Thursday, March 11, 2010

Not Backing Down on HCR

Tim F.: 40 Senate Votes For The Public Option

HuffPo notes that Florida’s Nelson has signed on. What does your Senator think? Phone and ask.

If your Senators already support the public option, phone them anyway. Liberals rarely phone their Reps and Senators, but angry stupid teabaggers do it all day. They will really appreciate a friendly voice.

Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

Guide for first-timers here.

In order for health care reform to advance, a handful of steps have to be taken. And while most of the attention has centered around getting the necessary number of votes, there's also the matter of figuring out exactly what will be in the separate budget fix, which would be approved through reconciliation.

The AP reports this morning that the a final agreement is "nearly in hand."

A closed-door meeting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office Wednesday evening moved congressional leaders and administration officials close to agreement on such issues as additional subsidies to help lower-income families purchase health insurance and more aid for states under the Medicaid program for low-income Americans.

Democrats still need to see a final cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office -- and want to ensure it stays around $950 billion over 10 years -- but they made plans to begin to read the bill to rank-and-file Democrats at a caucus meeting Thursday.

Pelosi met with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and other top officials, and came away optimistic. "I'm very pleased about where we are," Pelosi said, adding that she and House leaders would iron out the remaining wrinkles "over the course of the reading" with her caucus later today.

"We've resolved a number of issues and seriously made a lot of good progress," Emanuel added. "The staff now has direction to go work on a couple other things to basically resolve some issues. But we've made tremendous progress."

House Dems will get their first real sense of how much progress in their caucus meeting. "We're going to get started," Pelosi said of her afternoon plans.

Also today, we're likely to hear from the Congressional Budget Office, giving lawmakers additional information about the cost and expected budget impact of the package.

And what about the Stupak Dozen? There have been no announced breakthroughs, but one of Rep. Bart Stupak's (D-Mich.) key allies -- Rep. Dale Kildee (D) of Michigan -- has been supportive of Stupak's efforts, but said last night that he's satisfied with the language of the Senate bill. "I think the Senate language keeps the purpose of the Hyde amendment," Kildee told reporters. "I'll probably vote for it."

There's no official list of members in Stupak's bloc, but Kildee was likely a member. Of course, Stupak can still kill health care reform with 11 votes instead of 12, but keep an eye on whether Kildee's pronouncement influences other member of the contingent.

Really good interview with Ezra Klein.

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Greg Sargent:

* Republicans escalate the air wars: The national GOP is planning to expand its health care offensive with a new batch of targeted TV ads warning House Dems who voted for the health plan last time — and are mulling doing so again — that their career is on “life support.”

The spot, paid for by the NRCC, is set to go up today in the district of Dem Rep Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who voted Yes last time and is now said to be undecided, a GOP official says. The script:

Is Gabrielle Gifford’s political career on life support? At first, Giffords said she would be bipartisan. Now, she’s voting 90 percent with Nancy Pelosi.

Giffords backed President Obama’s healthcare takeover. And now the President wants her vote again. Even though only 38 percent of Arizonans support the Obama plan.

Send a text. Help us tell Giffords to stop voting with Obama.

The NRCC will run the same spot — a version of which targeted Earl Pomeroy — in multiple other districts of Dems who voted Yes last time and are now wavering, the official says, depending on their public statements in coming days. It’s the latest salvo from the NRCC’s Code Red program, which includes robocalls and billboards and is designed to spook vulnerable Dems into flipping to No in the final stretch.

* DCCC raising cash off of Rush Limbaugh’s vow to leave the country.


* And the Republican National Committee, apparently intent on writing the Dems’ talking points for them, is touting its efforts to stop Obamacare as an “accomplishment.”

