Posts Tagged ‘Insurance

07
Aug
10

Weekly Address: Medicare Officially Safer After Health Reform

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

Saturday, August 07, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Latest News & Headlines » Home «
• Source(s): The White House
Share

24
Jul
10

Weekly Address: Moving Forward on the Economy vs. Moving Backward

NEWS
Weekly Address: Moving Forward on the Economy vs. Moving Backward
President Obama Praises New Wall Street Reform Law; Says GOP Plan Will Take Us Backward

Saturday, July 24, 2010

In this week’s address, President Obama praised the Wall Street reform bill that he signed into law on Wednesday and explained how it fits into the greater strategy to bring the country out of recession and build an economy for the long run. The president’s plan is aimed at strengthening the middle class and gives tax breaks to small businesses that creates jobs here, invests in homegrown, clean energy, and cuts taxes for working families. Unfortunately, when the Republican leader in the House offered his plan to create jobs this week, he presented the same policy ideas that led to this recession – ideas that will kill jobs instead of create them, and will add $1 trillion to the deficit, not reduce it.

This week, I signed into law a Wall Street reform bill that will protect consumers and our entire economy from the recklessness and irresponsibility that led to the worst recession of our lifetime. It’s reform that will help put a stop to the abusive practices of mortgage lenders and credit card companies. It will end taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street firms. And it will finally bring the shadowy deals that caused the financial crisis into the light of day.

Wall Street reform is a key pillar of an overall economic plan we’ve put in place to dig ourselves out of this recession and build an economy for the long run – an economy that makes America more competitive and our middle-class more secure. It’s a plan based on the Main Street values of hard work and responsibility – and one that demands new accountability from Wall Street to Washington.

Instead of giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, we want to give tax breaks to small business owners who are creating jobs right here in America. Already, we’ve given small businesses eight new tax cuts, and have expanded lending to more than 60,000 small business owners.

We’re also investing in a homegrown, clean energy industry – because I don’t want to see new solar panels and wind turbines and electric cars manufactured in some other country. I want to see them made in America, by American workers. So far, we’ve provided new tax credits, loan guarantees, and investments that will lead to more than 800,000 clean energy jobs by 2012. And throughout America, communities are being rebuilt by people working in hundreds of thousands of new private sector jobs repairing our roads, bridges, and railways.

Our economic plan is also aimed at strengthening the middle-class. That’s why we’ve cut taxes for 95% of working families. That’s why we’ve offered tax credits that have made college more affordable for millions of students, and why we’re making a new commitment to our community colleges. And that’s why we passed health insurance reform that will stop insurance companies from dropping or denying coverage based on an illness or pre-existing condition.

This is our economic plan – smart investments in America’s small businesses, America’s clean energy industry, and America’s middle-class. Now, I can’t tell you that this plan will bring back all the jobs we lost and restore our economy to full strength overnight. The truth is, it took nearly a decade of failed economic policies to create this mess, and it will take years to fully repair the damage. But I am confident that we are finally headed in the right direction. We are moving forward. And what we can’t afford right now is to go back to the same ideas that created this mess in the first place.

Unfortunately, those are the ideas we keep hearing from our friends in the other party. This week, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives offered his plan to create jobs. It’s a plan that’s surprisingly short, and sadly familiar.

First, he would repeal health insurance reform, which would take away tax credits from millions of small business owners, and take us back to the days when insurance companies had free rein to drop coverage and jack up premiums. Second, he would say no to new investments in clean energy, after his party already voted against the clean energy tax credits and loans that are creating thousands of new jobs and hundreds of new businesses. And third, even though his party voted against tax cuts for middle-class families, he would permanently keep in place the tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans – the same tax cuts that have added hundreds of billions to our debt.

These are not new ideas. They are the same policies that led us into this recession. They will not create jobs, they will kill them. They will not reduce our deficit, they will add $1 trillion to our deficit. They will take us backward at a time when we need to keep America moving forward.

I know times are tough. I know that the progress we’ve made isn’t good enough for the millions of Americans who are still out of work or struggling to pay the bills. But I also know the character of this nation. I know that in times of great challenge and difficulty, we don’t fear the future – we shape the future. We harness the skills and ingenuity of the most dynamic country on Earth to reach a better day. We do it with optimism, and we do it with confidence. That’s the spirit we need right now, and that’s the future I know we can build together.
Thank you.

