Posts Tagged ‘Democrats



19
Apr
10

Majority of Americans distrust the government

NEWS
Majority of Americans distrust the government

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nearly 80 percent of Americans say they have little faith that the massive federal bureaucracy can solve the nation’s ills, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center that shows public confidence in the federal government at one of the lowest points in a half-century.

The poll released yesterday illustrates the ominous situation facing President Obama and the Democratic Party as they struggle to maintain their comfortable congressional majorities in this fall’s elections. Midterm prospects are typically tough for the party in power. Add a struggling economy and lots of incumbent Democrats could be out of work.

The survey found that 22 percent of those questioned say they can trust Washington almost always or most of the time, and 19 percent say they are basically content with it. Nearly half say the government negatively affects their daily lives, a sentiment that’s grown over the past dozen years.

Majorities in the survey call Washington too big and too powerful, and say it is interfering too much in state and local matters. The public is split over whether the government should be responsible for dealing with critical problems or scaled back to reduce its power.

About half say they want a smaller government with fewer services, compared with roughly 40 percent who want a bigger government providing more. The public was evenly divided on those questions before Obama was elected. Still, a majority supported the Obama administration exerting greater control over the economy during the recession.

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19
Apr
10

Chuck Schumer: 5 Airlines Won’t Charge for Carryons

NEWS
Sen. Charles Ellis Schumer: 5 Airlines Won’t Charge for Carryons

Monday, April 19, 2010

••• U.S. airlines never met a fee they didn’t like. Until now, it seems.

Five major carriers on Sunday agreed not to follow the lead of a small Florida airline that plans to charge for carryon bags. Their commitment comes just in time to keep travellers from running for the exits during the peak summer flying season, but it is doubtful that it marks a change in strategy.

Airlines are going to tack on every fee they feel they can get away with because it bolsters their revenue stream while allowing them to keep base fares lower. They just don’t feel like passengers will tolerate losing their sacred free carryons – at least not right now.
The promise to New York Sen. Charles Schumer from American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways and JetBlue Airways comes despite the fact that some of those same airlines are expected to report first-quarter losses next week. They were stung by higher fuel prices and the heavy February snowstorms.

Ancillary fees for air travel – including baggage fees, reservation change fees and other miscellaneous operating revenue – have been piling up.

For U.S. carriers they totalled $1.95 billion in the third quarter of 2009, roughly 36 per cent higher than for the same period a year earlier. For 26 large U.S. airlines, those fees made up 6.9 per cent of their total operating revenue in the third quarter of last year, according to the most recent government data available.

But major carriers risk alienating customers if they follow Spirit Airlines’ lead and impose a fee on carryon bags. In August, Spirit will begin charging customers up to $45 to place a bag in an overhead bin.

Other fees haven’t stopped people from flying, but many can be avoided. Carryon bag fees would be hard to avoid.

“We believe it is something that’s important to our customers and they value, and we will continue making that available to them at no charge,” American Airlines spokesman Roger Frizzell said.

It wasn’t clear how long the five airlines had pledged not to charge for carryons. Frizzell couldn’t say, and a spokesman for Delta declined to comment.

Schumer and five other Democratic senators – New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, Maryland’s Ben Cardin, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, and New Jersey’s Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg – support legislation that would tax airlines if they charge carryon bag fees.

Schumer said the legislation will move forward until it becomes clear that no airline will institute the charges. He will have an uphill battle changing the minds of Spirit executives when he meets with them soon.

Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza told The Associated Press on Sunday that his airline is moving ahead with its carryon bag fee.

“Our plan was never predicated on anyone matching us,” Baldanza said. “The fact that other people are saying they won’t has never changed our view that this is right.”

He said his competitors’ decision actually puts pressure on those airlines because Spirit has lowered its fares more than the price of the new fee.

“We knew we took a risk with this strategy, but we believe on balance it’s one that our customers will buy into,” Baldanza said.

Analysts expect several major carriers to get back in the black in the current quarter – the second quarter – and in the second half of the year, thanks to the summer and holiday travel rushes. They wouldn’t want anything like an uproar over carryon bag fees to keep passengers from flying.

Even so, for the financial improvement airlines have seen to be sustainable, revenue needs to keep rising – either through higher fares, more fees or both – and airlines need to better position themselves in case fuel prices spike even higher.

On the last day of the first quarter – March 31 – the price of a barrel of oil closed at $83.76, more than 68 per cent higher than on the same day a year earlier.

That means if major carriers don’t charge for carryons, they could increase existing fees or institute new fees altogether.

Any way you cut it, that adds up to less money in the pockets of U.S. air travellers.

“As a practical matter, as industry conditions change and if profitability is further challenged, we’re likely to see some sort of price increase,” aviation consultant Mark Kiefer said.

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17
Apr
10

Barack Obama defends new consumer agency

NEWS
Barack Obama defends new consumer agency

Saturday, April 17, 2010

President Barack Obama on Saturday challenged opponents of tougher U.S. financial regulations, saying the U.S. is doomed to repeat the economic crisis without new rules and that American taxpayers would again be stuck with the bill.

The bill is the next major piece of legislation that Obama wants to sign into law this year.

“Every day we don’t act, the same system that led to bailouts remains in place, with the exact same loopholes and the exact same liabilities,” Obama said in his weekly radio and internet address. “And if we don’t change what led to the crisis, we’ll doom ourselves to repeat it.

“Opposing reform will leave taxpayers on the hook if a crisis like this ever happens again,” the president said.

A proposal that Senate Democrats are readying for debate creates a mechanism for liquidating large firms to avoid a meltdown. The bill also would regulate the derivatives market for the first time, create a council to detect threats to the system and establish a new consumer protection agency to police people’s dealings with financial institutions.