Booman: Never Back Down

God help me, I was watching Countdown with Keith Olbermann tonight (hosted by Lawrence O'Donnell), and Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) was a guest. O'Donnell told her that the Republicans are threatening to bash Democratic House members in the upcoming elections if they vote for the Senate bill which includes the vastly unpopular 'Louisiana Purchase' and 'Cornhusker Compromise.' Woolsey's response was that the American people are smart. According to her, they are smart enough to notice when a politician votes for something in one bill and then turns around and votes to eliminate it in the next. This was a reference to the much anticipated sidecar budget reconciliation bill that will somehow accompany the Senate bill through the House. It is in the sidecar that unpopular measures like the 'Louisiana Purchase' and 'Cornhusker Compromise' will be stripped out.

Somehow this exchange between O'Donnell and Woolsey crystalized something I've been trying to communicate to Democrats for years. That is, you cannot avoid Republican attacks by ducking tough votes because they will accuse of being a wacko socialist no matter what you do. Barack Obama has cut taxes on 95% of all Americans, and he hasn't yet raised taxes on the other five percent. The top 5% will only see their taxes raised in 2011 when the Bush tax cuts for top earners are allowed to sunset. Yet, the Republicans are going around the country saying that Obama has raised taxes and will continue to do so. He might as well have raised taxes on the highest earners since most people think he already has.

The health care situation is an interesting case. It would be an inverse of John Kerry's 2003 war-funding vote: Democrats will vote against it after they vote for it. First they will vote for the Senate bill that includes the 'Louisiana Purchase' and 'Cornhusker Compromise' and then they will strip those provisions out in the sidecar budget reconciliation bill. The Republicans will then accuse Democrats of having voted for the unpopular measures. The Democrats who fear this, fear it because it will be technically true. They think they'd avoid being accused of being a corrupt socialist if they just anticipated the attack line and avoided taking the first vote. They know the American people are collectively stupid enough that they can be tarred as a flip-flopper and a supporter of sordid backroom deals.

But, the problem is deeper than how a strategic vote can be distorted. The chances are that candidates for office will be accused of voting for backroom deals even if they don't vote for the Senate bill. The error is in thinking that the Republicans stick to making distorted attacks that have at least a grain of truth them. But, they don't, as the attacks on Obama's tax-raising should make clear.

The Republicans are bullies. If you punch them in the nose, they will back down. Otherwise, there are no rules they respect, in debate, campaigns, or on the law books.

The folks at FDL are going after Woolsey for backing the Senate bill without a public option. I'm glad she's showing pragmatic courage on this. Good interview

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On Kucinich, who promises to vote with the repuglicans against HCR:

mistermix: Purely Useless

If the mighty Rahmbama was able to eject Massa from Congress, how did he miss the continued existence of Dennis Kucinich, who’s done little but bitch and obstruct for his 7 terms in Congress:

In fact, according to the Web site GovTrack, of the 97 bills Kucinich has sponsored since taking office in 1997, only three have become law. Ninety-three didn’t even make it out of committee.

The three that were enacted are, in chronological order from first to last: bill “to make available to the Ukranian Museum and Archives the USIA television program ‘Window on America,’” a bill “to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 14500 Lorain Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio as the ‘John P. Gallagher Post Office Building” and a bill “proclaiming Casimir Pulaski to be an honorary citizen of the United States posthumously.” (via Kos)

Unlike Massa, who was the best Democrats are going to get in a R+5 district, Kucinich lives in a D+8 district where a well-financed Democrat would probably win the general. Yet he’s coasted to more than a decade of easy wins.

Kucinich is the Ron Paul of the Democratic Party: a useless, one-man purity squad. In Paul’s defense, the whole point of being a libertarian Congressman is to accomplish nothing. Kucinich doesn’t have that excuse.

  • from the comments:

    Mike Kay

    he is anti-choice. His anti-choice votes have earned him a 95 percent position rating from the National Right to Life Committee, versus 10 percent from Planned Parenthood and 0 percent from NARAL.

Booman: A Little Four Page Bill Cure-All
It's a bill introduced by Rep. Alan Grayson to allow any American to buy in to Medicare buy at cost. I know I'm dreaming, but wouldn't it be nice to see it passed?

