Posts Tagged ‘House Democrats



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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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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01
Apr
10

March jobs jump could lift Obama

NEWS
March jobs jump could lift Obama

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The economy is expected to have added hundreds of thousands of jobs in March, bolstering the Obama’s administration’s arguments that the $787 billion stimulus package is working.

Private forecasts on the unemployment report to be released on Friday predict as many as 200,000 jobs will have been created in March.

Economist Mark Zandi, who advised Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during the 2008 campaign and Democrats during the crafting of the stimulus, projects that 175,000 jobs will have been created.

Zandi’s estimate is that 100,000 of those jobs were created by the Census Bureau, which is hiring hundreds of thousands of workers to go door to door to get people to fill out their censuses.

Another 50,000 jobs are a bounce-back from February, when Zandi and other economists believe harsh winter storms contributed to lower-than-expected hiring. The economy shed 36,000 jobs in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Either way, the numbers will provide a jolt of good economic news for President Barack Obama, who is already enjoying the fruits of Democrats’ healthcare victory.

If the economy did add 175,000 jobs, it would be the most jobs created since March 2007, when the economy added 239,000 jobs.

Democrats nervous about the fall elections want to push the storyline that their efforts with the stimulus helped stave off a new Great Depression, and that an economy that lost nearly 3.7 million jobs in the months immediately following Obama’s election is now moving forward.

The March figures would boost that narrative, but there are several clouds on the horizon.

It’s unclear whether the 9.7 percent unemployment rate will drop at all, even with the positive job numbers.

Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute says the rate could stay at 9.7 percent or even jump to 9.8 percent. The reason is workers who gave up looking for jobs are now coming back to the workforce.

Also, the help from Census hiring is a temporary boost at best. Most Census workers will only be employed for a matter of months.

That means it could be a cruel summer for Obama and Democrats when the Census Bureau begins cutting jobs this summer. Job figures could look great in March, April and May only to look terrible in June, July and August, Shierholz said.

Goldman Sachs on Tuesday projected a small improvement in the labor market. It recorded a drop in the gap between jobs available and jobs that are hard to get.

The ratio of 41.4 percent is the best reading of that statistic since August 2008, Goldman said in the report, but is still indicative of a fragile labor market.

Zandi said job growth won’t be strong enough until late in 2010 or early in 2011 to bring down unemployment significantly.

“A lack of credit for small businesses and still-weak business confidence will slow the job-market recovery,” he said.
• Source(s): Mark Zandi, Chief Economist – Moody’s Analytics, Inc.
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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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31
Mar
10

Making Higher Education More Affordable

NEWS
Making Higher Education More Affordable

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The President signs legislation to finalize health reform and to improve access to higher education by reforming student loans and making investments in community colleges and minority institutions.

The President believes that for America to compete in the 21st century, we’ll need a highly educated workforce that is second to none. But one of the things holding us back from this achievement is soaring tuition costs at colleges and universities around the country. Too many students and families struggle to make ends meet just to fulfill the dream of a college education. And when students are unable to afford access to higher education or graduate with a degree, our economy suffers.

That’s why President Obama signed today a historic piece of legislation that delivers real reforms and critical investments to our higher education system. By strengthening the Pell Grant program, investing in community colleges, extending support for Historically Black Colleges and other Minority Serving Institutions, and helping student borrowers manage their student loan debt, we will make college more affordable and enable more Americans to earn a college degree.

Lifelong educators like Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, know how important these reforms will be to our higher education system.

This legislation means $40 billion more dollars in the Pell Grant program to ensure that eligible students receive an award, and that awards increase to keep pace with rising tuition. And a $2 billion investment over four years for community colleges to develop, improve, and provide education and career training programs. Students will be able to choose to limit their student loan payments to 10% of their income, with any remaining balance forgiven after 20 years. And public service workers can have their loans forgiven after 10 years.

Because special interests have been benefiting from taxpayer subsidies for too long, we’re cutting out the middlemen by ending government subsidies currently given to banks and other financial institutions that make guaranteed federal student loans. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, ending these wasteful subsidies will free up nearly $68 billion for college affordability and deficit reduction over the next 11 years. So these investments are not only paid for, but they’ll reduce the deficit in the long run.

Because of the legislation enacted today, we’re finally undertaking meaningful reform to our education system and making college more affordable and accessible.

