CONSCIENCE VOTES

It tickled me pink to see Nate Silver make a Marjorie Margolies-Mesvinsky reference last week, since the anecdote of her one-term Congressional career is one I love telling. In class, in private, to my rats, anywhere and everywhere.

In 1992 "3M" (as fellow legislators called her to avoid excessive entanglement with her awkward name) won a total fluke victory over GOP incumbent Jon Fox in PA-13. Republicans had held the seat since Woodrow Wilson was President – 1916. Marjorie won narrowly and was not expected to last long, especially given that Clinton would not be on the ballot to help in 1994. In 1993 Clinton needed one more "yes" vote for his first budget proposal, one that was met with unanimous and strenuous opposition from Republicans. Marjorie signed her own political death certificate by agreeing to vote for it after days of full court press by the White House. As she recorded her vote in the House, Republicans stood and sang "Bye Bye, Marjorie!" She was defeated in 1994 and left public life.

Obama, of course, spent most of the weekend lobbying nervous House Democrats to vote for health care reform. He might have had an easier time with it had he read up on 3M and made a simple, forceful argument: a lot of you are going to lose in 2010. Irrespective of the HCR vote. 2008 was an anomalously strong year for the Democrats in Congress and let's be frank – a lot of these wins in conservative, historically Republican districts were complete flukes. It was a combination of luck, circumstances, and frustration with the ineptness of the GOP. But the Democrats, from the grassroots up to the White House, are acting as though these seats can be defended. Most of them can't.

Walt Minnick (Idaho 1) is a freshman and a firm No on HCR. He serves the most Republican district in the nation to be represented by a Democrat. He won by 0.6% of the vote in 2008 with Obama on the ballot bringing out more Democrats. I'd say Mr. Minnick has about a snowball's chance in hell of winning in 2010. Everything about him screams "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." A strong president would call him into the Oval Office, make small talk for a few minutes, and say, "Look, Walt. You're probably not going to be around for much longer. Why not do one really good thing before you go? One thing you'll be proud of, a historic piece of legislation you'll be able to say you made possible?"

The idea of voting one's conscience is very heavily discounted in political science. The evidence simply does not support it, instead pointing to constituent preferences and the party leadership as the effective constraints on Congressional voting behavior. However, this bill is big enough, and there are enough Democrats who are lucky just to be there, to justify appeals to conscience by the President. It only needs to work with a few people on a close vote. And deep in their hearts I believe a lot of these vulnerable House Democrats know their time is short. They know it as surely as they know that HCR, once passed, will join Social Security and Medicare as the third rail of American politics. After all, the unpopularity of the legislation obscures the fact that everything in the bill is in fact quite popular.

Two other things related to the vote:

1. NOW et al are flipping out about the executive order "Stupak compromise" on Federally-funded abortions. I think it's symbolic and essentially irrelevant. It reinforces the status quo of the Hyde Amendment and there was not one word in the bill suggesting that Federal money was going to be used to provide abortions anyway. Basically, if it made Bart Stupak and a couple other pro-life Democrats happy to have the President pass an EO saying "This bill which provides no Federal funds for abortions will not provide Federal funds for abortions" then so be it.

2. It was good to see the opposition from the left collapse – Kucinich and the like. I agree with them in that I think the bill is a massive handout to insurance companies and it pales in comparison to a single-payer system or a public insurance option. I am also old enough to realize that right now, with this President and this political landscape, this is about as good as it's going to get. When you need a new car and you realize you can't afford the Ferrari you really want, do you buy a car you can afford or say "Screw it, I'll just walk"? No, you take what you can get right now, let the policy establish a foothold, and add to it in increments over time. More on that tomorrow.

(postscript: Margolies-Mezvinsky's son Marc is now engaged to Chelsea Clinton. So whoever flips to vote with Obama on this one might end up with one of the Obama girls as a daughter-in-law)

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7 Responses to “CONSCIENCE VOTES”

  1. HoosierPoli Says:

    It's many things but it's NOT a huge handout to insurance companies. It ENFORCES profit margins, not to exceed 15-20 percent (based on the type of plan). If they don't spend enough on health care payouts, they refund the money to the policy holders. Given that some of these guys have been flirting with 35 percent profit margins, I don't think the influx of new customers (and those pesky "pay your policyholders" regulations) are gonna be enough to salve the wounds.

    The biggest thing wrong with this bill is that it doesn't start tomorrow.

  2. displaced Captalist Says:

    tl;dr version:

    Democrats have no spine.

  3. displaced Captalist Says:

    tl;dr version #2:

    Democrats have no spine and BO did not take advantage of this fact.

  4. Crazy for Urban Planning Says:

    Walt Minnick (Idaho 1) is a freshman and a firm No on HCR.

    I lived in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho while he ran for his district, he would have these bizarre ads where he said his opponent liked to dance with George W. Bush (with a little cartoon of the guy in a tutu running) – it didn't even mention that he was a Democrat! By the end of the ad you couldn't tell who he was – but you sure didn't want to vote for someone who danced with G.W. Bush!

  5. Elle Says:

    I get that pacifying Stupak is the politically smart thing to do, and we with our 'socialised medicine' on the other side of the Atlantic are generally very delighted for you all.

    However, I do have a happy daydream from time to time about a world in which the US is pro-choice. I think that it would have a profound impact on the global realisation of sexual and reproductive health rights for women and girls. I think it would be amazing for displaced women, poor women, girls at risk of young marriage and early pregnancy, and women in conflict zones. I think it might help stop the UK bargaining away legal abortion in Northern Ireland time after time to keep NI fundamentalist dissidents in line.

    I know that promising something which has already been delivered doesn't cost much. What it is though, is another few bars of mood music from Washington that amount to 'your choices aren't your own, ladies'. At that comes at a profound cost to the mental and physical health of women and girls across the world.

  6. BillCinSD Says:

    I know quite a few businesses that would love to be guaranteed 15-20% profits in perpetuity. In any case the key is how the accounting on this is suborned. And it's great that we only metaphorically threw women under the bus and we all got to punch as many hippies as we wanted

  7. kathequa Says:

    I'm from Colorado, and Betsey Markey, who won her seat from the most wonderful 2M- Marilyn Musgrave, did the right thing and voted yes. Her seat has been held by a republican since 1973. I was happy to see Obama acknowledge her. They are few and far between, but some politicians actually do have balls. And on those that do not, I must mention Stupak. He is a coward. I know that the bill probably wouldn't have passed without him, but he got the executive order deal strictly for political cover because he is getting a primary challenge. He wants it both ways…and one should never piss off the nuns!