Posts Tagged ‘Debate

07
Aug
10

Weekly Address: Medicare Officially Safer After Health Reform

NEWS
Weekly Address: Medicare Officially Safer After Health Reform
President Obama Highlights Benefits to Seniors Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Saturday, August 07, 2010

In his weekly address this week, President Obama highlighted a Medicare Trustees report noting the steps we took this year to reform the health care system have put Medicare on a sounder financial footing, which will help to preserve Medicare for generations to come. Additionally, America’s seniors are already seeing more benefits as a result of health reform, including a rebate to cover the cost of their prescriptions if they fall into the Medicare Part D drug coverage gap. In the coming years, as we continue to ramp up reform, we expect seniors to save in premiums and out of pocket costs. And the President will continue to make Medicare stronger to ensure our seniors have access to affordable and quality healthcare.

Forty-five years ago, we made a solemn compact as a nation that senior citizens would not go without the health care they need. This is the promise we made when Medicare was born. And it’s the responsibility of each generation to keep that promise.

That’s why a report issued this week by the Trustees who oversee Medicare was such good news. According to this report, the steps we took this year to reform the health care system have put Medicare on a sounder financial footing. Reform has actually added at least a dozen years to the solvency of Medicare – the single longest extension in history – while helping to preserve Medicare for generations to come.

We’ve made Medicare more solvent by going after waste, fraud, and abuse – not by changing seniors’ guaranteed benefits. In fact, seniors are starting to see that because of health reform, their benefits are getting better all the time.

Seniors who fall into the “doughnut hole” – the gap in Medicare Part D drug coverage – are eligible right now for a $250 rebate to help cover the cost of their prescriptions. Now, I know for people facing drug costs far higher than that, they need more help. That’s why we negotiated a better deal with the pharmaceutical companies for seniors. So starting next year, if you fall in the doughnut hole, you’ll get a 50-percent discount on the brand-name medicine you need. And in the coming years, this law will close the doughnut hole completely once and for all.

Already, we have put insurance companies on notice that we have the authority to review and reject unreasonable rate increases for Medicare Advantage plans. And we’ve made it clear to the insurers that we won’t hesitate to use this authority to protect seniors.

Beginning next year, preventive care – including annual physicals, wellness exams, and tests like mammograms – will be free for seniors as well. That will make it easier for folks to stay healthy. But it will also mean that doctors can catch things earlier, so treatment may be less invasive and less expensive.

And as reform ramps up in the coming years, we expect seniors to save an average of $200 per year in premiums and more than $200 each year in out of pocket costs, too.

This is possible in part through reforms that target waste and abuse and redirect those resources to where they’re supposed to go: our seniors. We’re already on track to cut improper payments in half – including money that goes to criminals who steal taxpayer dollars by setting up insurance scams and other frauds. And we won’t stop there. Because by preventing the loss of these tax dollars, we can both address the runaway costs of Medicare and improve the quality of care seniors receive – and we can crack down on those who prey on seniors and take advantage of people.

So we are no longer accepting business as usual. We’re making tough decisions to meet the challenges of our time. And as a result, Medicare is stronger and more secure. That’s important. Because Medicare isn’t just a program. It’s a commitment to America’s seniors – that after working your whole life, you’ve earned the security of quality health care you can afford. As long as I am President, that’s a commitment this country is going to keep.
Thank you.

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• Source(s): The White House
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22
Mar
10

Health Reform Now

NEWS
Health Reform Now
• This is What Change Looks Like

Monday, March 22, 2010

After a historic vote in the House to send health reform to the President, he speaks to all Americans on the change they will finally see as they are given back control over their own health care:

Good evening, everybody. Tonight, after nearly 100 years of talk and frustration, after decades of trying, and a year of sustained effort and debate, the United States Congress finally declared that America’s workers and America’s families and America’s small businesses deserve the security of knowing that here, in this country, neither illness nor accident should endanger the dreams they’ve worked a lifetime to achieve.

Tonight, at a time when the pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics. We pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. We didn’t give in to mistrust or to cynicism or to fear. Instead, we proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things and tackling our biggest challenges. We proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people.

I want to thank every member of Congress who stood up tonight with courage and conviction to make health care reform a reality. And I know this wasn’t an easy vote for a lot of people. But it was the right vote. I want to thank Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her extraordinary leadership, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn for their commitment to getting the job done. I want to thank my outstanding Vice President, Joe Biden, and my wonderful Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, for their fantastic work on this issue. I want to thank the many staffers in Congress, and my own incredible staff in the White House, who have worked tirelessly over the past year with Americans of all walks of life to forge a reform package finally worthy of the people we were sent here to serve.

Today’s vote answers the dreams of so many who have fought for this reform. To every unsung American who took the time to sit down and write a letter or type out an e-mail hoping your voice would be heard — it has been heard tonight. To the untold numbers who knocked on doors and made phone calls, who organized and mobilized out of a firm conviction that change in this country comes not from the top down, but from the bottom up — let me reaffirm that conviction: This moment is possible because of you.

Most importantly, today’s vote answers the prayers of every American who has hoped deeply for something to be done about a health care system that works for insurance companies, but not for ordinary people. For most Americans, this debate has never been about abstractions, the fight between right and left, Republican and Democrat — it’s always been about something far more personal. It’s about every American who knows the shock of opening an envelope to see that their premiums just shot up again when times are already tough enough. It’s about every parent who knows the desperation of trying to cover a child with a chronic illness only to be told “no” again and again and again. It’s about every small business owner forced to choose between insuring employees and staying open for business. They are why we committed ourselves to this cause.

Tonight’s vote is not a victory for any one party — it’s a victory for them. It’s a victory for the American people. And it’s a victory for common sense.

Now, it probably goes without saying that tonight’s vote will give rise to a frenzy of instant analysis. There will be tallies of Washington winners and losers, predictions about what it means for Democrats and Republicans, for my poll numbers, for my administration. But long after the debate fades away and the prognostication fades away and the dust settles, what will remain standing is not the government-run system some feared, or the status quo that serves the interests of the insurance industry, but a health care system that incorporates ideas from both parties — a system that works better for the American people.

If you have health insurance, this reform just gave you more control by reining in the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry with some of the toughest consumer protections this country has ever known — so that you are actually getting what you pay for.

If you don’t have insurance, this reform gives you a chance to be a part of a big purchasing pool that will give you choice and competition and cheaper prices for insurance. And it includes the largest health care tax cut for working families and small businesses in history — so that if you lose your job and you change jobs, start that new business, you’ll finally be able to purchase quality, affordable care and the security and peace of mind that comes with it.

This reform is the right thing to do for our seniors. It makes Medicare stronger and more solvent, extending its life by almost a decade. And it’s the right thing to do for our future. It will reduce our deficit by more than $100 billion over the next decade, and more than $1 trillion in the decade after that.

So this isn’t radical reform. But it is major reform. This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system. But it moves us decisively in the right direction. This is what change looks like.

Now as momentous as this day is, it’s not the end of this journey. On Tuesday, the Senate will take up revisions to this legislation that the House has embraced, and these are revisions that have strengthened this law and removed provisions that had no place in it. Some have predicted another siege of parliamentary maneuvering in order to delay adoption of these improvements. I hope that’s not the case. It’s time to bring this debate to a close and begin the hard work of implementing this reform properly on behalf of the American people. This year, and in years to come, we have a solemn responsibility to do it right.

Nor does this day represent the end of the work that faces our country. The work of revitalizing our economy goes on. The work of promoting private sector job creation goes on. The work of putting American families’ dreams back within reach goes on. And we march on, with renewed confidence, energized by this victory on their behalf.

In the end, what this day represents is another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American Dream. Tonight, we answered the call of history as so many generations of Americans have before us. When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenge — we overcame it. We did not avoid our responsibility — we embraced it. We did not fear our future — we shaped it.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

• Source(s): The White House
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22
Mar
10

Triumph: The Man Who Dared to Dream

NEWS
Triumph: The Man Who Dared to Dream

Monday, March 22, 2010

Barack Obama has hailed a historic vote on healthcare reform in the US Congress, saying the $940 billion revamp represented ”another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American dream”.

The President, triumphant after hard-fought weeks promoting the changes, said they ensured for American families and workers that ”neither illness nor accident should endanger the dreams they’ve worked a lifetime to achieve”.

The measures, which are expected to extend health insurance to an extra 32 million people and for the first time oblige Americans to take out some cover, are the biggest makeover for the US healthcare system since the introduction in the mid-1960s of government-funded Medicare for those aged over 65.

Mr Obama saluted the House of Representatives after an exhaustive 12-hour special Sunday sitting which toiled through rancorous debate and points of order before approving the bill by 219 votes to 212. In the end, 34 Democrats voted against the bill. There were suggestions that some of them, representing conservative constituencies, had been given the OK to vote no by Democrat heavyweights confident of a majority and with one eye on November’s midterm elections.

It will now go to Mr Obama to be signed into law.

The house also passed by 220 to 211 a package of amendments in a so-called ”reconciliation” bill that will go directly to the Senate for approval.

”At a time when the pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics,” Mr Obama, side-by-side with the Vice-President, Joe Biden, said in a televised address from the White House just before midnight. ”We pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. We didn’t give in to mistrust or to cynicism or to fear. Instead, we proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things and tackling our biggest challenges.

”We proved that this government – a government of the people and by the people – still works for the people.”

“This isn’t radical reform, but it is major reform.”

”This is what change looks like,” he said in reference to his campaign slogan. It could also have been a rebuff to Republicans, including Sarah Palin, who goaded Democrats last month by asking, ”How’s all that hopey, changey stuff workin’ for ya?”.

