Tag Archives: sarah palin

A Chill in the Air

Summer officially starts this weekend, but it’s getting cold out there.

The AMA reacted coolly to President Obama’s healthcare plan. Iran’s elections may have a chilling effect on its relations with the United States. Senate Republicans want to freeze the Sotomayor proceedings until fall. And Sarah Palin is going all ice queen on David Letterman.

Bundle up, dear reader.

The president addressed the American Medical Association’s annual convention yesterday, outlining his healthcare policy to a new level of detail. If doctors, hospitals, and insurers can cut care costs, the president offered, government will also work to lower medical liabilities (right now, a doctor’s greatest expense is malpractice insurance).

Here’s where it gets frosty: the president said his plan may cost $1 trillion. For a federal budget buckling under the weight of bailouts, bankruptcies, and decade-old tax breaks, another trillion-dollar program makes everyone shudder. Think spending may become a political problem for the Democrats? You ain’t the only one.

Congress will soon undertake healthcare reform, but this week, it’s focused on the environment and new financial regulations. And Sonia: the GOP is hoping to stall for time, but it’s running up against a concerted White House media strategy.

The president’s primary international concern is (still) west Asia. Iran’s presidential elections have been fascinating to watch.

The incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a bigot who thinks America sucks. The challenger, Mir Hossain Mousavi, quit politics 15 years ago to become an architect. Mousavi wasn’t supposed to be the main opposition, but former president Mohammed Khatami thought he had no chance this go-round, so he dropped out.

That’s because until recently, Ahmadinejad was very popular. He is a hero to rural conservatives and the urban poor, whose causes he championed. But 70 percent of Iran is under 30 years old, and many young people find Iran’s current brand of theocratic authoritarianism suffocating. They want freedom, and Mousavi is their man.

Ahmadinejad won, but it looks like he may have cheated. Mousavi supporters have taken to the streets, and Iran’s ruling clerics have opened an investigation into the election results. New elections, or even hard evidence of cheating, are unlikely. But it’s interesting to watch a government testing out the mechanics of democracy, especially a government at the center of the world stage.

Meanwhile, there may be “tough months” ahead for Afghanistan, according to Gen. David Petraeus, who oughta know. The Blog wonders: “tough” as opposed to what? All the easy living Afghanistan’s been soaking up lately?

Pakistan isn’t doing much better.

Even our allies are raising a ruckus. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu responded to President Obama’s recent call for a Palestinian state with a big “pfff.” Actually, Netanyahu said the Palestinians could have their own country, so long as that country didn’t have an army and so long as Israelis could continue trying to take over Palestine one settlement at a time. The Palestinians—and the Blog—find his munificence overwhelming.

Twenty years ago, the New York Times’ Tom Friedman (see this week’s Top 5) wrote that Israel’s big problem is that it can only have two of the three things it wants: to be 100 percent Jewish, 100 percent democratic, and occupy 100 percent of all the territory of Old Testament Israel. It can have any two, Friedman argues, but not all three. Israel has still not chosen.

Finally this week, the Blog presents a moment of absurdity. Guess who is conservatives’ newest worst enemy? This moment of absurdity has been brought to you by Sarah Palin, defender of all that is right.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

The Washington Post: “Muted Response Reflects U.S. Diplomatic Dilemma” by Scott Tyson.

The New York Times: “Winds of Change?” by Tom Friedman.

Economist: “Tehran Rising.

Newsweek: “The Micawbers and Mrs. Roosevelt” by Jon Meacham.

Wall Street Journal: “White House Sends Signals on Deficit” by Gerald Seib.

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Legislative Bratwurst

The Wrap: Golden Anniversary

Today, Team Obama passes the halfway point of the First 100 Days. What have we learned about our president so far?

 

Obama was elected by talking like an idealist and campaigning like a realist. He seems to be governing the same way. On Day One, he ordered Gitmo closed to signal the end of the Bush era, but stayed its shuttering for one year to address security concerns. He asked Congress for a game-changing stimulus package, but conceded some of his priorities to get the necessary votes. Similar dynamics are developing on education, health care, and energy in the wake of his joint-session speech.

 

Republicans call this crass cynicism, just as they did during the campaign. All hat and no cattle, they charge. Liberals see Obama learning to master the art of the possible.

