Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Daily Strike-7/16/09-The Hearings: Day 4, Health Hiccup

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. With Sotomayor and health care legislation, I feel like every day is a political roller coaster. Let's talk about this one.

HEALTH CARE: Just when you thought we had made some gains in our push to enact comprehensive health care reform, we get knocked back on our heels a bit. The Congressional Budget Office told Senators in a hearing this morning that both the House health care bill and the Senate HELP committee bill would worse the nation's long term economic outlook. According to the CBO, proposed cost saving measures are inadequate to offset the massive new spending that the bill would undertake. As The Big Picture very wisely pointed out, this could actually be a positive. The CBO chief has recommended some very good ideas to bring down costs, including some that have been shot down repeatedly by lawmakers. These proposals include ending the tax-free treatment of employer provided health-care (which I oppose) and changing the way Medicare reimburses providers to change incentives towards quality (which I support with every fiber of my being.) The great Ezra Klein brought up some other ways that we can reduce costs, like the infamous public option and comparative effectiveness research.

Of course, opponents of the bill, including those praying that it will fail, don't quite see it that way. They see the headline, "Healthcare bill too costly" and that causes them to want to call the whole bill a "failure," or even more mind boggling, would want to water down the cost savings measures that are already in the bill. I agree with the Big Picture when he says that President Obama must use this report as an impetus to push for an even stronger bill, and break through the nay sayers in the mainstream media and among some centrists in Congress. I've had just about enough of people saying the bill costs too much, but rejecting every idea to cut costs.

As for the plans on the table, we saw very little action today. The Senate Finance Committee was rumored to be near ready to introduce a "bipartisan" bill, but they apparently are still hammering out a few details. I'll be most interested to see how they plan to pay for the bill. If they can come up with $1 trillion in savings without ending the tax-free treatment of employer health benefits, and without raising taxes on the rich (like the House does), I'll be pleasantly surprised. The House tri-committee bill is current being marked-up in the Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees. The Education and Labor committee even got to a few amendments today, including one to make the rule against denying coverage because of preexisting conditions come into effect sooner. The committees will continue to debate the bills through next week. I'm most worried about the bill getting through the Energy and Commerce committee. Blue Dog Democrat Mike Ross of Arkansas, brags that he has the votes to defeat the bill in committee unless they make significant changes. I don't know what the Blue Dogs want other than to go back to their districts and claim that they "moderated" the bill. I want to see them come up with some actually serious proposals to cut costs and increase coverage. Unfortunately, I think it's more likely that they're "moderation" techniques will be to hold the bill hostage until the best parts of the bill are gutted. I hope I'm wrong.

SOTOMAYOR: The hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor are over, and she's just as sure to be confirmed, if not more so, as she was at the beginning of the week. Sotomayor finished a second round of questioning from the Judiciary Committee, and even took a third set of questions from some committee members. The nominee frustrated committee Republicans by following the precedents of Justices Ginsburg, Roberts and Alito by saying that she won't comment on any issues that might end up in front of the court. Sotomayor may even get the votes of one or two of the seven Republicans on the committee. Senator Graham (SC), rambling as he often does, said that even though Sotomayor's speeches "bother the hell out of" him, he doesn't think she is a judicial activist and she had assuaged most of his concerns. The ranking Republican on the committee, Senator Sessions of Alabama, even promised that Republicans will not try to filibuster her nomination.

With the nomination pretty much assured, there was very little drama (and sparse attendance) at today's confirmation hearing. The afternoon was reserved for witnesses both in support and in opposition to her nomination. The key opposition witness was Frank Ricci, the man Sotomayor ruled against in the infamous reverse discrimination case. The New Haven firefighter spoke about how race should have no influence in the firehouse. The testimony might have been a Republican gem in the past, because he is a poster boy for anti-white reverse discrimination. But the case had been talked about so much this week, and Sotomayor did a good job explaining that she was simply applying judicial precedence. Testifying for the nominee, among others, was Independent New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy has called a vote for next Tuesday the 21st. Republicans have the right, according to committee rules, to postpone a the vote for a week, a prerogative they intend to use. Therefore, I expect her to be voted out of committee on July 28th, and confirmed by the full Senate by the August recess. President Obama made absolutely the right choice for the Supreme Court. Overall, she has performed tremendously throughout the week's hearings.

THE SENATE: The Senate, again, is in a holding pattern while it considers the Defense Authorization Bill. As we mentioned yesterday, the bill has been held up because Democrats are trying to attach an unrelated hate crimes measure. Majority Leader Reid filed cloture on the amendment yesterday, and if all post-cloture time is used, a vote on cutting off debate would occur at 1am this morning. It looks like the two sides may come to an agreement to vote on that amendment and others before the night is out, but nothing so far at press time. We'll keep you updated on this tomorrow.

THE HOUSE: The House put aside the Energy and Water Development bill for a day, and instead considered the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill (which we discussed yesterday). The bill funds the Department of the Treasury, the federal judiciary, and other agencies. Representatives just finished voting on a series of amendments to the bill, 15 in total. Several of those amendments, as usual, are from Rep. Flake (R-AZ), who is known as an anti-earmark crusader. Every single amendment failed. You don't see that everyday. As I'm writing, the bill has just passed by a surprisingly close vote of 219-208. Financial Services are not exactly en vogue these days.

The House will vote on 13 more amendments and final passage to the aforementioned Energy and Water bill tomorrow as it closes out business for the week.

That's it for us tonight. See you tomorrow as we continue to ride this political roller coaster. Leave some comments.

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