Health Care Reform Holiday | Help Wanted? | Beware the Activist Judge

Health Care Reform Holiday—Congressional Republicans have run out the clock on health care reform and are now turning to faux grassroots groups to ramp up pressure on members who have not signed on to the House bill that was voted out of committee in July or the Senate bill still in the works. South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint told activists on a Citizens for Patients’ Rights (CPR) conference call that if a vote on health care can be extended beyond the August recess, health care reform can be defeated.

On the conference call DeMint said he could “almost guarantee you this thing won’t pass before August, and if we can hold it back until we go home for a month’s break in August … Senators and Congressmen will come back in September afraid to vote.” So watch for CPR (and Fox News) “tea parties” in August. The key talking point: taxes to fund health care reform equals higher unemployment during a recession. The advocacy group has more than $20 million and is already running TV and radio ads in eleven states.

The Alexandria, Virginia, PR firm coordinating the campaign has a history of partisan advocacy that extends beyond its widely reported role in the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attack on Senator John Kerry in 2004. Creative Response Concepts promoted Regnery Publishing’s smear book on Kerry,Unfit for Command. It worked to discredit the 60 Minutes story questioning George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. It also coordinated the confirmation campaigns of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito. (It was CRC that advanced the poignant account of Justice Alito’s wife departing a Senate confirmation hearing in tears, as her husband faced tough questioning about his relationship with Concerned Alumni of Princeton and its hostility toward women and minorities.)

CRC’s media campaigns are run by Pat Buchanan’s former communications director Greg Mueller, and Mike Russell, who previously worked for the Christian Coalition (another CRC client).

Help Wanted?—Congressional Republicans have seized upon a clever issue to exploit in the health care debate: unemployment. But it’s a canard. The problem that they imply is cyclical and can be fixed by tax cuts is in reality structural. From June 2000 to June 2009 the economy shed 5.4 million jobs, according to MBG Information Services, a business analysis and forecasting firm. “The country has fewer jobs today than it had nine years ago,” said MBG president and chief economist Charles McMillion in a phone interview. “That’s the worst loss ever. It’s never happened, or at least not since the mid-thirties.” McMillion predicts the unemployment rate will continue to rise through the end of next year, reaching perhaps 11 percent nationwide. And when the economy starts to turn around, the rate will increase as people who have returned to school or stopped looking for work for other reasons begin looking again. The Republican Party’s lead talking point for August—as framed by Senator Jim DeMint: “we can’t afford to increase taxes to fund health care at a time when we’re shedding jobs”—has at least a year of shelf life in the campaign against health care reform.

Beware the Activist Judge!—Legal citations that cable news analysts missed during Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings? Smith v. Allwright (1944): the Supreme Court extends Fifteenth Amendment voting rights protections to African Americans barred from Texas’ all-white Democratic primary elections. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954): the Supreme Court unanimously overturns fifty years of settled law and rules that the same Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause used to justify segregated schools in fact prohibits segregated schools. Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (1964): the Supreme Court rules that an Atlanta motel is involved in interstate commerce and therefore covered by the Commerce Clause in Article I of the Constitution, thereby allowing African Americans to sleep in all-white establishments from which they have been barred since Reconstruction. Katzenbach v. McClung (1964): the Supreme Court rules that Ollie’s Barbeque in Birmingham, Alabama, has to seat African Americans rather than shove take-out orders through the kitchen door—because with $70,000 in annual revenue Ollie’s is involved in interstate commerce.

Republican Senators Lindsey Graham (SC), Jeff Sessions (AL), Tom Coburn (OK), and John Cornyn (TX) spent three days advancing a subtextual defense of Jim Crow laws that were dismantled by what the senators describe as activist judges. And no one called them on it. —L.D.