Please, if you can, tell me what's wrong with a bill that would increase competition, increase health care coverage and is not mandatory? No one would have to get rid of their old insurance coverage if that's what they preferred, but neither would anyone be forced to stay at a bad job to keep their health insurance, or pay ridiculous rate hikes every year, or risk losing their insurance coverage if they lost their job, or have their claims for treatment denied at the whim of an insurance company executive. Aren't we a nation that believes in the market? Well why don't we let the market work? In my neck of the woods (lot's of woods actually) we have basically two health care providers. The rates they charge are effectively the same. You can pay a lot for really crappy coverage or you can pay a lot more for somewhat better coverage.

The one we have denies claims for treatments for my medical condition all the time. Of course, that's after we pay a $2,400 deductible before our benefits (such as they are) kick in. Probably a fifth of our income goes to pay for health care costs: medications, physician's visits, etc. My wife now qualifies for Medicare due to her disability and so she was kicked off our family coverage. Not surprisingly our coverage rates did not go down, and our family deductible went up.

I'd pay for Medicare coverage for myself and my children in a heart beat rather than keep tossing money at corporate bloodsuckers America's private health insurance industry.

America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) extended an 11th-hour invitation to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, asking her to speak to the industry trade association's annual policy conference.

To her credit, Sebelius accepted, and made no real effort to play nice with the industry that has tried everything to kill health care reform.

Instead of attacking the president's proposal, Ms. Sebelius said, insurers should use their assets, their influence and their bully pulpit to win approval for the legislation in Congress. [...]

Ms. Sebelius complained that "over the last year, we have seen tens of millions of dollars, by the insurance industry, spent on ads and lobbyists to help kill health reform.''

The secretary said she could not understand such efforts, because Mr. Obama was not trying to "eliminate the private insurance market and go to some kind of single-payer system like Europe or Canada.'' Indeed, the president's proposal would provide hundreds of billions of dollars in tax credits to help moderate-income people buy private health insurance.

Ms. Sebelius, a former governor and insurance commissioner in Kansas, sounded exasperated at the pace of change. "How many years in a row can we have the same discussion over and over?'' Ms. Sebelius asked. "How many years can we look at a marketplace which is getting more segmented and more difficult? How much pressure can be put on the remaining customers before the business model collapses of its own weight?''

Sebelius went on to explain that health insurers -- the single most disliked institution in the entire debate -- have a choice. The industry can continue to do what it's been doing, investing obscene sums in dishonest attack ads, and hoping to convince those who stand to benefit from reform not to trust the life-preserver Democrats are trying to throw to them.

Or, the HHS secretary said, insurers can make a different choice: "You can choose to take the millions of dollars you have stored away for your next round of ads to kill meaningful reform, and use them to start giving Americans some relief from their skyrocketing premiums."

That, of course, won't happen. Today's industry profits must be used to destroy anything that might interfere with tomorrow's industry profits. ("Dear customers, sorry we had to jack up your premiums, but we needed your money to finance our campaign to destroy the reform package that would help you more than us.")

But I was glad to see Sebelius take a firm line with insurers anyway. Sometimes, when major establishment types get together in a setting like this, there's a temptation to play nice, be polite, and suggest the differences aren't so great.

Sebelius didn't bother with the facade. Good for her -- with the industry poised to drop another $1 million in attack ads, the insurers don't deserve the niceties.

TRMS investigates: Who are the Stupak dozen? March 10: Rachel Maddow fact-checks Rep. Bart Stupak's threat that he has "at least a dozen" other members of Congress who will vote against a health reform bill that doesn't contain a version of Stupak's anti-abortion language.

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McMorris (TPM): Stupak Gets A Primary Challenge From The Left

A former teacher and county commissioner will challenge Rep. Bart Stupak in the Aug. 3 Democratic primary in Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reported this afternoon.

Connie Saltonstall, a former commissioner in Charlevoix County, told me this evening she's challenging Stupak over his refusal to allow health care reform to move forward without abortion language attached.

Saltonstall told me her "two passions" are health care reform and choice. And after spending the last 20 years voting for Stupak, Saltonstall said he managed to run afoul of both of them.

