Obama Hogs More Time, Declares “I’m the President”

After Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell noted that Democrats’ opening statements had lasted twice as long as Republicans, President Obama responded that his time shouldn’t count in the calculation.

“There was an imbalance in the opening statements, because I’m the President,” Obama declared. “And I didn’t count my time in terms of dividing it evenly.”

Throughout the morning session, Obama repeatedly cut off Republicans, citing time constraints. Yet he took as much time as he wanted to respond to Republicans.

Not only did Obama use more time, he also tried to limit the terms of the debate. Whenever Republicans criticized his proposal, for instance, he tried to stop them and argue that they should only be focusing on “areas of agreement.” He also chastized Republicans for using talking points, and argued that it was out of bounds to suggest that the Democratic bill was based on the idea that “Washington knows best.” He said this was unfair argument to make, because there’s a lot of anger at Washington now.

Here’s the video of Obama’s declaration that he is, in fact, president.

Alexander Takes on Obama on Health Care Premiums

Sen. Lamar Alexander has called out President Obama on claims that health care legislation would reduce premiums, noting that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that premiums would be 10 percent to 13 percent higher in the individual market under the Senate bill than under current law.

The CBO report, which was released in November, found that in dollar terms, an individual policy would cost $5,800 and a family policy would cost $15,200 in 2016 if the Senate bill were enacted, compared with $5,500 and $13,100 under the status quo.

During the summit this morning, Obama argued that in exchange for paying more, Americans would be getting more generous insurance coverage. But the reason is that the Senate bill would impose so many new benefit mandates on insurance policies. In a free market, individuals should be allowed to buy more expensive insurance that offers more benefits, but the problem with the liberal approach is that it would force everybody to pay more, even people who may prefer to have lower premiums and less generous coverage.

At Summit, Sen. Alexander Calls on Obama, Dems to Renounce Reconciliation

Sen. Lamar Alexander, during his opening remarks at the White House health care summit, called on President Obama and Democrats to renounce the use of reconciliation to ram through a bill on a purely partisan basis. Alexander said it was important first step toward Obama’s stated goal of having Republicans and Democrats work together on legislation.

President Obama did not respond to Alexander’s request, but instead called on Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to make their opening statements.

Americans oppose the use of reconciliation to pass a health care bill by a 52 percent to 39 percent margin, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll.

UPDATE: Harry Reid says, “Nobody is talking about reconciliation,” but then makes the case that it’s done all the time.

Obama’s response: “Rather than at the outset start talking about legislative process, and what’s going to happen in the Senate and the House, and this and that, what I suggest is let’s talk about the substance, how we might help the American people deal with cost, coverage, insurance, these other issues, and we might surprise ourselves and find out that we agree more than we disagree. And that would then help to dictate how we move forward. It may turn out on the other hand that there’s just too big of a gulf, and then we’ll have to figure out how we proceed from there.”

WSJ: Obama Prepares Plan B

With today’s health care summit set to begin at the top of the hour, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration has already crafted a fallback plan that it would pursue if Congress can’t pass a comprehensive bill.

The bill would cover 15 million people by expanding Medicaid and S-CHIP and imposing a national “slacker mandate” that would force insurers to allow “children” to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26. The price tag would be about one-fourth of the $950 billion the administration claims its current bill costs, according to the article.

Politically, many of the Republican proposals I’ve seen include a slacker mandate, even though it would increase premiums and represent more government command and control, but the expansion of the other entitlements is likely to set off alarm bells.

Such a proposal would not do anything to reform the health care system or contain costs, and it would be hard to claim that it does anything to help the 85 percent of Americans who already have insurance. Instead, Obama would have to sell an expanded welfare program.

Another big obstacle would be getting liberals on board with scaled-down ambitions. Such a proposal would have to start back at the committee level and pass both chambers. At every level, lawmakers will try to insert new measures that they believe are essential. Pretty soon, it wouldn’t be a scaled-back bill any more. Not to mention that the whole process would drag things out further into the election year.

I wouldn’t be shocked if Obama did roll out some sort of smaller bill if the comprehensive effort fails  — if nothing else, to try to portray Republicans as opposed to any sort of health care legislation — but I don’t see it going anywhere.

Health Care and the House

A few other odds and ends over the rough prospects for getting a comprehensive health care bill passed in the House.

— Eric Cantor’s whip count finds that Democrats don’t have the votes to pass a comprehensive bill.

— Bart Stupak tells Fox that he’s spoken to 15 to 20 Democrats in the last 24 hours who won’t support the bill in its current form.

— House Majority Whip James Clyburn backed off his comments that Democrats would pass the revised bill by a wider margin than the first time around.

— And Dennis Kucinich reiterated his argument that the bill was a sell-out to insurance companies that he couldn’t support.

