How The Excise Tax Undermines A Populist Message

The principal architect and proponent of the excise tax, Jon Gruber, is one of the signatories to the letter urging passage of the Stand Alone Senate bill sent to House leaders. As I explained before, whatever you think of the merits of the excise tax, it is the principal stumbling block for passage of the Senate bill in the House. But it also would be a principal obstacle to a populist message for the Dems in the 2010 elections. As I wrote about earlier, John Judis argues that the biggest problem with the Senate health bill is the perception that it harms middle class voters at the expense of corporation and the wealthy:

Where Obama invited a voter backlash was by letting the burden of reducing health care costs appear to fall on senior citizens and those middle-class workers who had acquired good health insurance through decades of union battles with management, and not on the insurance and drug companies. Obama ceded too much to the policy wonks who were devising intricate schemes to show they could cut the deficit. He took his eye of off the political imperative of keeping middle America in his corner.

The excise tax was a political poison pill. Ironically, there is a chance to fix that now. Dems should jump at the chance.

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    The diminishing Democrat base? (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by MO Blue on Fri Jan 22, 2010 at 11:19:18 AM EST
    Recent poles indicate that Independents don't support the health insurance legislation. Unions won't support the Senate bill. Many Pro-choice women feel that they have been thrown under the bus by the Dems in the health insurance legislation. Latinos not pleased with restrictions in Senate bill. The left is consistently being told by the party that it is not part of the Democratic base. The youth vote is staying home. Expect seniors, who do vote, to swing in greater numbers to the Republicans especially if Obama decides to "reform" Social Security as well as cut the Medicare budget.

    Don't see a winning strategy for the Dems. In fact, it is being to look more and more like a death wish.

    And there's just no way the Dems are going (5.00 / 4) (#3)
    by Anne on Fri Jan 22, 2010 at 12:07:53 PM EST
    to have any answer for the "tax and spend" charges that will issue from Republican campaigns; I may have to lay in an extra supply of popcorn for that show.

    That being said, getting rid of the excise tax would only eliminate the way we pay for "reform" - it doesn't make the underlying bill a thing of beauty; it may not even raise it to the level of just being mediocre.

    Before Obama took office, I think people did have hope that things would improve; even I, who did not vote for him, at least recognized that there could be positive implications from Democrats having both the WH and the Congress.  Wrong.  And the list of reasons why is a long one.

    So, now we sit, one year later, forced to acknowledge that the party has been taken over by rightward-leaning, over-conciliatory, too-anxious-to-please-the-opposition politicians with unbreakable ties to deep, deep corporate pockets, leaving us with the unacceptable choice of rejecting every liberal/progressive plank of the platform by continuing to support these alien beings, or just staying home.

    Staying home seems like, by far, the better choice.  By miles and miles.  I mean, if voting for Democrats gets us Republican policies and Republican legislation, what's the point?  Democrats might as well announce that the "old" Republicans are now the Republican'ts, since they say "no" to everything, and we will be the Republicans, because we, well, "can."  "Can what?" seems to be wholly irrelevant to the party poo-bahs.

    Nothing new there, sadly.

    Health Care Reform is dead (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Slado on Fri Jan 22, 2010 at 12:27:14 PM EST
    The last few days of talking about it are just that, talk.

    Unless something dramatic happens this whole thing will get dropped and Obama and Co. will move on to their new "populous" agenda.  

    The word is Obama and Co. are completely disengaged from the process and are letting Pelosi and Reid fiddle around while this thing dies away.

    I wouldn't be surprised if Obama makes quick if no reference to it in his state of the union.  If he mentions it, it will be only to give himself a  pat on the back for trying and then an explanation how he moved us closer to what will ultimately be the change we need blah, blah blah.

    Then back to the economy and it will be as if the whole thing never happened.

    Link (none / 0) (#6)
    by Slado on Fri Jan 22, 2010 at 12:34:53 PM EST

    From article...

    And what seems unmistakably clear is that the White House is taking an extremely hands off approach to the whole situation

    Gruber, et al., cannot even spell (none / 0) (#1)
    by Cream City on Fri Jan 22, 2010 at 11:01:08 AM EST
    Obama's first name.  (Just tossed this on the previous thread but have to repeat it here now for the fun.:-)  

    So many "luminaries," so few copy editors.  (There are other parts of the overly long letter that also are grammatically awful, but the cc is the best.)

    They are looking foolish for many reasons.

    So let's just spell it Groober.

    So... (none / 0) (#5)
    by Dadler on Fri Jan 22, 2010 at 12:32:23 PM EST
    ...we have a nice coalition lined up against this relative POS, consisting of quite reasoned and angry folks combined with quite irrational and angry folks. nothing like making greater enemies of almost impossible allies.


    I think it will be fixed in reconciliation (none / 0) (#7)
    by BobTinKY on Fri Jan 22, 2010 at 02:48:46 PM EST
    not just the excise tax but other popular measure, public option, that were dropped will be in the bill.