Victory in the year-long push for healthcare reform was delivered finally by a bloc of about half-a-dozen anti-abortion Democrats who agreed to support the bill on receiving assurances from Mr Obama that a ban on taxpayer funds being used for abortion would stay.

The first bill – essentially, the Senate’s version of healthcare reform passed on Christmas Eve – may have allowed the channelling of some federal subsidies into abortion services. But the Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, speaking on behalf of the bloc, said the President’s promise of an executive order reaffirming the existing ban on federal funds supporting abortions, had clinched the deal.

Republicans argued that an executive order did not carry the force of law and could be overturned. They later goaded Mr Stupak, some shouting ”baby killer” across the chamber, after he rejected eleventh-hour efforts to reopen debate on the bill.

The victory would immediately enhance Mr Obama’s presidency, commentators argued, after months of near-constant criticism that he was aloof and too cerebral for Americans, and probably overburdened by pressing issues, not least the sluggish economic recovery.

In recent weeks, however, the President has found renewed voice in his push to win backing for healthcare reform, a key plank of his election platform that promised change.

Other measures among the reforms, which preliminary analysis suggests could slice more than $143 billion off the budget deficit over 10 years, include the creation of a consumer exchange where individuals and small businesses can shop for insurance policies. It also provides for penalties if people do not buy some cover or if a business evades its responsibilities to its workers.

Introduction of the measures will be gradual, taking three to four years. Some tax imposts on wealthy Americans are not scheduled to kick in until 2018.

The House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, marked the historic moment in Congress by describing the reform as ”an American proposal that honours the traditions of our country”.

She cited the late Edward Kennedy, as a longtime driving force, for his role in the triumph.

Shortly before his death last August, Senator Kennedy had written to Mr Obama saying that ”access to healthcare was the great unfinished business of [American] society”.

”Until today,” Mrs Pelosi added.

Lamenting what he said was a compromised bill and the fact that polls revealed a deeply divided nation over healthcare reform, the Republican leader, John Boehner, said the chamber had ”failed to listen to America, and we have failed to reflect the will of our constituents”.

”Shame on each and every one of you who substitutes your will and your desires above those of your fellow countrymen,” the House Minority Leader said.

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22
Mar
10

Barack Obama wins healthcare battle in tight vote

NEWS
Barack Obama wins healthcare battle in tight vote

Monday, March 22, 2010

The US House of Representatives has narrowly voted to pass a landmark healthcare reform bill at the heart of President Barack Obama’s agenda.

The bill was passed by 219 votes to 212, with no Republican backing, after hours of fierce argument and debate.

It extends coverage to 32 million more Americans, and marks the biggest change to the US healthcare system in decades.

“We proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things,” Mr Obama said in remarks after the vote.

“This legislation will not fix everything that ails our healthcare system, but it moves us decisively in the right direction,” he said.

Mr Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law shortly.

But a new challenge is expected in the Senate, where Democrats hope amendments to the bill will be enacted by a simple majority. Republicans say the move is unconstitutional and plan to stop it.

We will be joining those who established Social Security, Medicare and now, tonight, healthcare for all Americans.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Historic vote
He has been tough and tenacious – some might say stubborn – in pushing this legislation after so much opposition and so many setbacks, our correspondent says.
This is the most significant victory for the president since he took office 14 months ago.
When the vote count hit the magic number of 216 – the minimum needed to pass the bill – Democrats hugged and cheered in celebration and chanted: “Yes we can!”

Under the legislation, health insurance will be extended to nearly all Americans, new taxes imposed on the wealthy, and restrictive insurance practices such as refusing to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions will be outlawed.

However, our correspondent says it has become a rallying point for Republicans, who are convinced the American people do not want the changes and that it will be a vote winner for them come the mid-term elections in November.

They say the measures are unaffordable and represent a government takeover of the health industry.

“We have failed to listen to America,” said Republican party leader John Boehner.

Speaking moments before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the health care reform honoured the nation’s traditions.

“We will be joining those who established Social Security, Medicare and now, tonight, healthcare for all Americans,” she said, referring to the government’s pension program and health insurance for the elderly established nearly 50 years ago.

Although Democrats pushed the measure through with three votes to spare, 34 members joined Republicans in voting against the bill, worried about paying a political price in November.

In a last-minute move designed to win the support of a bloc of anti-abortion lawmakers, Mr Obama earlier on Sunday announced plans to issue an executive order assuring that healthcare reform will not change the restrictions barring federal money for abortion.
Next steps
The bill’s final approval represented a stunning turnaround from January, when it was considered dead after Democrats lost their 60-seaty majority in the Senate, which is required to defeat a filibuster.

To avoid a second Senate vote, the House also approved on Sunday evening a package of reconciliation “fixes” – agreed beforehand between House and Senate Democrats and the White House – amending the bill that senators adopted in December.

The president is expected to sign the House-passed Senate bill as early as Tuesday, after which it will be officially enacted into law. However, it will contain some very unpopular measures that Democratic senators have agreed to amend.

The Senate will be able to make the required changes in a separate bill using a procedure known as reconciliation, which allows budget provisions to be approved with 51 votes – rather than the 60 needed to overcome blocking tactics.

The Republicans say they will seek to repeal the measure, challenge its constitutionality and co-ordinate efforts in state legislatures to block its implementation.

But the president has signalled he will fight back.

The White House plans to launch a campaign this week to persuade sceptical Americans that the reforms offer immediate benefits to them and represent the most significant effort to reduce the federal deficit since the 1990s.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the healthcare bill will cut the federal deficit by $138bn over 10 years.

The non-partisan body said last week that the legislation would cost about $940bn over the same period.

The reforms will increase insurance coverage through tax credits for the middle class and an expansion of Medicaid for the poor.

They represent the biggest change in the US healthcare system since the creation in the 1960s of Medicare, the government-run scheme for those aged 65 or over.

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21
Mar
10

House debate on health care bill

NEWS
House debate on health care bill

Sunday, March 21, 2010

House Democrats who had withheld support of the health care legislation because of abortion concerns said Sunday afternoon that they would back the bill, all but assuring that Democrats would have the 216 votes needed for passage.

The White House and Congressional Democratic leaders announced the deal, and rank-and-file Democrats who had worried that the bill would somehow allow the use of federal money to pay for abortions or for insurance coverage of the procedure appeared at a news conference to say those concerns had been addressed.

“I am pleased to announce we have an agreement,” said Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan and a leader of the Congressional Pro-life Caucus.

“We’re well past 216, yes.”

But a number of groups that oppose abortion rights said that an executive order was insufficient in part because of a lack of trust in the Obama administration.

Even before Mr. Stupak’s news conference ended, the House Republican Leader Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio issued a statement saying: “The law of the land trumps any Executive Order, which can be reversed or altered at the stroke of a pen by this or any subsequent President without any congressional approval or notice.”

And Mr. Boehner warned that a vote for the health care bill was a vote for taxpayer-financed abortions.

Mr. Stupak rejected that claim. Mr. Stupak also noted that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops still wanted statutory language barring the use of federal money for abortions. “I know it’s Lent,” he said, but added that the bishops could not supply the 60 votes needed in the Senate to approve such a law.

“This has the full force of law,” he said of the executive order.

But Mr. Stupak said the order would make clear there is “no public funding for abortion” and that community health centers, which will get billions in new federal financing under the health care bill, cannot perform the procedure.

The White House, sounding a note of confidence about the health care bill, announced that after its passage, Mr. Obama will sign an executive order that will reaffirm the measure’s “consistency with longstanding restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion.”

Kaptur, Democrat of Ohio, said, “The health care bill that will move forward today is actually a bill about life.” Also with Mr. Stupak and Ms. Kaptur at the news conference were Steve Driehaus and Kathy Dahlkemper, who noted that she considered the bill now a “full life” or “whole life piece of legislation.”

Before Mr. Stupak’s news conference, Democrats and Republicans had engaged in fierce parliamentary jousting on the House floor Sunday afternoon.

On the House floor, Republicans angrily denounced the legislation and battled furiously with Democrats over procedural issues related to the proposed rule to set terms of debate on the landmark legislation.

Representative David Dreier of California, the senior Republican on the Rules Committee, insisted that if Democrats prevailed the only certain outcome of Sunday’s votes was that the Senate-passed health care bill would be signed into law by President Obama.

Many House Democrats oppose the Senate bill because it contains a number of provisions that were aimed at winning the support of individual senators, like extra federal Medicaid money for Nebraska. House Democrats are planning to approve the Senate bill and then immediately approve a package of revisions to it included in an expedited budget reconciliation bill.

Mr. Dreier tried to make his point, saying, “We now know with absolute certainty,” only to be cut off by Representative Louise M. Slaughter of New York, the chairwoman of the Rules Committee. “No, you don’t know that,” Ms. Slaughter shouted.

But Mr. Dreier had the floor. “ I encourage everyone to read the rule,” he said, “because the only thing we are guaranteed” is that the Senate bill will become law.

Outside the Capitol, hundreds of opponents of the legislation protested, carrying signs and chanting angry slogans.

Even on Sunday morning, the vote was clearly too close to call. Rep. John Larson, the chairman of the Democratic caucus, told ABC’s “This Week” program that the votes were in hand. “We have the votes now — as we speak,” he said about the 216 votes. But at the same time, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the deputy Democratic House whip, told “Fox News Sunday” that the Democrats “don’t have a hard 216 right now.”

