Dennis Kucinich announced this morning that he is changing his vote on the health care bill from a “no” to a “yes,” the New York Times is reporting. Five days ago he said that he could not support the bill, but in the interim Obama invited Kucinich on his fancy Air Force plane and probably threatened to push him out without a parachute — a la that awesome Ferris wheel scene in The Third Man — and now Kucinich has changed his tune. This tells us something very bad, and very obvious, about This Year In Health Insurance Reform.
Here’s the thing: Obama asked Kucinich to join him on a flight to Ohio, where Obama was making the case for passing the bill. That is to say, Obama needed Kucinich to change his vote, and he found a way of doing that by twisting Dennis’ arm. Kucinich changed his vote, and Obama got what he wanted; that’s the amazing thing about being President — you have a lot of influence, especially over your own party.
Kucinich isn’t the only one who has felt the administration hovering over them. The Obama White House has previously pressured House freshman to vote their way on the war funding bill, threatening not to help any of them in reelections if they voted the other way.
The White House is playing hardball with Democrats who intend to vote against the supplemental war spending bill, threatening freshmen who oppose it that they won’t get help with reelection and will be cut off from the White House, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said Friday.
“We’re not going to help you. You’ll never hear from us again,” Woolsey said the White House is telling freshmen.
Put simply, this administration is neither stupid nor passive when it comes to strong-arming Congress. Obama and Rahm Emanuel know how to get votes. Everyone who was apologizing for Obama over the summer, saying: Well, he doesn’t have the votes for a public option or Medicare buy-in, and it’s not his job to bully Congress and even if he wanted to there’s not much he could do, you know. Well, this latest episode renders your argument toothless.
Whether one thinks Kucinich should vote for health care reform or not is a personal call. Jane Hamsher wrote that changing votes without gaining something in return — like the ERISA waiver (a mechanism to allow states to pursue single-payer) — would be a betrayal, and donors should ask for their money back. Chris Bowers doesn’t see the waiver as the most significant element of reform. Either way, Kucinich got no concessions for his vote. From the Times’ article:
Mr. Kucinich said he had not received anything from Congressional leaders or the White House in return for his support.
No, he didn’t get anything except the White House breathing down his neck until he did what they needed. It has long been clear that Obama never wanted a public option, but his apologists were eager to argue that there was nothing he could do; congress is a separate branch, guys. But now they must face an unpleasant truth: Obama is getting exactly the kind of health care bill that he wanted. It preserves the private sector completely in tact with no fundamental challenge to our horrible system, and ensures that Democrats will continue to receive vast sums of money from pharmaceutical and health insurance companies.
In fact, it looks like the pharmaceutical lobby — specifically PhRMA — will actually be running pro-reform ads in vulnerable Democrats’ districts. Politico is reporting:
A bit of good news for Democrats: PhRMA agreed Tuesday to fund an initial $6 million ad buy in the districts of 38 wavering House Democrats. The pro-reform ads will come from the industry-funded coalition Americans for Stable Quality Care and could hit the airwaves as early as today, a top industry official said.
Jon Walker from FireDogLake offered this interpretation of the news:
Take this to be a sign that the reconciliation package will likely not include drug re-importation or direct Medicare drug price negotiations. Take this also as a good sign that the bill is unlikely to do anything to bring down prescription drug prices for the majority of Americans, despite the fact that we, on average, pay more for the same medications than any other industrialized nation.
Yes, and take PhRMA’s willingness to support this “reform” as a sure sign that they aren’t worried about their profits or continued influence in Washington. And that’s the main issue here. The important question of the day isn’t: Should Kucinich vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the health care bill? The important question is: How did our country come to the point where progressive groups are pressuring progressive members of Congress to accept a bill that PhRMA can get behind?
At least part of the answer to that question is Obama’s unwillingness to lean on moderate and conservative Democrats. But applying pressure to progressives has not been a problem for him. Obama’s tactics for changing Kucinich’s vote show the country what it’s like when the president wants something. It’s too bad that Kucinich, and not the Blue Dogs, felt that hammer fall.
Blue Texan over at FDL makes a similar point by contrasting the treatment of Kucinich with the treatment of Blanche Lincoln.