Posts Tagged ‘Vote

19
Jul
10

Obama to GOP: Restore unemployment benefits now

NEWS
Obama to GOP: Restore unemployment benefits now
President Obama Pushes for Up-or-Down Vote on Help for Our Laid Off Friends & Neighbors

Monday, July 19, 2010

President Barack Obama tore into congressional Republicans on Monday for blocking an extension of unemployment benefits, arguing that a “partisan minority” had allowed short-term political calculations to trump genuine economic need.

The Senate is set to consider a bill Tuesday that would extend the deadline to file for unemployment benefits through the end of November. The bill would cost $33 billion in additional deficit spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“It’s time to stop blocking emergency relief for Americans who are out of work and extend unemployment insurance,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.

He accused Senate Republicans for “holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics.”

The bill, formally known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation, is a U.S. federal government program which assists states in providing additional weeks of unemployment benefits to workers who have been laid off due to no fault of their own.

The legislation, which has already cleared the House of Representatives on July 1, would retroactively restore benefits to recipients who as early as the end of May may have started losing their benefits. The Senate is scheduled to take up the measure on Tuesday.

Republicans have successfully blocked the bill from clearing the Senate for three times, quoting the additional budgetary burden as their main concern.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stressed Sunday that Republicans are “all for extending unemployment insurance” but not in favor of deficit spending.

“They’ve taken the deficit as a percentage of GDP from 3.2 percent to almost 10 percent in a year and a half,” McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Somewhere in the course of spending a trillion dollars, we ought to be able to find enough to pay for a program for the unemployed.”

Obama also urged the Senate to act this week on a package of tax cuts and expanded lending for small businesses, the two other legislative priorities Obama and Democrats agreed to last week following the passage of the financial regulation bill.

Good morning, everybody. Right now, across this country, many Americans are sitting at the kitchen table, they’re scanning the classifieds, they’re updating their resumes or sending out another job application, hoping that this time they’ll hear back from a potential employer. And they’re filled with a sense of uncertainty about where their next paycheck will come from. And I know the only thing that will entirely free them of those worries – the only thing that will fully lift that sense of uncertainty – is the security of a new job.

To that end, we all have to continue our efforts to do everything in our power to spur growth and hiring. And I hope the Senate acts this week on a package of tax cuts and expanded lending for small businesses, where most of America’s jobs are created.

So we’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure that we are digging ourselves out of this tough economic hole that we’ve been in. But even as we work to jumpstart job growth in the private sector, even as we work to get businesses hiring again, we also have another responsibility: to offer emergency assistance to people who desperately need it – to Americans who’ve been laid off in this recession. We’ve got a responsibility to help them make ends meet and support their families even as they’re looking for another job.

That’s why it’s so essential to pass the unemployment insurance extension that comes up for a vote tomorrow. We need to pass it for men like Jim Chukalas, who’s with me here today. Jim worked as a parts manager at a Honda dealership until about two years ago. He’s posted resumes everywhere. He’s gone door-to-door looking for jobs. But he hasn’t gotten a single interview. He’s trying to be strong for his two young kids, but now that he’s exhausted his unemployment benefits, that’s getting harder to do.

We need to pass it for women like Leslie Macko, who lost her job at a fitness center last year and has been looking for work ever since. Because she’s eligible for only a few more weeks of unemployment, she’s doing what she never thought she’d have to do – not at this point, anyway. She’s turning to her father for financial support.

And we need to pass it for Americans like Denise Gibson, who was laid off from a real estate agency earlier this year. Denise has been interviewing for jobs – but so far nothing has turned up. Meanwhile, she’s fallen further and further behind on her rent. And with her unemployment benefits set to expire, she’s worried about what the future holds.

We need to pass it for all the Americans who haven’t been able to find work in an economy where there are five applicants for every opening; who need emergency relief to help them pay the rent and cover their utilities and put food on the table while they’re looking for another job.

And for a long time, there’s been a tradition – under both Democratic and Republican Presidents – to offer relief to the unemployed. That was certainly the case under my predecessor, when Republican senators voted several times to extend emergency unemployment benefits. But right now, these benefits – benefits that are often the person’s sole source of income while they’re looking for work – are in jeopardy.