Shortly before midnight on Saturday, the House Rules Committee completed its work and proposed the parameters for Sunday’s floor fight, which will entail two hours of formal debate on the legislation. The committee, controlled by Democrats, also limited the ability of Republicans to disrupt the proceedings and allowed for the vote to be postponed if Democrats chose to do so.

President Obama, in an emotional address Saturday afternoon at the Capitol, exhorted rank-and-file House Democrats to approve the bill, telling them they were on the edge of making history.

“Every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country,” he said. “This is one of those moments.”

The president declared: “We have been debating health care for decades. It has now been debated for a year. It is in your hands.”

With the ground shifting by the hour, House Democratic leaders dropped a plan to approve the Senate health bill without taking a direct vote on it. That proposed maneuver had outraged Republicans and caused consternation among some Democrats.

Thousands of opponents of the bill circled the Capitol chanting angry slogans. Some of the anger was directed at black lawmakers, including several who said that some demonstrators had hurled racial insults at them.

At the Capitol rallywith Mr. Obama, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, assured House Democrats that their Senate colleagues would act quickly on the reconciliation bill, including final revisions to the health care measure. “I have the commitments of a significant majority of the United States Senate to make that good law even better,” he said.

The House Republican leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, said the Republicans could still prevail. “The American people are making their voices heard, here on Capitol Hill and across America,” he said. “It’s time for Washington Democrats to listen.”

In his speech, Mr. Obama drew chortles from lawmakers — and laughed at himself — when he suggested that perhaps Republicans were hoping to spare Democrats political pain by blocking the bill.

“Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Karl Rove, they are all warning you of the horrendous impact if you support this legislation,” the president said, referring to the Senate and House Republican leaders and a top adviser to former President George W. Bush.

“Now, it could be that they are suddenly having a change of heart and they are deeply concerned about their Democratic friends; they are giving you the best possible advice in order to ensure that Nancy Pelosi remains speaker and Harry Reid remains leader and all of you keep your seats,” Mr. Obama joked. “That’s a possibility.”

He continued, “But it may also be possible that they realize that after health reform passes and I sign that legislation into law, it’s going to be a little harder to mischaracterize what this legislation has been all about.”

The Congressional Budget Office on Saturday released a new cost analysis of the legislation based on a package of changes unveiled by the Democrats earlier in the day. The new assessment shows the total cost of new insurance coverage provisions in the bill to be $938 billion over 10 years, with the expense more than offset by revenues from new taxes and fees and reductions in spending on government programs including Medicare, so that the legislation would reduce future federal deficits by $143 billion. The previous budget office estimate showed a total cost of $940 billion for the coverage provisions, and $138 billion in deficit reduction.

At a news conference on Saturday, 13 House Republican freshmen assailed the measure. “Let’s kill this bill,” said Representative Cynthia M. Lummis, Republican of Wyoming.

The late-hour maneuvering on abortion mirrored a similar process in November before the House adopted its version of the health care legislation.

In November, Mr. Stupak had also succeeded in winning approval of tight limits on insurance coverage of abortions in the House bill. The current package now includes language from the bill passed in the Senate and negotiated by two Democrats, Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who have built up solid credentials in their political careers as abortion opponents.

Mr. Stupak and many of the lawmakers insisting on the tighter restrictions are Catholic, as is Ms. Pelosi, and all have cited their faith in justifying their position on the legislation.

In a sign of the emotion around the issue, Representative Dale E. Kildee, Democrat of Michigan, who is Catholic and opposes abortion, announced his support for the legislation in a statement pointing out that he had once studied for the priesthood. He said he had consulted his priest and concluded that the abortion restrictions in the Senate bill were sufficient.

Democratic leaders said they hoped an executive order by Mr. Obama would clarify that the legislation was not intended to change existing federal law and policy that generally bar the use of taxpayer money for abortions.

But Representative Anh Cao of Louisiana, the only Republican who voted for the bill in November, said he could not support the current measure because of its “expansion of abortion, an absolute moral evil.”

Democratic lawmakers and top aides have been working round the clock trying to address flare-ups over elements of the bill. They said they had worked out an agreement to resolve one of the last remaining issues: a dispute over geographic disparities in Medicare payments.

The agreement could lead to higher payments to doctors and hospitals in states like Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin, where Medicare rates are relatively low but studies suggest that the quality of care is high.

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, sent a letter to Congress saying she would commission studies by the National Academy of Sciences to investigate the issue and recommend solutions.

“The current geographic variation in Medicare reimbursement rates is inequitable,” Ms. Sebelius said.

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20
Mar
10

President Obama makes final House call

NEWS
President Obama makes final House call

Saturday, March 20, 2010

President Obama delivered the final pitch Saturday to the voters who now matter most in his party’s decades-long campaign to win a major rewrite of the nation’s health care system: House Democrats.

“It is time to pass health care reform for America, and I am confident that you are going to do it tomorrow,” Obama said in an address broadcast from deep inside the underground Capitol Visitors Center. “Don’t do it for me, don’t do it for Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid … Do it for the American people. They’re the ones looking for action right now.”

Several stories above the caucus bunker, at the southeastern edge of the Capitol grounds, several thousand protesters derisively chanted Pelosi’s first name, yelling “Nan-cy, Nan-cy, Nan-cy” in unison, as if attending a New York Mets game.

The sometimes unruly protesters notwithstanding, Obama’s Saturday afternoon pep talk came amid a bit of good news for Democratic vote-counters, who predicted they would get to the 216 needed to send the bulk of the health care overhaul to the president on Sunday.

The measure would expand access to health insurance for nearly every American and end insurers’ ability to deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions. Democrats, backed by a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office, say it will also produce a surplus of $138 billion over the next decade and $1.2 trillion over the following 10 years.

One outstanding issue involving disparities in Medicare reimbursement rates among states was resolved with a last-minute legislative fix and a promise from Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to address the matter by conducting a study and implementing its findings.

That deal, struck with Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Bruce Braley of Iowa and others, brought anywhere from three to 10 votes into the Democratic fold, according to DeFazio. An even larger group had an interest in the outcome.

Earlier in the day, Democratic leaders broke off talks with Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and a group of antiabortion lawmakers who have been demanding a guarantee for the inclusion of a stringent ban on subsidizing health insurance plans that cover abortion with federal funds.

At least one anti-abortion lawmaker, Rep. Chris Carney of Pennsylvania, announced Saturday that he would vote with Democratic leaders.

“I am voting for this legislation because all Americans should have the same insurance choices enjoyed by members of Congress and their families,” Carney said. “If it’s good enough for members of Congress, it is good enough for the people they represent.”

Though he voted for the bill on its first trip through the House last year, Carney’s commitment was viewed as a significant victory for Democratic leaders because the Senate’s milder restriction on federal funding of abortion did not stop him from vowing to vote “yes” and because he hails from a district where President Obama won just 45 percent of the vote in 2008.

The trickle of public “yes” votes continued steadily, as Reps. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) committed to vote for the bill as well.

In his eleventh-hour appeal, Obama played Democratic lawmakers’ heart strings, while emphasizing the political difficulty of Sunday’s vote.

“I am absolutely confident that it’ll end up being the smart thing to do politically – because I believe that good policy is good politics,” he said, although moments later he appeared to reverse and said:

“Now I can’t guarantee that this is good politics.”

But he asked House members to reflect on why they got into politics in the first place. This vote is one of those moments, he said, that signifies why they are serving in Congress.

“Do it for people who are really scared right now,” he said, “who’ve done the right thing, who’ve played by the rules.”

Obama’s speech was the highlight of a dramatic Saturday on Capitol Hill, where protests grew ugly at times – Reps. John Lewis and Barney Frank were both targets of shouted epithets – and tension was high among Democratic lawmakers and aides who sought to clear the path to enactment of the health care overhaul.

In that vein, House leaders on Saturday killed a controversial plan to avoid a direct up-or-down vote on the Senate version of a health care overhaul, opting instead to vote both on that bill and a package of fixes separately.

The decision to use a more standard format for considering the legislation – and abandon the GOP-dubbed “Slaughter Solution” – came just before President Obama arrived a little after 3:30 p.m. to speak to the House Democratic Caucus.

“We are going to get this done,” Obama yelled to reporters as he walked into the meeting.

House leaders did their best to project optimism, with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) telling reporters, “Clearly we believe we have the votes.”

And inside the meeting, Reid said, “I’m happy to announce I have the commitment of a significant majority of the United States Senate to make that good law even better,” meaning a commitment they would accept the changes to make the bill more palatable to House Democrats reluctant to support it.

That commitment is critical because House members are being asked to send the Senate-written health care to the president for his signature in exchange for a promise that House Democrats’ fixes will be agreed to by the Senate and made into law.

But Reid declined to release a list of senators who would guarantee swift action on the House changes.

Obama and his Cabinet worked feverishly to lock down the support of recalcitrant Democrats, swaying a band of Midwestern, Pacific and Southern holdouts with legislative language that would adjust Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors and hospitals in certain states. The White House also promised to study these regional disparities before the next presidential inauguration in 2013, according to DeFazio.

That brought three votes for certain and as many as 10, said DeFazio, one of a group of lawmakers who had face-to-face meetings with Sebelius. Obama backed up Sebelius’ assurances by phone, DeFazio said.

But even as votes began to flip into the “yes” column, Democratic leaders were still trying to navigate a tricky path on the issue of abortion – including the specter of a last-minute effort by Republicans to use a parliamentary tactic to get a vote on anti-abortion language favored by Stupak.

