Mike Stark, who seems to be auditioning for role of marginally skinnier Michael Moore, interviewed Barack Obama deputy consiglere Valerie Jarrett on Friday and offered this curious suggestion: if the health care bill is being held up by the square states, why not hit them where it hurts and tell them no public option = no farm bill?
It’s a good idea. Poor choice of audience, though.
The implication in holding up the farm bill to get health care would be that Obama does not want the farm bill, but is merely acquiescing to it. Jarrett’s reaction shows the error in this premise: Obama wants a pork-laden farm bill. He doesn’t have to be coerced into it, and the various stakeholders in Washington know it; he would prefer (no health care bill and farm bill) to (no health care bill and no farm bill). Who would believe his threats?
That doesn’t mean Mike has a lousy idea. It just means Barack Obama, or indeed anyone who is staring at an electoral vote map, is the wrong guy to carry it out. If the idea is to get any traction, take it here:
Farm bills are welfare payments. No more, no less. The payments come from the rich areas on the coasts and go to inland areas.
Nancy Pelosi owes her congressional seat to the voters from San Francisco and her speaker post to the Democratic caucus.
The 52 Blue Dog congressmen have the numbers to work with the Republicans and block any specific health care bill. However, they cannot change the speaker (Republicans don’t get to vote in that election) and would be hard-pressed to muster any bill that the Republicans would support.
The Blue Dogs need the farm bill. No farm bill, no reelection in 2010 for many of them. It is their top priority.
Pelosi and the House leadership are in the rare position of being able to go to the Blue Dogs and say:
You need the farm bill and you want to stop the public option. You can pick one or the other. If you blow up health care, I’ll go back to my district and tell them that I (a) stopped billions of dollars in farm subsidies and (b) I was stabbed in the back by you. They’ll send me back here. If you go back to your district with no farm bill, you can blame it on me all you want; they’ll throw you out for being ineffective.
Bring the Blue Dogs to heel in the House, where the weakness of the population numbers underpinning them is evident, and you gain the ability to negotiate with the Senate. Right now it’s easy for Kent Conrad to say there aren’t the votes to pass a public option; he doesn’t want the public option, and he takes it for granted that the House won’t seriously vote against any reform, however incremental.
Problem for Kent is that he needs a farm bill, and that has to be passed on both sides. If Pelosi says sure, we’ll vote for whatever health care you come up with, but we’ll vote against any farm bill unless you first deliver me a public option, that changes the calculus for the Republican negotiators. Not much upside for Chuck Grassley if he has to go home to Iowa and say that he managed to stop a government health insurance program at the cost of corn subsidies.
Obama can’t play these games, because he doesn’t want politicians in Indiana and Iowa grumbling about his threats. Even if the farm bill were passed, along with a health care bill, the very idea that Obama was willing to make threats about it would hurt his chances in 2012.
Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn, on the other hand, have a strong hand to play. The Blue Dogs can, at best, fight them to a draw, and since the Blue Dogs are (a) junior; (b) represent less-wealthy districts that rely on Federal largesse, the Blue Dogs have some glaring vulnerabilities. What would Sam Rayburn do if a faction crossed him? Lyndon Johnson?