    "A congressperson's first job is to get re-elected" - Sam Rayburn.

    Those in the House whose re-election is in jeopardy, & who supported the House bill, are on record as having supported what will become a failed bill subject to whatever characterization their GOP opponents choose to give it.  Their only hope is to get a better bill now with more immediate & easily understood benefits for their voters.  No group more so than Blue Dogs who, whether they voted for the House bill or not, will be guilty by association.

    Democratic senators, for the most part, do not have the immediate re-election problem facing House Democrats.  Yet, they know they can't afford to let the GOP win this when a majority of Dem senators support action now.  Reconciliation is the only available means left for them to avoid catastrophe.

    Right now the Dems are in complete disarray.   However, I am confident that political necessity will triumph in the end; pols being pols.  Brown's win in MA may be the best thing that could have happened for meaningful, equitable HCR.  Obama's new populist rhetoric, if backed up with some action in Congress, will work and he will go with it to beat back the GOP.  It will take a few months for Dems to realize they have a winning hand with populism, Lord knows it has been a while since they even considered trying it.   Do not be surprised if their support of a much more progressive HCR bill is the toool Dems use to beat back GOP challengers this Fall.

    I like your optimism, but (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by esmense on Fri Jan 22, 2010 at 02:56:11 PM EST
    nothing brings out the media knives like Democrats indulging in a little Lefty populism -- not matter how mild. Obama hasn't yet had to choose between being popular with the media and being popular with the electorate. I'm not confident he will make the right choice.

    What choice does he have? (none / 0) (#9)
    by BobTinKY on Fri Jan 22, 2010 at 03:13:03 PM EST
    He's lived through Carter, DLC, 1994.  None of the choices Dems made during those periods are his road to success, that has been demonstrated.  Truman is his only model here (Give 'em Hell, Barry?), tell the truth and let them think  it's Hell.  It is obviously not his nature, but as I said he has zero other options if he wants to succeed.

    Every other option is playing by GOP rules, within their defined playground.  That has never worked for Democrats.  


    I can't speak for all democrats but (none / 0) (#10)
    by Slado on Fri Jan 22, 2010 at 03:29:49 PM EST
    I can speak for the one who lives in my town (Brad Ellsworth) or at least give my opinon.

    If he pushese through with your plan he is done.  He will be voted out and it won't even be close.  He won because republicans crossed over and voted for him because we had a lazy republican incunbent in 2006.  He is basically republican light supporting gun control, limits on abortion, strong security, blah, blah, blah.

    He would be advised to drop Healthcare now and start apologizing rather then ramming something through.

    It's the lesser of two evils but he is way more likely to get elected if he drops his assosiation with progressives then if he takes a strong stand with Pelosi and crew.

    The same goes for my Senator (Evan Bayh) who is already saying so.

    This ship has sailed.   These moderates who are the reason democrats control the house/senate are simply not going to cut their own throats to support a wounded progressive caucus and a severely wounded president.


    If you want Republican policies why didn't (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by esmense on Fri Jan 22, 2010 at 05:39:12 PM EST
    you vote for the Republican candidate?

    Could it be because 8 years of Republican governance had brought the country to the brink of economic ruin?

    We can't continue on the ideological course we've been mostly pursuing for the last 30 years without reaping worse consequences than we already have.

    Personally, if dimwits like Bayh really think that the best thing the Democrats can do for the nation is to continue on the disasterous course the Republicans set us on over the last 8 years, I hope the Dems are voted out of power.

    If the Democrats aren't going to do anything to reverse direction and set us on a better course, I'd want to see Republicans in charge of, and held responsible for, the broad economic suffering that will inevitably follow.


    I live in deeply GOP district (none / 0) (#12)
    by BobTinKY on Fri Jan 22, 2010 at 08:40:36 PM EST
    Ellsworth may be gone, so what? The Blue Dogs were always facing a tough road and saving them is not worth the risk of losing Dem seats in Dem districts because they fouled up HCR.

    Political necessity will come in to play here and we will see a better HCR bill for it.


    agreed (none / 0) (#13)
    by Mr Furious on Sat Jan 23, 2010 at 10:24:12 AM EST
    Obama ceded too much to the policy wonks who were devising intricate schemes to show they could cut the deficit. He took his eye of off the political imperative of keeping middle America in his corner.

    I agree with this 100%.

    It's a perfect summation of letting policy get ahead of politics. One of Obama's several mistakes ont his whole thing, in my opinion.

    clarification (none / 0) (#14)
    by Mr Furious on Sat Jan 23, 2010 at 10:26:31 AM EST
    I'm NOT saying policy is less important than politics--good policy is of course paramount. But Obama let the optics on health care reform dissolve into a miasma of wonkery and legalese.

    What should have been a straightforward sell to the public with the public interest at the forefront became a massive stew of political compromise and corporate benefit.