree with everything in this bill, I have concluded that I believe it is more important that we begin this debate to improve our nation’s health care system for all Americans, rather than just simply drop the issue and walk away,” Lincoln said.

She said that, “Attempts by the national Republican Party and other conservative groups to portray this as a vote for or against this particular health care reform bill, is untrue.”

Several times, she said she said it was “not my last or only chance to have an impact” and promised to be unswayed by pressure from political groups on the left or right.

“My first loyalties are to the people of Arkansas,” Lincoln insisted. But a Zogby poll released earlier this week found that Arkansans opposed health care legislation by a 64 percent to 29 percent margin, and after pollsters explained what was in the legislation, that number grew to 68 percent to 26 percent. It also showed that her reelection chances would be severely hampered in 2010 if she voted for the bill.

“I’m not thinking about my reelection, the legacy of a president, or whether Democrats or Republicans are going to be able to claim victory in winning this debate,” she said in announcing her support to advance the bill to the Senate floor.

But while securing a short-term victory for Reid, Lincoln also complicated things by vowing unequivocally to block any bill that included a government-run plan from getting a final vote.

“Let me be perfectly clear,” she said. “I am opposed to a new government administered health care plan as a part of comprehensive health insurance reform, and I will not vote in favor of the proposal that has been introduced by leader Reid as it is written.”

More specifically, she warned, “I am also aware that there will be additional procedural votes to move this process forward that will require 60 votes prior to the conclusion to the floor debate. I’ve already alerted the leader and I’m promising my colleagues that I’m prepared to vote against moving to the next stage of consideration as long as a government-run option is included.”

Earlier in her speech, Lincoln explained her reasons for opposing the government plan.

“I believe that we should work to make sure that we do not expose American taxpayers and the Treasury to a long-term risk that could occur over future government bailouts,” she said.

Landrieu Says She’ll Vote to Advance Health Care Bill

And then there was one.

Sen. Mary Landrieu just announced she would vote to allow Harry Reid’s health care bill to make it to the Senate floor for a vote.

Landrieu, who was one of just two remaining Democratic holdouts, secured $100 million in special Medicaid funding for Louisiana as part of the bill. She cautioned that, “The vote today to move forward in this important debate should in no way be construed by supporters of this current framework as an indication of how I might vote as this debate comes to an end.”

But her decision does make it much more likely that the legislation will ultimately pass, and leaves Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas as the only Democrat who has yet to declare her intentions. Reid needs Lincoln in order to reach the necessary 60-vote threshold.

UPDATE: Landrieu addressed the million payment to Louisiana in her remarks, blasting “very partisan Republican bloggers” for spreading the story. However, the news, as far as I can tell, was first reported by the Politico and ABC News. The argument she made was that post-Katrina federal aid to Louisiana made the state appear artificially richer, and thus deprived them of the federal Medicaid funding they deserve. And she boasted that the actual amount was $300 million.

In her remarks, Landrieu also suggested many improvements, and praised Sen. Ron Wyden proposal to open up the exchanges to those who may not be satisfied with their employer-based care.

She also continued to express reservations about the government plan, arguing that it would pose “significant risk to taxpayers over time.” Instead, she supports a proposal by Sen. Olympia Snowe to “trigger” the government plan if the private market doesn’t meet certain government benchmarks.