Flashback: Obama, Reid Blasted Idea of Majority Rule in the Senate

BreitbartTV has posted a great compilation video of the arguments that top Democrats, including President Obama, made against the prospect of Republicans using the “nuclear option” to break Democratic filibusters in 2005. Their words stand in stark contrast to Democrats current statements in favor of ramming health care legislation through with just 51 votes in the Senate.

No doubt, Democrats would argue that using reconciliation for health care would not be as drastic a step as Republicans were contemplating in 2005. But if you listen to the arguments that Democrats were making back then, they were much more fundamental. They were arguing that majority rule in the Senate would undermine the checks and balances created by the founders, and defeat the whole purpose of having two chambers of Congress.

The whole video is worth watching, but I’ve transcribed some of the highlights.

Obama: “What I worry would be that you essentially still have two chambers, the House and the Senate, but that you simply have majoritarian absolute power on either side. And that’s just not what the founders intended.”

Harry Reid: “The right to extend debate is never more important then when one party controls Congress and the White House. In these cases the filibuster serves as a check on power and preserves our limited government.”

Chris Dodd talked about bipartisanship: “We need to sit down and work with each other. The rules of this institution have required that. That’s why we exist. Why have a bicameral legislative body? Why have two chambers? What were the framers thinking about 218 years ago? They understood, Mr. President, that there is a tyranny of the majority.”

Dianne Feinstein: “If the Republican leadership insists on forcing the nuclear option, the Senate becomes ipso facto the House of Representatives, where the majority rules supreme, and the party in power can dominate, and control the agenda with absolute power.”

Hillary Clinton: “You’ve got majority rule, and then you’ve got this Senate over here where people can slow things down, where they can debate, where they have something called the filibuster. You know, it seems like it’s a little less than efficient. Well, that’s right. It is. And deliberately designed to be so.”

And Joe Biden: “I say to my friends on the Republican side, you may own the field now, but you won’t own it forever. And I pray God when the Democrats take back control we don’t make the kind of naked power grab you are doing.”

Conrad Says HC Bill Is Dead Unless House Acts First

U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, the chairman of the Budget Committee, dealt a blow to the prospects for health care legislation just a day before a White House summit, arguing that the process would be “dead” if the House doesn’t act first to pass the Senate bill.

The statement is sure to enflame members of the House, who are reluctant to take a leap of faith and pass the Senate bill without knowing that it will be changed through reconciliation in the Senate.

Talking Points Memo’s Brian Beutler reports:

“The only way this works is for the House to pass the Senate bill and then, depending on what the package is, the reconciliation provision that moves first through the House and then comes here,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) outside the upper chamber this morning. “That’s the only way that works.”

I pointed out that House leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has repeatedly insisted they won’t take a flier on a reconciliation package–that they will only pass the Senate bill after the smaller side-car reconciliation bill has been all wrapped up.

“Fine, then it’s dead,” Conrad said.

Conrad added that he wouldn’t personally make any promises or symbolic gestures to House members to assure them that the Senate can or will take any action in a reconciliation bill to address House concerns.

“I don’t sign any blank check,” Conrad said.

As I detailed yesterday, health care already faces a tough road in the House, even assuming that some changes can be made by the Senate. Statements such as this one from Conrad (who as chairman of the Budget Committee would play a key role in any reconciliation strategy) will only fuel more animosity between House and Senate Democrats, and create a dilemma in which neither side wants to act first.

In Interview, Campbell Lies, Distorts His Record on Israel and Terrorism

Over at the New Ledger, Pejman Yousefzadeh has a lengthy interview with Tom Campbell, in which he’s asked to respond directly to some of what I’ve written on this blog about his background on Israel and terrorism. There’s a lot there, so I wanted to focus mainly on the misleading statements and outright lying.

As a general rule, I don’t like to use the word “lying.” But it’s hard to come to a different conclusion in this case. Asked about the $1,300 in donations he received from Sami Al-Arian, the former University of South Florida professor who subsequently pled guilty to conspiring to help associates of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Campbell denied it.

“I received no contribution from Sami Al-Arian,” Campbell told the New Ledger. “I believe the blog to which you refer spoke ambiguously as to whether I received a contribution from Sami Al-Arian or his wife. If I received a contribution from his wife, it was, obviously ten years ago.”

This is demonstrably false, because all you have to do is search the Federal Election Commission database. Then you’ll see this, which is a screen capture of a search I ran just moments ago.

Even more bizarre, when I asked the Campbell campaign to respond to my post last week, they passed on a statement from Campbell in which he not only acknowledged the Al-Arian donation, but said Al-Arian was also, “instrumental in asking others in his community to contribute to my 2000 Senate run. I have always stated that fact plainly; and I bring it up so no one can claim I am attempting to hide it.”

