Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Health Care and Reconciliation; Toyota Does the Apology Dance;

Hey there!

Watched Lost again last night. Still mysterious.

So now the Democrats are talking about using reconciliation to push their health care reform bill through congress with a simple majority. Republicans are screaming foul, saying that the Democrats are abusing the system (reconciliation was, after all, conceived as an extraordinary measure meant to push through legislation that was tied almost exclusively to the budget- it was never meant to be a measure that would push through legislation in general) and ignoring the will of the people.
Couple of responses to that. First of all, filibusters, the technique that the minority GOP keeps using to block legislation (about 80% of last year's proposed legislation), were themselves meant to be an extraordinary tool that should be rarely used. The Republicans have been using the filibuster to thwart the will of the elected majority for decades now (true, the Democrats have occasionally threatened a filibuster, but the overhwelming use of the technique has come from the GOP. Their use of the filibuster has been steadily on the rise since the 1970's, and has been pretty much standard operating procedure for the GOP since the Clinton years. Furthermore, the Republicans have aggressively punished GOP moderates who broke party ranks to end filibusters, running more conservative primary opponents against "backstabbing" Republicans who helped to get legislation passed). If anyone is ignoring the will of the people, it's the GOP, who for decades now have been heavily relying upon a political strategy which rails against and criticizes a government that can't get anything done while the GOP simultaneously uses filibusters and other obstructionist techniques to make sure that absolutely nothing will get accomplished (when the Democrats are in the majority, this is an exceptionally effective technique for the Republicans, as American voters tend to go to the voting booth and reflexively punish the party in charge when they feel that not enough progress is being made). So if anyone is ignoring the will of the American people, it's the Republicans, who have truly made an art form out of undermining the effectiveness of the elected majority that the American people voted into office.
Second of all, the Republicans have had absolutely no problem using reconciliation to serve their own ends when the Democrats have been in the minority. In fact, the Republicans have used reconciliation more often than the Democrats have in order to push through various legislative items while avoiding the possibility of an opposing filibuster. And while reconciliation is an unusual procedural device, its use is hardly unheard of. According to the CNN article, it's been used 21 times since 1981 to push through important pieces of legislation. I have no problem saying that health care reform is an important enough goal to justify its use.
Anyway, frankly I think we're way past due in terms of simply trying to push some kind of legislation through Congress. The Democrats are sort of screwed either way (the GOP will try to brand them as traitors to the popular will if they use reconciliation, and as ineffective, do-nothing policy eggheads if they don't), so the Democrats might as well try to just do the right thing and pass whatever legislation best serves the needs of the American people. In this case, that means getting health care reform passed. Take off the gloves, Democrats.
The problem, of course, is that reconciliation is apparently a fairly complex technique to pull off, procedurally, and its use is supposed to be tied to the budget. However, given the ever increasing amounts of money that we keep sinking into medicare and medicaid, though (which keep driving up the debt), and the overall impact that rising health care costs continue to have upon the American economy, I think that Democrats may be able to make a pretty sound case for addressing health care reform through reconciliation. Of course, already it sounds like some of the more conservative Democrats (especially those who've taken a bunch of money from the health care industry) may end up jumping ship if reconciliation is used. The fun just never ends...

And as I read headlines about Toyota President testifying before Congress and as I watch the Daily Show rake Toyota over the coals, I'm starting to question whether I was wrong to assume that Toyota was more of a victim of media hysteria than of their own dangerous products. But I still can't get past the fact that Consumer Reports and other automotive reviewers have been rating Toyotas as being high quality, reliable vehicles for decades, and that Toyotas have traditionally had really high customer satisfaction, with significantly high percentage of their customers returning to Toyota to buy subsequent vehicles (and most Toyota models have held their resale value very well). In addition to that, regulators say that the number of complaints regarding Toyotas hasn't been disproportionately high in comparison to other manufacturers. I don't know. It still seems like mostly a lot of hysteria to me, but I could just be totally wrong. To be honest, given the fact that the problems typically reported stem from spontaneous acceleration, part of me is also, frankly, sort of suspicious of drivers who may have done something wrong, but who would rather blame the vehicles as opposed to themselves (it's always going to be hard to know how many of these cases involve people who simply panicked and stomped down on the wrong pedal as opposed to people who had a legitimate problem with their cars). It's not that I don't think that some isolated spontaneous acceleration incidents might have occured, but I feel like once news gets out that these things have happened, every person who's had an accident in that sort of vehicle is suddenly going to want to pin it on the car instead of on their own driving.
Anyway, I'm pretty sure Toyota will ultimately survive this and go on to do fine (if Ford could survive the fact that it had made a decision to settle lawsuits resulting in the fiery death of its customers instead of issuing a recall after performing a cost-benefit analysis, I think Toyota can survive this deal). I definitely hope no one else gets hurt and that Toyota clears upo whatever problems it's having with its cars.

Ehhh... I don't have much else. Hope everyone is doing okay!!!

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