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Truth or consequences: The lobbyists win, the people lose

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Headlined to H2 12/24/09

Let me begin and end this otherwise negative comment with some good news. While the president will do nothing to fight for a better healthcare bill in conference, there are sign that Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are feeling some heat after taking a beating from the press. The conference battle now begins, and while the president will be the legislative bystander he has been so far, House Democrats will weight in, and if they fight, they can win something back.

The White House anticipates negative end-of-year stories, so the pre-emptive strike that does not matter has begun. The president and his aides are in The Washington Post this morning comparing him to Franklin Roosevelt, reduced to listing the credit card bill, which has led to eight months of consumers being crushed by banks, among the Rooseveltian achievements.


I hope the president becomes a good or great president. Some things have been achieved. But it brings great peril to the Democratic Party for any Democrat to hype and overstate what has been achieved in the first year of a presidency with a Democratic president who entered office with huge popularity and a very large Democratic majority in the House and Senate.

For the first year of Democrats in control of everything, the big winners are the lobbyists, at the expense of the people.

Ronald Reagan said many things that were wrong, but one thing he said that was totally right was that elections are won or lost when voters ask: Are we better off than we were four years ago?

There is a reason the president's popularity has fallen from the 70s to the 40s and a reason the Democratic Congress now has an unfavorable rating of almost 70 percent, similar to Republican negatives before 2006 and 2008. Democrats can barely achieve anything today, even with their huge majorities. If they lose seats in 2010, as they almost certainly will, possibly many seats, the golden moment that began in November 2008 will be dead.

Whether the president compares himself to FDR and LBJ, or to Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce, is irrelevant. While he has grade-inflated himself from the beginning, his numbers have fallen dramatically. It does not matter anymore what he says about himself. What matters is what people think of him, which is decided by what people think about the state of their lives, not by what the president says about himself.

In my view, this grade inflation, in the face of modest results for some and disastrous results for others (such as the more than 17 percent jobless), this self-praise makes his ratings go down, not up, and makes his credibility go lower, not higher. The president still does not understand this. Voters do not care about a great communicator, they hunger for a great jobs creator. Ditto for Democrats in Congress.

Here is the most objective fact, which cannot be denied, after the first year of Obama: It has been a year for record Wall Street and bank profits. There has been zero reform, yet huge salaries have become more huge, giant bonuses have become more giant. Now the pattern repeats for insurers and Big Pharma. People's premiums and drug prices have risen even higher, and they will rise even higher, along with huge salaries, along with huge bonuses, along with huge consumer unrest, if the bill is passed.

In fact, almost all of the negative events to real people in the real world under the healthcare bill happen first. Almost all of the positive events, if they occur, happen four or five years from now. Even if the healthcare bill has merit, the impact on credibility against the president and Democrats in Congress will be negative from today until four or five years from now when the positive events occur, if they do, which is far from certain.

The president and Democrats won't gain from hyping this any more than they gain by hyping a failed credit card bill that has led to consumers being gouged with higher interest rates, often 30 percent or more, and being gouged with aggressive fees, cuts in credit lines and punishment of consumers and small businesses.

People hear the public-relations words and they know the reality of their lives, and when the words contradict their lives, they develop contempt for the words that they know are untrue for them.

I am now seeing liberal senators say things about the healthcare bill they know are not true, when they hype it in desperation, after giving up the reforms they know are most important. I am seeing something I cannot remember in the many years I have been in Washington, when certain liberals senators, after surrendering the public option, claim to its supporters that they will start fighting for it once this bill passes, which only ratifies their surrender before the House and Senate conference and makes a promise they know is meaningless.

Let me repeat this for emphasis: I cannot remember a time when liberal politicians were coming so close to misleading the base of the Democratic Party in such a sweeping manner, which I believe poses great and extreme dangers for the future of the party in 2010 and beyond.

We should pass the healthcare bill in the Senate and progressives in Congress should fight hard in conference. Lieberman and Nelson are starting to feel the heat.

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Brent Budowsky is a regular columnist on He served as Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, responsible for commerce and intelligence matters, including one of the core drafters of the CIA Identities Law. Served as (more...)
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