And I have to say, after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, the same people who didn’t have any problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn’t offer relief to middle-class Americans like Jim or Leslie or Denise, who really need help.

Over the past few weeks, a majority of senators have tried – not once, not twice, but three times – to extend emergency relief on a temporary basis. Each time, a partisan minority in the Senate has used parliamentary maneuvers to block a vote, denying millions of people who are out of work much-needed relief. These leaders in the Senate who are advancing a misguided notion that emergency relief somehow discourages people from looking for a job should talk to these folks.

That attitude I think reflects a lack of faith in the American people, because the Americans I hear from in letters and meet in town hall meetings – Americans like Leslie and Jim and Denise – they’re not looking for a handout. They desperately want to work. Just right now they can’t find a job. These are honest, decent, hardworking folks who’ve fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, and who have nowhere else to turn except unemployment benefits and who need emergency relief to help them weather this economic storm.

Now, tomorrow we will have another chance to offer them that relief, to do right by not just Jim and Leslie and Denise, but all the Americans who need a helping hand right now – and I hope we seize it. It’s time to stop holding workers laid off in this recession hostage to Washington politics. It’s time to do what’s right – not for the next election but for the middle class. We’ve got to stop blocking emergency relief for Americans who are out of work. We’ve got to extend unemployment insurance. We need to pass those tax cuts for small businesses and the lending for small businesses.

Times are hard right now. We are moving in the right direction. I know it’s getting close to an election, but there are times where you put elections aside. This is one of those times. And that’s what I hope members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will do tomorrow.

Thanks very much.

• Latest News & Headlines » Home «
• Source(s): The White House
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12
May
10

Britain’s David Cameron becomes Prime Minister

NEWS
Britain’s David Cameron becomes Prime Minister

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

••• Conservative leader David Cameron has become Britain’s youngest prime minister in almost 200 years, after Gordon Brown stepped down and ended 13 years of Labour government.

Cameron said on Tuesday that he aims to form a full coalition government with the third-place Liberal Democrats after his Conservative Party won the most seats but did not get a majority in Britain national election last week.

The 43-year-old leader said it would be ‘hard and difficult work’ to govern as a coalition but added that Britain had serious economic issues to tackle.

This is going to be hard and difficult work.
Prime Minister David Cameron outside Downing Street

Cameron visited Buckingham Palace and was asked to form a government by the Queen.

Earlier Gordon Brown tendered his resignation to the Queen and recommended that Conservative leader David Cameron replace him as premier.

‘I’ve informed the Queen’s private secretary that it is my intention to tender my resignation to the Queen,’ he said in an emotional statement outside Downing Street alongside his wife Sarah.

‘In the event that the Queen accepts, I shall advise her to invite the leader of the opposition to seek to form a government.

‘I wish the next prime minister well as he makes the important choices for the future.’

The United States has no closer friend and ally than the United Kingdom.
President Obama was one of the first leaders to congratulate Mr Cameron

He added it had been a ‘privilege to serve’ the country and wished Cameron well.

‘Only those who have held the office of prime minister can understand the full weight of its responsibilities and its great capacity for good,’ Brown said.

‘I have been privileged to learn much about the very best in human nature and a fair amount too about its frailties – including my own.’

He also paid a glowing tribute to Britain’s armed forces, which are currently serving in Afghanistan.

Brown was then driven to Buckingham Palace where he is expected formally to tender his resignation to the Queen.

Brown’s Labour came second in Britain’s general election on Thursday which resulted in no clear majority for one party for the first time since 1974, triggering days of negotiations.

Brown said on Monday he was stepping down as Labour leader but Tuesday’s announcement brings the final curtain down on his political career at the highest level.
• Source(s): Sky News / Australian News Channel Pty Ltd. & British Sky Broadcasting Ltd. (BSkyB) / News Corp.
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06
May
10

Exit polls make Tories largest party

NEWS
Exit polls make Tories largest party
Tories just short of majority

Thursday, May 6, 2010

••• Britain’s Conservative party is on the brink of claiming back power from Labour in the U .K., based on a major exit poll of voters which predicts a hung parliament.

