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Posted at 8:26 AM ET, 12/14/2010

The Morning Plum

By Greg Sargent

* House Dems to mount last stand on the Obama tax cut deal: House Dems are preparing their final push against the tax cut compromise, which could ratchet up tensions yet again between Dems and the White House. With the House set to vote on the measure as early as tomorrow, House leaders are mulling whether to amend the estate tax provision, dropping the exemption threshold down to $3.5 million and upping the tax rate to 45 percent.

But it's unclear whether such an amendment would even pass -- House GOPers and moderate Dems would likely oppose it -- and the move might merely be about giving angry Democrats a way to vent their displeasure before the deal is passed by the House.

* A step forward for DADT repeal? There's a considerable amount of mystery surrounding this, but it appears that Steny Hoyer is set to introduce a stand-alone bill repealing don't ask don't tell in the House this week. House leaders aren't confirming this yet, but the gist of the idea is that if the House passes its own bill first, it becomes easier for Dems to fast-track it in the Senate. More when I learn it.

* Key swing vote softening on DADT repeal? Senator Dick Lugar, who has long been targeted by gay rights groups, is now "sympathetic" to the push for passing a stand-alone repeal bill, and he's willing to stay in the Senate past Christmas to ensure it gets done.

* The courts won't strike down Obamacare: Even some conservatives agree that the health reform law does not appear to be seriously jeopardized by yesterday's court ruling.

And: If it comes down to it, the individual mandate can be replaced and its absence replicated by other policy fixes.

* Obama administration hits back at courts: Eric Holder and Kathleen Sebelius argue that the constitutionality of the individual mandate will be upheld because no one can remain a bystander to the health system forever, meaning the argument about Congress not regulating "inactivity" is bunk.

* But how will Supreme Court rule? With the law likely to come before the nation's highest court, here's a useful primer on the central arguments and counter-arguments the court is likely to hear.

Key takeaway: The constitutionality of the law turns on the idea that even if you don't buy insurance, "you are making an economic decision that has an aggregate impact on commerce that Congress has the power to regulate."

* Individual mandate is a "tax": Jack Balkin argues that the individual mandate is constitutional, because it's a "tax imposed on people who do not purchase health care."

ICYMI: Along these lines, another legal expert explains to me why Judge Henry Hudson's reasoning was "very defective" and "will be overturned."

* But conservatives are positively delerious about ruling: Dahlia Lithwick on why conservatives view the ruling as a "symbolic triumph that heralds the beginning of the end of decades of government overreach."

* Michael Steele's final meltdown? With the RNC chair stunning the political world by announcing a reelection bid, Chris Cillizza notes that notes that he only enjoys the support of half the RNC members he needs, raising the distinct possibilty that he could lose.

* Harry Reid to call GOP's bluff on New START? Even though Jon Kyl has yet to give his blessing, the Senate Majority Leader may hold a vote to ratify the treaty as early as Thursday, challenging Republicans to defy the military and vote against it.

* No Labels won't label its fundraising sources: Justin Elliot can't get No Labels, the new centrist, anti-partisanship group, to disclose where its money is coming from.

* The problem isn't "labels": Matthew Yglesias on the folly of decrying partisanship for the sake of decrying partisanship.

* Richard Holbrooke's last words: The Post's beautifully done obituary ends with this:

As Mr. Holbrooke was sedated for surgery, family members said, his final words were to his Pakistani surgeon: "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan."

* And: Glenn Greenwald predicts that official Washington will honor everything about Holbrooke except for his final death-bed insight.

What else is happening?

By Greg Sargent  | December 14, 2010; 8:26 AM ET
Categories:  Health reform, House Dems, House GOPers, Morning Plum, Senate Dems, Senate Republicans, gay rights, taxes  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Happy Hour Roundup
Next: Breaking: House Dems will introduce stand alone DADT repeal bill


Oh, a tax imposed on people who don't purchase healthcare. Why, that's almost as heinous as using taxes from people who don't drive to pay for highways, or muncipal taxes for fire departments for people whose houses don't burn down.

Short summary: conservatives are morons.