 

The week building up to the Hawaiian’s Five-Oh was dominated by two contests, one important and one inane. The important contest involved the budget – more on that in today’s Feature. The inane contest involved Rush Limbaugh.

 

Since the Blog abhors giving El Rushbo any digital ink, we’ll keep this short. Cool that the Dems want to whack this guy like a piñata. He’s a distraction from genuine political debate, and any excuse to marginalize his hypocritical, self-important boorishness is okay by us. But it lowers the president to Rush’s level, and let’s stay away from the whole if-you-criticize-the-president-you’re-criticizing-America thing. Too soon.

 

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

 

The Washington Post: “Democrats Stung by Dissenters” by Shailagh Murray.

 

Slate: “Winning Smugly” by William Saletan.

 

Economist: “Troubled Again.

 

The New York Times: “Terror-War Fallout Lingers Over Bush Lawyers” by Charlie Savage and Scott Shane.

 

The New York Times: “2 West Africa Slayings May Signal a New Day” by Lydia Polgreen.

 

Feature: Legislative Bratwurst

Bismarck’s old saw about laws and sausages—it’s better not to see them being made—is never truer than with spending bills.

 

This week, Congress debates a $410 billion omnibus bill. It’s gonna be gross. While the Democrats hold decisive majorities in both houses, they must work with their conservative counterparts to craft a bill that will reach 60 yea votes in the Senate, and because Democrats like being the Big Tent Party, intra-party divisions may also prove crippling.

 

When some version of Congress’ extrusion becomes law, nobody will be totally satisfied. That may be for the best.

 

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In the wake of last month’s stimulus debate, the president seemed to acknowledge that leaving spending details up to Congress was a bad idea. Yet he again set only broad priorities for the omnibus bill, asking the legislature to hammer out specifics.

 

They signaled their agreement by paring away several Obama priorities. Obama’s budget relied on an ambitious revenue increase. Much of that would come from three places: limited tax deductions on wealthy Americans, reduced subsidies to big farming operations, and lower spending on entitlements.

 

Whoa, whoa, whoa, said Congress. The chairmen of the House and Senate tax committees objected to the deduction limits because they might discourage charitable contributions. The revenue generated by the cuts would have been a down payment on health care overhaul. Now that plan is in jeopardy.

 

Agriculture committee wallahs upheld current subsidy rates because they come from places like Nebraska and North Dakota, which depend on agribusiness. Blue Dogs like John Spratt of South Carolina didn’t think Obama went far enough on entitlement cuts, so they, too were dismembered.

 

Who cares? So a few unruly Dems want to bail on the president. Why not pass the bill over their objections?

 

One word: filibuster. We can thank the Framers for this pickle. To make sure wacky majorities didn’t oppress the rest of us, they wrote into the Constitution a rule which means any minority of more than 40 votes in the Senate can effectively block any legislation. The Democrats have 57 functional members of the Senate, which means even if every one of them voted for whatever the president asked, they’d still have to get three Republicans to agree.

 

So each Democratic vote is precious to the president. He must work with them, and with a few Republicans. But his credibility is on the line more than anyone else’s, so he can’t afford to get railroaded. If the bill slips out of his control, he may be forced to veto legislation he originally proposed.

 

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We Americans like to think of ourselves as uncompromising, but that’s where our national genius lies—in the ability to make one from many.

 

There may be a temptation to see objecting senators as obstructionists, or parochialists, or worse, but they raise some legitimate questions. Can government encourage charity? Should it? How much? To which causes?

 

We can’t ruminate on these quandaries indefinitely. A spending bill must be passed, and these economic times mean time is of greater-than-usual essence. But if this legislative sausage making is gory and grotesque, it’s also the synthesis by which we determine what kind of country we want to be.

 

On Deck: All Hands

Coming storms for the White House will continue to revolve around the omnibus bill. Watch how it shapes priorities and expectations on everything from energy to Afghanistan.

 

Also, keep a weather eye for thoughtful write-ups (one in this week’s Top 5) about stem cell research, which underwent its expected policy reversal Monday.

 

Finally, batten the hatches. Someone is drafting Sarah Palin for president.