Emotions ran high, as about 100 protestors gathered outside a House meeting room Saturday, and one shouted “Baby killer!” at Rep. Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement, after he told them he planned to vote for the bill.

One possible last-minute compromise – getting Obama to sign an executive order enshrining the Stupak language in law – drew serious consideration and seemed to offer a possible way out of the impasse. But such a move would be sure to draw withering fire from the Democrats’ supporters among pro-abortion-rights activists, including groups like NARAL, which has already called the Stupak language a “non-starter.”

Following by reporters as she rushed from the House chamber to a private meeting in a nearby office, Pelosi could be heard to say: “An executive order is a different thing. That might be a possibility.”

Hoyer confirmed that negotiations were ongoing about an executive order, but said, “I don’t know where they stand.”

House Majority Whip James Clyburn said he was “hopeful” that an executive order that he is said is being drafted could help pick up votes.

“I understand the language is being read by various people,” he said, adding that “we’re going to be taking a measure of that within the next couple of hours to make sure.”

A White House spokesman declined to comment on the possibility of an executive order.

It is also possible that Republicans could attempt to use a “motion to recommit” to add Stupak’s language to the House bill designed to make fixes to the Senate bill under reconciliation. Democrats have options at hand to prevent such a move from succeeding – including asking rank-and-file members who supported Stupak in November to switch their vote – but, if agreed to, it could throw a procedural wrench into the reconciliation bill.

That’s because the abortion-related language would almost certainly be subject to a procedural challenge in the Senate, increasing the possibility that the two chambers would have to play ping-pong with the reconciliation bill. Minority party leaders keep their plans on motions to recommit close to their vests, so it was unclear whether an abortion-related motion to recommit would actually be offered.

“The talks have collapsed, but I believe in the resurrection,” said Michigan Rep. Dale Kildee, an anti-abortion Democrat who announced he would support the bill last week.

House leaders hoped they cleared one major procedural problem out of the way by abandoning the “deem and pass” idea, which Republicans have called the Slaughter Solution in reference to Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.). The provision – which would allow the House to “deem” the Senate bill passed without a separate vote – drew increasing criticism, and some Democrats feared that it looked like another sneaky legislative two-step, reminiscent of the Cornhusker Kickback and other special deals.

Democratic lawmakers and aides say they will get the votes they need even if they don’t win the support of Stupak and some of his anti-abortion allies, but reaching 216 is significantly more difficult without them.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), though, said Stupak’s group is holding firm.

He said that to support the legislation he needs an ironclad guarantee that Stupak’s language will be resurrected and enforced whether the vehicle is legislation or executive action.

“There’s still time and they still need votes,” he said Saturday morning.

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20
Mar
10

House Plans Direct Vote on Senate Health Care Bill

NEWS
House Plans Direct Vote on Senate Health Care Bill

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Democrats edged closer to finding 216 lawmakers to back a landmark health-care bill Saturday, as party leaders and White House officials were working on an executive order that they hope will win over a substantial number of antiabortion Democrats.

The House Rules Committee continued its session on the third floor of the Capitol, where the panel is tasked with setting the terms of Sunday’s floor debate. House leaders have decided to take a separate vote on the Senate version of the health-care bill, rejecting an earlier, much-criticized strategy that would have permitted them to “deem” the measure passed without an explicit vote.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said the House will take three votes on Sunday: first, on a resolution that will set the terms of debate; second, on a package of amendments to the Senate bill that have been demanded by House members; and third, on the Senate bill itself.

Van Hollen, who has been working on the issue with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said House leaders concluded that that order — approving the amendments before approving the Senate bill — makes clear that the House intends to modify the Senate bill and not approve the Senate bill itself.

“We believe this is a better process,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said of the vote strategy. “We determined we could do this. . . . We believe we have the votes.”

At the Rules Committee hearing, lawmakers from both parties welcomed the news that the chamber would take a separate vote on the Senate health bill.

“I think we’ve had sanity prevail here, and we’re very pleased about that,” said Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), adding that it was proper for Congress to take such an important vote “in the light of day.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), meanwhile, delivered good news to House Democrats worried that the Senate might not follow suit by passing a package of “fixes” to the Senate bill.

“I am happy to announce I have the commitment of a majority of the United States Senate to make a good law even better,” Reid said, prompting loud applause at the Capital Visitors Center, where President Obama showed up to rally Democrats ahead of Sunday’s vote.

The real developments Saturday were taking place behind closed doors, as Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders tried a new tack in their effort to secure the votes of Democrats who fear that the Senate health bill will allow federal funding of abortions. The details of the proposed executive order remain unclear, but leaders and senior party aides confirmed that it was now the most viable solution to breaking the impasse over abortion funding.

The turn in the negotiations came after Pelosi rejected a proposal from Rep. Bart Stupak (Mich.), the leader of the antiabortion bloc among House Democrats, to change the health measure’s abortion language via a separate vote.

Pelosi told reporters there would be no such separate vote, “not on abortion, not on public option, not on single payer, not on anything,” she said, later adding: “The bill is the bill.”

Stupak’s office said the lawmaker “remains open” to reaching an agreement with Democratic leaders. Key members of the House’s abortion rights coalition also suggested Saturday they were amenable to the possibility of an executive order on abortion.

The Rules panel, meanwhile, continued its contentious session Saturday afternoon after breaking for House votes.

The committee hearing comes after Democratic leaders persuaded four more House members Friday to support a landmark health-care bill after initially opposing it. More than 200 House members have announced that they will vote Sunday against the Senate’s health-care bill. That leaves Democrats little margin for error as they attempt to gather the 216 votes needed for passage among the few dozen lawmakers who remain publicly undeclared.

Those holdout lawmakers, most of whom hail from the Midwest and are Catholic, generally support the $940 billion package and its aim of providing coverage for 32 million more Americans. But they have voiced objections to how the Senate bill would handle insurance coverage of abortions.

Heading into a meeting of the Democratic whip team Saturday, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said the bill remained on track despite the abortion disagreement.

“I continue to believe . . . we’ll have the votes,” Becerra said. “We are moving closer to 216.”

A few other Democrats voiced concern Friday about another issue, the bill’s Medicare funding formulas for doctors and hospitals. Liberals such as Reps. Peter A. DeFazio (Ore.) and Michael E. Capuano (Mass.) said they would withhold their support unless the formulas were rewritten.

The House is expected to vote Sunday on a health-care bill that the Senate approved on Christmas Eve, along with a separate package of amendments.

All 178 Republicans are expected to oppose the bill, so they need to peel off 38 Democrats to defeat the measure, almost the exact number that opposed the first version of the legislation in November. “I just think it is clearly false momentum,” said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.). “The votes still aren’t there.”

The White House said that, just this week, the president has spoken 64 times to wavering lawmakers, often in one-on-one meetings in the Oval Office. That work paid off Friday when Reps. John Boccieri (Ohio), Allen Boyd (Fla.), Suzanne Kosmas (Fla.) and Scott Murphy (N.Y.) announced their new support, bringing to seven the number of Democratic converts this week. Boccieri, Kosmas and Murphy are freshmen whom Republicans have targeted in the November midterm elections.

If the bill is approved, Obama would sign the Senate version into law. The amendments to that law would be sent across the Capitol, where the Senate would try to approve them next week.

The House has already confronted the hurdle of abortion once in this year-long health-care debate.

In November, antiabortion Democrats led by Stupak successfully pushed an amendment that would bar people who receive federal subsidies for insurance from using that money to buy policies covering abortions. The House then passed its health-care bill.

The Senate’s version included slightly less stringent restrictions. State-run insurance exchanges created under the legislation would be permitted to bar abortion coverage in the policies they offer, but recipients of federal tax credits for insurance would be permitted to buy policies with abortion coverage if it were available. Their tax credit would finance the bulk of their policy, but they would have to write a separate check, with their own money, to pay for the part of the policy that covers elective abortions.

“They’ll send you two bills and you’ll write two checks,” said Timothy Jost, a legal and health policy expert at the Washington and Lee School of Law who has studied the legislation. Jost, who appeared Friday at a news conference organized by antiabortion groups who support the Senate language, said he expects that few people will buy the extra coverage, particularly if they get insurance through an employer.

The Senate bill includes a number of often-overlooked provisions designed to reduce the number of abortions. They include a $250 million grant program for young, pregnant women who need help with child care or college tuition, additional tax credits for adoptive parents, and $11 million for community health centers, which serve many poor women and are barred by federal law from offering abortion services. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius affirmed Friday the administration’s commitment to that ban.

Despite claiming unity, the antiabortion bloc of Democrats has fissures within its ranks. Stupak is the staunchest critic of the Senate language, believing it would breach the 32-year-old Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman.

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19
Mar
10

Top Democrats predict Sunday passage

NEWS
Top Democrats predict Sunday passage

Friday, March 19, 2010

Democratic leaders are now confidently predicting victory in a Sunday health-reform vote, saying the party will have the 216 votes needed to pass President Barack Obama’s top legislative priority by then.

“We’ll have the votes when the roll is called,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Friday. The Democrats top vote-counter, Rep. James Clyburn, concurred. “I feel very sure that we’ll vote on this some time Sunday, and the bill will pass,” Clyburn said.

Adding another spark to an already dramatic weekend session, the White House announced that Obama will come to the Capitol at 4 p.m. on Saturday to meet with Democrats in an attempt to close the deal.

And Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave her strongest comments of the week on Friday, saying “I’m very excited about the momentum building around this bill. We’re one day closer to passing this legislation.”

Democrats keep getting boosts with fresh “yes” votes from wavering Democrats – the latest coming from Rep. John Boccieri of Ohio, who is flipping from “no” to “yes.”