Posted by: caothien9 | December 14, 2010 8:34 AM | Report abuse

This is an informative piece from the Hill re the pharmaceutical industry and how they buy off generic manufacturers to keep generics from coming to the market place sooner. It's an advantageous deal for both the generic companies and the patent holders, but keeps the cost of drugs higher for a longer period time. Just one of the gimmicks which adds to the cost of health care for the people who actually use health care.


"At the heart of the so-called “pay-for-delay” deals are brand-name drugmakers’ interest in holding onto lucrative patents for as long as possible. A generic competitor may sue to gain market entry prior to the expiration of a brand-name drug patent, and, if successful, other generics would be allowed to manufacture competing products.

But over the past few years, brand-name drug makers have reached settlements with generics to drop patent challenges in exchange for a portion of the profits. The companies generally keep the deals quiet, but they are required to notify the FTC and Department of Justice within 10 days.

Opponents of these deals say they stifle competition and drive up drug prices by delaying market entry for generics, which can cost as much as 90 percent below brand-name prices."

Posted by: lmsinca | December 14, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

Naomi Wolf on the move to invoke the Espionage Act, which would allow Americans to be imprisoned for so much as *discussing* WikiLeaks.

Posted by: caothien9 | December 14, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse


Thanks for shedding light on something that costs us a lot of money and nobody seems to care about.

The pharm companies are so good at buying off competition to wratchet up their profit. As long as the insurance system stays as it is, there is little incentive for change.

Posted by: ashotinthedark | December 14, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Also, I'm certain the tax compromise will pass but here's a nice review of what I call "the good, the bad and the ugly". We all need to remember where we are today on the verge of passing this thing and how difficult it will be in two years to unwind some or most of it. Obama and team have decided the short-term benefits outweigh the long term consequences. Here's hoping he's got his game on over the next two years.


"With so much in the package for Obama, this leads to the question of why the deal has garnered so much support among a Republican caucus that's made no secret of its desire to sabotage his presidency.

The answer is that they’re playing the long-game, and are confident that two years from now, during the heat of a presidential election, they will once again be able to extend “temporary” tax cuts without effective opposition from Democrats, and that those lower rates will cut deeply into the federal government’s revenues, forcing painful cuts and ultimately advancing their overriding wish to shrink government down so it can be drowned in a bathtub."

Posted by: lmsinca | December 14, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse


Pet peeve of mine: anti-partisan does not equal centrist!

For example, I am interested in election reform and compromise legislation but my policy ideas are still Left. I guess No Labels can be called "centrist", but I just wanted to put that out there.

RIP Holbrooke, a true American hero.

Great round-up Greg.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | December 14, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Jon Stewart on conservatives voting down the 9/11 healthcare act (to support 9/11 first responders re health)...

*"since when does the Republican Party make 9/11 first responders stand over in the corner with the gays and Mexicans?"*

Posted by: bernielatham | December 14, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

The Atlantic does a wonderful piece on Aaron Bady, the previously unknown blogger of zunguzungu who's fascinating piece on Assange has gained serious attention (for very good reasons)...

Posted by: bernielatham | December 14, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

"whose" (my brain went wrong)

Posted by: bernielatham | December 14, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Good one from Stewart -- thx Bernie

And Ethan -- I totally agree re "centrist" and "non partisan"

Posted by: sargegreg | December 14, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

It's time to put these pathetic, lame ducks out of their misery, and ours.

Just shoot them!


Posted by: battleground51 | December 14, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Richard Lugar is the most shameless RINO in the Senate.

The older he gets, the liberaler he becomes.

I hope he retires soon.

Very soon!

Posted by: battleground51 | December 14, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Okay, since my predictions have been running 100% correct over the last three years I'll tell you what will happen Greg.

1: DADT will be dealt with by the courts.

2: SCotUS will strike down the part of the bill levying a tax ONLY on those refusing to buy a private product and defining an American citizen as a package in in the interstate commerce system. (side note for Libs, remember when The Obumbler INSISTED that the mandate WASN'T a tax? I think it was Jake who nailed him to the wall.)

3: Steele is toast. (80% sure on this one.)

4: Neither congress nor Obumbler will heed the VERY wise final wish of Mr. Holbrooke.