• Latest News & Headlines » Home «
• Source(s): The White House
Share

17
Jul
10

Weekly Address: Filibustering Recovery & Obstructing Progress

NEWS
Weekly Address: Filibustering Recovery & Obstructing Progress
President Obama Says GOP Senate Leadership Choosing to “Filibuster Our Recovery and Obstruct Our Progress”

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In this week’s address, the President criticized the Republican leadership in the Senate for opposing initiatives which that would create jobs and strengthen the economy like cutting taxes for small businesses and extending unemployment insurance for Americans who have lost their jobs during the recession. Aiding small businesses and renewing unemployment insurance are not just the right things to do for those hit hardest by the recession, they are steps that will help strengthen the recovery. When crises strike Main Street, the President believes it’s important to put aside politics and act in the best interests of American families and small businesses.

This week, many of our largest corporations reported robust earnings – a positive sign of growth.

But too many of our small business owners and those who aspire to start their own small businesses continue to struggle, in part because they can’t get the credit they need to start up, grow, and hire. And too many Americans whose livelihoods have fallen prey to the worst recession in our lifetimes – a recession that cost our economy eight million jobs – still wonder how they’ll make ends meet.

That’s why we need to take new, commonsense steps to help small businesses, grow our economy, and create jobs – and we need to take them now.

For months, that’s what we’ve been trying to do. But too often, the Republican leadership in the United States Senate chooses to filibuster our recovery and obstruct our progress. And that has very real consequences.

Consider what that obstruction means for our small businesses – the growth engines that create two of every three new jobs in this country. A lot of small businesses still have trouble getting the loans and capital they need to keep their doors open and hire new workers. So we proposed steps to get them that help: Eliminating capital gains taxes on investments. Establishing a fund for small lenders to help small businesses. Enhancing successful SBA programs that help them access the capital they need.

But again and again, a partisan minority in the Senate said “no,” and used procedural tactics to block a simple, up-or-down vote.

Think about what these stalling tactics mean for the millions of Americans who’ve lost their jobs since the recession began. Over the past several weeks, more than two million of them have seen their unemployment insurance expire. For many, it was the only way to make ends meet while searching for work – the only way to cover rent, utilities, even food.

Three times, the Senate has tried to temporarily extend that emergency assistance. And three times, a minority of Senators – basically the same crowd who said “no” to small businesses – said “no” to folks looking for work, and blocked a straight up-or-down vote.

Some Republican leaders actually treat this unemployment insurance as if it’s a form of welfare. They say it discourages folks from looking for work. Well, I’ve met a lot of folks looking for work these past few years, and I can tell you, I haven’t met any Americans who would rather have an unemployment check than a meaningful job that lets you provide for your family. And we all have friends, neighbors, or family members who already knows how hard it is to land a job when five workers are competing for every opening.

Now in the past, Presidents and Congresses of both parties have treated unemployment insurance for what it is – an emergency expenditure. That’s because an economic disaster can devastate families and communities just as surely as a flood or tornado.

Suddenly, Republican leaders want to change that. They say we shouldn’t provide unemployment insurance because it costs money. So after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, including a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, they’ve finally decided to make their stand on the backs of the unemployed. They’ve got no problem spending money on tax breaks for folks at the top who don’t need them and didn’t even ask for them; but they object to helping folks laid off in this recession who really do need help. And every day this goes on, another 50,000 Americans lose that badly needed lifeline.

Well, I think these Senators are wrong. We can’t afford to go back to the same misguided policies that led us into this mess. We need to move forward with the policies that are leading us out of this mess.

The fact is, most economists agree that extending unemployment insurance is one of the single most cost-effective ways to help jumpstart the economy. It puts money into the pockets of folks who not only need it most, but who also are most likely to spend it quickly. That boosts local economies. And that means jobs.

Increasing loans to small business. Renewing unemployment insurance. These steps aren’t just the right thing to do for those hardest hit by the recession – they’re the right thing to do for all of us. And I’m calling on Congress once more to take these steps on behalf of America’s workers, and families, and small business owners – the people we were sent here to serve.