For more information on these federal student aid programs, please go to www.studentaid.ed.gov, or call 1-800-4FED-AID.
• Source(s): The White House
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27
Mar
10

Weekly Address: Two Major Reforms on Health Care & Higher Ed

NEWS
Weekly Address: Two Major Reforms on Health Care & Higher Ed

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The President looks back on a week that saw the passage of two major sets of reforms: one putting Americans in control of their own health care, and one ensuring student loans work for students and families, not as subsidies for bankers and middlemen.

This was a momentous week for America. It was a week in which together, we took bold new steps toward restoring economic security for our middle class and rebuilding a stronger foundation for our future. It was a week in which some of the change that generations have hoped for and worked for finally became reality in America.

It began with the passage of comprehensive health insurance reform that will begin to end the worst practices of the insurance industry, rein in our exploding deficits, and, over time, finally offer millions of families and small businesses quality, affordable care – and the security and peace of mind that comes with it.

And it ended with Congress casting a final vote on another piece of legislation that accomplished what we’ve been talking about for decades – legislation that will reform our student loan system and help us educate all Americans to compete and win in the 21st century.

Year after year, we’ve seen billions of taxpayer dollars handed out as subsidies to the bankers and middlemen who handle federal student loans, when that money should have gone to advancing the dreams of our students and working families. And yet attempts to fix this problem and reform this program were thwarted by special interests that fought tooth and nail to preserve their exclusive giveaway.

But this time, we said, would be different. We said we’d stand up to the special interests, and stand up for the interests of students and families. That’s what happened this week. And I commend all the Senators and Representatives who did the right thing.

This reform of the federal student loan programs will save taxpayers $68 billion over the next decade. And with this legislation, we’re putting that money to use achieving a goal I set for America: by the end of this decade, we will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

To make college more affordable for millions of middle-class Americans for whom the cost of higher education has become an unbearable burden, we’re expanding federal Pell Grants for students: increasing them to keep pace with inflation in the coming years and putting the program on a stronger financial footing. In total, we’re doubling funding for the federal Pell Grant program to help the students who depend on it.

To make sure our students don’t go broke just because they chose to go to college, we’re making it easier for graduates to afford their student loan payments. Today, about 2 in 3 graduates take out loans to pay for college. The average student ends up with more than $23,000 in debt. So when this change takes effect in 2014, we’ll cap a graduate’s annual student loan repayments at 10 percent of his or her income.

To help an additional 5 million Americans earn degrees and certificates over the next decade, we’re revitalizing programming at our community colleges – the career pathways for millions of dislocated workers and working families across this country. These schools are centers of learning; where students young and old can get the skills and technical training they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow. They’re centers of opportunity; where we can forge partnerships between students and businesses so that every community can gain the workforce it needs. And they are vital to our economic future.

And to ensure that all our students have every chance to live up to their full potential, this legislation also increases support for our Minority Serving Institutions, including our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to keep them as strong as ever in this new century.

Education. Health care. Two of the most important pillars of a strong America grew stronger this week. These achievements don’t represent the end of our challenges; nor do they signify the end of the work that faces our country. But what they do represent is real and major reform. What they show is that we’re a nation still capable of doing big things. What they prove is what’s possible when we can come together to overcome the politics of the moment; push back on the special interests; and look beyond the next election to do what’s right for the next generation.

That’s the spirit in which we continue the work of tackling our greatest common tasks – an economy rebuilt; job creation revitalized; an American Dream renewed – for all our people.

Thank you.

▪ President Obama said that his student loan bill – which he is expected to sign into law Tuesday – would save taxpayers $68 billion while generating more student lending in order to give the United States the highest proportion of college graduates worldwide within 10 years. ‘To make sure our students don’t go broke just because they chose to go to college, we’re making it easier for graduates to afford their student loan payments,’ he added.

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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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20
Mar
10

House Plans Direct Vote on Senate Health Care Bill

NEWS
House Plans Direct Vote on Senate Health Care Bill

Saturday, March 20, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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20
Mar
10

Weekly Address: Time for Action on Financial Reform for the Economy

NEWS
Weekly Address: Time for Action on Financial Reform for the Economy

Saturday, March 20, 2010

As a key committee in the Senate takes up reforming the ways of Wall Street, the President lays down a marker: “I urge those in the Senate who support these reforms to remain strong, to resist the pressure from those who would preserve the status quo, to stand up for their constituents and our country. And I promise to use every tool at my disposal to see these reforms enacted: to ensure that the bill I sign into law reflects not the special interests of Wall Street, but the best interests of the American people.”