Posted by: illogicbuster | December 14, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse


You're like, what, eight years old?

Posted by: caothien9 | December 14, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I guess the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is too boring. I mean, close to 50% of our population having at a minimum the pre-stages of diabetes in a few years unless we change course isn't saucy enough for print.

And for those that are gonna go all firebagger on me saying this cut into food stamps, food stamps were doubled these last couple years.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | December 14, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Why don't you want to shoot Richard Lugar too, battleground?

It drives me nuts to read an article about a stand alone DADT repeal bill because I just want to scream why wasn't this already done?

Imsinca- I've seen a lot of people float around the idea that Republicans are fine with renewing this argument in 2012, but that strategy just baffles me. The polls show most people want those to expire. If the Democratic Party wasn't so inept I would think the whole issue could be a big win. But somehow voters will probably buy into some Republican theme about Dems wanting class warfare and not being able to control spending.

Posted by: ashotinthedark | December 14, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

One thinks of Bill Kristol or Dick Cheney or John Bolton or Ann Coulter and all these other individuals who make live worse for so many and then I bump into people like these guys...

Posted by: bernielatham | December 14, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: caothien9 "Obumbler" You're like, what, eight years old?"
Naw, it is the beta spell check s/w I'm using. It is a new AI system out of Caltech.
It not only checks for spelling errors, it also automatically chooses the best words, based on context, to ensure accurate, concise communications. Seems to be an excellent product.

Posted by: illogicbuster | December 14, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

"Neither congress nor Obumbler will heed the VERY wise final wish of Mr. Holbrooke."

So you interpreted Mr. Holbrooke's last words as him wanting Obama to withdraw from Afghanistan?

Posted by: ashotinthedark | December 14, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

But we can't have a public information campaign informing people about healthy eating, because that might discourage consumption of junk food.

And we can't do *anything* to discourage consumption in any form. That would be /distorting the marketplace/, and that's /immoral/.

Here in Việt Nam, which already has about the healthiest cuisine in the world, such campaigns are everywhere. The public health is more important than consumption. Shade your eyes, farthingback.

Gotta love that /free market/

Posted by: caothien9 | December 14, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

This is, if kids are going to public schools they should be fed healthy food, period.

I watched that Jamie Oliver program on ABC where he went into one of the most unhealthy counties in the U.S. and the biggest problem was schools didn't have the money to feed kids anything other than high carb and fat diets. Feeding kids fresh food costs money.

This should help eliminate some of that hopefully and get us back on the right track. This country is going to hell in a hand basket because of bunch of jerks think its funny to feed their kids and themselves crap. It's their God given right to eat crap all day because they live in America, where freedom to eat yourself to death still exists.

Well, that crap ends partially with the kids here hopefully.

I think where this county is failing is our children, the rest will figure its self out I believe.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | December 14, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

ashotinthedark asked: "So you interpreted Mr. Holbrooke's last words as him wanting Obama to withdraw from Afghanistan?"
"You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan,"

Invest in a good dictionary.

Posted by: illogicbuster | December 14, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

This is why I continue to read FDL even when I disagree with some of their tactics and conclusions. Moody's flip flop.


"Can someone tell me why the same guy, at the same ratings agency, does a 180 in less than one week, when the deal hasn’t changed an iota?"

Posted by: lmsinca | December 14, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

~Amateur Hour: VA Judge Makes Elementary Error In Health Care Ruling~

Legal experts are attacking Judge Henry Hudson's decision on the merits, citing an elementary logical flaw at the heart of his opinion. And that has conservative scholars -- even ones sympathetic to the idea that the mandate is unconstitutional -- prepared to see Hudson's decision thrown out.

"I've had a chance to read Judge Hudson's opinion, and it seems to me it has a fairly obvious and quite significant error," writes Orin Kerr, a professor of law at George Washington University


Hudson's argument wipes a major key part of the Constitution out of existence. Kerr says Hudson "rendered [it] a nullity."

Pathetic. Can we get some smart people in the Republican Party please? It would make governing America SO much easier.

