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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Sen. Bernie Sanders, quoted in Lisa Rathke’s AP article, “Sanders says he’ll introduce ‘Medicare for all’ bill,” offers this perceptive observation about the Republican health care melt-down: “It wasn’t just we defeated them,” Sanders, an independent, said. “It was how we defeated them,” with rallies around the country, town meetings and people standing up and fighting back.” Many political commentators slighted the nation-wide protests leading up to and continuing after the inauguration, arguing that they meant little, unless they mobilized voters. But the protests did matter, because they educated millions of Americans about the huge rip-off embedded in the Republican ‘repeal and replace’ bill. But, yes it would be even better if the protest campaigns also registered voters.

In his PowerPost article, “Left out of AHCA fight, Democrats let their grass roots lead — and win,” Dave Weigel concurrs, and notes, “Democrats watched as a roiling, well-organized “resistance” bombarded Republicans with calls and filled their town hall meetings with skeptics. The Indivisible coalition, founded after the 2016 election by former congressional aides who knew how to lobby their old bosses, was the newest and flashiest. But it was joined by MoveOn, which reported 40,000 calls to congressional offices from its members; by Planned Parenthood, directly under the AHCA’s gun; by the Democratic National Committee, fresh off a divisive leadership race; and by the AARP, which branded the bill as an “age tax” before Democrats had come up with a counterattack…And what was incredible about this process was the phone calls,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.)…We had 1,959 phone calls in opposition to the American Health Care Act. We had 30 for it.””

But Democrats should not be content merely to defend Obamacare. Rather they should energetically reframe the Debate into expanding access to Medicare and Medicaid. As Daniel Marans writes at HuffPo, “Single-payer health insurance still lacks support from many, if not most, Democrats, let alone from the Republican lawmakers who control both chambers. But the proactive strategy speaks to increasing confidence among progressives that if they stick to their ideals and build a grassroots movement around them, they will ultimately move the political spectrum in their direction…In the meantime, a potential benefit of this ambitious approach is what’s known as shifting the “Overton Window,” a political science term for the narrow range of acceptable political views at a given moment in time…By adopting a position that is considered extreme by contemporary standards, politicians and activists can make more attainable policy goals start to seem reasonable by comparison. That phenomenon already seems to be working in progressives’ favor…Lowering the Medicare eligibility age from its current level of 65 is a “very interesting” idea, because of the positive financial effect it would have on the Obamacare insurance exchanges, said Austin Frakt, a health economist for the Department of Veterans Affairs…By allowing the oldest exchange participants to enroll in Medicare, lowering the Medicare age would relieve the health insurance marketplaces of some of their costliest customers, said Frakt, who also has academic posts at Boston University and Harvard…“It would reduce the premiums in those markets,” he predicted. (Frakt noted, however, that absent measures to offset the cost of the additional beneficiaries, the change would increase Medicare’s financial burden.)..Social Security Works’ Lawson praised the idea as an incremental step toward Medicare for all…“Start by lowering the age to 62 and get it down to zero,” he said.”

In another Dave Weigel article, “With AHCA defeat, some Democrats see chance to push for universal coverage,” he shares a quote from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse that should become a talking point for all Democratic candidates: “The very best market-based solution is to have a public option,” Whitehouse said. Paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin, he said that a government-managed insurer would reveal what games private insurers had been playing. “The best way to show that a stick is crooked is to put a straight stick next to it. If you do that, the private sector can’t manipulate the market by withdrawing.”

Robert H. Frank, an economics professor at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University looks beyond the public option in “What Comes Next for Obamacare? The Case for Medicare for All” at The Upshot. As Frank writes, “American health care outlays per capita in 2015 were more than twice the average of those in the 35 advanced countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Yet despite that spending difference, the system in the United States delivers significantly less favorable outcomes on measures like longevity and the incidence of chronic illness…But advertising expenses and administrative costs are not the most important reason the United States spends so much more. The main difference is that prices for medical services are so much lower in other countries. In France, for example, a magnetic resonance imaging exam costs $363, on average, compared with $1,121 in the United States; an appendectomy is $4,463 in France, versus $13,851 in America. These differences stem largely from the fact that single payers — which is to say, governments — are typically able to negotiate more favorable terms with service providers…In short, Medicare for all could deliver quality care at much lower cost than private insurers do now. People would of course be free to supplement their public coverage with private insurance, as they now doin most other countries with single-payer systems, and as many older Americans do with Medicare.”

Rep. Keith Ellison has a statistic that Democratic candidates and campaigns need to ponder. As Jeff McMenemy writes at seacoastonline.com, “Ellison, deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told a crowd of several hundred people that packed a fundraiser at the Portsmouth Gas Light Co. restaurant, that 63 percent of Americans “do not have $500 bucks in the bank. Think about that…A little crisis comes up and it can throw your family budget all out of whack. It means you get to the end of the week and you ran out of money,” Ellison said Saturday afternoon. “People are living paycheck to paycheck. Those Americans need a party that will fight for them.””

