Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Daily Strike-7/29/09-Raw Deal or Real Deal?

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. First, a happy birthday to Mother Strike who turns (REDACTED) today. As a gift to her, I will try my best to use the correct forms of "it's" and "its" in tonight's entry.

HEALTH CARE: The big news of the day is that the House leadership and the Blue Dog Democrats have reached a deal on a health reform compromise. As part of the deal, 4 out of the 7 Blue Dog Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee will vote to send the bill to the floor, which ensures, in theory, that the bill will clear the committee. Another stipulation of the deal is that the full House will not consider the bill until after the August recess. This will surely intensify the grassroots battle between opponents and proponents of reform. President Obama and Congressional Democrats will need to kick it in to gear. Democratic members in particular better not cower in the face of Republican attacks. I fear that the misinformation will take hold, constituents will whine about "socialized medicine" at town hall meetings, and reticent Democrats will come back in September opposed to the bill. We CANNOT let this happen. Time to get the Obama organizing army activated!

So what did we have to give up to get the agreement of four people who probably know next to nothing about health policy? The terms of the deal are as follows:

-The compromise cuts the cost of the bill by about $100 billion to a total of $900 billion.

-The bill still will contain the public option, but states would have the ability to set-up health insurance coops.

-Small businesses that make under $500,000 will not have to pay a fee for not providing health insurance to their employees. The exemption was raised from $250,000.

-Doctors would be able to negotiate their payment rates with the government under the public plan.

The concessions are unfortunate, and they will make the bill worse. As the Big Picture noted, it's so typical that they are arbitrarily cutting money in the bill for no reason. I also think the negotiation of payment rates could severely undermine cost reduction. But we didn't have to give up THAT much. We still have a public option, an employer mandate, and the tax surcharge on the wealthy.

The Energy and Commerce committee was supposed to resume its markup this evening, but has postponed it until tomorrow morning so that Democratic members have time to review the changes. A leader of the progressive caucus, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (CA) said that the deal looks to her to be unacceptable. I don't think that liberal Democrats will risk giving up momentum by not supporting this compromise. I sure hope not. This is in no means the final step in the process, and we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Over in the Senate, word is that the bipartisan coalition of Finance Committee Senators is close to coming to agreement on a watered-down bill. A Congressional Budget Office estimate said that the bill would only cost $900 billion and would be fully paid for. It would cover 95% of Americans, which is less than the House version. The plan would notably exclude the public option. We'll give you more details when we know more.

The President continued his public outreach on health reform today during two separate town-hall meetings in the mid-Atlantic region. In a morning event in Raleigh, NC, the President took a welcomed harsh tone against his Republican critics. He reminded critics that Republicans were the ones who built up the record deficits that they're constantly carping about. He noted that the GOP passed Medicare Part D without paying for it, so they have no business talking about fiscal responsibility. He said that the GOP needs to "stop scaring everybody." I like to see the President come out swinging against his critics!

This afternoon in Bristol, VA, the President charged his critics with "misinformation" and said that we must overcome these "fear tactics." He assured a questioner that he would not mess with Medicare, and that seniors would never be forced to get rid of the insurance they already have. He also tested out his new message, that health insurance reform will make a big difference to those who already have insurance. He talked about new rules that will prevent insurance companies from charging exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses, and a new ban on lifetime caps on coverage. I hope Obama continues to answer the all-important "what's in it for me?" He better do this every single day during the August recess.

THE HOUSE: The House tried to take care of some lingering business today, and did so with mixed success. Democrats brought a substantial food safety bill to the floor under expedited procedures that require a 2/3rds majority vote. The bill, in response to recent food-borne illness epidemics, will increase the authority of the FDA to oversee food safety. The bill looked on the fast track to passage, with even arch-conservative Joe Barton, ranking member of the Energy and Commerce committee, coming out in support. Because the bill was relatively uncontroversial, Democrats didn't want to spend several hours considering it under normal procedure. The plan backfired, as the bill came 6 votes short of the necessary majority. The final vote was 280 to 150. 127 Republicans opposed the bill. Inexplicably, 23 Democrats voted against the food safety bill, including many liberals. I have no idea why they would vote against a food safety bill! The bill will be brought again tomorrow under regular order.

The House also passed a bill that extends various federal programs that were set to expire over the August recess, including highway funding and unemployment insurance. The Senate is expected to agree to the measure before it adjourns on August 7th. The bill passed the House by a vote of 363-68.

Along with the food safety bill, the House will finish consideration tomorrow of the Defense Appropriations bill. There will be several votes on Republican amendments before final passage.

THE SENATE: The Senate actually got some work done today for once! The upper chamber was on the verge of passing its 3rd of 12 appropriations bills, the Department of Energy and Water Development bill. The vote on final passage is schedule for later this evening. We'll give you the tally tomorrow. The Senate voted on several amendments to the bill:

-The first amendment, from Senator Alexander (TN) was designed basically to severely restrict TARP money from going to automobile companies. This of course, had nothing to do with the underlying bill, but Senators voted on it anyway. The amendment failed 38-59, far short of the 60 votes it needed to pass procedural hurdles. The only Democrat to support the amendment was Senator Klobuchar (MN), usually a reliable liberal. Senator Lugar (IN) was the only Republican voted no.

-The second was an amendment from Senator Coburn (R-OK). It would have cut money for the administrative division of the Department of Energy. The amendment failed by a vote of 35-62. The anti-earmark Democratic quartet of Bayh (IN), Feingold (WI), McCaskill (MO) and Nelson (NE) voted for the amendment with 31 Republicans. Republicans Alexander (TN), Bond (MO), Brownback (KS), Cochran (MS), Collins (ME), Murkowski (AK), Roberts (KS), Shelby (AL) and Voinovich (OH) voted no.

-Next, an amendment from the sponsor of the bill, Senator Dorgan (D-ND), which would make certain requirements for contracts coming out of the Department of Energy. It passed by a vote of 79-18. The only Democrat to vote no was McCaskill (MO).

-Finally, the Senate rejected another Coburn amendment that would prohibit the Department of Energy to enter into no-bid contracts. The amendment failed 26-71. Democrats Carper (DE), Feingold (WI) and McCaskill (MO) voted yes.

When the Senate finishes consideration of the bill, it will move on to the Agriculture Appropriations bill.

That's it for a busy day. See you tomorrow!

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