Because when storms strike Main Street, we don’t play politics with emergency aid. We don’t desert our fellow Americans when they fall on hard times. We come together. We do what we can to help. We rebuild stronger, and we move forward. That’s what we’re doing today. And I’m absolutely convinced that’s how we’re going to come through this storm to better days ahead.

Thanks.

• Latest News & Headlines » Home «
• Source(s): The White House
Share

08
May
10

Weekly Address: Health Reform Starts to Kick In

NEWS
Weekly Address: Health Reform Starts to Kick In
President Obama Praises the Benefits and Successes of Health Reform Already in Effect

Saturday, May 8, 2010


In his weekly address, President Barack Obama highlighted the ways in which health reform is already holding insurance companies more accountable and giving consumers more control. Implementing everything in the new law will not happen overnight. But already, consumers are getting a break from unfair rate hikes and insurance companies will no longer drop coverage for people when the get sick. Four million small businesses have been notified that they could be eligible for a health care tax cut this year. Retirees will soon receive help if they fall into the prescription drug “donut hole.” And, young adults will be able to stay on their parents’ plan until they are 26 years old.

It has now been a little over a month since I signed health insurance reform into law. And while it will take some time to fully implement this law, reform is already delivering real benefits to millions of Americans. Already, we are seeing a health care system that holds insurance companies more accountable and gives consumers more control.

Two weeks ago, four million small business owners and organizations found a postcard in their mailbox informing them that they could be eligible for a health care tax cut this year – a tax cut potentially worth tens of thousands of dollars; a tax cut that will help millions provide coverage to their employees.

Starting in June, businesses will get even more relief for providing coverage to retirees who are not yet eligible for Medicare. And a little over a month from now, on June 15th, senior citizens who fall into the prescription drug coverage gap known as the “donut hole” will start receiving a $250 rebate to help them afford their medication.

Aside from providing real, tangible benefits to the American people, the new health care law has also begun to end the worst practices of insurance companies. For too long, we have been held hostage to an insurance industry that jacks up premiums and drops coverage as they please. But those days are finally coming to an end.

After our administration demanded that Anthem Blue Cross justify a 39% premium increase on Californians, the company admitted the error and backed off its plan. And this week, our Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, wrote a letter to all states urging them to investigate other rate hikes and stop insurance companies from gaming the system. To help states achieve this goal, we’ve set up a new Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, and will provide grants to states with the best oversight programs.

In the next month, we’ll also be putting in place a new patients’ bill of rights. It will provide simple and clear information to consumers about their choices and their rights. It will set up an appeals process to enforce those rights. And it will prohibit insurance companies from limiting a patients’ access to their preferred primary care provider, ob-gyn, or emergency room care.

We’re holding insurance companies accountable in other ways, as well. As of September, the new health care law prohibits insurance companies from dropping people’s coverage when they get sick and need it most. But when we found out that an insurance company was systematically dropping the coverage of women diagnosed with breast cancer, my administration called on them to end this practice immediately. Two weeks ago, the entire insurance industry announced that it would comply with the new law early and stop the perverse practice of dropping people’s coverage when they get sick.

On Monday, we’ll also be announcing the new rule that allows young adults without insurance to stay on their parents’ plan until they’re 26 years old. Even though insurance companies have until September to comply with this rule, we’ve asked them to do so immediately to avoid coverage gaps for new college graduates and other young adults. This also makes good business sense for insurance companies, and we’re pleased that most have agreed. Now we need employers to do the same, and we’re willing to work with them to make this transition possible. These changes mean that starting this spring, when young adults graduate from college, many who do not have health care coverage will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance for a few more years. And you can check healthreform.gov to find a list of all the insurance carriers who have agreed to participate right away.

I’ve said before that implementing health insurance reform won’t happen overnight, and it will require some tweaks and changes along the way. Ultimately, we’ll have a system that provides more control for consumers, more accountability for insurance companies, and more affordable choices for uninsured Americans. But already, we are seeing how reform is improving the lives of millions of Americans. Already, we are watching small businesses learn that they will soon pay less for health care. We are seeing retirees realize they’ll be able to keep their coverage and seniors realize they’ll be able to afford their prescriptions. We’re seeing consumers get a break from unfair rate hikes, patients get the care they need when they need it, and young adults get the security of knowing they can start off life with one less cost to worry about. At long last, this is what health care reform is achieving. This is what change looks like. And this is the promise we will keep as we continue to make this law a reality in the months and years to come.

