Monday, May 11, 2009

The Daily Strike-5/11/09-Health Care Powwow

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Make sure you read up on the upcoming week in politics in our Weekly Strike. Also, enjoy the exchange I had with the Big Picture on Obama's meeting today with health care stakeholders.

HEALTH CARE MEETING: Speaking of which, the President met today with a group of health care stakeholders to discuss their new-found commitment to cutting health care costs as part of comprehensive health care reform. Many of the stakeholders, like industry representatives, insurers, hospitals and drug makers were major opponents of Bill Clinton's health reform plan in 1993. They sponsored millions of dollars in advertising to bring down the plan. For this reason, today's meeting carries a good deal of significance. In my view, industry leaders worry that the Congress or the administration will propose sweeping price controls that will erode profit margins. If they can get a seat at the table, and offer some concessions, they might get off the hook.

President Obama hailed the meeting as an "unprecedented commitment." I agree to a certain extent. You want every stakeholder to buy into a comprehensive plan if possible. How will Republicans coordinate opposition in Congress without having the support of the industry's major players? Wouldn't it be great to completely isolate opponents of the plan? On the other hand, I have my doubts about these leaders' sincerity. Many of these organizations, like the American Hospital Association, and Pharma, have been fighting against reform for years. Moreover, they didn't actually commit to support anything. They expressed support for theoretical "cost-cutting," but are still fundamentally opposed to any actual proposal to cut costs. In fact, the proposals I cited yesterday (bundled payments, cutting Medicare Advantage) were suggestions made by the administration, not ones specifically endorsed by this group.

Two things make me, on the whole, feel positive about today's meeting. One, private industry representatives (as Ezra Klein points out), for the first time have implicitly acknowledged that government needs to be a major part of the solution. Second, may people I deeply trust on these issues came away with positive feelings. SEIU President Andy Stern said that the meeting exceeded his expectations. Even the perpetually pessimistic Paul Krugman called the meeting "tremendously good news."

GENERAL MCKIERNAN: The Other big news of the day was that President Obama has decided to remove General McKiernan as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan. The administration said that the change did not have to do with McKiernan's performance, but rather with the "need for new military leadership." I was wondering when Obama would start replacing these Bush-era generals. One of the interesting parts of our system of government is that the military leadership structure general carries over from administration to administration. General Petraeus and Odierno don't completely share Obama's views on foreign policy. It seemed that the military establishment had been pleased that Obama was proceeding cautiously in Iraq and with vigor in Afghanistan. Perhaps McKiernan did not agree with the administration's vision in these areas.

I'm sure General McKiernan is totally cool being fired as a U.S. commander by a former community organizer and anti-war legislator. I love America and our civilian control over the military!

CONGRESS: No action in Congress today. The House returns tomorrow for some suspension votes. The Senate continues consideration on the Credit Card Bill of Rights. Senators Dodd (D-CT) and Shelby (R-AL), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Banking Committee, agreed on a compromise that restricts credit cared issuers from raising interest rates unless a consumer is 60 days late on a minimum payment. The House-passed version would allow such rate hikes after only 30 days. With this compromise in place, the bill is on track for an easy passage.

That's it for tonight. See you tomorrow!

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