The joint Sky News/BBC/ITV poll predicted a hung parliament would be the key result from the tightly fought general election, with the Tories falling short of securing the 326 seats they need to form a majority government after 13 years in opposition.

The poll predicted the Tories would have the most MPs in the House of Commons – 307, up 97 on the number elected at the last election in 2005.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s ruling Labour party stood to have 255 MPs, down 94.

The Liberal Democrats, who had enjoyed a surge in popularity during the four-week campaign, would have 59 seats, down four, while 29 seats would go to other minor parties and independents.

While exit polls have a shaky record at predicting accurate election results, if this one proved correct Tory leader David Cameron could lead a minority government.

Even if Labour did a deal with the Lib Dems, such a coalition would still only have 314 MPs and fall short of being able to form a majority government.

If a hung parliament is the outcome of the election, it will only be the first time since 1974 that such a result has been seen in Britain.

Voter turnout was expected to be high across the country in what has been the U.K.’s tightest election battle in decades.
Labour and Tory officials treated the exit poll results with caution, noting that polling booths had closed at 10:00 pm BST (05:00 EDT) just as the poll was being released.

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said while the poll suggested a strong vote for change, ‘a degree of humility’ was needed at this stage.

‘Exit polls in the past have given us rouge results and we need to treat it with caution,’ he told BBC One.

Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman said it was to early to say what the election result would be.

‘It’s obviously going to be very close,’ she told BBC One.

‘But I think what’s clear is the country needs a strong and stable government to take us through the recession.’

The Lib Dems deputy leader Vince Cable described the exit poll result as ‘very strange’ and noted such polls had been ‘horribly wrong’ in the past.

The Tories led opinion polls carried out throughout the campaign, with Labour and the Lib Dems jostling in second and third places in terms of the popular vote.

However, the complexities of Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system mean that having the biggest share of the popular vote does not necessarily translate into having the most seats.

The exit poll based on surveys of voters at 130 polling stations across Britain by NOP and Mori.

Despite the uncertainty, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – a known supporter of Cameron – said on his Twitter feed he’d already called the Tory leader to congratulate him.
‘Just called @davidcameron to congratulate him on the victory. Even though results aren’t in we know the Conservatives had a great day,’ @Schwarzenegger wrote.

• Source(s): Sky News / BskyB / News Corp.

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23
Apr
10

Harry Reid moves forward with first financial reform vote

NEWS
Harry Reid moves forward with first financial reform vote

Friday, April 23, 2010

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’ll try to move a financial reform bill to the floor today–and if the Republicans object, as they’ve threatened to do, he’ll force them to take a tough vote on whether to allow debate on legislation to regulate Wall Street.

“If they let us move to it, I’d be happy to do that,” Reid said at a press conference with Democratic leadership this afternoon. “If they don’t … I’m filing cloture [and we’ll] have a cloture vote on Monday, 5:15.”

That won’t please the GOP. Just before the Democrats’ press conference, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), whose vote is still in play on financial reform, implored Reid not to move ahead until a final bipartisan agreement is reached.

“I hope that Senator Reid abandons his plan to force a premature cloture vote on Monday,” Collins told reporters. “I think that would be unfortunate in view of the fact that both sides of the negotiations say that progress is being made.”

Reid is undeterred. “I have been around for quiet a while,” he said. “What we have done on financial reform was just as energetic as what we did on health care. We worked for more than two months with [Sen. Richard] Shelby trying to come up with something … I’m not going to waste any more time of the American people while they come up with some agreement.”

“The games of stalling are over,” Reid said.

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22
Apr
10

President Obama seeks reform buy-in from Wall Street

NEWS
President Obama seeks reform buy-in from Wall Street
The President Speaks to Wall Street, Republicans, and All of America

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Barack Obama has railed at unfettered corporate greed as he laced a defining pitch for U.S. financial reform with stark warnings of future economic meltdowns if the bid fails.

Just blocks from Wall Street, the epicentre of high finance in the United States, the president sent a tough message to financial barons, American voters and Republican opponents critical of his plans.

Obama recalled how he had visited the historic college at Cooper Union during his election campaign to warn of the dangers of corporate excess.

