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Rep. Alan Grayson: “Bipartisanship Has Become Code Word for Appeasement”

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In the wake of the Democrats’ midterm losses, President Obama has said the way forward lies in finding common ground between Democrats and Republicans. But Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, who lost his seat in Florida’s 8th District, says that the losses suffered by incumbent Democrats are an outcome of the party’s “strategy of appeasement.” We talk to Rep. Grayson about the 2010 elections. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: On Wednesday, President Obama described the scale of the Democratic defeat in the midterms as, quote, “humbling.” But he added that the way forward lies in finding common ground between Democrats and Republicans.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Over the last two years, we’ve made progress. But clearly, too many Americans haven’t felt that progress yet, and they told us that yesterday. And as president, I take responsibility for that. What yesterday also told us is that no one party will be able to dictate where we go from here, that we must find common ground in order to set — in order to make progress on some uncommonly difficult challenges.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, not everyone feels that compromising with Republican demands is the best option for Democrats — among them, Congressman Alan Grayson. He lost his Democratic seat in Florida’s 8th District to Republican Dan Webster this week. Congressman Grayson says that the losses suffered by the Democrats are an outcome of the party’s, quote, “strategy of appeasement.” Congresman Grayson joins us on the phone right now from Florida.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Your thoughts on your defeat this week?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Well, my defeat was part of a wave across the country that had Republicans winning because Democrats didn’t vote. We have the results from the pre-election turnout; we don’t have the results from the Election Day turnout yet. In my district, when you compare that to 2008, the Republican turnout in the early voting was down by 20 percent, and the Democratic turnout in early voting was down by 60 percent. And that wasn’t true just in my district; that was true all around Florida and pretty much the whole country, except for the West Coast and New England. And as a result of that, virtually every Democrat who won in 2008 by less than ten points loss this year. There was only one exception out of twenty-four. And there were forty-four more Democrats who won by more than ten points in 2008 who managed to lose this year, because their Democratic voters didn’t turn up. It’s not a situation where Democrats — Democratic voters decided to vote Republican; it’ a situation where Democratic voters didn’t vote. And when Democrats don’t vote, Democrats can’t win.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And why did so many people stay home, in your estimation?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: I think it’s because the Democratic leadership has failed to deliver to core constituents of the Democratic Party the thing that the Democrats wanted when the Democrats had sixty votes in the Senate, 59 percent of the House, and control of the White House. That’s my view of it. We didn’t vote on the Employee Free Choice Act. We didn’t vote on immigration reform. And we controlled the agenda. This isn’t a situation where we had votes and loss them in the House or the Senate. We simply didn’t bring up these matters of crucial importance to various elements of the Democratic coalition, when we had complete control of the agenda and enough votes to pass anything.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Grayson — because you are still a congressman — you said on the floor of the House — you unveiled your namesofthedead.com, where you laid out the number of people who would die because of lack of healthcare. Can you talk more about that?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Well, I think that the right-wing continues to be in denial about this basic fact that over 40,000 people die in this country each year because they have no healthcare. If you take two people who are absolutely identical — same age, same gender, same race, same smoking history, same weight — and one of them has health insurance and one of them doesn’t, the one who does not have health insurance is 25 percent more likely to die each year. So the result of that is that we have forty-odd thousand people around the country who die without healthcare, a hundred in my district alone. We have 100,000 people in my congressional district who have no health coverage, almost half of whom are Latinos, by the way, because while Florida has the second-highest rate of people without health coverage in the country — 20 percent — among Latinos in Florida, it’s 40 percent. And you have people dying because they don’t have healthcare.

And I sit in amazement and watch Republicans and right-wingers obsess over whether to build a Muslim health club in Lower Manhattan, while we see our health standards dropping precipitously, day after day, month after month, and year after year. We are now fiftieth in the world in life expectancy, just above Albania, which is fifty-first. After Albania went through a half-century of Communist dictatorship, we’re right on par with them. You know, particularly in the area of health, by objective standards, time after time, you see us dropping in international rankings, but also in the areas of education and the areas of income. In every area that you can think of, the American numbers keep dropping. And we keep being preoccupied by — what the right requires is really crucial questions like “Where is the President’s birth certificate?”

