Wonkbook: House GOP votes to repeal, but not to replace
The worst portent for health-care reform last night wasn't the repeal vote itself, but what didn't come with it: Any replacement bill that Republicans were committed to passing. The second half of the Republican strategy on health-care reform -- you remember "repeal and replace" right? -- was, in the GOP House's first major initiative, simply dropped. It shouldn't have been. At the moment, neither the Senate nor the White House has any interest in undoing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and so it'll stay on the books. But going forward, as Republicans continue to try to attack the bill, they need a viable alternative solution for the health-care system that they're trying to push the Democrats to adopt and the country to support. They need something beyond "not this."
After all, even Republicans agree that the status quo is untenable. It leaves too many people uninsured and has no hope of controlling costs. That's why they campaigned on "repeal and replace" rather than just repeal. But "replace" was not what present in anything but Republican rhetoric last night. The closest they came to offering an alternative was asking four committees to come back with some undefined ideas at some unnamed date in the future. And that's a problem. It's perhaps possible to imagine solving our health-care problems if both parties are committed to different versions of reform. The two visions can fight it out, and that process of combat will hopefully improve, rather than dilute, the final product (like this, for instance). But it is very, very difficult to imagine solving our country's health-care problems if one party is committed to reform and the other party's primary interest is in undoing that reform. The real enemy here is the status quo. That, at least, should be a bipartisan sentiment.
The House voted yesterday to repeal health care reform, report Amy Goldstein and N.C. Aizenman: "In the first major act of the new Congress, the Republican-led House voted Wednesday to repeal the Democrats' health-care overhaul, fulfilling a pledge that GOP candidates made during the fall midterm campaigns. Three Democrats sided with a unified GOP in the 245 to 189 vote...Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has said he will not allow a similar vote. Republicans vowed to keep pushing to overturn the law. But with no immediate likelihood of that happening, they said they would try to change it by eliminating certain parts of the law, such as a requirement that nearly all Americans obtain health insurance - and working to replace others."
My take: "Boehner's GOP, in deciding against offering the promised replacement for the Affordable Care Act, ducked the hard work and highest responsibilities of governance. Maybe, in the coming months, they'll do better than that. Maybe their committees will report out serious alternatives and they'll be brought to the floor of the House. But this isn't the first time health-care policy has come up in Washington. If the GOP had wanted to offer a plan of their own, there are plenty they could've taken off the shelf. If they'd needed more time, well, there was no hurry. But they didn't take more time, or dust off an existing piece of legislation. Backwards was good enough."
Business leaders used China's state visit to push them to accept more exports, reports Jia Lynn Yang: "Top U.S. business leaders met with President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House on Wednesday to press for increasing U.S. exports to China, a move that could create more American jobs. The show of corporate might - which included Steve Ballmer of Microsoft, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and Jeff Immelt of General Electric - reflected the intense focus during Hu's state visit on the economic relationship between China and the United States. Just before the summit, the White House announced a slew of deals between the United States and China that officials said will increase U.S. exports by $45 billion."
Obama is searching for ideas on fighting unemployment, reports Peter Baker: "Three days before Christmas, President Obama gathered his economic team in the West Wing’s Roosevelt Room to review themes for his State of the Union address. The edge-of-the-cliff crisis he inherited had passed, but with more than 14 million Americans still out of work, he was looking for bold ways to bring down unemployment. The ideas presented to him, though, seemed familiar and uninspired. “You know, guys,” he said, according to someone in the room, 'I’ve told you before, I want you to come to me with ideas that excite me.” Nothing he was hearing excited him. Obama’s frustration could set the tone for the remainder of his term.'
AFL-CIO president Richard Tumka gave his state of working America address: "We have failed to invest in the good-wage growth path that is essential to our survival. We are a big country, not a niche player. We live in a world in which there are two kinds of successful big countries: big, poor countries with low wages that organize themselves for low-cost exports, like China and India, and big developed countries with high-skilled workforces that invest in their infrastructure and in their people, that protect their people's rights on the job and have strong social protections, like Germany and Japan...But too many of our politicians are doing the opposite of what works: destroying our public institutions, crushing working people's rights and living standards, and failing to invest in education. We know this model, and we know where it leads—catastrophe."
Soul cover interlude: J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound cover Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart".
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Still to come: Congress gave Chinese leader Hu Jintao an icy greeting; House Republicans are attacking Democratic promises to block health-care reform repeal in the Senate; Karol Rove says the GOP has just begun to fight; Social Security's disability payments program is in fiscal trouble; the White House may cut a deal with major utilities on climate change; and tiny robotic helicopters that can build things.