On Friday, Obama promised to veto the bill if it doesn’t regulate the market for derivatives, instruments such as mortgage-backed securities that contributed to the nation’s economic problems after their value plummeted during the housing crisis.

But Democrats have yet to agree on how far such regulation should go, and all Senate Republicans are solidly against the bill. That opposition complicates Democratic efforts to get the 60 votes necessary to overcome likely Republican procedural roadblocks.

Republicans contend that a provision creating a $50 billion fund for dismantling banks considered “too big to fail” would continue government bailouts of Wall Street. Obama administration officials say such a fund is unnecessary and they want Senate Democrats to remove it.

Obama criticised financial industry interests for opposing the proposed regulations and for waging a “relentless campaign to thwart even basic, common-sense rules”. He repeated his call for Republicans and Democrats to work together to overhaul the system but made it clear that Democrats are prepared to go it alone.

“One way or another, we will move forward,” he said. “This issue is too important.”

In the weekly Republican address, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor criticised government spending and climbing deficits that he said are driving taxes higher.

Cantor said Obama has enacted 25 tax increases passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress that will cost families and small businesses more than $670 billion over the next decade and create a “bleak future for our kids and grandkids”.

He urged a vote for the Republicans in the November congressional elections.

“You have to take action so that we can begin to erase our deficits and free our children from our debt,” Cantor said. “And rather than putting the squeeze on our nation’s job creators and entrepreneurs, we believe in a pro-growth strategy to create jobs and empower the American entrepreneur and small business people to thrive.”

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17
Apr
10

Weekly Address: Holding Wall Street Accountable

NEWS
Weekly Address: Holding Wall Street Accountable

Saturday, April 17, 2010

In his weekly address, President Barack Obama said that in the wake of the economic crisis Wall Street reform is too important an issue for inaction. The plan moving through Congress will end bailouts, hold Wall Street accountable, and protect consumers, taxpayers and the economy from the kind of abuses that helped bring about the economic crisis. Every day without reform, those abuses, and the system which allowed them, remain in place. It is time to move forward with real reforms for Wall Street.

There were many causes of the turmoil that ripped through our economy over the past two years. But above all, this crisis was caused by failures in the financial industry. What is clear is that this crisis could have been avoided if Wall Street firms were more accountable, if financial dealings were more transparent, and if consumers and shareholders were given more information and authority to make decisions.

But that did not happen. And that’s because special interests have waged a relentless campaign to thwart even basic, common-sense rules – rules to prevent abuse and protect consumers. In fact, the financial industry and its powerful lobby have opposed modest safeguards against the kinds of reckless risks and bad practices that led to this very crisis.

The consequences of this failure of responsibility – from Wall Street to Washington – are all around us: 8 million jobs lost, trillions in savings erased, countless dreams diminished or denied. I believe we have to do everything we can to ensure that no crisis like this ever happens again. That’s why I’m fighting so hard to pass a set of Wall Street reforms and consumer protections. A plan for reform is currently moving through Congress.

Here’s what this plan would do. First, it would enact the strongest consumer financial protections ever. It would put consumers back in the driver’s seat by forcing big banks and credit card companies to provide clear, understandable information so that Americans can make financial decisions that work best for them.

Next, these reforms would bring new transparency to financial dealings. Part of what led to this crisis was firms like AIG and others making huge and risky bets – using things like derivatives – without accountability. Warren Buffett himself once described derivatives bought and sold with little oversight as “financial weapons of mass destruction.” That’s why through reform we’d help ensure that these kinds of complicated financial transactions take place on an open market. Because, ultimately, it is a marketplace that is open, free, and fair that will allow our economy to flourish.

We would also close loopholes to stop the kind of recklessness and irresponsibility we’ve seen. It’s these loopholes that allowed executives to take risks that not only endangered their companies, but also our entire economy. And we’re going to put in place new rules so that big banks and financial institutions will pay for the bad decisions they make – not taxpayers. Simply put, this means no more taxpayer bailouts. Never again will taxpayers be on the hook because a financial company is deemed “too big to fail.”

Finally, these reforms hold Wall Street accountable by giving shareholders new power in the financial system. They’ll get a say on pay: a vote on the salaries and bonuses awarded to top executives. And the SEC will ensure that shareholders have more power in corporate elections, so that investors and pension holders have a stronger voice in determining what happens with their life savings.

Now, unsurprisingly, these reforms have not exactly been welcomed by the people who profit from the status quo – as well their allies in Washington. This is probably why the special interests have spent a lot of time and money lobbying to kill or weaken the bill. Just the other day, in fact, the Leader of the Senate Republicans and the Chair of the Republican Senate campaign committee met with two dozen top Wall Street executives to talk about how to block progress on this issue.

Lo and behold, when he returned to Washington, the Senate Republican Leader came out against the common-sense reforms we’ve proposed. In doing so, he made the cynical and deceptive assertion that reform would somehow enable future bailouts – when he knows that it would do just the opposite. Every day we don’t act, the same system that led to bailouts remains in place – with the exact same loopholes and the exact same liabilities. And if we don’t change what led to the crisis, we’ll doom ourselves to repeat it. That’s the truth. Opposing reform will leave taxpayers on the hook if a crisis like this ever happens again.

So my hope is that we can put this kind of politics aside. My hope is that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground and move forward together. But this is certain: one way or another, we will move forward. This issue is too important. The costs of inaction are too great. We will hold Wall Street accountable. We will protect and empower consumers in our financial system. That’s what reform is all about. That’s what we’re fighting for. And that’s exactly what we’re going to achieve.

Thank you.

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14
Apr
10

White House fights for finance reforms

NEWS
White House fights for finance reforms

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A bipartisan meeting on financial regulatory reform between President Barack Obama and GOP congressional leaders broke up early and acrimoniously Wednesday – as the White House warned Republicans against trying to water down the bill.