‘And I take no satisfaction in noting that my comments then have largely been borne out by the events that followed,’ he told an audience of banking notables, including Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of fraud-tainted titan Goldman Sachs, on Thursday.

‘But I repeat what I said then, because it is essential that we learn the lessons of this crisis, so we don’t doom ourselves to repeat them. Make no mistake, that is exactly what will happen if we allow this moment to pass.’

Obama assured investors he believed in the ‘power of the free market’ and a ‘strong financial sector that helps people to raise capital and get loans and invest their savings’.

‘But a free market was never meant to be a free licence to take whatever you can get, however you can get it.

‘Some on Wall Street forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged, there is a family looking to buy a house, to pay for an education, open a business, save for retirement.

‘What happens on Wall Street has real consequences across the country, across our economy.’

Obama urged Wall Street bosses to call off armies of lobbyists trying to thwart what he has promised will be the most sweeping regulatory reform drive since the 1930s Great Depression.

As Democrats and Republicans spar over the final shape of the financial regulatory legislation, Obama argued that middle-ground could be found on the draft law.

Plans include protections for taxpayers should one financial institution pose a systemic risk to the whole economy if it failed, and limits on the size of corporate entities.

‘A vote for reform is a vote to put a stop to taxpayer-funded bailouts,’ Obama said. ‘The goal is to make certain that taxpayers are never again on the hook because a firm is deemed too big to fail.’

Obama also called for stronger protections for consumers and greater transparency by bringing risky financial instruments such as derivatives out into the open.

His efforts got a boost on Wednesday, when a Senate panel approved new restrictions on derivatives, a complex financial instrument blamed for partly igniting the meltdown from which America is just emerging.

Obama’s Democrats needs to peel away at least one vote from Republicans in a final vote in the full Senate, which could come within weeks.

Polls show Americans, though highly suspicious of government, support efforts to rein in Wall Street.

Obama’s financial reform effort is reaching a climax after regulators slapped civil fraud charges on finance titan Goldman.

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15
Apr
10

House Republicans split on terms of new ‘Contract with America’

NEWS
House Republicans split on terms of new ‘Contract with America’

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Tea Party Patriots have released their “Contract with America” today to praise from GOP House leaders.

The contract is the result of a months-long effort between tea party groups to discuss then vote on what their members feel are this nation’s most pressing problems and offer their ideas for solutions.

The Contract with America serves as a clarion call for those who recognize the importance of free market principles, limited government, and individual liberty. It is the natural extension of a movement that began in the local communities and quickly spread across America in response to unprecedented government expansion, reckless spending, and a blatant disregard by our leaders of the nation’s founding principles.

During the past several months, hundreds of thousands of Americans have debated thousands of ideas to solve our nation’s most pressing problems. 454,331 votes were cast. It has been an open process and has provided a genuine opportunity to give voice to a broad cross section of concerned Americans.

You can find the Contract in its entirety at the link.

House Republican leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) praised the effort:

“This ‘Contract with America’ captures the American people’s frustration with a government that has grown too big, too costly, and too arrogant. It is culled directly from the voices of Americans who have said ‘enough’ to permanent bailouts, ‘enough’ to government takeovers, and ‘enough’ to wasteful Washington spending.

“This document is just the latest example of how the Tea Party movement has done this nation a great service by giving Americans who believe their government is no longer listening to them a platform to come together that transcends party and ideology. Republican elected officials must continue to listen to them, stand with them, and walk among them.

“Every lawmaker – Republican, Democrat, and Independent – should consider the ‘Contract from America’ required reading and heed its call for a return to the principles on which our nation was founded.”

House Republican Caucus Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) also responded immediately to the release of the Contract:

“I want to commend the grassroots effort of the Contract from America initiative. Its principles represent a good start toward the essential goals of individual liberty, limited government, and economic freedom.

“I hope that many conservative leaders will join with this bold initiative that’s marked by powerful ideas to get our government’s fiscal house in order. As Republicans move forward developing our agenda for the 112th Congress, efforts like this will be invaluable.”

