8 a.m. ET: For all the change President Obama said he would bring to Washington, there is one law of politics that remains reliably constant -- seniors vote.
That's why so much of the rhetoric from both sides of the health-care debate has been aimed at the elderly. And that's why the official pronouncement that Social Security recipients won't receive a cost of living increase for the first time since 1975 set off paroxysms in the capital. Faced with the news, Obama is "encouraging Congress to provide a one-time payment of $250 to help seniors and disabled Americans weather the recession," the Washington Post writes. As has been demonstrated more than once in the last decade, a plan to simply mail voters a check is very difficult to oppose. So even though seniors got a COLA of nearly six percent last year, they already got an extra check not long ago from the stimulus package, and there was essentially no inflation this year, it's hard to imagine Republicans and budget hawks putting up much of a fight.
Perhaps because they feel confident the plan will pass, administration officials didn't make a suggestion Wednesday on how to pay its price tag of $13-14 billion. Some Democrats have proposed funding the checks with an extra payroll tax on the wealthy. "Republicans say they have a proposal to supplement the Social Security payment next year with unused stimulus funds," the Wall Street Journal reports. The context here is particularly important, because rumblings have begun in some corridors of the Capitol for a second stimulus package. "Although the White House characterized the $250 as an 'economic recovery payment,' officials insisted it was not the first step toward a second stimulus program," the Los Angeles Times writes, as the administration is perhaps too busy trying to argue the effectiveness of the first stimulus to assemble and promote a second one. Brad DeLong argues that Congress can and should pass another stimulus package, spending "$100 billion next month, and continuing with an additional $100 billion every month thereafter."
Also of interest to seniors: The Washington Post examines the Medicare Advantage program, which has been targeted by Democrats for $100 billion in cuts but "has an unlikely band of bipartisan defenders who have already battled to restore $10 billion of the proposed reductions." Those proposed cuts were central to a major attack by the insurance industry on Democrats' reform plans. Now Democrats are pushing back, partly by threatening to revoke insurers' antitrust exemption. The Senate held a hearing on the subject Wednesday, and "top Democrats in the House also floated the idea during a meeting among party leaders Tuesday evening," Politico reports. More importantly, the Wall Street Journal writes: "The insurance industry's once-unified stance in the health-care debate is showing signs of fissure as legislation to overhaul the system moves forward." Specifically, the CEO of Aetna has been working with the White House, while BlueCross BlueShield and other insurers remain staunchly opposed.
Both the House and Senate remain stuck on the question of whether to include a public insurance option in their reform bills. Olympia Snowe's suggestion of a public option trigger "is one of the leading compromise ideas" and is looked upon favorable by the White House, the New York Times writes, "but liberal Democrats were maneuvering against it Wednesday, arguing that Ms. Snowe ... was gaining undue influence over the talks." Labor unions are also stepping up their push for a public plan. Other Democrats are busy trying to win the full-throated support of the American Medical Association for reform. Harry Reid has begun moving a $200 billion measure in the Senate that would increase Medicare's payments to doctors, The Hill reports, a move that would prevent future scheduled payment cuts but also open Democrats to charges that they are flouting their own budget rules.
Obama travels to New Orleans Thursday afternoon, and will likely be met with frustration from some residents over the pace of rebuilding efforts. The Times-Picayune has a wish list of places where locals would like to take Obama during his visit. "Though most New Orleans-area residents were heartened by the news that Obama would be making his first presidential visit to the region Thursday, nine months into his first term, there also has been carping that his itinerary is on the light side," the paper writes. The New York Times writes on the same subject, amid complaints that Obama "is spending only a few hours" in New Orleans for a town-hall meeting before heading to a fundraiser in (gasp) San Francisco. He will not be stopping in Mississippi, which was also hit hard by Katrina.
The debate over Afghanistan continues at the White House. The Los Angeles Times writes that "officials at the Pentagon and National Security Council have begun developing 'middle path' strategies that would require fewer troops than their ground commander is seeking." The compromise plan would involve "closer cooperation with local tribal chiefs and regional warlords" and "would concentrate U.S. and allied troops in cities, pulling out of Afghanistan's widely dispersed rural areas." While Stanley McChrystal has recommended a 40,000-troop increase, "a number of White House officials favor sending fewer than 20,000 additional troops," the Times adds. Vice President Biden has argued against McChrystal's troop surge, and Arianna Huffington proposes the unlikeliest of steps, saying Biden should resign if his advice is not heeded. On the Hill, the top two appropriators are also split on McChrystal's strategy. While Washington ponders, McClatchy reports, the Taliban is beefing up, increasing their fighters in Afghanistan by 25 percent over last year.
October 15, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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