Clyburn said Thursday’s release of a final price-tag on the bill – showing that it would reduce deficits for the next 20 years – is helping to pull wavering members over to supporting the bill.

Neither Hoyer nor Clyburn said the Democrats have reached 216 yet, and most unofficial estimates put them at least a handful of votes shy of the total. Friday promised to bring clarity on which of the fence-sitters would come down as a yes, or a no.

New York Rep. Eliot Engel, for instance, told MSNBC Friday morning that he’ll support the bill, after being undecided. He voted yes the last time. Rep. John Boccieri, of Ohio, who voted no last time, held a news conference to say he’d vote yes this time.

“A lot of people have told me this decision could cost me my job,” he said. “I’m standing up today and doing what I believe in.”

Also on Friday, Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak told ABC News that he’s encouraging House leadership to try to pass a separate bill reaffirming his tough anti-abortion language – which currently isn’t in the Senate version of the bill the House will take up Sunday.

“That’s called a ‘enrollment corrections bill.’ I presented that to leadership about 10 days ago. There is renewed interest in that piece of legislation that I and a number of us are ready to introduce. … That’s one way – maybe. But we still have to deal with the Senate. … ,” Stupak told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

If Stupak could reach a deal with House leadership, anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen votes would stay in the yes column – enough to ensure passage of the bill on Sunday. Democratic leaders have insisted they can pass the bill without or without Stupak’s support, and Clyburn on Friday downplayed talk of a separate bill on abortion.

The comments by Hoyer and Clyburn came after Democrats’ yearlong health reform push picked up unmistakable momentum Thursday, as the votes began to fall into place for a history-making roll call Sunday that could achieve the party’s decades-long goal of expanding health care.

Hoyer also said Friday that Republicans have few options to hold up the reconciliation health care bill in the House.

“The Republicans cannot draw out the process in the House. It’s the Senate where they can draw it out,” he told reporters as he left the Democratic caucus meeting. “It’s essentially a conference report. You can’t make amendments to conference reports.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still had plenty of work to do but a series of events Thursday – the president postponing his overseas trip, a solid deficit reading and a handful of members firming up as “yes” votes – all left the impression of a bill gaining ground.

The question now is whether these last-minute conversions will be enough to offset a collection of wavering Democrats who could trade their “yes” votes for “no” votes in the final round of a yearlong fight.

Democrats opened the day on an up note after the Congressional Budget Office unveiled its initial cost estimate for the House-Senate compromise. The government’s official scorekeeper put the cost of subsidies and new programs created by the bill at $940 billion over the next decade and predicted the bill would save the government $138 billion during the same period – a projection that seemed to buoy fiscal conservatives. Democrats also said the bill is fully paid for and would cover 95 percent of all Americans.

Hours later, a pair of Democrats who voted against the House bill – retiring Tennessee Rep. Bart Gordon and first-term Colorado Rep. Betsy Markey – said they would vote yes this time around. That came on the heels of another announcement of support from a frequent critic of the legislation, Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez.

“I’ve spent the past week speaking at length with the president and his staff; in fact, I spoke with him again just this morning,” said Gutierrez, who led the protests against Senate language that would bar illegal immigrants from purchasing insurance through the exchange. “After extensive discussions with the president, I believe we have a health care bill I can vote yes for, and I believe we have a commitment to move forward on a comprehensive immigration reform package as soon as possible.”

Adding to the sense of drama, Obama abruptly postponed until June his planned trip to Indonesia and Australia so that he could be in town for the House vote – and perhaps to sign the House-Senate bill after passage. The Senate is expected to take up a clean-up reconciliation bill as early as Tuesday, if the House passes the bill first.

Obama had been scheduled to leave Sunday – having already once delayed his departure from Friday – but risked being half a world away as the signature legislative goal of his first two years came to the House floor.

But problems remain.

Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch, a former union chief, threatened to vote against the bill for a number of reasons, like the tax on high-end health care plans and his mistrust that the Senate will be able to approve whatever the House does this weekend. He’ll met with Obama Thursday, and he told reporters he’s not a “lost cause.”

Pelosi spent an entire round of votes Thursday afternoon pleading her case to Ohio Rep. Zack Space, a Democrat who has twice voted for health care reform but now seems to be leaning “no.”

“Every vote is a heavy lift,” Pelosi told reporters during an afternoon news conference. “We have great diversity in our caucus. We don’t have a rubber-stamp Congress or rubber-stamp caucus.”

During a round of evening votes, the speaker buttonholed Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry, another retiring Democrat who voted for the House bill. He listened to her for about five minutes as he leaned over his cane while she gestured enthusiastically, but then they both got up, and the speaker moved on.

Also Thursday, another group of Democrats – those who initially voted for the House bill – sided with Republicans on a muddled procedural vote that the GOP framed as a bid to force Democrats to abandon the so-called Slaughter Solution, a procedural maneuver that would “deem” the Senate bill passed without a direct vote.

The group of Democrats included New York Rep. Michael Arcuri, Pennsylvania Rep. Kathleen Dahlkemper, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Virginia Rep. Thomas Perriello.

But Lynch voted with his leaders. So, too, did Space, along with his Ohio colleague Rep. Steve Driehaus, another key swing vote. Even Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire, whose well-publicized indecision has become an amusing subplot to some of his colleagues, voted with party leaders.

But the amendment failed – yet another development in a series of breakthroughs for Democrats as they try to build momentum for a final vote on Sunday afternoon.

Other fence-sitters said they’re trying to work through their concerns with the bill in the next three days.

“I want to get to ‘yes,’” said Indiana Rep. Baron Hill, who has voted for the bill twice now – once in the House, once on the Energy and Commerce Committee – but has problems with a 2.9 percent tax on medical-device manufacturers that would hurt companies in his district. “This health care bill is very important.”

Fellow Indiana Rep. Brad Ellsworth, who backed the first version of the bill, said he’s winnowed his problems with the legislation down to its restrictions on federal funding for elective abortions. He said he’s been speaking with people on both sides of the issue and will make a decision based on whether he thinks the legislation meets the existing standards of prohibiting federal funds for abortion.

A big concern at this point is whether Senate Democrats can rebuff any attempts by Republicans – or Democrats – to change the bill through amendments to the reconciliation package. Pelosi has been dismissive of that prospect in her public statements. Hoyer has been more circumspect about the Senate.

Waxman said the Senate will give the House assurances that “those amendments that will be offered will not be successful.” A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid backed up those assertions later in the day.

But Sen. Kent Conrad didn’t do his party any favors by suggesting Republicans would be able to challenge some of the things in the bill – a comment his office later tried to walk back.

Despite that, most members acknowledge the historic import of where they stand and seem to be overcoming their particular problems with the bill.

In a bid to mollify House Democrats, party leaders drastically reduced the tax on high-end health care plans by shielding all but the highest-end coverage and protecting things such as vision and dental care. But those changes resulted in lost tax revenue; the measure now brings in $32 billion compared with the $149 billion the Senate raised in its plan. And the final bill pegs the tax to inflation instead of inflation-plus-1 percent, but that change wasn’t enough to frustrate critics of the tax.

“It’s not enough of a problem that I would object to the compromise,” said Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney, a principal opponent of the tax.

Gordon, the retiring chairman of the Science Committee who voted against the House bill, applauded the final package for lowering costs for families and businesses, giving people more access to health coverage and lowering the deficit.

“In the end, the question I’m faced with is this: Will this reform be better for Middle Tennessee than the status quo?” Gordon said in a release. “I think it will. That’s why I believe passing meaningful health care reform is essential and why I have made my decision to help ensure health care is affordable for Middle Tennesseans today and for generations to come.”

Markey told a Colorado newspaper that she’s ready to embrace the compromise because it does a better job of lowering costs than the initial House version. Her support earned her praise from the White House, but it gives Republicans a big bull’s-eye for the November election.

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19
Mar
10

Boehner says vote will haunt Democrats

NEWS
Boehner says vote will haunt Democrats

Friday, March 19, 2010

House Minority Leader John Boehner says this weekend’s votes on healthcare reform will haunt Democrats through November’s election and mean “sacrificing a big number of their members” to meet President Barack Obama agenda.

“I don’t think any American is going to forget this vote anytime soon” and among those watching most closely, he revealed, is Obama’s predecessor, former President George W. Bush, who talked with the Republican leader just Friday.

“I talked to him this morning. He’s doing great,” Boehner said. “ He loves all this. I mean he’s following it closely.”

And what does Bush say about health care? “I probably already said more than I should,” Boehner said, “But he’s following it closely.”

Looking back at the turnaround in the health care debate over the last six weeks, Boehner said he had never been convinced that the Democratic initiative was dead and agreed that Republicans were hurt in early February when news broke that California’s largest for-profit insurer, Anthem Blue Cross, was seeking big rate increases. “It certainly wasn’t helpful,” he chuckled.

Sunday’s anticipated showdown now in the House “is going to be close, but if the American people stay engaged in this fight we can still win… All our attention is focused on making sure this thing never, never, ever becomes law.” Boehner said.

But asked about November’s fall out, he was even blunter. “Are you kidding?” he laughed, saying Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) was putting her members at risk to a level that Republicans — in his experience — have never dared.

“They are committed to this big government control of health care, and they want to plant this flag of liberalism while they have the chance even though they are sacrificing a big number of their own members,” Boehner said. “I don’t ever recall Republicans ever putting things on the floor where they knew they were driving people over the cliff into defeat.”