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also offered his support:

“Today there is an unparalleled level of frustration directed at Washington from across the country, and for good reason. Washington has become entirely too intrusive in every aspect of our economy and far too irresponsible with taxpayer dollars – and Americans know it. The economic insecurity felt by American families and businesses has not just created a sense of tangible fear, but legitimate disagreement with the agenda being pursued by President Obama and the Democrat Congress. People wonder whether Washington can actually fix anything with the kind of misguided legislation that is being passed and enacted into law. And can anyone blame them? Washington must stop pretending there won’t be severe consequences for their out-of-control spending programs that impede job creation and economic growth, while creating a permanent dependency on the government.

“The Contract with America represents a grassroots awareness that people have been over taxed and Washington has been overspending for far too long. It is born out of love for the Constitution and transcends partisanship in the hope that those controlling the levers of power in Washington finally start listening to the people again. America has long been governed by a common sense conservative philosophy that goes back to the days of our Founding Fathers. We believe in free markets, we believe in individual responsibility, and we don’t believe that the government has all the answers.

“That’s why we will continue to fight to restore balance to Washington by bringing responsible, adult leadership that focuses on job creation, economic opportunity, putting the country back on the path to financial stability, and limited government. We must also work to repeal and replace the Democrats’ overhaul of health care with a system that will improve access to care and make health insurance more affordable for everyone. I want to thank all those Americans who had a hand in developing and putting forward the Contract from America. Our republic benefits from their work.”

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12
Apr
10

Scott Brown Won’t Attend Boston Tea Party, But Sarah Palin Will

NEWS
Scott Brown Won’t Attend Boston Tea Party, But Sarah Palin Will

Monday, April 12, 2010

U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, whose stunning victory in January was fueled in part by Tea Party anger, has snubbed the fiery grassroots group and declined its invitation to join Sarah Palin Wednesday at a massive rally on Boston Common, the Herald has learned.

Brown’s decision to skip the first big rally in Boston by the group whose members are credited with helping him win election has some experts saying he’s tossed the Tea Party overboard, as he prepares for re-election in 2012.

“He wants to mainstream himself before the election,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist.

Brown, who took heat for the alleged misbehavior of some of his supporters at campaign events, may be trying to distance himself from what could be a volatile event, said political analyst Lou DiNatale.

“You’re worried at a rally that there’s a sign, a statement, an incident that’s certifiably cuckoo occurs,” DiNatale said.

“To win re-election, Scott Brown floating to the right is a serious problem.

“And showing up at a Sarah Palin, Tea Party event is not the way to the middle.”

But Brown spokesman Felix Browne said the senator applauds the “energy and enthusiasm” Palin and the Tea Party bring to GOP politics.

The Senate is in session and Brown can’t get away, Browne said.

“He’ll be doing the job he was elected to do – serving the people of the commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Browne said.

Sabato said it’s “possible” Brown can’t get away but noted senators do travel to their districts during the weeks-long stretches that the Senate is in session.

“It’s not like they’re voting constantly,” Sabato said.

Tea Party members said they don’t feel slighted.

“It’s not about paying favors back,” said Mark Williams, chairman of the Tea Party Express, which organized the rally and invited Brown.

“I’d happily forgo (having him) if he’s truly doing the job of the people.

“He has half a century of Kennedy damage to compensate for, after all.”

Barbara Klain, head of the Greater Lowell Tea Party, said Brown also turned down an invite to speak at their April 15 rally in downtown Lowell.

“He said he was going to be in Washington,” Klain said. “He needs to be doing his job.”

It’s a view Sabato suggested was willfully naive.

“It’s naive, but they’re cutting him some slack,” Sabato said.

“But he’s their hero, more so than Sarah Palin – they got him elected.”

This won’t be the first time Brown has appeared to distance himself from Palin.

Shortly after his triumph, Brown denied receiving a congratulatory call from Palin, only to remember the exchange when pressed.

Palin is a possible 2012 presidential rival to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose aides were the architects of Brown’s Senate win.

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12
Apr
10

Will Bloomberg Run for President?

NEWS
Will Bloomberg Run for President?

Monday, April 12, 2010

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

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

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

Except that his closest advisers never stopped thinking about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps Bloomberg was being hypothetical. Perhaps not.

