Health reform's journey isn't over quite yet
By Ben Pershing
Tired of having the health reform spotlight all to itself, the Senate decided in the wee hours of Thursday morning to let the House back into the game.
"With the Senate working through an all-night session on a package of changes to the Democrats' sweeping health care legislation, Republicans early Thursday morning identified parliamentary problems with at least two provisions that will require the measure to be sent back to the House for yet another vote, once the Senate adopts it," the New York Times reports, adding: "The successful parliamentary challenge did not appear to endanger the eventual adoption of the changes to the health care legislation. And Mr. Obama on Tuesday already signed the main health care bill into law. Senate Democrats said that one of the provisions in question involved changes to the Pell grant program, which is part of an education section in the reconciliation bill. The bill would establish an automatic increase in Pell grant awards, tied to inflation, for students from low-income families. The disputed provision would prevent any reductions in the maximum award." The Associated Press says: "It appeared initially that deleting the provisions, dealing with Pell grants for low-income students, should not cause major problems for Democrats hoping to rush the bill to Obama and avoid prolonging what has been a politically painful ordeal for the party. Democrats described the situation as a minor glitch, but did not rule out that Republicans might be able to remove additional sections of the bill."
Other than that, Democrats' plan mostly worked. The Washington Post writes: "Wednesday afternoon and evening and into Thursday morning, Senate Republicans offered dozens of amendments to the bill President Obama signed into law Tuesday . Their goal was to force the legislation that will launch an overhaul of the nation's health-care system. back to the House for another vote. But when the Senate began voting on the amendments shortly after 5 p.m., each proposal was easily rejected. Majority Democrats defeated all 29 amendments, meaning the bill should survive largely intact, save for the deletion of the two problematic clauses. The Senate adjourned before dawn, with an agreement to reconvene at 9:45 a.m. and hold a final vote on the bill by early afternoon." The Hill says "the Senate held 10 hours of continuous, marathon voting starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday, with Republicans trying throughout to lodge a successful objection to the bill to force its return to the lower chamber. The bill's passage by the House is a safe bet, prompting Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) to call Frumin's ruling 'a consolation prize.'"
Roll Call writes that a Republican aide "said the GOP sees the ruling as a win, noting that Democrats were forced into dozens of difficult votes on a host of political issues, including tax cuts, Medicare spending, federal funding for Viagra prescriptions for convicts and other amendments. In fact, the aide indicated that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had been confident Frumin would rule in his favor throughout the vote-a-rama and kept the points of order in his back pocket until late in the evening to ensure Democrats made tough political votes." The measure has at least one other problem, though it won't have to be fixed by the House. "The Obama administration said Wednesday it would issue regulations to make clear that insurers must cover sick children, fixing what appears to be a glitch in the new health law," the Wall Street Journal writes, adding: "President Barack Obama has repeatedly touted the requirement as one of the law's most important benefits, and one that will take effect this year. But officials suggested Wednesday that the provision was not precisely written and that the Department of Health and Human Services would issue regulations to make its intent clear."
Like the Black Knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" who keeps wanting to fight after his arms and legs have been cut off, some liberal advocates still haven't given up on the public option. The Huffington Post writes that Frumin's ruling "might give Democrats another option -- the public one. Democratic leadership no longer has to worry that additional amendments would send it back to the House, since it must return to the lower chamber regardless. The Senate is now free to put to the test that much-debated question of whether 50 votes exist for a public option. Democrats could also elect to expand Medicare or Medicaid, now that they only need 50 votes in the Senate and the approval of the House. The question then becomes whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) could pass the reconciliation changes with a public option. ... Would they have the votes? The Huffington Post interviewed House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) on Wednesday evening and asked if he thought he could have gotten the public option back through a second time, when the House voted on Sunday, even without those members who had left. "Yes, sir," he said emphatically. Clyburn added that the problem for the public option has never been in the House. The problem has been in the Senate. And now the upper chamber has a chance to vote on it."