Thanks so much.

• Source(s): The White House
Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

22
Mar
10

Weak tea? Partiers fear fallout

NEWS
Weak tea? Partiers fear fallout

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ready and eager to transition from opposing health care reform to targeting the members of Congress who made it happen, tea party organizers find themselves grappling instead with reports of ugly behavior at this weekend’s protests in Washington that could stymie efforts to broaden the movement’s appeal.

While the thousands of tea partiers who thronged the Capitol grounds on short notice in advance of Sunday’s House health care vote were proof of the movement’s continuing energy, their impact was undercut by accounts of racist and homophobic epithets directed at Democratic lawmakers by a handful of individuals among this weekend’s crowd.

Tea party organizers have struggled in recent months to clamp down on fringe elements that have sprung up around and sometimes within the movement, including white supremacists and conspiracy theorists who believe that the government played a role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks (“truthers”) or that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and is therefore ineligible to be president (“birthers”).

Some tea party and GOP leaders quickly denounced the slurs shouted at House Democrats, pointed out they were not representative of most tea partiers and urged protestors to stay focused on the movement’s core issues of limited government and taxation. Others suggested either that reporters and lawmakers had fabricated the incidents, or said the epithets came from tea party opponents who had infiltrated the crowds. Some even demanded apologies from Democrats who they said falsely accused them.

Regardless of who yelled what, the reports themselves could be problematic for the tea party movement, said Adam Brandon, a spokesman for FreedomWorks, the small government group that helped organize tea partiers’ congressional office visits last week.

“Tattoos last forever,” said Brandon, quoting his boss, FreedomWorks chairman and former House Republican Leader Dick Armey. “If the movement gets tattooed as at all sympathetic to those (racist and homophobic) views, I won’t want to be involved in it anymore. It’s very distracting not only to our side but also to the debate and the country.”

Jenny Beth Martin, an Atlanta-based leader of the influential national umbrella group Tea Party Patriots, has played something of a self-policing role at tea party events, including last weekend’s rallies, urging protesters not to engage with counter demonstrators who at times confronted tea partiers.

Of the reported epithets, she said, “we do not allow that kind of thing to happen within our events because it is wrong and we’re not going to put up with it. I don’t think it’s good for any movement to have reports of crazy people doing things like that. More than the movement, I don’t think it’s good for America for that kind of thing to happen.” Pointing to her group’s denunciation of a self-proclaimed tea party leader photographed with a racist sign, Martin said “if we saw that kind of thing happening, we would kick the people out. We have a history of doing that.”
House Democrats expressed outrage at the treatment some of them received over the weekend, and signaled they will make it an issue for the tea party movement’s Republican allies. Referring to “this crazy stuff the Republicans are doing here,” House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), said GOP leaders “ought to be ashamed of themselves for bringing these people here to Washington, D.C., and they’re acting like this.”

And Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) took the house floor Saturday to blast “these teabagger protesters who have been out today” and to “call on the Republicans to say shame on the tea party for that type of behavior.”

The conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds responded that it was Clyburn who may “owe the tea party protesters an apology” for playing “the bogus racism card.” And Debbie Gunnoe, a tea party organizer from Navarre, Fla., who was in the House gallery for Ryan’s comments called on him to apologize for “making the generalization that a few rogue people are an example of the rest of the” tea party movement and “for calling all tea party people across the United States ‘tea baggers,’ which is a denigrating word with negative connotations. It’s as bad as calling a black person the N-word.”

Tea party leaders emphasized that racist and homophobic rhetoric is not welcome in their movement but asserted it’s difficult to police large crowds, with some pointing to the comparisons drawn by liberals at anti-Iraq war protests between former President George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler. Other tea partiers interviewed Sunday pointed to video making the rounds in the conservative blogosphere showing other black Democratic lawmakers including Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) who said he was called the N-word as he walked by tea partiers into the Capitol Saturday wading through a crowd of protesters outside the Capitol.