Chinese president Hu Jintao receive a cool reaction from the Hill, reports Paul Kane: "The sharpest criticism came from Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who called Hu a 'dictator' in an interview with a Las Vegas news station. On Capitol Hill, a top House Republican compared Hu to ancient Chinese emperors. Even before Hu set foot on U.S. soil, several senators reintroduced legislation to push international sanctions against China for alleged currency manipulation. Taken together, these moves suggest a growing and bipartisan view in Congress that China's policies are harmful to the U.S. economy and other interests - or at least that saying so makes for good politics back home, particularly during the current era of high unemployment and mounting federal debt."
The Treasury and Fed say the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can continue work without a permanent director: http://on.wsj.com/h0fESt
Goldman Sachs' earnings fell by 52 percent in the fourth quarter, reports David Hilzenrath: "For Wall Street powerhouse Goldman Sachs, a year that included a $550 million settlement with federal regulators over fraud charges and a public shaming before a Senate committee ended on a financially humbling note. The firm reported Wednesday that its fourth-quarter earnings declined by 52 percent to $2.4 billion, from $4.9 billion in the comparable period a year earlier. Investors punished Goldman's stock, which fell 4.7 percent...In recent days, J.P. Morgan Chase reported a 47 percent increase, and Citigroup, formerly a major money loser that required a dramatic federal rescue, reported it had swung sharply to a profit."
Paul Volcker is pleased with the implementation so far of the rule bearing his name, reports Aaron Lucchetti: "Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker said he supports a study released this week from U.S. regulators implementing the so-called Volcker rule, which seeks to prevent banks from putting their own capital at risk. The study, which discussed how the Volcker rule will be implemented by regulators, gave general direction to regulators, but left specific approaches for defining proprietary trades for later rule proposals. 'My sense is that the Report of the Financial Stability Oversight Council lays out an appropriate approach toward implementing the ban on proprietary trading by banking institutions and limiting their investment in hedge and equity funds,' said Mr. Volcker in a written statement."
Foreclosed upon homeowners should be able to rent their old homes, writes David Kapell: "Here’s how it would work. The borrower would lose ownership of his home, but be allowed to remain as a tenant paying fair rent for a reasonable period after foreclosure, with the requirement that he cooperate in the foreclosure. He’d pay fair market rents as published by the federal government, ensuring a clear, national standard. If the borrower couldn’t afford to pay market rent, existing federal rent-subsidy programs could be extended to help tide him over. At the same time, with borrowers now working with lenders, it would be much easier to gather all the documents necessary to process the foreclosure, unclogging the sort of paperwork roadblocks that have recently encumbered the mortgage industry."
Tim Geithner won't let the US default even if the debt ceiling is not raised, writes Donald Marron: http://bit.ly/g2PERR
The tax deal could pave the way for a individual worker credit, writes Elaine Maag: "One of the few new provisions in that law-the temporary payroll tax holiday-is, in fact, an individual worker credit. And it has, potentially at least, some important long-term consequences. It would provide an individual subsidy to each worker in a couple, as opposed to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) - a prominent support for low-income families - which provides a single subsidy based on joint earnings of married couples. A worker credit could provide substantial assistance to childless individuals who often do not qualify for the EITC, encourage work by secondary earners, and improve equity across all workers."
Amusement park ride that might kill you interlude: A combination merry-go-round and Ferris wheel.
The uninsured are curiously absent from much of the Republican Party's health-care rhetoric, writes Ezra Klein: "If all you knew about the Affordable Care Act was what you gleaned from watching the Republicans make their case against it, you probably would not know that the legislation means health-care coverage for more than 30 million Americans. Or, if you did know that, you'd be forgiven for not realizing it's relevant: It almost never gets mentioned (see this congressman's rundown of the bill's contents, for instance), and the repeal legislation the Republicans are pushing does nothing to replace the coverage the Affordable Care Act would give to those people."
House Republicans want an up-or-down vote in the Senate, reports Brian Beutler: "Senate Democrats who want to reform the filibuster may have found an unlikely ally: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). 'I've got a problem with the assumption here that somehow the Senate can be a place for legislation to go into a cul-de-sac or dead end,' Cantor told reporters this morning...Under Democratic control last Congress, the GOP used the Senate as a bulwark against the Democratic agenda. Its supermajority customs allowed Republicans to delay, weaken, or nix most of President Obama's significant priorities. Now that Republicans control the House, priorities have shifted."