“Obama made clear that bipartisanship should not be equated with an openness to lobbyists’ loopholes and special interest carve-outs and that he would be unwilling to negotiate on some key issues,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, in an e-mailed readout of the meeting, “And that he could not accept bad policy” in pursuit of a deal with the GOP.

“It appears the bipartisan talks have broken down,” pronounced Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.), after meeting for less than an hour with Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“The strings were kind of pulled by the Democratic leaders,” added McConnell, who said that Democrats “are trying to jam us” for political gain.

“If there’s one lesson that we’ve learned,” said Obama in televised remarks prior to the meeting, “it’s that an unfettered market where people are taking huge risks and expecting taxpayers to bail them out when things go sour is simply not acceptable.”

Pelosi said Obama and the Democrats confronted McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner, saying they asked the Republicans, “Do you want to rein in Wall Street?”
Despite McConnell’s claims, Democratic staffers have expressed confidence that regulating Wall Street is such a poisonous issue for the GOP this fall that many in the party will ultimate side with Democrats – with as many as half a dozen defections possible.

Senate Democrats are lining up behind a proposal passed by lame-duck Banking Committee Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) that would create a consumer protection bureau with authority to write rules governing all financial entities, including banks and other institutions, in addition to “authority to examine and enforce regulations for banks and credit unions with assets over $10 billion and all mortgage-related businesses.”

Acrimony aside, Dodd and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the committee, are due to meet this afternoon in hopes of hashing out a broader deal. But Dodd earlier Wednesday threatened to end negotiations with Republicans on a financial regulatory reform bill if they continue to lead what he called a misinformation campaign based on Wall Street talking points.

In a blistering floor speech Tuesday, McConnell laid out the GOP’s counterargument – claiming the Democrats’ bill would put taxpayer on the hook for future bailouts.

Emerging from his Tuesday meeting, McConnell hammered home that point, saying, “It’s a bill that actually guarantees future bailouts of Wall Street banks, if you look carefully… hat is clearly not the direction the American people want to go.”

A seething Reid, squinting in the bright sunlight of the West Wing driveway, called McConnell’s claim that Democrats had abandoned talks a “figment of his imagination” and vowed to pass the overhaul quickly.

The White House has accused McConnell of parroting the party’s talking points, driven by polls.

Participants described the meeting as “lively” and “candid” but demurred when reporters pressed him on the number of GOP “yes” votes he hoped to get.

“It’s difficult to work with the party of no,” he said.

The majority leader, facing a tough reelection fight in Nevada this fall, seized on a FOX Business News report that McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) recently met privately with about 25 hedge Wall Street executives, many of them hedge fund managers, to talk fundraising and regulatory reform.

McConnell dodged questions about the meeting saying only that he had heard criticism of the Dodd bill from “community banks in Kentucky.”

But when a reporter pressed him about his relationship with Wall Street, McConnell said, “Sure, we talk with people all the time, I’m not denying that,” – saying it was “inaccurate to say the GOP was fighting for the big banks.

As the meeting took place, Boehner’s staff released a list of talking points the leader planned to make, including the argument that the Dodd bill “sets up a huge new bureaucracy” and “does nothing to address the root causes of the Fannie & Freddie.”

But a person familiar with the situation that Boehner “actually said none of that” during the brisk, businesslike meeting.

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13
Apr
10

Democrats take aim at John Roberts court

NEWS
Democrats take aim at John Roberts court

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Democrats hope to turn the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation hearings into a referendum of sorts on controversial recent decisions by the Roberts court – portraying the conservative majority as a judicial Goliath trampling the rights of average Americans.

As President Barack Obama mulls possible replacements for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the administration and congressional aides are gravitating toward a strategy that goes beyond the goals of a run-of-the-mill confirmation fight – to define a corporations-vs.-the-common-man battle between Democrats and the high court.

In addition to building a defensive perimeter around Obama’s pick – whoever that may be – Democrats will use the hearings to attack what they view as a dangerous strain of conservative judicial activism espoused by Chief Justice John Glover Roberts, Jr. and Associate Justices Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr., Antonin Gregory Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

“I don’t think people are going to tell the nominee, ‘It is terrible what the Roberts court has done — what are you going to do to reverse it?’” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), laying out the argument on Monday.

“But I think what people are going to do is say, ‘Do you share our concern about the fact that the court always seems to side with the big corporate interests against the average American?’” he added. “I think there’s going to be more of the public realizing they really do have a stake in who’s on the Supreme Court.”

Obama himself laid the groundwork for the strategy during the State of the Union speech in February, when he stunned Roberts and Alito by sharply criticizing their 5-to-4 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which loosened McCain-Feingold restrictions on corporate contributions to campaigns.

“The justice [Obama] appoints will be a pivotal voice on this court on issues like, for example, the one we just saw, Citizens United, where the court ruled that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as individuals and they basically sanctioned a corporate takeover of our elections,” said Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program Monday.

“Massive new spending by corporations – these kinds of decisions affect people’s lives. And the justice he appoints will be there for a generation,” added Axelrod.

Still, administration officials suggested Obama won’t seek to balance the court by tapping a controversial liberal.

Instead, the White House is emphasizing a candidate’s temperament, hoping to pick a “confirmable” candidate who shares Stevens’s personal charm and gifts of persuasion – which sometimes helped him win over swing voter Anthony Kennedy.

“The president will weigh heavily the ability of a nominee to build a consensus and win over a majority of his or her colleagues to counterbalance the increasingly ideological manner in which the business of the Supreme Court is conducted,” said an administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Leahy told that he has been consulting with the Obama administration’s SCOTUS team for weeks and personally tipped off the president about Stevens’s intention to retire in January, after meeting with the 89-year-old justice in Stevens’s personal office inside the Supreme Court building.