The 48-second video, which showed Lewis and others walking through one small stretch of tea partiers booing and chanting “Kill the Bill” but not yelling epithets was posted by Andrew Breitbart’s Big Journalism website as “Video Proof” that the “media (is) lying about racist attacks on black Reps by tea party protesters.”

“There has been a narrative of labeling the entire tea party movement as racist or homophobic that is an attempt to discredit the people who are a part of it,” said Mark Skoda, a Memphis, Tenn., tea party organizer who attended Saturday’s protests and is part of a group called the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition that helped organize a Capitol Hill war room of sorts for activists headed to the House office buildings to lobby publicly undecided lawmakers on the bill.

His team urged tea partiers to be respectful, Skoda said, pointing out that immigration reform advocates and anti-war demonstrators rallied near the tea partiers Saturday and suggesting it was “a possibility” that some may “have tried to infiltrate” the tea party crowd to “portray the movement in a negative light.”

The end of the debate over the health care overhaul which has emerged as the defining issue of the year-old conservative populist tea party movement marks an important moment for tea party activists as they hurtle toward the critical 2010 congressional midterm elections trying to maintain their energy, recruit new activists, manage their fringe and decide to what extent they can support Republican candidates and causes.
Tea party leaders and activists for weeks have been quietly planning contingencies if Democrats were able to pass a health care bill. Many believe that despite not being able to defeat the bill, final passage could actually help the movement enter a new phase by re-energizing activists, mobilizing new ones and helping shift the focus to the coming congressional midterm elections.

“This thing is only getting stated,” said Gary Armstrong, a tea party organizer in East Tennessee, who helped organize a 50-activist rally Saturday outside the local offices of Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), who was considered one of the last nine Democratic holdout votes.

Armstrong asserted that final passage would be an effective mobilizing tool for tea party activists. “It’s all good publicity for the tea party. The sleeping giant is starting to wake up. Make no bones about it, he ain’t awake yet.”

If Obama signs the overhaul bill, “there will be a nuclear explosion” of tea party activism, predicted Tom Whitmore, a Northern Virginia tea party activist who on Saturday was running the tea party war room. “Over the last year, people have developed this interest in their sovereignty, and they’re not ready to go back or to throw away all their hard work.”

To be sure, many activists don’t appear ready to let go of the health care fight and have announced plans to back state-level efforts to challenge the constitutionality of health insurance mandates in the bill that passed by the House. Others are angling for fights over anticipated congressional proposals to reform the nation’s immigration laws or to limit carbon emissions.

But the overarching focus of tea party organizers is prodding activists to turn their attention to November, and what they hope will be, in effect, “a referendum on the health care vote,” said Matt Kibbe, president of Freedom Works. The group’s political action committee has been providing online tools for activists to put together comparative analyses of candidates and precinct-walking strategies, with a heavy focus on targeting supporters of the health care overhaul.

“I would absolutely rather win the policy than the Congress,” said Kibbe. “But it could be a net plus” for the tea party movement if the health care overhaul passes.

Freedom Works’s PAC and others that have sprung up around the tea party movement have to date mostly focused on supporting primary opponents to Republicans deemed insufficiently conservative.

But Michael Johns, a tea party activist from New Jersey who also is part of Skoda’s Nationwide Tea Party Coalition, said the movement would be wise to turn its attention to targeting Democrats who supported the overhaul and though it seems a harder sell praising those who opposed the measure.

“We are in fact a nonpartisan movement,” he said. “We’re not about getting Republicans elected. And one of the things we’ve communicated is that Democrats who held their ground can expect some tea party support.”

Johns called the period after the health care debate “an important moment for the tea party movement.”

“We want to make sure that those who have been active in the movement over the last year especially those that are new to political engagement understand that there is no permanent victory, nor permanent defeat in politics or public policy.”

Share

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
Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.”

Share

19
Mar
10

Obama: Health Care Debate is About Country’s Character

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

Friday, March 19, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share




Calendar

July 2020
M T W T F S S
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Archives

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

Join 2 other followers

© Copyright 2010 Dominic Stoughton. All Rights reserved.

Dominic Stoughton's Blog