Is health reform deal 'pretty close'?
By Ben Pershing
President Obama and congressional Democrats are nearly finished deciding what will be in their compromise health-reform package. All that's left to determine is how -- or whether -- it can pass.
"Obama pitched the cost-saving benefits of his health plan Wednesday, and made a campaign-style closing argument for the overhaul in his second trip outside Washington this week," the Wall Street Journal reports. The New York Times writes that "House leaders said they hoped to have a completed bill to present to rank and file members Thursday morning. As he left a meeting with Congressional leaders Wednesday evening in the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said, 'Lots of progress.'" Pelosi told reporters that negotiators were "pretty close" to agreement. Politico says that Pelosi "will start outlining the finished package to the rest of her rank-and-file in a meeting Thursday morning. ... House and Senate leaders have kept a tight lid on details of the reconciliation bill but congressional sources expect it to include more generous subsidies than in the Senate bill, an expanded Medicare payroll tax on wealthier families, more aid to states to cover Medicaid expansion and a provision that would put off implementation of the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost plans until 2018, as President Barack Obama has sought."
As for the process, the Washington Post reports: "Democratic leaders in Congress are weighing whether to add another of President Obama's priorities to the package: a popular proposal to overhaul the federal student loan program. ... The move could clear the way for Obama to claim victory on two of his most significant domestic initiatives in a single signing ceremony. Administration officials and House leaders have pressed aggressively for the addition in recent days. But key senators are objecting to the move, arguing that political resistance in the Senate and the rapidly rising cost of the education measure could jeopardize efforts to push health-care reform to final passage." The Hill examines another potential roadblock: "A group of Hispanic lawmakers on Thursday will tell President Barack Obama that they may not vote for healthcare reform unless changes are made to the bill's immigration provisions. ... The Senate language would prohibit illegal immigrants' buying healthcare coverage from the proposed health exchanges. The House-passed bill isn't as restrictive, but it does -- like the Senate bill -- bar illegal immigrants from receiving federal subsidies to buy health insurance. Hispanic Democrats say they haven't moved from their stance that they will not vote for a healthcare bill containing the Senate's prohibitions."
The Associated Press notes that "Obama already has moved to eliminate a couple of special deals in the Senate bill that turned off voters when they became public, including extra Medicaid funding for Nebraska -- derided by critics as the 'Cornhusker kickback.' Late Wednesday the White House said the president was pushing to strip out a number of deals that remain, possibly including a provision sought by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., providing Medicare coverage for residents of Libby, Mont., who suffer from asbestos-related illnesses because of a now-closed mining operation." For liberals still wavering on the measure, Ezra Klein sings the praises of a "state-based single payer strategy," referring to "the Waiver for State Innovation, which allows states to go their own way if they have a plan that will achieve the goals of the bill at a lower cost. You could imagine a state -- say, California, where the legislature has passed single-payer bills before only to see them vetoed by the governor -- using that provision to implement a single-payer system."
Michael Barone is skeptical of passage: "Are there enough votes in the House to pass the Senate's health-care bill? As of today, it's clear there aren't. House Democratic leaders have brushed aside White House calls to bring the bill forward by March 18, when President Barack Obama heads to Asia. Nevertheless, analysts close to the Democratic leadership tell me they're confident the leadership will find some way to squeeze out the 216 votes needed for a majority. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indeed shown mastery at amassing majorities. But it's hard to see how she'll do so on this one. The arithmetic as I see it doesn't add up." Jonathan Cohn looks at the Senate, where Republicans have pledged to slow the process with amendments: "So let me get this straight: If Republicans want to introduce an endless stream of amendments simply to prevent a majority of Senators from putting the final touches on health care reform, that's fine. But if Democrats ask the presiding chair to rule the Republican amendments dilatory, that's a violation of protocol and a breach of good faith?"
As his bill progressed on Capitol Hill, Obama on Wednesday "made his case for an overhaul of the U.S. medical system to Missouri voters, emphasizing his efforts to curb waste and fraud in government health programs," Bloomberg writes, adding: "The president earlier signed an order authorizing government agencies to use private auditors to uncover fraudulent claims and payment errors, a step the White House says may save $2 billion over three years. The order, along with pending legislation, will help keep the Medicare health program for the elderly solvent, Obama said." The Washington Post says Obama gave "a folksy, partisan argument for reform as industry groups prepare a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to defeat it. ... He spoke with evident anger about 'political gamesmanship' in Washington leading to 'terrible consequences,' as he evoked the outsider's message that he delivered successfully in his 2008 campaign." George Will remains unimpressed: "Whether all or nothing of the legislation becomes law, Barack Obama has refuted critics who call him a radical. He has shown himself to be a timid progressive. His timidity was displayed when he flinched from fighting for the boldness the nation needs -- a transition from the irrationality of employer-provided health insurance. His progressivism is an attitude of genteel regret about the persistence of politics."