"I've had to vote for him because he's a Democrat and not a Republican -- he was not as bad as the other side," she said. But Saltonstall said Stupak's stance on abortion in the health care debate "crossed the line" for her.

"That has happened not only with me but with many Democrats in the district," she said. Saltonstall told me her phone has been ringing off the hook with calls of support from inside the massive 31-county district.

She outlined how her philosophy on abortion and health care reform differed from Stupak's in a statement to the Free Press today. "I believe that he has a right to his personal, religious views, but to deprive his constituents of needed health care reform because of those views is reprehensible," Saltonsall told the told the paper.

Saltonstall told me that her "dream" health care bill would create a single-payer system in the U.S. "But I know how difficult that would be to get," she said, "so I would support [the current reform proposal] and then work to get it fixed."

How serious a candidate is Saltonstall? Some of the many calls she's fielded today, Saltonstall told me, have come from "national groups" expressing a willingness to help her become the Bill Halter of the Upper Peninsula. She wouldn't name the groups, or how serious the talks have been, but it's not a stretch to see her candidacy appealing to the same dissatisfied progressive groups pouring millions into Halter's campaign in Arkansas.

Saltonstall is not a complete political neophyte -- she won campaigns for the school board and county commission in Charlevoix county in the past, and mounted a losing campaign for the state Legislature in 2008. But she recognized that taking down an opponent like Stupak is no easy fight.

"I know how difficult it is to defeat an incumbent," Saltonstall told me. But she said Democratic party leaders from across the district have welcomed her entrance into the race, as Stupak's willingness to block health care reform over abortion has, according to Saltonstall, turned off many Democratic activists in his district.

For now, Saltonstall's campaign remains a grassroots effort. Her supporters are in the process of collecting the 1,000 signatures it will take to appear on the ballot next to Stupak in August and she expressed hope that national and local activists will come through with the massive financial foundation she'll need to build a serious challenge.

"I don't know how it's going to turn out," she told me. "But based on the calls I've had today, I feel pretty good."

You can donate to Connie here: Connie Saltonstall


We're well past the point at which Republicans can make substantive arguments about health care policy and hope to influence the outcome. Whether a Democratic lawmaker votes for or against the final package is not dependent on the GOP raising some heretofore overlooked policy observation.

So, what's left in the Republican playbook? Scaring the bejesus out of wavering Dems. Jon Chait had a good item on this.

Republicans are warning Democrats that passing health care reform will make them less popular. They are alerting the House that Senators will betray any deal they make. And they are insisting that reconciliation will be a bloody, protracted fight, even signing a letter promising to invoke the "Byrd Rule" to strike out any non-budgetary measures from a reconciliation bill.

Clearly, this is mostly a bluff. After all, Senate Democrats would be crazy to make specific promises to the House and then renege on them -- they would never pass another bill again. Democrats aren't planning to put non-budgetary items into a reconciliation bill, so Republican can threaten all they want to invoke the Byrd Rule, but they'll lose. Anyway, threatening to fight reconciliation is a threat to fight popular changes -- delaying the excise tax, canceling special deals for Florida and Nebraska -- after a comprehensive health care reform has already become a fait accompli. The GOP would be putting itself on the wrong side of public opinion to stop a bill that's already passed.

I just wonder if Democrats are actually foolhardy enough to heed these warnings.

That's certainly the right question. Republicans are just being shameless at this point, making obvious, ham-fisted threats, trying to drive a wedge between the House and Senate caucuses, and hoping to convince some Democrats that the GOP is a reliable source of campaign advice -- as if Republicans were seriously looking out for Dems' best interests.

In other words, the GOP hopes Democrats are so weak, and have such a hair-trigger panic reflex, that Dems will do what Republicans want, simply because Republicans want it.

Chait asks whether Democrats could really be that "pathetic." My sense is, no, they can't. I talked to some Hill staffers yesterday who characterized the GOP tactics as transparent joke. "How dumb do they think we are?" one aide told me.

I try not to underestimate some Dems' capacity for self-destruction, but at this point, the fear tactics are just too over the top to be effective.

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