Senate Republicans have vowed to scrutinize Obama’s pick – and have refused to rule out a filibuster if the candidate is outside the “mainstream,” according to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, dismissed the frantic pre-nomination strategizing by Democrats and scoffed at statements by Obama’s aides saying the process would have nothing to do with political considerations.

“Are you telling me they want to use the Supreme Court confirmation for political purposes? They told us we weren’t supposed to do that,” he said. “Jeez Louise, I’m confused. You need a scorecard to keep up with these guys.”

Obama is expected to decide on a nominee from a list of about 10 moderate to liberal lawyers and judges within the next several weeks.

On Monday, an administration official confirmed the names of two more jurists on that list: federal appeals court Judge Sidney Thomas of Montana and former Georgia Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, the first African-American state chief judge in American history.

They join a roster of possible picks known to include Solicitor General Elena Kagan, federal Judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, a former prosecutor.

While all of the names on Obama’s shortlist enjoy solid reputations, none of them have the sheer populist pop of the justices appointed to the high court by Franklin D. Roosevelt, another Democratic president claiming to represent the common man.

Roosevelt – operating in an age before instant messaging and cable news – had more leeway in his picks, but they were an audacious bunch: William O. Douglas, who cleaned up Wall Street as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, utility-buster Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter, author of the landmark Securities Act of 1933.

“These were big personalities, really famous people with long, controversial paper trails, people with really powerful liberal records,” said Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman, who is writing a history of FDR and the court.

Regardless of the selection, Republicans on the committee will almost certainly paint any Obama nominee as a liberal judicial activist and pepper the person with familiar questions about his or her writings, decisions and speeches.

But this time, Democrats are likely to counter with their own set of questions about conservative activism – and question the judicial philosophy of Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy in their recent decisions.

Among the cases Senate Democrats intend to focus on: the politically charged Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007), in which the Roberts court denied a pay equity complaint from a female factory supervisor because she had failed to file by the three-year deadline, and the court’s 2008 decision to reduce damages from the Exxon Valdez spill from $5 billion to $507 million.

On a parallel track, Democrats, led by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), will soon introduce legislation to increase transparency among some corporate donations.

But the Citizens United case, which scrapped key sections of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws, is the one that the White House and Hill Democrats plan to target most.

Citizens United “is the most high-profile case in the last couple of years, and there’s no question, in my judgment, that the issue will be raised one way or another during the nominee’s testimony before the committee,” said Obama spokesman Josh Earnest.

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12
Apr
10

Harry Reid kicks off campaign tour in Searchlight

NEWS
Harry Reid kicks off campaign tour in Searchlight

Monday, April 12, 2010

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid already had a lot of things on his plate to get done in the Senate this year, even before last week’s news broke. Now he’s facing two more big issues in the midst of an election year (and in the midst of a fight for his own political life in Nevada) – a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, and an upcoming confirmation battle over a Supreme Court nomination. Given that Harry Reid’s Senate is not exactly known for moving with blinding speed (to be fair, few Senates are), one has to wonder whether Harry Reid can deliver on some of these big issues before the midterm elections or not.

The three major issues which Reid presently faces are the “New START” treaty, the Supreme Court nomination battle, and Wall Street reform. There are other issues just as large (and just as confrontational) which conventional Washington wisdom has already decided Reid isn’t even going to tackle in an election year (comprehensive immigration reform and a new energy policy, to name two of the biggest), although it must be said that politics is always fluid, so this conventional wisdom may prove wrong by November. Add to this the regular issues which the Senate must deal with (such as the budget), as well as pressing political problems like jobs legislation, and it’s pretty easy to see that Reid faces an overwhelming list of things to do this year.

Which means that a lot of the focus in Washington this year is going to be centered squarely on the Senate. Nancy Pelosi’s House has shown that it is much quicker and more productive, passing dozens of good bills (many with widespread Republican support), which have then done nothing but languish in the Senate. This backlog adds even further to Reid’s “to do” list. To be fair, the House does not have such constitutional duties as ratifying treaties or confirming judges. Because the Senate does, and because it faces one of each right now, it is just going to shrink the available time for the Senate to act on legislative issues this year.

Just considering the three highest-priority items on that list currently, it’s easy to see how they could eat up most (or all) of the Senate’s time between now and Election Day. Wall Street reform is the first of these scheduled for a showdown on the Senate floor. And – much like the health reform bill – this is a huge and complicated issue, with plenty of room for watering things down and inserting loopholes in the fine print. Which is exactly what both Republicans and Democrats who have sold their soul to the banking industry are going to attempt. If they don’t kill the bill outright, that is, or delay it endlessly until Reid cries “Uncle!” and shelves the whole debate.

To be blunt, Reid’s performance in the health reform struggle does nothing to inspire confidence that the donnybrook over Wall Street reform will be any different. To Reid’s credit, on health reform, he did finally deliver. About nine months late, but given the constraints he was working under (especially when Democrats lost the filibuster-proof majority they theoretically had), putting anything at all on the president’s desk was indeed a big achievement. But this time, we don’t have those extra nine months. And the constraints Reid faced then have not gone away. Which leaves passage of any meaningful Wall Street reform a real open question, at this point.

The next big, contentious issue on Reid’s schedule will be shepherding President Obama’s Supreme Court pick through the confirmation process. This fight will be different for two reasons. The first is that, ultimately, it is a binary choice for senators to make – either “yea” or “nay.” Unlike a legislative battle, where changing a paragraph here or there can gain you some votes, with a court nominee you’re either going to be for him or her, or against him or her – there’s no middle ground. The second reason this fight will be different is that it will have a real and concrete deadline. Justice John Paul Stevens is stepping down at the end of the Supreme Court’s current term, and the Senate really is going to need to act before the next term begins – which happens before the election. Meaning Harry Reid is going to face a deadline he won’t be able to ignore. And, so far, he hasn’t been all that impressive about meeting deadlines lately – although (again, to be fair) he did manage to do so the last time he faced this situation, confirming Sonia Sotomayor in a timely enough fashion for her to join the high court before its term began last year.