USA Today asks: "Is President Obama losing his base? Liberal and progressive organizations that helped propel him to the White House are turning on him now, little more than a year after he took office. Their collective discontent, on issues from health care to nuclear energy to the handling of terrorism suspects, could mean bad news for Democrats during this fall's congressional elections. Polls show that liberals and blacks still approve of the job Obama's doing. That approval, however, doesn't necessarily mean they will make the effort to vote, and many of the activists and groups that worked to get people to the polls in 2008 say they're not inclined right now to help Democrats in the fall." Robert Schmuhl says,"Increasingly, the current administration confronts what you might call the nattering nabobs of narrative -- pundits and political pooh-bahs who point to the absence of a coherent communications message as this presidency's paramount problem. ... What's missing in this nostalgia for narrative of 2008 vintage is the recognition that campaigning and governing are related -- but distinct -- pursuits. Seeking office is essentially an enterprise of communications: of saying what someone might do after winning an election. Actually accomplishing what's been proposed earlier involves much more than words -- or even 'a compelling narrative.'"
On the Hill Wednesday, all the non-health talk was about ethics and reform. For a moment, it felt like 2006 again, as the two parties sparred over which was tougher on earmarks. Roll Call reports: "A day after House Democrats announced a ban on earmarks for private companies, their Republican counterparts hope to dramatically up the ante with a unilateral prohibition on all targeted spending projects. If approved, the Republican policy would restrict GOP lawmakers from sponsoring any earmarks at all -- broadening the Democratic ban to cover earmarks for nonprofit entities and tax and tariff breaks approved through the Ways and Means Committee." The coverage wasn't all positive: "Small defense companies, energy firms, and other technology start-ups throughout New England could lose tens of millions of dollars a year because of a decision by House Democrats yesterday to abruptly halt budget earmarks for companies," the Boston Globe writes. In the Senate, the reform talk centered on the filibuster. The Hill writes: "After hearing growing frustration within his party, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is promising to pursue changes to the filibuster. Reid (D-Nev.) met with nearly 20 freshman and sophomore Democratic senators Wednesday afternoon to discuss how to respond to Republican use of the rule to stall President Barack Obama's agenda. Reid told the lawmakers that Democratic leaders would review proposed changes to Senate rules and reform the filibuster rule at the beginning of the 112th Congress. He also met with liberal bloggers earlier in the day and pledged to make changes."
For better or worse, Eric Massa remains much in the news. "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office was notified in October by then-Rep. Eric Massa's top aide of concerns about the New York Democrat's behavior, two congressional sources familiar with the matter said Wednesday night," the Washington Post reports, adding: "Joe Racalto, Massa's chief of staff, was uneasy that Massa, 50, was living with several young, unmarried male staffers and using sexually explicit language with them, one source said. But what finally prompted him to call Pelosi's director of member services, the source said, was a lunch date that Massa made with a congressional aide in his 20s who worked in the office of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)." Politico writes that the news came as the ethics committee "decided to close its investigation into the case because Massa's resignation -- effective at 5 p.m. Monday -- deprived the committee of jurisdiction over him. But House Republicans cried foul, with one senior GOP aide saying that the new information about Pelosi's office "further underscores" the need to find out what actually happened." For his part, Patrick Kennedy isn't too happy about all the coverage of Massa, as he "lashed out at the news media for focusing on trivial issues and ignoring a Congressional debate over the war in Afghanistan," ABC News reports.
Remember John Ensign's ethics problems? The New York Times does: "Previously undisclosed e-mail messages turned over to the F.B.I. and Senate ethics investigators provide new evidence about Senator John Ensign's efforts to steer lobbying work to the embittered husband of his former mistress and could deepen his legal and political troubles. Mr. Ensign ... suggested that a Las Vegas development firm hire the husband, Douglas Hampton, after it had sought the senator's help on several energy projects in 2008, according to e-mail messages and interviews with company executives. The messages are the first written records from Mr. Ensign documenting his efforts to find clients for Mr. Hampton, a top aide and close friend, after the senator had an affair with his wife, Cynthia Hampton. They appear to undercut the senator's assertion that he did not know the work might involve Congressional lobbying, which could violate a federal ban on such activities by staff members for a year after leaving government. The e-mail messages also hint at what Mr. Ensign's office now says was an effort by the Las Vegas firm, a small energy investment business called P2SA Equity, to improperly link Mr. Ensign's possible assistance to a promised donation."
March 11, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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