Archive for March 15th, 2010


Store closed for health care reform deals

Store closed for health care reform deals

Monday, March 15, 2010

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is playing hardball with her rank and file in the run-up to an historic health care vote.

Instead of the typical wheeling and dealing to pick up much-needed support, Pelosi and her leadership team are warning members that the bill is final, and its language is set, so don’t come seeking major changes or handouts for your district.

Asked if she was willing to change the final legislation at the request of Democratic holdouts, the speaker said, “No.”

That message may sound good to voters angered by the “Cornhusker Kickback” or any other last-minute deals but it’s sure to make life difficult for Pelosi as she struggles to find the 216 votes she needs to pass the final package.

Of course, Pelosi’s words may just be a warning to anti-abortion Democrats and other lawmakers with major concerns that the store is no longer open; they can either vote for the bill or vote against it, but the time is over for drawn-out negotiations. And, if the votes aren’t there, Pelosi may be forced to retreat on her hardball threat.

But for now, this stern warning from party leaders – and the corresponding appeal to ideology – is bad news for lobbyists and outside groups that have been working to make eleventh-hour changes in their favor, from industry-specific changes to the public option. The decision to preclude any changes means those groups are likely to be disappointed.

“No horse-trading,” said one Democratic source with knowledge of leadership’s thinking. “They are closed for business.”

Still, this doesn’t mean party leaders can’t or won’t court votes with the lure of provisions in future bills or campaign help from the president, but it indicates that House leaders plan to go to the floor with the reconciliation bill they have rather than making last-minute changes at the Rules Committee to attract more support.

“The reconciliation package is, of its nature, a budget reconciliation, so it has to relate to the budget; it has to be about the bottom line of the federal government,” Pelosi told reporters Monday. “We cannot deal with other language in a budget reconciliation bill.”

“There’s not going to be any direct impact to this bill,” one source said. There will be “no opportunities to amend the reconciliation bill once it comes out of the Budget Committee.”

The text of the reconciliation bill has not yet been made public. House leaders hope to hold a vote on the Senate’s version of the health care bill and the reconciliation measure which would contain “fixes” desired by the House by the end of the week. Democrats can’t vote on the final measure until Thursday at the earliest, and the vote could drift until Saturday or Sunday or later – if leaders keep their pledge to give people 72 hours to review the final changes.

The House Budget Committee cleared the first procedural hurdle Monday by approving the reconciliation package in a 21-16 vote. But a pair of Democrats who voted against the House bill – Florida Rep. Allen Boyd and Texas Rep. Chet Edwards – voted against the Budget Committee package Monday. Edwards has been a steadfast opponent of both bills. But leadership has been quietly hoping Boyd, a prominent Blue Dog, will vote for the final changes.

Also Monday, President Barack Obama challenged a crowd in Strongsville, Ohio, that “We need courage” – a message directed as much to wavering Democrats as it was to voters.

“This debate is about far more than politics,” Obama said. “It comes down to what kind of country do we want to be. It’s about the millions of lives that would be touched and, in some cases, saved, by making health insurance more secure and more affordable.”

House Democrats have a range of policy concerns with the Senate bill that haven’t been addressed in the changes party leaders in both chambers cut with the White House. The biggest problem for leaders, though, is the decision to move forward without altering the Senate’s restrictions on abortion coverage.

Three Democrats who backed the initial House package told their local newspapers that they’d defect if the bill doesn’t change that language:

Ohio Rep. Steve Driehaus told The Cincinnati Enquirer, “I will not bend on the principle of federal funding on abortion. … They are going to have to do it without me and without the other pro-life Democrats.”

Illinois Rep. Jerry Costello told The (Alton, Ill.) Telegraph, “I’m opposed to the Senate bill in its current form. … I don’t like the process at all; I think the White House and the leadership has bungled this from the start.”

– Pennsylvania Rep. Chris Carney told the Scranton (Pa.) Times-Shamrock, “I can’t vote for a bill that will publicly fund abortion.”

The president and his Cabinet are expected to lean heavily on wavering Democrats this week. To avoid the hard sell, some of the 39 Democrats who voted against the first bill are putting themselves on the record against this one.

North Carolina Rep. Mike McIntyre issued a statement saying, “Health care reform is needed, but the bill before us is too expensive, does not adequately address rising medical costs and skyrocketing insurance premiums and tries to do too much too soon. We simply cannot afford to create a new federal bureaucracy that costs nearly $1 trillion when our national debt is $12 trillion and there is no plan in place to address it. I will not vote for it.”

Republicans quickly blasted that statement, which echoes their own talking points, to congressional reporters.

Other “no” votes are laying the foundation for a repeat performance.

Virginia Rep. Glenn Nye circulated a letter in which he says the final bill “will not have [his] support” if it “does not contain significant changes and does not actually reduce health care costs.”

In the meantime, Republicans are crying foul because Democrats are expected to craft a rule for consideration of the final package that would prevent the House from voting directly on the Senate’s bill. The so-called Slaughter Solution, named after Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), would automatically enact the Senate bill if the House approves a rule for consideration of the changes.

“There has never been anything like this before,” said California Rep. David Dreier, the ranking Republican on Rules. “They are working overtime to do everything they can to avoid the accountability issue.”

“This is their redirect,” Pelosi said of Dreier’s charges. “It’s not about gymnastics … except if that’s part of the wellness program.”

The speaker says she hasn’t made a final decision about how to bring a package of fixes to the floor.

“When we have the substance, then we will decide on the process,” she said, adding the so-called Slaughter Solution is “an option.”

But she was unwavering when reporters asked her if she was willing to cut a deal with her members regarding abortion or immigration restrictions in the Senate’s bill.