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Grayson, just on this issue of healthcare, you said on the floor of the House that the Republicans’ healthcare plan involved wanting people to die quickly, apologizing to the dead and their families that, as you said, we haven’t voted sooner to end this holocaust in America.

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Well, I mocked the absence of a Republican healthcare plan. What I found was that when the President came to speak to us about healthcare, the Republicans claimed to have a plan, and they waved it around on the floor of the House, and it turned out that what they were waving around was actually blank pieces of paper. So, I felt that was worthy of a speech and gave a speech and pointed out that what the Republican healthcare plan amounted to was “Don’t get sick.” And that’s still true. I have yet to hear a single suggestion from any member of Congress who is a Republican about what to do about the 40 million Americans who have no health coverage. To this day, they have not come up with a single plan or even idea about what to do about all these people in America who can’t see a doctor when they get sick.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, yet now, you have the reality that with the Republicans controlling the House, the likelihood of being able to get any of the progressive planks of the Democratic Party through Congress become dimmer. How do you — how do you — what’s your counsel to those Democrats who are still there, because obviously the Progressive Caucus didn’t lose as many — nearly as many folks as did the Blue Dog Democrats, how they will move — how they should move forward in the next two years?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: By exposing the Republicans as obstructionists who have no solutions to anyone’s problems. You know the words “bipartisanship” and “cooperation” have become code words for “appeasement” and “capitulation.” We gave the Republicans over a hundred amendments to the healthcare bill. They remained implacably opposed to it. Not one Republican member ever said to anyone in the Democratic Party, “If you give us X, Y, and Z, then we’ll vote for this bill.” Instead, they took X, Y, and Z as concessions on our part and then voted against it anyway. And this is something that the American people just don’t seem to see or understand, because we don’t publicize it.

I saw effort after effort after effort for the past two years, in the silliest ways possible, to keep matters from coming up to a vote and to stall and to procrastinate and to prevaricate on the right-wing side, and they were never exposed for it. I remember one day, we had the largest number of votes in history in a single day. We voted from morning until late at night. And the reason for that is that every time we had a vote, the Republicans insisted on a recount. So we ended up, instead of having something like thirty-five votes, we ended up having something like seventy votes, simply because the Republicans literally wanted to waste our time, asking for a recount every single time on every single vote. I lived through that. I didn’t see it on Fox. I didn’t see it on CNN. But I had to live through that, knowing that the Republicans were consciously wasting our time, stalling, hoping to drag it out, and not being called to account for it. And I can give you other examples, too. There was one day when dozens of Republicans pretended to have forgotten their voting cards, so they’d all have to vote by hand, and every five-minute vote became a thirty-minute vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Congressman Alan Grayson, some might say now — and we only have a minute — that you certainly could not be accused of being an appeaser, but you also were defeated. So, other Congress members might take the opposite lesson from your approach. Your War Is Making You Poor Act, you did attract fifty co-sponsors, introducing the Medicare You Can Buy Into Act, that would allow people under sixty-five to buy into Medicare. You went for it, but then you lost your job.

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Well, everybody did. I mean, if you look at how things went last time, of the thirty-four Democrats — sorry, of the twenty-four Democrats who won by ten points or less — and I won by four points last time — of the twenty-four Democrats who won by ten points or less, twenty-three of them lost. And this is true of Blue Dogs, new Democrats, the progressives. If you lost by — if you won by ten last time or less, you lost this time, with only one exception. And then, in addition to that, another forty-four Democrats lost last time after they won last time by more than ten. The neighboring congressman to my east won by fifteen points last time, lost by twenty points this time.

AMY GOODMAN: Will you run again?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: A thirty-five point swing in two years.

AMY GOODMAN: Will you run again?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Oh, I don’t know. If people want me, then they can have me. But —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for joining us, Congress member Alan Grayson, speaking to us from Florida. He represents half of Orlando.

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