At another point in the New Ledger interview, Campbell claims: “I never said President Clinton’s foreign policy was one-sided in favor of Israel.” Yet that’s almost precisely what he did in fact say.

Read this bit from an article that appeared in the October/November 2000 issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs about Campbell’s run for Senate in 2000 against Dianne Feinstein:

When asked his opinion on the status of Jerusalem, Campbell opined that both Israel and Palestine should claim Jerusalem as their capital.

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, but it’s wrong to say it can’t also be the capital of Palestine.”

Alluding to President Bill Clinton’s comment that he is considering moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, he stated, “In order to be helpful to the peace process, an intermediary shouldn’t criticize just one side.”

Emphasis my own.

At another part of the interview, Tom Campbell was asked about his statement praising the work of Alison Weir, who has lately been pushing conspiracy theories about Israeli harvesting of Palestinian organs.

“I never stated any agreement with any statement made by Alison Weir,” he said. “I cannot validate that she is or is not a ‘conspiracy monger.’ And if she’s said something recently that is wrong, my quoted statement was from many years before any such statements of hers. This is a classic attempt to attack by association.”

But even putting aside Weir’s recent dabbling with blood libel, she runs an organization called If Americans Knew, the entire purpose of which is to argue that Israel is using U.S. tax dollars to carry out atrocities. Or as her website puts it, “Empowered by American money, Israel is occupying land that does not belong to it, is breaking numerous international laws and conventions of which it is a signatory, and is promulgating policies of brutality…”

Keep in mind, this is what Campbell said of Weir’s work: “Ms. Weir presents a powerful, well documented view of the Middle East today. She is intelligent, careful, and critical. American policy makers would benefit greatly from hearing her first-hand observations and attempting to answer the questions she poses.”

This isn’t a matter of guilt by association. It’s a matter of asking a simple question. How can anybody who claims to be a strong supporter of Israel have ever found anything praiseworthy in any of Weir’s writings on the Middle East?

Yesterday, I quoted a section of the same article from Washington Report, about his cordial relationship with Palestinian terrorist Yasser Arafat:

(Campbell) recalled a visit to Ramallah, Bethlehem and Gaza. He had bumped his head on a taxi door and the next day while he was in Damascus, Representative Campbell received a phone call from Yasser Arafat.

The Palestinian leader offered condolences that the congressman had been slightly injured in his country. Campbell’s reply was: “This makes me the first American to have shed blood in your country.”

Campbell didn’t directly address this story about Arafat, but he was asked about Arafat’s legacy. “Let me observe that Yasser Arafat allowed a substantial amount of corruption to characterize the PLO, and that, in the end, he missed the best chance for a permanent settlement that is likely to be presented to the Palestinian people.”

At no point did Campbell mention terrorism as part of Arafat’s legacy.

UPDATE: David Frum comes to Campbell’s defense again. It’s my general view that when evaluating political candidates, their records are a lot more important than anything they are currently saying, because politicians tend to tailor their positions to the office they’re seeking. In this case, Campbell is trying to win a Republican nomination, so he wants to sound hawkish on foreign policy and portray himself as a supporter of Israel. So I don’t take much stock in what Campbell is currently saying, while I am disturbed by his record. Frum, by contrast, has a more charitable interpretation of his voting record, is willing to excuse his troubling statements and associations as part of a misguided “Muslim outreach strategy” in the 1990s, and accepts his current policy pronouncements at face value. Furthermore, he doesn’t address the fact that Campbell is now outright lying about the political donations he accepted from Al-Arian. Given this sort of blanket defense, it’s difficult for me to present any evidence from Campbell’s actual record that is likely to convince Frum, but readers can judge for themselves. Jennifer Rubin has a longer response to Frum here.  

Holder’s Gitmo Nine

In a letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley, Attorney General Eric Holder discloses that nine lawyers who were appointed to handle detainee issues for the Obama Justice Department had previously worked on behalf of Guantanamo detainees.

As Byron York notes:

Private lawyers can choose to take or not take cases. Sometimes they make their decisions based on money, sometimes on principle, sometimes because they are sympathetic to the accused. The lawyers who worked with the terrorist detainees chose to represent people who are making war on the United States. That’s certainly their right, but it’s entirely reasonable to ask whether they should now be working on detainee issues at the Justice Department.

The department’s defenders might say the situation is no different from a lawyer who worked for a corporation joining the department to work on matters affecting big business. But critics say the terrorist detainees are in a special category of client because they are potential threats to the nation’s security.

The second issue is whether lawmakers are entitled to know who is handling detainee issues in the Justice Department. If there are serious questions about the independence of those who make policy, Republicans on the Senate committee, which has oversight responsibility for the Justice Department, feel strongly that they should know about it. (Majority Democrats, who control the committee, have not been as curious.)