Until the early morning development in the Senate, most headlines were focused on something darker. USA Today reports: "The FBI is investigating acts of vandalism and a death threat aimed at Democrats who voted for the health care legislation. A freshman Democrat from Virginia reported that a gas line had been severed at his brother's home, and two congresswomen -- one in New York and another in Arizona -- said windows at their district offices were smashed." CNN reported Thursday that it counted at least 11 members who had received threats of some kind -- that includes incidents or threats involving Bart Stupak, Tom Perriello, Louise Slaughter, Gabrielle Giffords and James Clyburn. The New York Times adds: "As they prepared to leave Washington for a two-week recess, House Democrats met with Capitol Police and representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to get advice on security issues, and they pressed Republicans to join them in renouncing threats and violence. ... Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader, spoke out against violence but encouraged Americans to continue to find ways to counter the legislation. ... Still, the dark and personal tone of the final stages of the health fight could complicate Republican efforts to maintain their attacks on the legislation if they are seen as inciting an undue level of outrage and, conversely, could bolster Democrats if opponents of the measure are seen as breaching the boundaries of civility."
The Washington Post says "some of the vandalism appears to have been instigated by an Alabama blogger, Mike Vanderboegh, who encouraged his readers to throw bricks at the windows of Democratic headquarters across the country." AP notes that "Gun imagery was used in a posting on the Facebook page of Sarah Palin urging people to organize against 20 House Democrats who voted for the health care bill and whose districts went for the John McCain-Palin ticket two years ago. Palin's post featured a U.S. map with circles and cross hairs over the 20 districts." It's not just members who are being cast into the spotlight. Roll Call reports that "Tea party protesters are reportedly planning a protest at the home of Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin later this week, prompting Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer to work with local law enforcement officials to ensure Frumin's safety. Gainer said Wednesday night that while neither Frumin nor his family have been threatened, activists have discussed protesting at his house."
Power Line blog sees an ulterior motive in the coverage: "Threats of violence, sadly, are not uncommon in politics; let alone 'harassment.' Even insignificant conservatives like us have been threatened with violence on several occasions, and the linked article notes that Jim Bunning received threats after he temporarily held up the extension of unemployment benefits a few weeks ago. The current threats (assuming they are real, as I assume some of them are) are being played up in the press because the Democrats want to dampen the anger that has erupted over their adoption of a government medicine program through a series of legislative maneuvers that are in some respects unprecedented. It is important for the Democrats and their press minions to understand that there are many millions of Americans who regard Obamacare not just as misguided public policy, but as an illegitimate usurpation of power." Ezra Klein thinks "some politicians and media figures, however, have been in the business of ratcheting up opposition by making people afraid. But you can't count on people to simply cower when they're afraid, or write letters to the editor. Sometimes, they fight. It's a dangerous emotion, and high as the stakes are, public figures need to be a lot more careful manipulating it."
The Washington Times reports on the second signing ceremony: "A day after a lavish White House bill-signing ceremony on health care reform, President Obama on Wednesday signed an executive order barring the law from allowing federally funded abortion, but he did so behind closed doors and with no media allowed." Stupak and 12 other House Democrats attended. Ross Douthat expresses some sympathy for Stupak and "the extraordinary loneliness of his position before he folded. Here was a politician who embodies what a half-century ago would have been considered the sensible center in American politics -- economically liberal, socially conservative -- and whose politics represent a good faith effort to live out the social teaching of America's largest religious body, the Roman Catholic Church. Yet who, in the political arena, really seemed to be on his side? Not the pro-choice left, obviously, which was willing to sacrifice the entire health care bill to the principle that nobody should have to pay for an abortion out of pocket. Not Stupak's fellow liberal Catholics ... And not anti-abortion conservatives, who backed him to the hilt not because they wanted him to succeed, but because they assumed that he would fail, and in failing, drag the whole health care package down to defeat."
On the legal front, the administration is confident, Politico reports: "White House officials say that the 14 state lawsuits challenging health reform on Constitutional grounds are legally baseless, politically motivated attacks that are bound to die quickly in court. But while professing confidence in their legal arguments, one senior administration official conceded Obama's lawyers 'can't presume to speculate' what will happen once the cases are thrown to courts dominated by GOP-appointed jurists, including the Supreme Court." Based on the same background briefing, The Hill writes that "the official said that all of the provisions are grounded in sound legal precedent and that the claims in the lawsuit are 'false and in direct conflict with Supreme Court precedent that is directly on point.' The official listed several cases, both old and new, that uphold the disputed provisions of the new health law. The White House official added that prior legal challenges to social legislation, such as Social Security, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, failed in court."