Posted by: Ethan2010 | December 14, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

I'm curious Greg, has someone @ WaPo looked through the numbers yet to see if after this deal, Obama will have overseen the largest amount of tax breaks ever for a first term President.

Just playing with numbers in my head I'd say yes. With this recent cut and then the cuts in the Stimulus, I'd say the cuts are pretty substantial.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | December 14, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Had you seen this, Greg? Also fyi - 'delirious' has two iis!

'Federal judge Henry E. Hudson's ownership of a stake worth between $15,000 and $50,000 in a GOP political consulting firm that worked against health care reform -- the very law against which he ruled today -- raises some ethics questions for some of the nation's top judicial ethics experts. It isn't that Hudson's decision would have necessarily been influenced by his ownership in the company, given his established track record as a judicial conservative. But his ownership stake does create, at the very least, a perception problem for Hudson that could affect the case.

"Is Judge Hudson's status as a shareholder coincidence or causation? Probably the former, but the optics aren't good," James J. Sample, an associate professor at Hofstra Law School, told TPM. "Federal judges are required by statute to disqualify themselves from hearing a case whenever their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. It's a hyper-protective rule and for good reason. At the very least, his continued financial interest in Campaign Solutions undermines the perceived legitimacy of his decision."

Posted by: fiona5 | December 14, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Greg -- is it possible to eliminate from this board people who use such terms as 'Obumbler,' since they dumb down the conversation?

The republicans have dumbed down public discourse to a pre-literate level already; it would be nice to have someplace to go where adult-level conversation can be found.

Posted by: fiona5 | December 14, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

"You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan,"

Invest in a good dictionary.


Which he said to a Pakistani physician, but I'm sure that's how he usually communicates his policy positions to the President.

Posted by: ashotinthedark | December 14, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

All, this is big: House Dems will introduce their own stand alone bill to repeal DADT:

Posted by: Greg Sargent | December 14, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

fiona5, just use this.

You can put in any names you want once you figure it out. It's fairly simple.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | December 14, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

"All, this is big:"

Not really. The Senate won't get to it during this session. In other words, DOA) Just posturing by Nancy as the Indians are overrunning her position...

Posted by: illogicbuster | December 14, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

"Opponents of these deals say they stifle competition and drive up drug prices by delaying market entry for generics, which can cost as much as 90 percent below brand-name prices."

What these people are complaining about really isn't "deals" or settlements but patent protection itself. Say you are the branded drug maker who invested a billion to develop a drug. Within several years on the market, you are sued by a generic maker trying to bust your patent. Generics very often lose these cases if they are litigated out, but they are worth taking a chance on because the payoff can be huge.

How exactly would you settle one of these cases as a branded drug maker without incurring the wrath of these critics? Do you want it to be the rule that they can't be settled? They all have to be fought out? How do you know the generic wasn't going to lose the case anyway, so that the pioneer would be on the market by itself for the entire patent period? (Hint: they lose more often than not.) If the generic was going to lose the patent fight anyway, how does a settlement hurt the public?

I.e., this is another example of ginned up populist fervor that is half- and misinformed. DOJ already polices settlements of drug patent cases. If you don't want patent protection, you won't get any new drug development. Maybe that's what the critics want.

Posted by: quarterback1 | December 14, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse


All I'm saying is it's one of the reasons health care costs are so high. Not being a lawyer I admit to not understanding all the legal ramifications either way, but clearly the pharmaceuticals as well as the insurance industry have all the advantages. Do you ever contemplate a health care system that includes more cost saving measures that don't just drop people off the rolls or compel them to choose between medicine and food?

Posted by: lmsinca | December 14, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse


Did you read the Ezra Klein article you cited for the premise that the mandate can easily be fixed? Klein cites exactly one approach which doesn't in any way address the cost to the rest of us for providing health care to uninsured citizens--the principle reason the mandate was theoretically adopted, by Democrats at least, in the first place.

This isn't going to be easy to fix. Still, the Supreme Court is more likely to dance to the tune of the insurance industry than conservative idealogues.

Posted by: JanB1 | December 14, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

"Obama will have overseen the largest amount of tax breaks ever for a first term President."