“What we’re talking about here is passing this bill,” Pelosi said at an afternoon news conference with a dozen or so babies, many of them crying. “It’s a bill about health care, health insurance reform. It’s not about abortion; it’s not about immigration. … The only reason therefore to oppose the bill is that you do not support health care reform.”



Health Insurance Reform Right Now

Health Insurance Reform Right Now

Monday, March 15, 2010

President Barack Obama continued to try to put a human face on Democrats’ plans to overhaul the nation’s health care system as he raised the stakes Monday on final passage of a reform bill.

The cornerstone of Obama’s speech in this Cleveland suburb was Natoma Canfield, an Ohio woman with leukemia who sent a letter to Obama saying her insurance premiums went up 40 percent. Obama recently read the letter at a meeting with health insurance company executives.

“I’m here because of Natoma,” he said after being introduced by Canfield’s sister. “I’m here because of the countless others who have been forced to face the most terrifying challenges of their lives with the added burden of medical bills they cannot pay. I don’t think that’s right. Neither do you, and that’s why we need health insurance reform, right now.”

Obama highlighted Canfield’s story to argue the urgent need for reform, saying she was diagnosed with cancer 16 years ago and couldn’t afford to keep her health insurance in January after her premiums repeatedly increased, he explained.

Since her new diagnosis with leukemia, Obama said, “she is racked with worry not only about her illness but about the cost of the tests and the treatments that she’s surely going to need to beat it.”

“And so when you hear people say ‘start over’ — I want you to think about Natoma,” he said. “When you hear people saying that this isn’t the ‘right time’ — you think about what she’s going through. When you hear people talk about, ‘well, what does this mean for the Democrats, what does this mean for the Republicans, I don’t know how the polls are doing,’ when you hear people more worried about the politics of it than what’s right and what’s wrong, I want you to think about Natoma and the millions of people all across the country who are looking for some help.”

“What we have to understand is, what’s happening to Natoma, there but for the grace of God go any one of us,” Obama said.

Canfield, who lives in the nearby congressional district of Rep. John Boccieri, a freshman Democrat who voted against health care reform last year, was recently readmitted to the hospital to be treated for leukemia. The diagnosis came Saturday, after Obama shared her letter with the nation and scheduled his trip to Strongsville.

The crowd was as feisty as Obama, shouting things to him, and finishing his sentences for him. At one point, a woman shouted to him as he was talking about how “and now as we get closer to the vote there is a lot of hand wringing going on. …”

“We need courage!” a woman shouted.

And he incorporated it into his remarks, saying repeatedly that Washington needs “courage.”

“The truth is, what is at stake in this debate is not just our ability to solve this problem, but our ability to solve any problem,” he said. “The American people want to know if it’s still possible for Washington to look out for their interests, for their future. So what they’re looking for is some courage. They’re waiting for us to act. They are waiting for us to lead. … And as long as I hold this office, I intend to provide that leadership.”

While pitching his proposal on a stage in the middle of a toss-up region represented by members of Congress who are on the fence about supporting reform, Obama shunned the politics of the health care debate.

“I don’t know about the politics,” he said in the ultimate swing state of Ohio with less than a week to go before his top aides say reform will be nearly complete. “But I know what’s the right thing to do. And so I am calling on Congress to pass these reforms — and I’m going to sign them into law. I want some courage. I want us to do the right thing.”

Obama continued to argue that his proposal melds ideas of Democrats and Republicans, despite t House Republican leader Rep. John Boehner of Ohio said Sunday that he merely “took a couple of Republican bread crumbs and put them on top of their 2700-page bill.”

Obama also ad-libbed to say his plan is paid for, and, digging at Republicans, said that’s “more than can be said for our colleagues on the other side of the aisle,” who passed a prescription-drug plan without paying “for any of it.”

“Now they’re up there on their high horse,” he says. “Their plan expanded the deficit.”

Several dozen demonstrators protesting Obama’s health care proposal had gathered as early as 9: 30 a.m. outside the Strongsville senior center at which Obama spoke. The area Obama came to make his pitch is such a battleground that during the presidential campaign, Republican Sen. John McCain and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, had packed a crowd of 8,000 in the same venue.

“No govt health care” read one of the protestors’ signs, bearing one of the critical arguments that has stuck since the debate over reform began more than a year ago.

Obama was on the defensive once again, arguing that his proposal is not a government takeover of health care, stressing that under his proposal “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan.”

He also fought back against critics who say his plan would hurt Medicare. “This proposal makes Medicare stronger, makes the coverage better, and makes its finances more secure,” Obama said. “Anyone who says otherwise is either misinformed — or is trying to misinform you. Don’t let them hoodwink you.”

As for politics, Obama downplayed their role in his push for reform. But politics was outside on the street in Strongsville, more than 200 miles away in Cincinnati and right there in the audience.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the liberal Ohio Democrat who voted against the health care bill the first time, was seated in the senior center and flew with Obama to Cleveland on Air Force One. When Obama introduced Kucinich, who voted ‘no’ on health care reform the first time, an audience member shouted “Vote yes!”

“Did you hear that Dennis?” Obama said, urging the man to say it again.

“Vote yes!” he shouted.

As Obama spoke in Strongsville, Vice President Joe Biden was in the Cincinnati area raising money for Rep. Steve Driehaus, a freshman Democrat who voted for the House bill in November but now is undecided.

“Of course, now that we’re approaching this vote, we’re hearing a lot of people in Washington talking about the politics, talking about what this means for November,” Obama said after renewing his call for “an up or down vote.” “Because in the end, this debate is about far more than the politics. It’s comes down to what kind of country we want to be.”



March 2010


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2 other followers

© Copyright 2010 Dominic Stoughton. All Rights reserved.

Dominic Stoughton's Blog