The Boston Globe says the "flood of lawsuits ... raises sharp questions about the power of the federal government to impose mandates on its citizens, but legal scholars disagree about how the cases will be decided if they are heard by the Supreme Court. Analysts said there is no direct precedent for Congress requiring that individuals purchase a product such as health insurance, although some indirect cases are cited by advocates on both sides." Orrin Hatch, a leading critic of the bill's constitutionality, writes: "I have gone to great lengths on the Senate floor, in newspaper columns, and elsewhere to explain my conclusions, because I believe that this is a very important debate. Something, I might add, this administration has not even begun to do because they don't seem to care whether the proposals they support are Constitutional or not. In contrast, I believe our liberty still requires limits on government, and I am glad that the country is today debating constitutional as well as policy issues. We would all be better off if more 'policy experts' took this rational approach."
Obama takes his sales pitch on the road Thursday. The Des Moines Register reports: "President Barack Obama will use a speech Thursday in Iowa to promote the immediate impact of the recently enacted health care reform legislation, the White House said Monday. The 1 p.m. public event at the University of Iowa Field House will be his first comments outside the nation's capital on the landmark legislation. ... The return to the heartland marks a pivot for Obama from pressuring lawmakers to pass the plan -- such as his high-profile trip to Ohio to sway Democrat Dennis Kucinich -- to selling the public on the provisions that will benefit the public immediately." The Washington Post notes that "Obama's visit to Iowa City on Thursday is meant to recall the address he gave there as a presidential hopeful in May 2007, when he unveiled his health-care plan and used the plight of a small-business owner named Amy Chicos to demonstrate the need for universal coverage." USA Today writes that "President Obama will get his insurance through those special exchanges being set up under his health care plan, the White House announced today -- assuming he wins re-election. The exchanges -- designed to increase the size of risk pools, thereby lowering insurance costs -- won't be up and running until 2014, two years after Obama's re-election bid. The announcement came after Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, proposed an amendment to the health care reconciliation bill that would have required Obama to buy insurance through the exchanges."
The bill's impact is already being felt in the corporate world. Bloomberg reports: "Caterpillar Inc. lobbied to keep the U.S. from taxing a subsidy on retiree drug benefits. It lost the battle when President Barack Obama signed an almost $1 trillion health-care overhaul into law this week. The world's largest maker of bulldozers put a price tag on that defeat yesterday: a $100 million charge to earnings. Disclosures by Caterpillar and AK Steel Holding Corp. in the two days since the signing are the first sets of health-care charges that ultimately may shave as much as $14 billion from U.S. corporate profits, according to an estimate by benefits consultancy Towers Watson." The Wall Street Journal writes that "small businesses, some of which had fought against the health-care reform bill, will now have to adjust to life with it. ... Some groups, such as the National Federation of Independent Business, are concerned that the legislation discourages businesses with fewer than 50 employees from expanding their payrolls. ... Others say the legislation, which would create state-based exchanges through which companies can purchase coverage, doesn't address a chief concern: the spiraling costs of health insurance."
David Corn thinks "Post-Health-Care-Fatigue Syndrome could interfere with the GOP's master plan for storming back into the congressional majority. Before the final votes were cast on the health care legislation Sunday night, Republican leaders and strategists were declaring that their 2010 campaign would focus on a simple notion: Repeal! ... But within Republican circles, there have been some second thoughts, with prominent GOPers saying that the best approach would be crusading for a partial repeal." Karl Rove writes that "Democrats are celebrating victory. The public outcry against what they've done doesn't seem to bother them. They take it as validation that they are succeeding at transforming America. But we've seen this movie before and it won't end happily for Democrats. Their morale rose when the stimulus passed in February 2009. The press hailed it as a popular answer to joblessness and a sluggish economy. At the time, Democrats thought it brightened their chances in the 2009 gubernatorial elections. But a flawed bill, bumbling implementation, and unfulfilled expectations turned the stimulus into a big drag on Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey. A CBS News/New York Times poll recently reported that only 6% of Americans believe the stimulus package created jobs. Democratic hopes that passing health-care reform will help them politically will be unfulfilled because ObamaCare only benefits a small number of people in the short run. Until the massive subsidies to insurance companies fully ramp up in 2017, this bill will be more pain than gain for most Americans."
March 25, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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