Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/11/09-Health Care Town Hall

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike on this Thursday evening. The President took a trip and Congress finally took care of some business today, so let's get to it.

HEALTH CARE TOWN HALL: President Obama traveled to Green Bay, WI today to discuss his plan for health care reform at a town hall meeting. Up until now, Obama has largely kept on the sideline while Congress crafts a complicated bill behind the scenes. As the consideration of the bill in Congress becomes more imminent, and as partisan bickering heats up on the hill, the President has wisely decided to take his case to the American people. Obama gave a brief speech before taking questions. He started by going over the litany of problems with our current system. He talked about the fact that even though Americans pay far more for health care than any country on earth, we lag behind in the quality and effectiveness of care. The cost of health care not only impacts individuals, Obama noted, but small business. He even partially blamed the bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler on soaring health care costs. He reassured the American people several times throughout the event that if people like the coverage they have, they can keep it. This argument is needed to counter the Republican talking point that Obama's plan would "put government bureaucrats between you and your doctor." He also, thankfully, spoke out in favor of the public option, saying that it is needed to "keep insurance companies honest." He also touched on how Congress is going to pay for reform, reaffirming his belief in a proposal to raise top tax rates on charitable contributions to the level they were during the Reagan years. The President, as he often does so well, was able to create a Republican straw man to attack the opposition. Speaking of "those who think we don't need to change the status quo" and "those who think the plan is too expensive or too complicated," the President challenged his opponents to come up with an alternative if they don't like his proposal. The speech was a good articulation of the important principles of Obama's health care. He could have talked more forcefully about why we need the public option, and the dangers of continuing on our current path. I was pleased, though, that he reaffirmed his belief that reforming health care is a "moral imperative." I wholeheartedly agree.

Question time was entertaining as always. The first questioner was a self-employed woman who was not able to pay for skyrocketing health care costs. She complained that even the public option didn't go far enough, because we would still be giving government money to private companies, who could go out and use it on advertising etc. She asked Obama why he wasn't considering a single payer plan. A great question, indeed. Obama talked favorably about the concept of a single payer system, but says that we can't start from scratch. Most Americans currently get health insurance through their employers, and it would be too difficult to restart the whole system. I'm glad to see Obama being challenged from the left. Not only does it give him the push he needs, but it makes his plan seem "moderate" in comparison. You've gotta love that dynamic.

He answered another question on the timeline of the plan. He said that no matter what the final bill is, it could take 4 to 5 years to implement it. That's a stark reminder of the urgency we should all be feeling. The President also answered a question on education (?) and on preventative care.

I'm overall very pleased with the President's performance. He becomes very personally likable in town hall settings, and does a good job making his proposals portable to average Americans. He needs to do one of these every week, in my view. That way, he can stay out of the Congressional weeds. Our ultimate goal should be to have Congress overwhelmed by public support for health care reform. If President Obama can't drum up that support, no one can.

THE SENATE: The Senate today, after a week of delay, overwhelmingly passed a bill that subjects tobacco to FDA regulation. This important bill will ensure that tobacco companies disclose the ingredients in their products. I don't know what's more amazing, the margin with which the bill passed, or the fact that tobacco wasn't ALREADY under the authority of the FDA.

Today's vote was 79-17 in favor of the bill. I noted yesterday that I expected the final vote to mirror yesterday's 67-30 cloture vote. Apparently, 12 Republicans suddenly became supporters of the bill. Once again, the only Democrat to vote no was Kay Hagan of North Carolina (tobacco country). It appears that the House will convene a rare Friday session to vote on the Senate amendments to the bill. Assuming the House concurs (which they almost certainly will), President Obama will sign the bill into law in the next week or so. The Senate moves next week to a bill seeking to promote international travel to the U.S.

THE HOUSE: A busy day today in the industrious House of Representatives. The House first dealt once again with that pesky war funding bill. Democrats were trying to hammer out an agreement in a House-Senate conference that will please liberal members of their caucus. Democrats had already lost Republican support when the Senate added additional money for the IMF, so they need the votes of liberal Democrats in order to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In exchange for their votes, liberals fought to have a Senate amendment stripped that would have forbidden the release of torture photos. Republicans (and Joe Lieberman) are threatening to filibuster if that provision is not included. In other words, they are immature children who don't want to support our troops.

The House considered a Republican "motion to instruct conferees," non-binding "instructions" for conferees not to accept a final bill that includes money beyond what was included in the Senate bill. Since it was non-binding, many Democrats felt fine voting against their leadership on this one. The vote was 267-152, with 95 Democrats joining all but 4 Republicans in voting yes. Hopefully we'll finally see this bill get to the President's desk by the end of next week.

Next on the House calendar was a bill to provide economic aid to Pakistan to facilitate democracy and economic development. The House had considered a slew of amendments yesterday. Today, the House considered one Republican substitute and one Republican motion to recommit. The substitute, offered by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), would have required the administration to issue regular reports on how the aid was being used. I'm not sure why Democrats objected to this, but they probably had a good reason. The amendment failed by a vote of 173-246. The Republican motion to recommit failed 164-245.

The bill, as amended, passed by a vote of 234-185. 8 Republicans voted yes, and 18 Democrats voted no. Once again, Republican objections where to the spending provisions in the bill. They seem to think that they've really got a political winner with this "fiscal responsibility" thing.

The House also debated and voted on a bill condemning yesterday's attack at the Holocaust museum. It would have to be pretty difficult to vote against that. The bill passed 413-0. We'll bring you full coverage on the House's vote tomorrow on the amended version of the tobacco bill.

Please leave us some comments! You all have been lacking lately.

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