The third big issue Reid faces will be the Senate exercising their constitutional duty to ratify (or reject) the New START treaty which President Obama just signed. However, there is no real deadline on treaty ratification (at least, not as far as I know – there may be such a deadline in the language of the treaty itself). What this means is that if Harry Reid has to “punt” any of these three issues past the election itself, this is going to be the prime candidate to get put off.

The Senate returned to work today, after a two-week vacation. Or, as they officially and euphemistically call it, a “State Work Period” (even though they are fooling precisely nobody with this cheerfully Orwellian label). From today until Election Day dawns, the Senate has a further seven weeks of vacation time scheduled (so far). That’s one week for Memorial Day, one week for Independence Day, and five whole weeks for the “August In D.C. Is So Hellish Month.” And these are just the vacation periods scheduled so far (the “tentative” schedule currently says nothing about post-Labor Day vacations). Which is not to say that they aren’t going to take a big chunk of October off, to go home and campaign their little hearts out. In the last two midterm election years (2006 and 2002), the Senate took off six weeks and three weeks, respectively. In particular, 2006 was a relaxed and leisurely year for the Senate, as they worked precisely one week in all of October and November combined (a six-week election break was followed by one week of work, then two weeks off for Thanksgiving – nice work, if you can get it, eh?).

Taken together, the two weeks for holidays, the five weeks in August, and the (likely) four weeks or so before the election where the Senate won’t be in session, the schedule leaves only a little over four months’ worth of actual working time to get anything done. The Supreme Court pick is likely going to eat up roughly a month of this time, possibly more. Wall Street reform is going to take at least a month or two (and that is being wildly optimistic, I should add). Even if Reid punts on the treaty ratification, it’s easy to see that the calendar is going to be an awfully tough one for Senate Democrats to get much done outside of the major issues this year. Which puts even more pressure on them to deliver on the major issues themselves, I should add.

Congressional Democrats would like to campaign this year on the things they’ve been able to accomplish. As well as (knock wood) an economy that is visibly getting better for people, of course. So far, the things Democrats have been able to accomplish haven’t exactly resonated with the public (health care, the stimulus, etc.). Whether Democratic officeholders have anything else to put before the voters as solid Democratic accomplishments is going to hinge mostly on Reid’s performance for the rest of this year.

If Harry Reid can manage to produce, he may improve his own currently-dismal re-election chances in Nevada, as well as give the Democratic voter base a reason to get enthusiastic about voting in November. But, if Reid cannot deliver, a lot of Democrats are going to be sucked down on Reid’s “coattails” come Election Day. Now, obviously, there are other factors at play in this election season – which, like all midterms, is problematic for the president’s party – but Harry Reid could either give Democrats a real boost in their chances at the polls by delivering a few big wins (and, one hopes, a whole bunch of smaller wins), or he could squander this opportunity and not provide legislative victories for Democrats to tout on the campaign trail.

Harry Reid has the rest of this year to produce some solid Senate victories. And the question remains: Can Harry Reid actually deliver? For many Democrats, the answer to this question is a whole lot more than merely academic, and may in fact mean quite a bit to their own chances in the upcoming election.

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12
Apr
10

Will Bloomberg Run for President?

NEWS
Will Bloomberg Run for President?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mayor Bloomberg had a public lunch last week with a bunch of fellow billionaires – the kind of people who will pay more taxes under President Obama’s health reforms and are wary of Democrats writing new Wall Street regulations.

He was introduced by hedge funder Donald Marron, who joked they may need Bloomberg as President by 2013.

“I’m not running,” Bloomberg said later. “Don’t worry about that.”

Except that his closest advisers never stopped thinking about it.

The mayor is mired in his usual work of balancing the budget and dealing with Albany. He keeps himself busy by expanding his foundation and watching his growing business.

None of that is the sort of Next Big Thing that captures Bloomberg’s imagination.

Running for President? That’s different. He had a taste of it in 2008. He liked the flavor.

“That’s the impression everyone has,” said someone plugged into Bloomberg’s thinking. “Otherwise [former Deputy Mayor Kevin] Sheekey wouldn’t have gone to Bloomberg L.P.”

A third-party campaign by a divorced New York Jew was a long shot in 2008, and it would be an even longer shot in 2012. But still, Sheekey has left City Hall for the mayor’s company, where the bosses would be lenient if he needed some time to play politics.

Sheekey was replaced by Howard Wolfson, a veteran of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The mayor’s campaign manager, Bradley Tusk, is now a political consultant for hire.

They are watching and waiting, doing their day jobs but paying attention to the prevailing winds.

“There’s no way in April 2010 to know what the climate is going to be in November 2012,” said a Bloomberg veteran.

Bloomberg’s last presidential flirtation was predicated on the hope that Democrats and Republicans would nominate hard-edged ideologues who would rub the broad middle of America the wrong way. Hillary Clinton on the left and Rudy Giuliani on the right, his team figured, would leave an opening for a pragmatic independent like Bloomberg who could finance his own campaign without worrying about party infrastructure.

It didn’t work out that way. Obama ran as a reasonable moderate who could end partisanship and bring the country together – taking up the space Bloomberg needed.

Now look forward. If Obama can recover his honeymoon image as a responsible centrist – and if the economy starts humming again – it’s tough to imagine Bloomberg taking on a strong incumbent. If not? If Obama is seen as a doctrinaire Democrat and Tea Partyers take over the GOP?