On Monday, the Banking Committee of the United States Senate will debate a proposal to address the abuse and excess that led to the worst financial crisis in generations. These reforms are essential. As I’ve urged over the past year, we need common-sense rules that will our allow markets to function fairly and freely while reining in the worst practices of the financial industry. That’s the central lesson of this crisis. And we fail to heed that lesson at our peril.

Of course, there were many causes of the economic turmoil that ripped through our country over the past two years. But it was a crisis that began in our financial system. Large banks engaged in reckless financial speculation without regard for the consequences – and without tough oversight. Financial firms invented and sold complicated financial products to escape scrutiny and conceal enormous risks. And there were some who engaged in the rampant exploitation of consumers to turn a quick profit no matter who was hurt in the process.

Now, I have long been a vigorous defender of free markets. And I believe we need a strong and vibrant financial sector so that businesses can get loans; families can afford mortgages; entrepreneurs can find the capital to start a new company, sell a new product, offer a new service. But what we have seen over the past two years is that without reasonable and clear rules to check abuse and protect families, markets don’t function freely. In fact, it was just the opposite. In the absence of such rules, our financial markets spun out of control, credit markets froze, and our economy nearly plummeted into a second Great Depression.

That’s why financial reform is so necessary. And after months of bipartisan work, Senator Chris Dodd and his committee have offered a strong foundation for reform, in line with the proposal I previously laid out, and in line with the reform bill passed by the House.

It would provide greater scrutiny of large financial firms to prevent any one company from threatening the entire financial system – and it would update the rules so that complicated financial products like derivatives are no longer bought and sold without oversight. It would prevent banks from engaging in risky dealings through their own hedge funds – while finally giving shareholders a say on executive salaries and bonuses. And through new tools to break up failing financial firms, it would help ensure that taxpayers are never again forced to bail out a big bank because it is “too big to fail.”

Finally, these reforms include a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to prevent predatory loan practices and other abuses to ensure that consumers get clear information about loans and other financial products before they sign on the dotted line. Because this financial crisis wasn’t just the result of decisions made by large financial firms; it was also the result of decisions made by ordinary Americans to open credit cards and take on mortgages. And while there were many who took out loans they knew they couldn’t afford, there were also millions of people who signed contracts they didn’t fully understand offered by lenders who didn’t always tell the truth.

This is in part because the job of protecting consumers is spread across seven different federal agencies, none of which has the interests of ordinary Americans as its principal concern. This diffusion of responsibility has made it easier for credit card companies to lure customers with attractive offers then punish them in the fine print; for payday lenders and others who charge outrageous interest to operate without much oversight; and for mortgage brokers to entice homebuyers with low initial rates only to trap them with ballooning payments down the line.

For these banking reforms to be complete – for these reforms to meet the measure of the crisis we’ve just been through – we need a consumer agency to advocate for ordinary Americans and help enforce the rules that protect them. That’s why I won’t accept any attempts to undermine the independence of this agency. And I won’t accept efforts to create loopholes for the most egregious abusers of consumers, from payday lenders to auto finance companies to credit card companies.

Unsurprisingly, this proposal has been a source of contention with financial firms who like things just the way they are. In fact, the Republican leader in the House reportedly met with a top executive of one of America’s largest banks and made thwarting reform a key part of his party’s pitch for campaign contributions. And this week, the allies of banks and consumer finance companies launched a multimillion dollar ad campaign to fight against the proposal. You might call this ‘air support’ for the army of lobbyists already arm twisting members of the committee to reject these reforms and block this consumer agency. Perhaps that’s why, after months of working with Democrats, Republicans walked away from this proposal. I regret that and urge them to reconsider.

The fact is, it’s now been well over a year since the near collapse of the entire financial system – a crisis that helped wipe out more than 8 million jobs and that continues to exact a terrible toll throughout our economy. Yet today the very same system that allowed this turmoil remains in place. No one disputes that. No one denies that reform is needed. So the question we have to answer is very simple: will we learn from this crisis, or will we condemn ourselves to repeat it? That’s what’s at stake.

I urge those in the Senate who support these reforms to remain strong, to resist the pressure from those who would preserve the status quo, to stand up for their constituents and our country. And I promise to use every tool at my disposal to see these reforms enacted: to ensure that the bill I sign into law reflects not the special interests of Wall Street, but the best interests of the American people.

Thank you.

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19
Mar
10

Top Democrats predict Sunday passage

NEWS
Top Democrats predict Sunday passage

Friday, March 19, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But problems remain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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19
Mar
10

Boehner says vote will haunt Democrats

NEWS
Boehner says vote will haunt Democrats

Friday, March 19, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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