Boehner said the one bright spot of bipartisan co-operation has been in the education arena, where he credited Education Secretary Arne Duncan with reaching out to Republicans on a successor bill to the Bush-era “No Child Left Behind” reforms.

“They’re saying all the right things,” Boehner said. “We’ve not seen the bill, but so far, they’re good…It’s the first thing I’ve seen in the last 14 months that indicates they’re starting to get it.”

But on financial regulatory reform, he said Democrats were “trying to do about 99 times more than need to be done,” and that any hope of a deal rested on what comes out of the Senate.”

“Let’s go fix the problems on Wall Street…Let’s not go beat up on people who had nothing to do with the crisis but [are] paying the penalty for what happened in Wall Street. It’s just over-reach.”

Asked if this put his own members in jeopardy—opposing a consumer financial agency that many voters want—Boehner was unfazed. “Suck it up” was his advice. “There’s a way to fix this ..I’m hopeful the Senate will find it.”

“As a matter of fact, if the Senate is able to produce a bill—I underline `if’ a few times—it will be much closer to where many of us would like to be than the House bill.”

Although he made no such linkage, Boehner’s strong opposition on the regulatory front could yet play to his party’s advantage in trying to narrow the Democrats’ lead in fundraising for the November elections and take back the House.

“We don’t need to out raise them, but we need enough resources to get our guys across the line,” Boehner said. He said Republicans now have one or more candidates running in 95 of what they see as the top 100 races for the House, and he wasn’t discouraged by the prospect of multiple primary fights.

“Primaries are competition,” he said. “Competition makes everyone better.”

His big grassroots focus, the so-called “Agenda Project,” will be a spring and summer “listening” campaign leading up to anticipated platform announcement near Labor Day — what many take as a flashback to the famous “Contract with America” used by Republicans in the 1994 elections.

“If we’re in the majority and I’m lucky enough to be speaker, I’m going to run the House differently than it is today and differently than my Republican colleagues in the past,” Boehner said. In the same vein, he warned if “anybody who gets the sense that this is a product handed down by a group of politicians, it will fall flat on its face.”

“The process of developing this is as important as what the final product is. We have to allow Americans to participate in this process. We have to prove to them that we are listening.”

“We’re going to solicit a lot of input. The American people don’t think their Congress is listening…We’re going to reach out to the Tea Partiers, reach out to every American who wants to take a role in this.”

And with Washington’s weather improving, will he and Obama finally play golf?

“He hasn’t asked….He’s talked about it a dozen times. It just hasn’t happened,” Boehner said.

“I get along fine with the president. We disagree but we’re not disagreeable.”

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19
Mar
10

Obama: Health Care Debate is About Country’s Character

NEWS
Obama: Health Care Debate is About Country’s Character

Friday, March 19, 2010

President Obama made a last-minute push for his health care reform plan Friday in advance of Sunday’s planned vote in the House, telling a supportive audience at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia that “a century-long struggle” for reform is about to “culminate in a historic vote.”

The president, who appeared energetic and enthusiastic, linked passage of the health care bill to the passage of social security and civil rights legislation, arguing that the debate on the legislation is “about the character of our country.”

He cited past presidents who have supported reform, among them Republican Teddy Roosevelt, who he quoted as having backed “aggressive fighting” for expanded coverage.

“I know this has been a difficult journey,” he said. “I know this will be a tough vote.” The president said that while he doesn’t know how pushing for reform will “play politically,” he does know that it’s the right thing to do.

The president said that despite rhetoric suggesting the legislation represents radical change, the bill is ultimately about “common sense reform.” He added that if the bill does not pass, the insurance industry “will continue to run amok.”

“They will continue to deny people coverage,” he said. “They will continue to deny people care. They will continue to jack up premiums 40 or 50 or 60 percent as they have in the last few weeks without any accountability whatsoever. They know this. That’s why their lobbyists are stalking the halls of Congress as we speak. And pouring millions of dollars into negative ads. That’s why they are doing everything they can to kill this bill.”
He continued: “So the only question left is this: Are we going to let the special interests win again? Or are we going to make this vote a victory for the American people?”

House Democrats have been working furiously to secure the votes to pass the bill ahead of the Sunday vote from skittish lawmakers concerned about their reelection prospects as well as issues like the cost of the $940 billion package.

The president noted that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would more than pay for itself over time, reducing the deficit by $1 trillion over two decades.

“This proposal’s paid for,” he said, contrasting it with previous Washington “schemes” that self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives have supported. Citing rising health care costs, he added: “We can’t afford not to do this.”

The president compared reporting on the bill to “Sportscenter” and “Rock’em Sock’em Robots,” with cable talking heads more concerned about the political implications of action than its practical impact.

He also laid out what is contained in the package, stressing the reforms that would be instituted this year, among them:

  • Banning insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions or dropping coverage when people get sick;
  • Eliminating annual or lifetime coverage limits;
  • Requiring insurance plans to offer free preventive care to customers;
  • And extending how long young people can stay on their parents’ insurance plans to age 26.

As Mr. Obama made his speech, Rep. John Boehner, the House Republican leader, gave a press conference noting that the president is “doing the hard sell” on this bill. Boehner said voting against the bill is ultimately about “doing the right thing for the American people.”

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18
Mar
10

Democrats steam toward Sunday vote

NEWS
Democrats steam toward Sunday vote

Thursday, March 18 2010

The Democrats’ yearlong health reform push picked up unmistakable momentum Thursday as the votes began to fall into place for a history-making roll call Sunday that could achieve the party’s decadeslong goal of expanding health care.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still had plenty of work to do, and no one in leadership was yet saying she has 216 votes in hand. But a series of events Thursday — the president postponing his overseas trip, a solid deficit reading and a handful of members firming up as “yes” votes — all left the impression of a bill gaining ground.

The question now is whether these last-minute conversions will be enough to offset a collection of wavering Democrats who could trade their “yes” votes for “no” votes in the final round of a yearlong fight.

Democrats opened the day on an up note after the Congressional Budget Office unveiled its initial cost estimate for the House-Senate compromise. The government’s official scorekeeper put the cost of subsidies and new programs created by the bill at $940 billion over the next decade and predicted the bill would save the government $138 billion during the same period — a projection that seemed to buoy fiscal conservatives. Democrats also said the bill is fully paid for and would cover 95 percent of all Americans.

Hours later, a pair of Democrats who voted against the House bill — retiring Tennessee Rep. Bart Gordon and first-term Colorado Rep. Betsy Markey — said they would vote yes this time around. That came on the heels of another announcement of support from a frequent critic of the legislation, Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez.

“I’ve spent the past week speaking at length with the president and his staff; in fact, I spoke with him again just this morning,” said Gutierrez, who led the protests against Senate language that would bar illegal immigrants from purchasing insurance through the exchange. “After extensive discussions with the president, I believe we have a health care bill I can vote yes for, and I believe we have a commitment to move forward on a comprehensive immigration reform package as soon as possible.”

Adding to the sense of drama, President Barack Obama abruptly postponed until June his planned trip to Indonesia and Australia so that he could be in town for the House vote — and perhaps to sign the House-Senate bill after passage. The Senate is expected to take up a clean-up reconciliation bill as early as Tuesday, if the House passes the bill first.

Obama had been scheduled to leave Sunday — having already once delayed his departure from Friday — but risked being half a world away as the signature legislative goal of his first two years came to the House floor.

But problems remain.

Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch, a former union chief, threatened to vote against the bill for a number of reasons, like the tax on high-end health care plans and his mistrust that the Senate will be able to approve whatever the House does this weekend. He’ll met with Obama Thursday, and he told reporters he’s not a “lost cause.”

Pelosi spent an entire round of votes Thursday afternoon pleading her case to Ohio Rep. Zack Space, a Democrat who has twice voted for health care reform but now seems to be leaning “no.”

“Every vote is a heavy lift,” Pelosi told reporters during an afternoon news conference. “We have great diversity in our caucus. We don’t have a rubber-stamp Congress or rubber-stamp caucus.”

During a round of evening votes, the speaker buttonholed Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry, another retiring Democrat who voted for the House bill. He listened to her for about five minutes as he leaned over his cane while she gestured enthusiastically, but then they both got up, and the speaker moved on.

Also Thursday, another group of Democrats — those who initially voted for the House bill — sided with Republicans on a muddled procedural vote that the GOP framed as a bid to force Democrats to abandon the so-called Slaughter Solution, a procedural maneuver that would “deem” the Senate bill passed without a direct vote.

The group of Democrats included New York Rep. Michael Arcuri, Pennsylvania Rep. Kathleen Dahlkemper, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Virginia Rep. Thomas Perriello.

But Lynch voted with his leaders. So, too, did Space, along with his Ohio colleague Rep. Steve Driehaus, another key swing vote. Even Pennsylvania Rep. Jason Altmire, whose well-publicized indecision has become an amusing subplot to some of his colleagues, voted with party leaders.

But the amendment failed — yet another development in a series of breakthroughs for Democrats as they try to build momentum for a final vote on Sunday afternoon.

Other fence-sitters said they’re trying to work through their concerns with the bill in the next three days.

“I want to get to ‘yes,’” said Indiana Rep. Baron Hill, who has voted for the bill twice now — once in the House, once on the Energy and Commerce Committee — but has problems with a 2.9 percent tax on medical-device manufacturers that would hurt companies in his district. “This health care bill is very important.”
Fellow Indiana Rep. Brad Ellsworth, who backed the first version of the bill, said he’s winnowed his problems with the legislation down to its restrictions on federal funding for elective abortions. He said he’s been speaking with people on both sides of the issue and will make a decision based on whether he thinks the legislation meets the existing standards of prohibiting federal funds for abortion.

Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur says she and Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak are working to find a way to reaffirm the House position on abortion outside the health care bill.

A big concern at this point is whether Senate Democrats can rebuff any attempts by Republicans — or Democrats — to change the bill through amendments to the reconciliation package. Pelosi has been dismissive of that prospect in her public statements. Her No. 2, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, has been more circumspect about the Senate.

Waxman said the Senate will give the House assurances that “those amendments that will be offered will not be successful.” A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid backed up those assertions later in the day.

But Sen. Kent Conrad didn’t do his party any favors by suggesting Republicans would be able to challenge some of the things in the bill — a comment his office later tried to walk back.

Despite that, most members acknowledge the historic import of where they stand and seem to be overcoming their particular problems with the bill.

In a bid to mollify House Democrats, party leaders drastically reduced the tax on high-end health care plans by shielding all but the highest-end coverage and protecting things such as vision and dental care. But those changes resulted in lost tax revenue; the measure now brings in $32 billion compared with the $149 billion the Senate raised in its plan. And the final bill pegs the tax to inflation instead of inflation-plus-1 percent, but that change wasn’t enough to frustrate critics of the tax.

“It’s not enough of a problem that I would object to the compromise,” said Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney, a principal opponent of the tax.

Gordon, the retiring chairman of the Science Committee who voted against the House bill, applauded the final package for lowering costs for families and businesses, giving people more access to health coverage and lowering the deficit.

“In the end, the question I’m faced with is this: Will this reform be better for Middle Tennessee than the status quo?” Gordon said in a release. “I think it will. That’s why I believe passing meaningful health care reform is essential and why I have made my decision to help ensure health care is affordable for Middle Tennesseans today and for generations to come.”

Markey told a Colorado newspaper that she’s ready to embrace the compromise because it does a better job of lowering costs than the initial House version. Her support earned her praise from the White House, but it gives Republicans a big bull’s-eye for the November election.

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18
Mar
10

Dems sweeten health bill, set showdown Sunday vote

NEWS
Dems sweeten health bill, set showdown Sunday vote

Thursday, March 18 2010

President Barack Obama again postponed his trip to Indonesia and Australia, this time putting it off until June so that he can be in Washington as Democrats in Congress try to pass a health care reform bill, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced Thursday.

Obama had already delayed his trip once and was planning to leave Sunday, but the House health care vote now is expected Sunday as well. Gibbs said the president didn’t want to risk having to cancel at the last minute.

“Passage of health care reform is of paramount importance, and the president is determined to see this battle through,” Gibbs said during the daily press briefing. “The president believes right now the place for him is to be in Washington to see this through.”

Postponing a presidential trip overseas is a dramatic step, and the move — decided on by Obama at 9:45 a.m. Thursday, official said — speaks to the importance health reform has taken on for the president. A trip overseas at such a critical moment could have left him somewhat out of the picture at what could prove to be a signature moment of his presidency, if the House can pass reform this weekend as Democratic leaders expect.

Gibbs insisted that the delay in the trip didn’t mean trouble for the House passing reform. “The president still believes we will have the votes,” he said.

But House leaders say they’re still short of the 216 votes needed to pass reform in the House. That effort got a boost Thursday when the Congressional Budget Office said the bill, which will cost $940 billion over 10 years, would reduce the deficit over the next 10 and 20 years. After the House acts, the Senate also must act to pass a cleanup bill, probably sometime next week.

Obama must sign the House-Senate bill into law before the Senate can pass the cleanup bill.

News about the trip postponement came just as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was ending a news conference. As she left the room, she said: “I’m glad. I like having him here.”

She suggested he was staying because the Senate will take up the bill next week.

“This is historical. I’m sure he wants to be here for the history,” Pelosi said.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) also is happy the president is staying.

“He may have to twist some arms. He may have to talk to some people. His personal presence helps.”

The Senate will take up the bill soon after House passage, probably Tuesday, aides said.

The overseas trip promises to be an emotional one. Obama was planning to visit Indonesia, where he lived for four years as a child. On Thursday, Obama called the leader of Indonesia and plans to soon call the Australian prime minister, Gibbs said.

“We greatly regret the delay in the trip,” he said.

While pushing back an official overseas trip is a personal first for Obama, it is hardly new to the presidency. President George W. Bush pushed back to July 2003 a major Africa trip the White House had scheduled for January 2003 due to a variety of considerations, according to CBS’s Mark Knoller, who keeps a meticulous tally of presidential statistics.

Bush also postponed a trip to Canada in the spring of 2003, in run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. President Bill Clinton also pushed back international trips. He sent Vice President Al Gore in his place to an APEC Summit in Malaysia.

President Ronald Reagan once cancelled a trip to Indonesia citing the need to remain in Washington to deal with the budget and other issues. President George H.W. Bush postponed a trip to Australia amid criticism of his international travel while Americans suffered in a down economy.

Gibbs said the delay was unavoidable. Unless the president left “extremely early” Sunday afternoon, the trip would not have been feasible and putting it off further seemed the best option when staff reviewed his schedule Wednesday night, Gibbs said..

“It just at that point seemed obvious to us that the best course of business was to reschedule,” he said.

The White House is not concerned about possible diplomatic repercussions.

“Each of these two countries understands what the president has been working on, what he’s involved in and the importance of him seeing it through,” Gibbs said.

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18
Mar
10

Obama makes his case for healthcare reform on Fox News

NEWS
Obama makes his case for healthcare reform on Fox News

Thursday, 18 March 2010


President Barack Obama has stepped up his efforts to gain support for his embattled healthcare reform plans by giving an interview to Fox News.

The broadcaster has been criticised by the White House for its perceived right-wing bias.

Facing tough questioning, Mr Obama voiced confidence that the reform bill would finally be passed by Congress.

Mr Obama has received a boost from Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who says he will now support the legislation.

Several Catholic religious orders said they were now satisfied the legislation would not allow public money to be used for abortions and so voiced their backing.

With just days to go before this protracted battle over healthcare reaches its climax in Congress, and with the outcome still too close to call, President Obama is campaigning hard.

Catholic backing

He has been on the road, with his shirtsleeves rolled up, making passionate speeches, and now he has taken the offensive to Fox News, regarded by this White House as fundamentally opposed to “the president and all his works”.

The interview, with combative presenter Bret Baier, was largely unproductive. The president wanted to extol the virtues of the reform bill, while Mr Baier wanted to grill him about some of the complex – and controversial – congressional procedures being explored by the Democrats as they try to get the bill passed.

President Obama chided the interviewer, Bret Baier, for interrupting his answers.

“Bret, you’ve got to let me finish my answers,” he said.

“Sir, I know you don’t like to filibuster, but…”Mr Baier said.

“Well, I’m trying to answer your question and you keep on interrupting,” the president replied.

Mr Obama did receive some good news on Wednesday, our correspondent says.

One of the bill’s fierce Democratic critics, Mr Kucinich, who had previously voted against the legislation, announced that he intended to support it.

“I know I have to make a decision, not on the bill as I would like to see it but as it is,” he said.

“You do have to be very careful that the potential of President Obama’s presidency not be destroyed by this debate. Even though I have many differences with him on policy, there’s something much bigger at stake here for America.”

And a number of Catholic religious orders, representing 59,000 nuns, said they were now satisfied the bill does not allow taxpayer dollars to be used to fund abortions.

This could help to win over a handful of Conservative Democrats, our correspondent adds.

Republicans are opposed to the proposed reforms, arguing that they will give the government too much control over healthcare and be mainly paid for by higher taxes and cuts in Medicare, the government-run health scheme for Americans aged 65 or over.

Complete Story… FOX News
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17
Mar
10

Pelosi’s twisting path to 216

NEWS
Pelosi’s twisting path to 216

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Add a Kucinich, subtract a Kaptur.

Every tough vote has its arithmetic, and health reform is no different. Get to 216, score a win. But to make it, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has to minimize the defections among “yes” votes and flip a few “no” votes.

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich made that job slightly easier on Wednesday when he became the first “no” to say he’d vote for the final version — and Pelosi hoped his switch meant other liberals might follow suit. But his Ohio colleague Marcy Kaptur could nullify that reversal if she trades her initial “yes” vote for a “no” because the bill’s abortion restrictions aren’t tough enough.

Later, Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, added his name to those undecided members voting yes — only to soften that stance later in the day. Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.) confirmed his earlier statements that he is a yes, satisfied that the Senate’s abortion language goes far enough.

All in all, the moves made Wednesday feel better than Tuesday for Democrats on the only question that matters in the Capitol: Does Pelosi have the votes? Speculation is rampant, and the universe is pretty well-defined. So everyone, it seems, has a number: 200, 208, 211 “yes” votes.

Members and aides know Democrats aren’t there yet. Pelosi probably has a better sense for where the votes lie than anyone else in Washington does, but not even the speaker knows where those last votes will come from — or if they will come at all. Either way, all the effort over the next three or four days comes down to moving just four or five votes.

Hopes of a Saturday vote faded as House aides said they didn’t expect the Congressional Budget Office to report out a score on the bill Wednesday night. There was also no bill language either Wednesday, raising the possibility of the vote Sunday instead because House leaders have pledged to give members 72 hours to read the bill.

Aides said they expect a tally on the cost of the bill Thursday, but party leaders couldn’t give their members much guidance about the timing of the final vote.

“I don’t expect to meet until Saturday — if then,” Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter said.