Bloomberg would love to be President. His confidants would love to help him. Consultants would love to jump on his payroll.

In the meantime, Bloomberg offers measured praise for Obama. “I think he’s doing a good job,” Bloomberg said last week. “You want the President to succeed. If you disagree with him, in the last year, that’s the time to campaign against him. Throw him out and put somebody else in.”

Perhaps Bloomberg was being hypothetical. Perhaps not.

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07
Apr
10

FBI arrests man for threatening Pelosi

NEWS
FBI arrests man for threatening Pelosi

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Federal agents in California have arrested a man for allegedly threatening House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Gregory Lee Giusti, 48, was arrested at his San Francisco home in the Tenderloin district shortly after noon, said Joseph Schadler, a spokesman for the FBI office in San Francisco.

Rose Riggs, Giusti’s neighbor in a public housing complex, said she saw two plainclothes and two uniformed officers take him away in cuffs. Riggs said Giusti was known for engaging in heated political debates with others in the building.

“He was not one of my favorite people. He had a real attitude problem,” she said.

The court documents are sealed and will remain so until the Giusti appears in San Francisco federal court at 9:30 Thursday morning.

“The FBI takes threats against elected officials very seriously,” Hansen said Wednesday.

Pelosi’s office issued a statement late Wednesday evening, acknowledging the arrest.

“The Speaker thanks the FBI, the Capitol Hill Police, House Sergeant at Arms, and other law enforcement officials for their professionalism in this matter,” spokesman Brendan Daly said in a statement Wednesday evening. “She will have no further comment at this time.”

Officials told The Associated Press that a man called Pelosi’s Washington and California homes, in addition to her husband’s business office, several times.

This arrest is the second such arrest in as many days: The FBI in Washington state arrested a man Tuesday for threatening Washington Sen. Patty Murray, a top Senate Democrat who also supported the legislation.

Federal officials in Philadelphia arrested a man for threatening House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) last month.

Pelosi’s office declined to comment.

Threats toward lawmakers have been especially prevalent in the weeks since Congress passed health care overhaul legislation last month. Lawmakers have had bricks thrown through their windows, threatening voicemails left and protests outside their homes.

In Cantor’s case, Norman Leboon, the man arrested, allegedly threatened the Republican and his family through YouTube videos. Cantor also got threatening e-mails. Charles Wilson, the man accused of threatening Murray, allegedly left threatening voice messages on her office line in Washington.

Threats directed at an elected official carry a different charge than harassment toward any citizen – if convicted, similar charge carries up to 10 years imprisonment and a quarter-million dollar fine. It is unclear what Pelosi’s alleged threatner might be charged with.

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31
Mar
10

Barack Obama tries triangulation lite

NEWS
Barack Obama tries triangulation lite

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Just days after Republicans fumed that passage of the health care bill tolled the death knell for bipartisanship, there was a very different message coming from some GOP quarters Wednesday: praise for President Barack Obama’s decision to lift the ban on some offshore oil drilling.

Credit Obama with pulling off a small political coup – one you could even call triangulation lite.

The price he paid in political terms was relatively small: Angry blowback from environmental activists who still support his overall climate change policy.

But the short-term benefits were large: By announcing the policy change, Obama defused a potentially potent Republican issue ahead of the summer gas spike and the fall midterms, while embracing major elements of the GOP’s “all of the above” energy approach to kick-start a stalled climate change bill.

And the drilling decision also allows the president to distance himself from liberal environmentalists disdained by some pro-drilling, blue-collar voters.

“It’s not a bad thing to show you’re willing to do something that gets liberals angry right after you pass the biggest liberal bill in a generation,” said a Senate Democrat staffer, whose boss opposes the policy.

The aide was encouraged by reader comments on news stories about the drilling decision announced early Wednesday. “Lots of people are saying ‘Obama finally did something I can get behind.’”

Obama proposed opening up a huge swath of the U.S. coastline to offshore drilling, an area that includes the Gulf Coast and much of the eastern seaboard, including possible petroleum fields off the Virginia coast, a move backed by the state’s two Democratic Senators, Mark Warner and Jim Webb.

Obama’s plan would maintain the ban on drilling off the southwestern coast of Alaska, but lifts restrictions on exploration of north Alaskan oceanic fields.

The move, which Obama telegraphed in his State of the Union speech and promised to pursue during the 2008 campaign, earned him rare bipartisan plaudits.

“I appreciate the department’s decision to allow valid existing rights to explore Alaska’s huge offshore oil and gas reserves to go ahead,” said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of the Republicans Obama hopes to woo with his decision.

“I will work with the administration on proceeding with important future lease sales off Alaska’s coast.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has opposed virtually everything Democrats have proposed in the 111th Congress, said he was encouraged but skeptical; effusive support by McConnell standards.

Administration officials hope that the drilling announcement will coax other moderate Republicans in the Senate to join efforts by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman to cross party lines to pass a carbon-regulating climate change bill this year.

The long-awaited decision by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar – coming on the heels of Obama’s proposed tripling of funding for nuclear plant development – sparked a far less positive response from most green groups, who view it as a sell-out.

“We had been told they were going to come out with something and we had been told we weren’t going to like it. I’m just really surprised by how counter-productive this proposal is,” said Anna Aurilio, of Environment America, which joined Greenpeace, the League of Conservation Voters and other groups in opposing the move.

“To me this doesn’t add up to any progress. This is a step backwards … All this stuff that we’ve been working to protect for so long is now threatened for no good reason.”

Rep. Jay Inslee, (D-Wash.), an opponent of drilling, told that Wednesday’s move will be pointless if Obama can’t follow up with passage of a comprehensive bill that regulates carbon – a tall order even following the Democrats’ big health care win.