So the Democrats under Obama are out-Republicaning the Republicans. Just like with Clinton. How this is a good thing for the Democratic Party eludes me. I don't even know why we have two parties any more. Never mind what's best for the country. Bad business. Very bad.

Ans example?

"House GOPers and moderate Dems would likely oppose [any increase in the estate tax on the superrich]."

Those people are not Democrats. They are Republicans. Face it. The Republicans have CONQUERED the Democratic Party. It's all over. We have met the enemy and he is us.

Posted by: wbgonne | December 14, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse


We've been over the "why costs are to high" issue many times, so I won't rehearse it other than to say, in part I dispute the premise and in part we have diametrically opposite views of cause and effect.

I don't know what it means to say insurers and drug companies "have all the advantages." Really, I don't. The advantages of being regulated by FDA, being subject to a legal system that makes tens or hundreds of millions in costs of defending weak and even frivolous claims routine, and needing to spend $500 million to several billion to develop a drug that will then immediately have its patent attacked by generics and Public Citizen?

The simplest answer to the question of why there are drugs that cost "so much" is that people are willing to pay for them -- or more typically have someone else pay for them. I guess it is in the eye of the beholder, then, whether they are "too expensive." An alternative is to choose not to pay for expensive drugs. Then they won't be developed, and we never have to worry about their cost. I.e., if you wonder why a drug or biologic can cost tens of thousands a year, go look into what it takes to invent one and manufacture it to specifications.

It is living in a fantasy world to argue that they should all be cheaply available. And there is in infinite number of others that can be developed. It just depends how much you want to pay for them. There is no free lunch.

Posted by: quarterback1 | December 14, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

It's not the cost of developing and manufacturing medications that makes healthcare so expensive, that's a load of bull. It's the profits on them and on every aspect of medical care.

The reason America pays so much for healthcare is because America makes healthcare a for-profit operation, which is simply obscene, and very very expensive.

And, given the 50 million without it, inadequate.

But hey, the shareholders and executives come first, right?

Posted by: caothien9 | December 14, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, crazy people just spend a billion when a million would be plenty. That must be it.

I guess it's a lot cheaper to develop innovative drugs in the People's Republic. Oh, wait. That's right. They don't develop any innovative drugs or medical technologies there. Wonder why that is.

What a waste of air this moron is.

Posted by: quarterback1 | December 14, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

"I oppose borrowing nearly $1 trillion over the next two years when we will pay $438 billion in interest on the national debt this year alone", REP. PETE VISCLOSKY claims.

The estate tax, first enacted in 1916, was never intended to be simply a device for raising revenue. Rather, it was meant to address the phenomenon of a small number of Americans controlling large amounts of the country’s wealth — which was considered a national problem.

I think we all know that the advanced countries are marked by the strong base of middle class, which ensures persistent economic vitality.
But Americans seem little inclined to resist wealth concentration. Efforts to impose taxes geared to the wealthy are lambasted as promoting class warfare.

Reacting to Republican opposition United for a Fair Economy, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization, issued the following statement:

"In the last decade, we've seen a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich, and tax policy has been a big driver of that," said Mike Lapham, director of UFE's Responsible Wealth project. "Extending the Bush tax cuts would give the average millionaire over $100,000 per year. Extending those tax cuts will do nothing to create jobs. Business owners make decisions about hiring based on demand, not based on their tax rate. By contrast, when middle class people get tax cuts, they spend it and that creates jobs. Republicans are blocking tax cuts for the real job creators – 98% of Americans, the vast middle class – in order to extend extra tax giveaways to the rich."

And added, "Republicans claim they are for fiscal responsibility, but they would like to repeal the estate tax, at a cost of $700 billion over 10 years. Republicans aren't concerned about growing wealth inequality, even though it hurts our country's economic growth and health, and is now the worst it's been since 1928. They opposed Sen. Baucus' bill, which sets the estate tax exemption at $7 million for a married couple, with a 45% rate on amounts above that. A stronger estate tax, with higher rates on billionaires, would do more to curb that wealth inequality and bring more broadly shared prosperity to all."

Posted by: hsr06011 | December 17, 2010 3:52 AM | Report abuse

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