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11
Apr
10

Michael Steele To Republicans: ‘I’ve Made Mistakes’

NEWS
Michael Steele To Republicans: ‘I’ve Made Mistakes’

Sunday, April 11, 2010

In damage control mode, GOP national chairman Michael Steele on Saturday sought to quell the furor over his management of the Republican National Committee by acknowledging errors and vowing to learn from them.

“I’m the first here to admit that I’ve made mistakes and it’s been incumbent on me to take responsibility to shoulder that burden, make the necessary changes and move on,” Steele told GOP activists and party leaders, drawing a standing ovation.

“The one mistake we cannot make this November is to lose,” he added, and the crowd cheered in agreement.

Saturday’s speech to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference was Steele’s first public appearance since the disclosure of questionable spending – including a $2,000 tab at a sex-themed California night club – resulted in top advisers cutting ties with him and North Carolina’s state party chief calling for his resignation.

Normally a bombastic showman, Steele struck a contrite tone before the supportive audience in the half-full hotel ballroom. He did not address the specific complaints.

And even though he acknowledged his errors, he also blamed others. “We can’t coast into the majority, nor can we assume it’s a sure thing.

The liberal media are looking for any possible alternative narrative to tell,” Steele said. “They are looking for those distractions, and Lord knows I’ve provided a few.”

He added: “The Democrats also know that they have some explaining to do, and they’d love nothing more than for us to keep pointing fingers.”

Outspoken and brassy, Steele is not a traditional buttoned-down GOP chairman and he’s been a target of criticism since he was elected last year.

The complaints reached a fever pitch over the past week, causing both embarrassment and distraction for a GOP looking to take advantage of a troubling political environment for Democrats ahead of this fall’s midterm elections. Still, for all the angst in the GOP over Steele, it’s unlikely he will be fired.

Ousting a chairman is a complicated, messy process that requires votes of two-thirds of the 168-member RNC.

And, while there are both hard-core Steele opponents and fierce Steele allies, several Republican officials at the New Orleans conference said that most committee members and party chairman simply seem to want to move on from the controversy so Republicans can focus on November.

Attended by roughly 3,000 GOP activists and party leaders, the three-day conference wrapped up Saturday with speeches by prominent Republicans considering running for president in 2012 against President Barack Obama.

Conference participants voted in a “straw poll” for their top 2012 choice; the results were hardly predictive and meant little. Some would-be contenders like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov.

Tim Pawlenty were absent and others like Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour asked that their names not be included. Those who gave speeches downplayed talk of the next presidential election.

“We have got to stay focused on the election of 2010. Don’t worry about 2012 … We can’t wait until 2012 to start taking our country back,” Barbour told the crowd.

Despite that message, he sounded every bit the presidential candidate and spoke after running a slick video that promoted his role as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Barbour also urged unity as the GOP wrestles with what to do about Steele and as the tea party’s emergence highlights divisions among Republicans.

“The wind is at our back. How are we going to make sure it continues to fill up our sails?” Barbour said. “We stick together.” He said Republicans should focus on the 80 percent of issues that unite them, not the 20 percent that may divide them. “We’ve got to let the things that unite us be the things that guide us,” he said.

“We cannot let ourselves by torn apart by the idea of purity.” Earlier, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is looking for a political comeback, took on the Republican Party, saying that when Republicans controlled Congress and the White House before Democrats won control: “We let America down.”

“Conservatism didn’t fail America, conservatives failed conservatism,” Santorum said, prompting huge cheers. “Let’s be honest: we were guilty of more government when we were there.” Seeking to raise his national profile, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence – a darling of the party’s right flank – introduced himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican.”

And, eying another run after his 2008 failed bid, Texas Rep. Ron Paul told activists that “the American people have awoken” because Washington won’t address the nation’s fiscal crisis. Still, for all the appearances by likely 2012 candidates and excitement over the midterms, the RNC’s woes hovered over event.

“In life, you realize very quickly that you can’t please everyone. But you can certainly make them all made at you at the same time,” Steele said. “And that is a lesson well-learned. It is an opportunity as well.

Because folks have been mad at us in the past and we have learned from that past, and we are now ready to move on to a brighter future.”