Without comprehensive reform, “a massive expansion of offshore drilling does not cut the mustard,” Inslee said. He added that he’s worried the administration is giving away one of their most important climate carrots – and getting nothing in return.

“It would in my mind be more confidence building to have this as part of the final agreement rather than the opening discussion,” he said.

Obama anticipated such criticism during a speech announcing the policy at Andrews Air Force Base.

“There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision,” he said. “What I want to emphasize is that this announcement is part of a broader strategy” to wean the U.S. from foreign oil.

It’s not clear what, if any, impact the announcement will have on the Graham-Kerry-Lieberman effort to craft a bill sometime this spring. Obama and his staff have made it clear they plan to tackle financial regulatory reform next – a process that’s expected to take until Memorial Day.

That leaves only a few weeks before lawmakers leave for the midterm elections to pass a climate bill, a particularly tight timeframe given that Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman have yet to release a draft.

Other congressional aides steeped in climate politics say the drilling proposal is more defensive – by adopting the Republican cry for expanded drilling, the White House preempts one of their favorite attacks.

“Republicans claim they are for an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy. Now, when a vote occurs on a bill that includes drilling and nuclear power along with clean energy and a climate component, President Obama can call their bluff,” said a House aide involved in energy issues.

In the Senate, moderate Democrats and a handful of Republicans have named offshore drilling as their price of admission for a comprehensive climate bill.

“I will not support any bill that doesn’t have off-shore drilling in a meaningful way,” said Graham.

“It’s just impossible to pass any piece of legislation without it,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). “In order to get any bill through here, there’s going to be expanded drilling opportunities both on-shore and off.”

“It will be a fight – it always is,” she said, “but I think we’ll win.”

Yet even if Obama’s wins a short-term bump on the issue, perils remain. The decision may gain him some GOP backing – at the expense of anti-drilling Democrats.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has vowed to filibuster any legislation that removes the ban on drilling off the coast of Florida. And last week, 10 coastal state Democrats wrote the three senators working on the climate bill, warning that they could not support a bill that includes offshore drilling.

“We hope that as you forge legislation, you are mindful that we cannot support legislation that will mitigate one risk only to put our coasts at greater peril from another source,” they wrote.

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25
Mar
10

‘Go For It,’ Obama Tells Republicans On Health Care Repeal

NEWS
‘Go For It,’ Obama Tells Republicans On Health Care Repeal

Thursday, March 25, 2010

President Barack Obama mocked Republicans’ campaign to repeal his new health care law, saying they should “Go for it” and see how well they fare with voters.

“Be my guest,” Obama said Thursday in Iowa City, Iowa, in the first of many appearances around the country to sell the overhaul to voters before the fall congressional elections. “If they want to have that fight, we can have it. Because I don’t believe the American people are going to put the insurance industry back in the driver’s seat.”

With emotions raw around the nation over the party-line vote to approve the nearly $1 trillion, 10-year law, Obama took the opposition to task for “plenty of fear-mongering, plenty of overheated rhetoric.”

“If you turn on the news, you’ll see that those same folks are still shouting about how it’s going to be the end of the world because this bill passed,” said Obama, appearing before thousands in this college town where, as a presidential candidate three years ago, he first unveiled his health care proposals.
No Republican lawmakers voted for the overhaul, a sweeping package that will shape how almost every American will receive and pay for medical treatment. Many in the GOP are predicting it will prove devastating in November for the Democrats who voted for it.

But the president stressed the notion of a promise kept, saying the legislation he signed into law on Tuesday is evidence he will do as he said. As the crowd broke into a chant of “Yes we can!” Obama corrected them: “Yes we did!”

The White House suggests it has the upper hand against Republicans politically, arguing the GOP risks a voter backlash because a repeal would take away from small businesses and individuals the benefits provided to them immediately under the new law.

“We’re not going back,” Obama said.

Obama spoke as Democrats in Washington raced to complete the overhaul with a separate package of fixes to the main bill.

Senate leaders finished work Thursday on the fix-it legislation, already approved in the House. But Republican attempts to derail the process resulted in minor changes to the bill, which meant the House would have to vote on it again before it can go to Obama for his signature. The House vote was expected by evening.

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25
Mar
10

Senate OKs changes to healthcare bill

NEWS
Senate OKs changes to healthcare bill

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Senate Democrats voted to pass the reconciliation package of repairs to President Obama’s health care overhaul Thursday afternoon after nearly round-the-clock votes to reject dozens of Republican amendments.

The bill passed 56–43 but has to go back to the House for another vote after Republicans were able to get two lines of the legislation deleted because they violated Senate rules. The House is expected to approve the changes to the bill – one a technicality, the other a limit on the maximum Pell grant allowed in the federal student loan program – and send the package to Mr. Obama late Thursday evening. A reform of the nation’s student loan system was included in the reconciliation bill for health reform.

The reconciliation bill contains a series of corrections to the underlying health care overhaul plan, which Mr. Obama signed into law this week.

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25
Mar
10

Senate Will Have to Return Health Bill to House

NEWS
Senate Will Have to Return Health Bill to House

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Washington, DC Spokesman for Nevada Senator Harry Reid, Jim Manley, released the following statement today after Republicans forced shut down of several Senate committees for the second consecutive day:

“For a second straight day, Republicans are using tricks to shut down several key Senate committees. So let me get this straight: in retaliation for our efforts to have an up-or-down vote to improve health care reform, Republicans are blocking an Armed Services committee hearing to discuss critical national security issues among other committee meetings? These political games and obstruction have to stop – the American people expect and deserve better.”

The reconciliation bill will have to go back to the House for another vote after Senate parliamentarian Alan Frumin ruled early this morning that two minor provisions violated the chamber’s rules and could not be included in the final bill, according to Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman Jim Manley.

