8 a.m. ET: The year -- and this session of Congress -- may be nearly over, but it's never too late for yet another sweeping revision of the health-care reform proposals that have been under consideration for months.
Major changes are afoot in the Senate: "A potential deal took shape Monday that could eliminate the public option from the Senate health reform bill, as Democrats weighed big expansions of both Medicare and Medicaid in a bid to break an impasse over the government insurance plan," Politico writes. As part of the compromise, the New York Times reports, "the federal Office of Personnel Management would negotiate with insurance companies to offer national health plans to individuals, families and small businesses." In return for that concession, liberals would get their wish of having the age for Medicare eligibility reduced to 55, with the newly eligible allowed to buy in to the government health program. This twist includes a cameo by none other than Howard Dean, who "injected the buy-in concept back into the negotiations two weeks ago," Politico notes.
Does the White House -- which is said to prefer the "trigger" compromise -- have an opinion on this development? Reaction to the plan off the Hill was mixed, the Wall Street Journal reports: "The scaled-back government plan got a warm reception from some in the insurance industry, which has opposed the version of the public option in the Senate bill. But some health-policy specialists were skeptical the plan would do much to lower insurance prices or generate competition, noting the exchange would already include nonprofit plans operated by private entities." Abortion also continues to be a sticking point, as the Senate will vote as early as Tuesday on Ben Nelson's amendment placing restrictions on federal funding for abortions. If, as expected, the amendment fails, it will be that much harder to get Nelson's vote in the future.
Roll Call points out that one moderate has not been among the 10 centrists at the negotiating table -- Joe Lieberman. Refusing to even join the talks is unusual for Lieberman, an odd break from his career-long propensity to cut deals, particularly on domestic policy. The Washington Post writes that Lieberman "has once again inserted himself into the middle of an inflamed partisan debate, raising questions about his motives, his ego and his fickle allegiance to the Democratic Party, which forgave him after he supported" John McCain in 2008.
Harry Reid has also been courting controversy, taking to the Senate floor Monday to compare the enemies of health reform to those in the chamber's history who supported slavery and opposed women's suffrage. "That analogy is raising eyebrows and hackles on Capitol Hill and beyond," the Boston Globe writes. Tom Bevan has an uncharitable theory on Reid's comments -- that the Majority Leader's political future is so dire that he's decided "it's better to burn out than to fade away."
Jonathan Cohn looks at the complicated question of the cost of insurance, writing that critics of reform "were taking advantage of widespread confusion over the definition of cost -- a confusion that has been hanging over this debate for the last few months and is continuing to distort it." Ezra Klein examines costs from a different angle, writing that "health-care coverage is not a benefit. It's a wage deduction. When premium costs go up, wages go down. When premium costs go down, wages go up. Yet workers don't know that. In fact, the information is hidden from them. That means that cost control seems like all pain and no gain, which makes it virtually impossible for Congress to pass. It's like asking someone to diet when they don't realize it will help them lose weight."
President Obama is scheduled to make his major jobs speech Tuesday morning, though a series of leaks and previews have already made public at least some of what he plans to say. The administration has already made clear it wants to use unspent money from the TARP program for a jobs bill, but the Wall Street Journal reports this twist: "White House officials have concluded that their ability to use Wall Street bailout funds for a new job-creation initiative will be strictly limited by budget rules and the terms of the original bailout legislation, administration and congressional officials said Monday." The Hill notes that "time is running out" for Congress to move jobs legislation this year, and that Nancy Pelosi will presumably have to bypass the committee process to get a measure to the floor quickly.
The New York Times says Obama will "outline a series of steps to help small businesses grow and hire new staff. The president also will call for increasing the investment in infrastructure through building and modernizing highways, railways, bridges and tunnels." Though Obama reportedly won't givee too many specifics, the Washington Post runs down some of other proposals under consideration: "The president's Economic Recovery Advisory Board has recommended a weatherization program, dubbed 'cash for caulkers,' that would provide financial incentives for people to make their homes more energy-efficient. Other initiatives under consideration include extending jobless benefits and health-care aid for people out of work, providing a new round of federal aid to states to prevent them from laying off public employees, freeing credit for small businesses, and establishing an infrastructure bank that would allow the federal government to float bonds for large public works projects." Grist suggests that Obama should steer his jobs proposals toward environmentally-friendly projects, since "there are plenty of investments in reducing emissions that would create jobs."
Robert Gates arrived in Kabul Tuesday morning, on the ground to deliver a message of resolve and determination to U.S. troops. "En route to Kabul, Mr. Gates told reporters on his plane that he had already signed orders for the deployment of 17,000 of the additional forces and that most would be in place in southern Afghanistan by the spring," the New York Times reports. Gates also joked that he had told Stanley McChrystal that he'd rather be going to war-torn Afghanistan than where McChrystal was headed -- Capitol Hill. Bloomberg observes that Hamid Karzai, under pressure to combat corruption, delayed the naming of his new Cabinet until after Gates' visit. Time takes a tough look at Obama's strategy, examining five "very questionable assumptions" behind it
Just as the focus has shifted to Afghanistan, there is difficult news from Iraq: At least 97 people were killed and hundreds more wounded in a series of bombings in Baghdad. The Associated Press calls the incidents "another embarrassment to Iraqi forces in their expanding role as front-line security as U.S. forces plan their withdrawal," and adds: "Overall violence has dropped sharply around Iraq in the past year, though insurgents have stepped up attacks at government sites in recent months." If such attacks continue, might Republicans accuse Obama of taking his eye off the ball in Iraq, just as Democrats and Obama himself accused President Bush of doing in Afghanistan?
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