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11
Apr
10

SELC: For GOP, no front-runner and no worries

NEWS
SELC: For GOP, no front-runner and no worries

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, the two Republicans taking the most obvious steps toward presidential bids, both skipped the Southern Republican Leadership Conference here this weekend.

And the thousands of Republicans in attendance didn’t seem to miss them.

With GOP leaders and activists viewing the 2010 midterms as a unique, defining chance to stop the hated Obama agenda, the invisible primary appears to be largely on hold, and the presidential field remains wide open.

Only two men are really running so far: Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, thanks to his previous White House run and fundraising capacity, starts off the 2012 race as the nearest thing his party has to a frontrunner, while Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, is working feverishly to boost his profile.

But Republicans – who, this time four years ago, were riveted by the contest between candidates including Romney, former Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist, and Arizona Sen. John McCain – seem in no hurry to focus on the two all-but-declared candidates, or on any of the other figures beginning to position themselves for 2012.

Among the activists, operatives and elected officials gathered for this quadrennial exercise, part political beauty contest and part strategy session, there is little consensus not only who they’d like to nominate but even on which candidates they’d like to see run.

“Don’t get distracted by 2012,” Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour told an approving crowd in his speech Saturday.

“People are very excited about our opportunity in ‘10, but more important they think the stakes in ‘10 are incredibly high,” Barbour, who also chairs the Republican Governors Association and could himself seek the presidential nomination in two years, said in an interview. “They think the issues that we’re going to start dealing with in ‘10 really matter to them but also the country’s future. So there is no question, the focus here is almost totally on ’10. If I had my way it would be exclusively on ’10.”

Presidential cycles have in recent years started earlier and earlier, but the race to become the GOP nominee in 2012 seems to be reversing that trend. Less than two years before the first votes are cast in Iowa and New Hampshire, the field generals and their lieutenants in the Republican Party are simply not in a hurry to find a standard-bearer. It’s not for a lack of potential candidates or energy in the party ranks – the GOP has clearly emerged from its Bush-era funk and is confident their string of statewide wins since last November portends good things for this fall.

But it seems highly unlikely that there will be any move to coalesce behind a single figure in the fashion of, for example, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in 1999.

That’s in part because the various contenders have some elements that seem attractive but no one offers such a complete package that they’re standing out from an unsettled field. Take the two leaders in many early polls: Grassroots activists adore Sarah Palin and nobody else comes close to the former Alaska governor’s own-the-room star wattage.

But party leaders, and even some of her rank-and-file fans, have grave doubts about her command of the issues and viability. Romney is just the opposite – he’s unquestionably competent, but a sober Mr. Fix-It isn’t exactly the order of the day at a time when many in the party feel the same sort of mad-as-hell outrage that Palin seems to embody.

At the core of the 2012 apathy is a larger and more important point about the current mood among conservatives: Republican Party activists have such fear of President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority’s policies that they are intensely focused on the present.

It is, of course, a familiar line, trotted out predictably by politicians at such party confabs as this, that the only election that matters is the next one.

But the GOP leaders stressing the mid-terms here aren’t just doing it to downplay their own ambitions and keep activists focused on the near-term. They’re also doing it because they don’t want to get cross-wise with a base that truly believes, with a palpable urgency, that America as they know it hangs in the balance of whatever the next election is.

In January, that was the special Senate election in Massachusetts, into which poured vast amounts of conservative money and manpower. And now it means this November’s contests.

Using one sports metaphor after another, GOP politicians made that point in New Orleans. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a member of the House leadership who is mulling a 2012 run, explained Saturday in his speech how Indiana’s Butler University made its Cinderella run through this year’s NCAA basketball tournament.

“We have just got to focus on the next possession,” Pence said, drawing rousing applause from the floor.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry invoked Big 12 college football, and counseled “keeping the team focused on the game at hand.”

In interviews, top GOP leaders explained why the party was so fixated on the here and now.

“I do think there’s a sense among voters and activists out there that these are important times for our country’s future,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in an interview. “That this is greater than just the recession, it’s greater than one health care bill. There are some fundamental decisions we have to make as a country.”