Arizona is set to cut 280,000 people from Medicaid: http://wapo.st/h429EQ
The GOP health care offensive is just beginning, writes Karl Rove: "Democrats have traditionally been more trusted than Republicans to deal with health care. They enjoyed a 34-point margin in 1991 and a 25-point margin as recently as 2005. But the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that Republicans are now tied with Mr. Obama on the issue. It was not just the GOP's strong opposition to ObamaCare that closed the gap, though that was essential. It was also the Republicans' early efforts to sketch out a conservative vision of health-care reform. Democrats are squawking about this week's House vote because it signals the start of a Republican offensive on health care, not the end of one. In 2010, Democrats got their law. In the process, Republicans got their issue."
Obama should offer to cut a deal on health care if the GOP embraces universal coverage, writes Matt Miller: http://wapo.st/g8wvnB
Social Security's disability payment program may need reform, reports John Maggs: "The federal government’s entitlement program for disabled workers is threatening to spin out of control, growing much faster than the Social Security retirement system as a whole and on a pace to overwhelm it, according to a study by the Brookings Institution...The disability program was created in 1956, when disability was considered incompatible with work, said Mark Duggan, a co-author of the Brookings study. More workers were disabled for short periods of time, and more disabled people didn’t live very long. But better health care and other societal changes have combined to boost the proportion of working-age people collecting disability income and greatly extend the time that people are disabled."
TV networks are resisting an FCC proposal meant to expand wireless data services: http://wapo.st/hik9Iu
Even large income tax hikes won't put some states into surplus, reports Michael Powell: "In New York, an increase of two percentage points in the state income tax could raise about $9 billion and perhaps tip the state into surplus. In California, a similar action could raise more than $13 billion, which would cover just a portion of that state’s yawning $25 billion deficit. In New Jersey, a jump of two percentage points in each of its income brackets could raise nearly $5 billion, which would probably leave the state with a $4 billion to $7 billion deficit. Under these assumptions, a household with the median income would pay at least $1,000 more a year in each of these states; a family making $200,000 would pay $4,000 more."
Common Cause thinks some Supreme Court justices have conflicts of interest on campaign finance issues: http://nyti.ms/emWhE6
Releasing New York City teacher report cards is good for the public, writes Kyle Spencer: "The city defends the report cards because they are more accurate along the edges than in the middle. Over just a few years, the value-added model can quite reliably document the city's very best and very worst teachers, even though a more average teacher--say, one who should fall in the 63rd percentile based on three years of performance--might actually show up anywhere between the 46th and the 80th percentile (as this study points out)... Meanwhile, one year with a very bad teacher can result in student test scores that are 10 percent below those of similar students with a high-performing teacher, according to a study Harvard's Thomas Kane conducted with researchers Douglas Staiger and Robert Gordon."
Rise of Skynet interlude: Robotic helicopters that can assist in building projects.
The White House may try to cut a climate deal with utilities companies, reports Darren Samuelsohn: "President Barack Obama scored a landmark environmental victory in May 2009 when his team wrestled the auto industry into agreement on a plan to ratchet down its greenhouse gas emissions. Now, top electric utility officials, think tank leaders, states and key Democratic lawmakers are talking about how to replicate the car companies’ deal for the nation’s power plants...The Clean Air Act -- the primary law governing power plants’ emissions -- doesn’t afford Obama as much flexibility for wheeling and dealing with electric utilities, which contribute a third of the nation’s greenhouse gases and spew emissions that cause premature deaths, asthma and neurological problems."
A federal report urges regulators to let Wall Street participate in carbon trading: http://bit.ly/fbVPLb
The House Energy and Commerce committee is focused on blocking EPA climate rules, report Andrew Restuccia and Ben Geman: "House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) plans to take dead aim at the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate change regulations this year, according to a document obtained by The Hill laying out the panel’s 2011 agenda. 'We believe it critical that the Obama administration 'stop' imposing its new global warming regulatory regime, which will undermine economic growth and U.S. competitiveness for no significant benefit,' says the document...The committee will focus much of its attention this year on EPA’s regulatory 'chokehold,' as the document calls it. And the document underscores the extent to which Upton will argue that EPA's agenda collides with economic recovery."
EPA regulations won't perform as well as cap and trade would have, writes Joshua Green: "The cap-and-trade bill that passed the House aimed to reduce emissions 17 percent by 2020 from their 2005 levels. A World Resources Institute study found that the most aggressive implementation of EPA regulations would only reduce emissions by 12 percent in that time frame. Scientists say reductions of 36-48 percent would be necessary to halt global warming. 'Having EPA set carbon-pollution reductions was everyone's second choice for slowing global warming,' said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. 'It was like 'In Case of Congressional Gridlock Break Glass.''"
Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews, Mike Shepard, and Michelle Williams. Photo credit: Bill O'leary/the Washington Post Photo
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