At The New York Times Jonathan Martin observes that Democratic leaders are not about to be hustled by another tax break for the wealthy scam masquerading as an infrastructure initiative. “An infrastructure plan may be a safer harbor for Mr. Trump — a measure many in Washington are mystified that he did not try to pursue at the outset of his administration,” writes Martin. “But Mr. Schumer suggested that the president would find Democratic votes only if he defied his party and embraced a huge spending bill, rather than just offering tax incentives for companies to build roads, bridges and railways…“If he’s only for tax breaks, it will just be a repeat of the health care debate,” Mr. Schumer said.”

The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin has a warning for Democrats who may be softening up toward the Gorsuch nomination: “To the extent that Gorsuch said anything of substance at his hearing, he put himself across as a mainstream figure. He said that he had participated in some twenty-seven hundred cases on the appeals court, and had voted with the majority in ninety-nine per cent of them. This proves only that most cases are routine. (Even the Supreme Court issues unanimous rulings more than half the time.) The hard cases are the ones that matter, and it’s reasonable to project how Gorsuch would vote in them. He would oppose abortion rights. (Trump promised to appoint a “pro-life” Justice.) His predilection for employers over employees is such that it yielded a circuit-court opinion of almost Gothic cruelty. When subzero temperatures caused a truck driver’s trailer brakes to freeze, he pulled over to the side of the road. After waiting three hours for help to arrive, he began to lose feeling in his extremities, so he unhitched the cab from the trailer and drove to safety. His employer fired him for abandoning company property. The majority in the case called the dismissal unjustified, but Gorsuch said that the driver was in the wrong…As a Justice, Gorsuch would embrace the deregulation of campaign finance symbolized by the Citizens United decision. (He argued in an opinion that judges should evaluate limits on political contributions using the same tough standards that they apply to racial discrimination.) His most famous Tenth Circuit decision had him taking a side in the culture wars. In Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, he ruled that a multibillion-dollar corporation could withhold federally guaranteed rights to birth control from thousands of female employees because of the religious beliefs of the corporation’s owners. (His position was upheld, 5–4, by the Supreme Court.) In an embarrassing coincidence, on the second day of Gorsuch’s testimony, the Court unanimously rejected one of his holdings in the Tenth Circuit, ruling that it denied adequate educational opportunities to students with disabilities. Every sign suggests that Gorsuch would be at least as conservative a judicial activist as Samuel Alito…It’s also clear what Neil Gorsuch is not: Merrick Garland. Gorsuch’s nomination is inextricable from its shameful political context. When Scalia died, more than eleven months remained in Barack Obama’s Presidency, but Senate Republicans refused to give his nominee even a hearing. This departure from norms was all the more outrageous because the tactic was used to block a moderate; the Republicans denied Obama his constitutional right in order to trade a Justice who might have been less liberal than Stephen Breyer for one who might be as radical as Clarence Thomas. Such a turnabout seems especially disturbing given that the F.B.I. and other agencies are now investigating the very legitimacy of the Trump Presidency. Indeed, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, has called for a delay in the Gorsuch vote until there is some clarity about the Trump camp’s ties to Russia. Last week, he also promised to lead a filibuster against Gorsuch’s confirmation, but Republicans, in response, vowed to change the Senate rules to allow them to confirm the nominee by a simple majority.”

“Sitting judges are expected to stay out of electoral politics. But this is not about attending a caucus or writing a campaign check. This is about respect—or disrespect—for the process by which judges are nominated, how those nominations are reviewed and the standards by which they are confirmed or rejected…Gorsuch’s refusal to acknowledge that corruption diminished him. And it further disqualified a man who—if he truly respected the constitution and the court—would have refused Trump’s offer of a tainted nomination…“Judge Gorsuch himself should understand the precedent his nomination risks setting and not hide behind statements about the need to avoid politics,” explains former US Senator Russ Feingold, a three-term veteran of the Senate Judiciary Committee who weighed the nominations of six Supreme Court Justices during his 18 years in the Senate. Of Gorsuch, Feingold says, “He should have refused the nomination. He reportedly called Judge Garland after he was nominated. If he had truly understood what is at stake, he would have called Judge Garland to say he had turned down the nomination in solidarity—not with Judge Garland personally, but with the Supreme Court and the US Constitution that he says he holds in such high regard…By refusing to acknowledge and condemn the chicanery, and the lies, that made him a nominee made himself a part of the lies and corruption…By putting his own political ambition ahead of a duty to the republic, Gorsuch extended the damage done by Republican partisans in 2016. And created a new danger. “If Republicans get away with the judicial coup they launched last year when they refused to grant Judge Merrick Garland a hearing, such a cynical political ploy could become commonplace,” says Feingold. “The GOP will apply it to lower courts. They will refuse to grant a hearing in the year before a midterm, or during the two years of a presidential race. The Supreme Court will become a permanent pawn of the GOP.” — from “Neil Gorsuch’s Own Testimony Clearly Disqualifies Him: The nominee failed to outline even minimal concerns about the GOP’s judicial coup” by John Nichols in The Nation.

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