The question, said Jindal, is this: “Do we want to become more like Europe, with higher levels of spending which means higher levels of taxes which means larger, more intrusive government programs or are we going to take back a more limited government? That’s why I think [the moment] is greater than any political party, or movement or particular leader or set of speakers.”

In speaking to a small breakfast of top GOP donors Saturday morning, Barbour urged the moneymen against looking beyond this fall with a folksy aphorism he credited to FedEx CEO and Mississippi native Fred Smith: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Barbour did his part, as aides made sure to point out, by requesting his name not be placed on the conference’s straw poll ballot.

He wasn’t the only one who got the message: Jindal and Perry also stayed off the ballot.

And, perhaps most telling, the most implicit mention of the 2012 contest during the slew of speeches over the three days may have been when Jindal used his chance on stage Friday to flatly declare he would not be seeking the nomination.

Among party operatives – the types who, like their candidate clients, do think about the next presidential contest but who, unlike their clients, will actually talk about the race – the GOP’s revival at the polls and Obama’s descent into the ranks of political mortals has created a what-me-worry feeling about the White House campaign.

Unlike at the last SRLC in 2006 when the party was consumed with determining who would succeed Bush and what the future direction of a majority party grappling with an unpopular war would be, now party strategists are happy to wait until after what they expect will be a smashing November to let the field take shape.

“Somebody will emerge – somebody we’re not talking about now or who does not want to be talked about now,” said GOP veteran Mary Matalin, following her kick-off address at the conference.

Matalin recalled her own initial favorite – and one of the most-talked-about potential candidates this time four years ago–to make the case for why it makes sense for White House prospects to avoid the spotlight.

“Look at what happened to poor George Allen,” she said, alluding to the former Virginia senator who made little secret of his presidential ambitions only to lose his own re-election in 2006. “He got a big target put on his back. If I were thinking about 2012 seriously, I would lay low.”

But Matalin, who worked for both Presidents Bush, said that the only certainty about the next presidential race is there will be no obvious frontrunner who captures the nomination thanks only to the party’s tradition of political primogeniture.

“Who’s in line? There is nobody in line,” she said.

Jindal said the current levels of grassroots energy will also preempt any crowning of a favored candidate.

“They don’t want to be told who to vote for,” the governor said, referring to the party foot soldiers. “This isn’t going to be a pre-ordained election. There is this reputation in the Republican Party that you wait your turn and then when it’s your turn, you run. I think the voters are saying we want to make the decision, this is democracy, we’ll decide who we want to represent us and lead us.”

“The activists would resist any attempt from party leaders or anybody else to try to pre-ordain a process or a pick,” he added.

The expectation among Republicans is that field will grow – and will include names who haven’t previously been considered.

“Every cycle that happens, there is a surprise,” said Liz Cheney following her own address to the conference.

Or, as Jindal put it: “Who would have thought a year into President Bush’s second term, that Sen. Obama would be the next president of the United States?”

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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.”

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22
Mar
10

Health Reform Now

NEWS
Health Reform Now
• This is What Change Looks Like

Monday, March 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triumph: The Man Who Dared to Dream

NEWS
Triumph: The Man Who Dared to Dream

Monday, March 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

”Until today,” Mrs Pelosi added.

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

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

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22
Mar
10

Barack Obama wins healthcare battle in tight vote

NEWS
Barack Obama wins healthcare battle in tight vote

Monday, March 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the president has signalled he will fight back.

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

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

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

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

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

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21
Mar
10

House debate on health care bill

NEWS
House debate on health care bill

Sunday, March 21, 2010

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

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

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

“We’re well past 216, yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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20
Mar
10

President Obama makes final House call

NEWS
President Obama makes final House call

Saturday, March 20, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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20
Mar
10

House Plans Direct Vote on Senate Health Care Bill

NEWS
House Plans Direct Vote on Senate Health Care Bill

Saturday, March 20, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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19
Mar
10

Top Democrats predict Sunday passage

NEWS
Top Democrats predict Sunday passage

Friday, March 19, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But problems remain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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19
Mar
10

Boehner says vote will haunt Democrats

NEWS
Boehner says vote will haunt Democrats

Friday, March 19, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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19
Mar
10

Obama: Health Care Debate is About Country’s Character

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

Friday, March 19, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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