Both provisions made technical changes to the bill’s Pell Grant regulations. All told, 16 lines of text will be removed from the 153-page bill, Manley told reporters as business on the Senate floor wrapped early Thursday morning.

A spokeswoman for the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) reiterated that the changes are “minor” and won’t create problems when the altered bill goes back to the House for approval. The reconciliation bill is designed to make changes to the newly minted health care reform law.

“The parliamentarian struck two minor provisions tonight form the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, but this bill’s passage in the Senate is still a big win for the American people. These changes do not impact the reforms to the student loan programs and the important investments in education. We are confident the House will quickly pass the bill with these minor changes,” Harkin spokeswoman Kate Cyrul wrote.

The all-night session came as Republicans offered 29 amendments in a final attempt to scuttle the bill, or at least force Democrats into taking politically difficult votes that could be used against them in November. Democrats steadily rejected each amendment, arguing that any changes would send the bill back to the House for another vote, an outcome Senate Democrats worked mightily to avoid before the parliamentarian’s ruling early Thursday.

Reid finally adjourned the marathon session at about 2:45 a.m. after striking a deal with Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to return at 9:45 a.m. today and hold a final vote on the bill around 2 p.m. – news that was greeted with audible sighs of relief from tired senators.

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25
Mar
10

Health care ‘fix-it’ bill up for Senate debate

NEWS
Health care ‘fix-it’ bill up for Senate debate

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Democratic senators ripped their Republican counterparts for forcing cancellations of hearings throughout the Senate on Wednesday, claiming that the GOP is needlessly blocking essential national security business.

Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill both complained that Republicans kept them from holding their hearings on budget requests for the military’s Pacific and strategic and police training contracts in Afghanistan.

Either party in the Senate is allowed to object to holding hearings, as Senate rules require a unanimous consent request for hearings to be held after 2 p.m. Most of these unanimous consent requests aren’t even noticed on any given day, but Republicans have been objecting to these requests, essentially shutting down committee work.

“It is astounding to me that the Republicans have decided to take this course of action. There’s no point to it. It does not accomplish their goals of stopping health care reform. All it can do is stop us from carrying out our duties to provide for the security of our country,” Levin said.

Generals from U.S. Pacific Command, Strategic Command and U.S. Forces Korea posted overseas flew to Washington for their annual update to the Armed Services committee, and Levin said his staff is working to reschedule a hearing for Friday but that it is unclear whether the generals will be able to stay that long.

Levin said he approached Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) Tuesday night at a meeting with senators and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, alerting him of the importance of the hearing and asking for assistance in ensuring the committee could meet. “He told me he’d look into it,” Levin said.

McCaskill, who chairs the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, stepped up the criticism of the McConnell, saying that although he might not be the senator blocking the committee hearings, it’s well within his purview to stop it.

“If he’s a strong enough leader to keep all of his members in the corral on some of the things he’s kept them in the corral on in the past few months–surely, he’s a strong enough leader to say we’re not going to stop hearings on police training contracts in Afghanistan and commanders who travel halfway across the world to testify on behalf our United States military,” McCaskill said of McConnell.

McCaskill went on to say that the rule that allows members to block committee proceedings is “dumb” and “antiquated” and that although the “buck stops with the Republican leader… at a minimum, they owe the American people an answer as to who is responsible.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is pushing to strike so-called “sweetheart deals” such as an extra $300 million in Medicaid funds for the state of Louisiana. Critics have labeled the deal the “Louisiana Purchase.”

Democrats have dismissed the GOP proposals as little more than politically motivated obstructionism meant to derail the deal.

Republicans are “not serious about helping this bill,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said Wednesday. They are concerned only with “throwing roadblocks in front of anything we do.”

Reid said Senate Democrats “feel very comfortable and confident” that the package of changes as currently drafted will pass.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), said Tuesday he didn’t think the Senate would change the bill, but if it did, the House would be prepared to vote on the revised bill and send it to Obama.

After a White House meeting Monday night with Senate Democratic leaders and Obama, a senior Democratic source said they believe some portions of the fixes bill may be ruled out of order because they violate the complicated legislative rules governing the process. The source would not specify the potential problems identified at the meeting.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), said one or two potential problems were identified, but he said they were minor.

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23
Mar
10

Obama signs sweeping healthcare overhaul into law

NEWS
Obama signs sweeping healthcare overhaul into law

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Celebrating “a new season in America” Obama made the massive bill law with an East Room signing ceremony.

A broadly smiling President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed a historic $938 billion health care overhaul that guarantees coverage for 32 million uninsured Americans and will touch nearly every citizen’s life, presiding over the biggest shift in US domestic policy since the 1960s and capping a divisive, yearlong debate that could define the November elections.

Celebrating “a new season in America” the biggest accomplishment of his White House and one denied to a line of presidents before him Obama made the massive bill law with an East Room signing ceremony. He was joined by jubilant House and Senate Democrats as well as lesser-known people whose health care struggles have touched the president. Obama scheduled back-to-back events to mark the moment, with much of his White House audience, as well as hundreds of others, heading to the Interior Department immediately after the signing.

“Today after almost a century of trial, today after over a year of debate, today after all the votes have been tallied, health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America. Today,” Obama said, interrupted by applause after nearly every sentence. “All of the overheated rhetoric over reform will finally confront the reality of reform.”
▪ When President Obama signed the health reform Bill, many may have been surprised that he inscribed his name using 22 ceremonial pens.
▪ It is part of a tradition that dates back many decades by which U.S. presidents have often used multiple pens to sign important legislation so that they can give them as tokens of gratitude to people who worked for the Bill’s passage. With only 18 letters in Barack Hussein Obama and 22 pens, however, the President had to be creative with his pen strokes.

▪ Why do presidents use so many pens to sign legislation? White House Staff Secretary Lisa Brown explains.

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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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