The biggest single bloc of undecided Democrats remains those with reservations about the Senate’s abortion restrictions. he group, led by Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, seemed to lose another member Wednesday when Oberstar signaled he’d support the final bill, telling a pair of reporters off the House floor that “on balance, it does what we need to do.” He reached that conclusion, he said, after reviewing the language and speaking with Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, who negotiated restrictions in the Senate’s bill.

Kildee too decided the language is acceptable. But Kaptur disagrees, and with little to no way to change it, party leaders may have a tough time winning her support.

Two-hundred sixteen Democrats who remain in the House voted “yes” the first time, while 37 voted against it. Pelosi is sure to lose some of those “yes” votes, so the question is how many “nos” can she flip.

Most Democrats expect Washington Rep. Brian Baird to be with them on the final vote. Same with retiring Tennessee Rep. Bart Gordon. But more of a question mark is his Volunteer State colleague John Tanner, who is also calling it quits at the end of the year.

Pelosi can turn to liberal lawmakers like New York Rep. Eliot Engel or Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who some believe will be hard-pressed to vote against a bill that would provide insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans, just because they don’t like everything in it.

And a pair of Californians — Reps. Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa — were accused on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show Wednesday of trading their votes to pump more water to the state’s economically ravaged Central Valley over the complaints of environmentalists in the state. Does that make it easier or harder to vote for a bill?

First-term Democrats are the most likely targets of intense lobbying pressure. But if Florida Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, Colorado Rep. Betsy Markey or New York Rep. Scott Murphy voted for the final product — after voting against it the first time – that could give their opponents ammunition to accuse them of flip-flopping on the issue, in already tough races in marginal seats.

Constituents and outside interest groups have bombarded lawmakers’ offices with phone calls and e-mails and staged protests to make their views known. The callers have jammed Capitol switchboards for days and all but shut down some members’ phone lines in a wave of last-ditch appeals to anyone still on the fence.

Ohio Rep. John Boccieri, a Democrat who voted against the House bill but remains on the fence for the final round, said his office has received upward of 10,000 e-mails in a 24-hour period this week. Outside interest groups have bought as much, if not more, airtime as he’ll see in November. Activists have rented airplanes and flown them over the city of Canton with banners telling him how to vote. Even nuns showed up outside his office back in Ohio to voice their protest.
This barrage has ruffled the always-cheery former Air Force C-130 pilot.

“We can’t even get to the business of the day, helping folks with their passports and weeding through some of the bureaucratic red tape. That’s frustrating,” Boccieri said. “I wish they would just let us focus on doing our job and listening to our constituents.”

While Boccieri remains publicly undecided, some of his colleagues couldn’t wait for party leaders to unveil the final bill to voice their continued opposition. Others said the pressure from party leaders has pretty much dried up.

“I’ve talked to everyone,” Maryland Rep. Frank Kratovil Jr. said. “They know where I am.”

Of course, each lawmaker, it seems, has problems with the policy or the procedure, and uneasiness with the Senate remains at an all-time high. So Pelosi and her leadership team are scrambling to assuage those concerns the best that they can.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said his caucus wants a signed assurance from Senate Democrats that they will stick to an agreement to make certain House-mandated changes to the Senate health care bill.

“It’s important to get,” Hoyer said Wednesday. “I don’t think you want to move ahead without it, and Sen. [Harry] Reid knows that.”

The issue now is momentum, and Democrats are trying to build as much as they can. To that end, the Kucinich conversion was just what Pelosi and the president needed.

“This is a defining moment for whether or not we’ll have any opportunity to move off square one on the issue of health care,” Kucinich told reporters Wednesday morning. “And so even though I don’t like the bill, I’ve made a decision to support it in the hopes that we can move toward a more comprehensive approach once this legislation is done.

“I think Dennis speaks for a constituency of Americans who feel excluded from politics, and I think his endorsement’s very welcome and very significant,” said Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.).

“People are going to put aside their niche issues and get on board,” a House leadership aide predicted Wednesday.

Until then, the sprint for votes continues.

After the House wrapped up its official business Wednesday, Pelosi huddled with Kaptur on the floor of the chamber. One more vote hanging in the balance.

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17
Mar
10

Republicans cast Nancy Pelosi as health care villain

NEWS
Republicans cast Nancy Pelosi as health care villain

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Health care reform might be President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy, but not if you ask Republicans running for the House this year. According to them, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the driving force behind the enterprise, assisted by an army of subservient lieutenants.

In district after district, GOP candidates have unleashed a barrage of press releases, emails, and ads criticizing the California congresswoman for her efforts and explicitly tying their Democratic opponents to her, often while avoiding mention of the president’s role altogether. While Obama’s work to advance health care legislation is also a target in some contests, it is Pelosi who is emerging as the face of health care reform in competitive races across the country.

The standard approach is to characterize vulnerable Democrats as Pelosi minions or close allies. A recent press release for Republican Jeff Reetz described Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) as “Pelosi’s Benchwarmer” while Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) is said by Republican Frank Guinta to be “Pelosi’s strongest ally in the House.” In California, Republican Brad Goehring claims Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney “has voted in lockstep with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”

In Ohio, where Republican Jim Renacci is out with a new radio ad accusing Democratic Rep. John Boccieri of “following Nancy Pelosi’s lead” on health care, the challenger claims his message is getting traction.

“It’s a pretty resonant message with the people that I meet with on a daily basis in the 16th District.”

The Pelosi narrative has been applied even in situations where the connection is somewhat attenuated. Jim Ward, an Arizona Republican, asked Monday whether Rep. Harry Mitchell – one of the more conservative House Democrats – will “vote blindly with Speaker Pelosi on legislation sight unseen, or will he stand up for the best interests of his constituents?”

GOP strategists say the Pelosi association is an obvious one to highlight at a time when polling shows just 36 percent of voters view the House Speaker favorably.

“You’re seeing it all over the country,” said Wes Anderson, a veteran pollster who is advising the Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee. “She’s too big of a target to pass up.”

In an interview, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said the House GOP campaign arm was coaching candidates to focus on the process of the health care push and, at a time when voters across the board are expressing distrust of Washington and its handling of the legislation, to home in on Pelosi’s vote-wrangling.

“Outside of Washington, all the radio and TV is about Nancy Pelosi scheduling, defining, and pushing the vote on health care. So Speaker Pelosi is the point person for the Democratic Party and the point person for the House. She’s the person who sets the agenda. She’s taken the lead.”

Democrats insist the GOP’s intense focus on Pelosi – which they say parallels their own past efforts to tie Republican candidates to then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich – stands little chance of resonating beyond their base of conservative supporters.

“The reality is attacking Gingrich was red meat for the base and attacking Pelosi is red meat for the base,” said Democratic pollster John Anzalone. “It didn’t work. I always felt it was a waste.”

“It may motivate their base, it may work for their donors, but it doesn’t swing voters,” said Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Their entire strategy is attacking a person, rather than offering ideas.”

Still, GOP challengers are convinced the anti-Pelosi campaign is a winner given the strong opinions that many voters hold about her leadership. In Texas, Republican Bill Flores, who has already put out TV and radio spots attaching Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards to Pelosi, released a statement Tuesday blasting the Speaker for her “headlong rush to pass a disastrous government takeover of American healthcare.”

“Speaker Pelosi has a very high negative approval among our residents in the 17th Congressional District. Many of the things she has done have been upsetting to people. Anyone who has done anything to support her is going to receive the same negative backlash.”

The concerted push also reflects a GOP effort to capitalize on deep voter dissatisfaction with Congress that has only intensified in the first year of Obama’s presidency. A March Associated Press poll found just 22 percent of voters approving of the job Congress is doing.

“She’s the leader of a discredited and extremely unpopular institution,” said Alex Castellanos, the veteran GOP message man who is a top adviser to the Republican National Committee. “When you think Washington is unpopular and Washington doesn’t work, who has the reins of that carriage?”

But the offensive also provides a window into a key plank of the GOP 2010 strategy: siphoning off voters who supported Obama in 2008 and still hold favorable views of the president.

In taking on Pelosi aggressively, several GOP strategists interviewed for this article said, the party is making a play for those Obama supporters who have lost faith in Congress.

“If you’re a swing voter and you like President Obama, where’s your anger going to go?” said Anderson. “Well, it’s Nancy Pelosi.”

A poll Anderson conducted this month for the RNC found sharp divisions between how voters view Obama and Pelosi: 47 percent of voters expressed a favorable view Obama, while just 29 percent said they had a favorable view of Pelosi. Forty-four percent, meanwhile, said they had a very unfavorable view of Pelosi.

The survey results echoed similar findings from a January poll Anderson conducted for the RNC and NRCC in 30 targeted House districts.

“You can still hold a favorable opinion of the president and take out your frustration with the Democrats on her. There’s a lot of that going on,” said Anderson. “People still want to believe in him and on a personal level like him.”

Castellanos said taking on Pelosi was a natural means for the party to make inroads with voters who had yet to stray from Obama.

“If you’re an independent voter you don’t have to dislike Obama to send a Republican to Congress,” said Castellanos.

The focus on Pelosi also reflects a reality of the 2010 cycle: It is the ambitious Democratic national agenda that voters will be judging when they head to the ballot box in November – and it is the speaker who is seen as pushing that agenda through Congress.

“Obama’s not on the ballot, but Pelosi’s role as Speaker is,” said GOP pollster David Winston. “She’s up.”

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15
Mar
10

Store closed for health care reform deals

NEWS
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.”

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15
Mar
10

Health Insurance Reform Right Now

NEWS
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.”

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