Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Daily Strike-9/23/09-Slogging Through

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. A very busy day in the world of politics, with the President in New York, and the Senate Finance committee hard at work. Let's get to it.

MARK UP: The mark up of the Senate Finance committee health care bill is coming along very slowly. The United States Senate is designed to move at a snail's pace, and today's committee action confirmed that reputation. The first part of the bill deals with delivery system reform, which was supposed to be the focus of today's amendments. Instead, the committee spent over an hour on a trivial procedural issue. Republican Senator Jim Bunning proposed an amendment that would prohibit the committee from passing the bill until they had full legislative language, and the bill was available for 72 hours. I hate when members of Congress disguise dilatory tactics behind good governance. The Finance Committee writes bills in "conceptualized" language, meaning basically, pure English instead of legislative mumbo jumbo. It takes at least 2 weeks to write out the actual legislative language, which no one would understand anyway. So basically, it would be a way to delay the legislation for another two weeks, as if it hadn't been delayed enough already. Senators debated for an hour whether this constituted good governance or useless drivel. Luckily, by a 12-11 vote, the committee confirmed that it was useless drivel. All Republicans voted yes, include Olympia Snowe (ME), the crucial swing vote on the committee. Democrat Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas voted yes as well. Did I mention that Bunning will not vote for the bill under any circumstances and that he fell asleep during the hearing yesterday?

At about 11, after close to 10 hours of hearing time, the committee finally got down to considering serious amendments. Err...amendments. The key vote of the day so far (the committee is scheduled to continue meeting after 8pm this evening) was on an amendment offered by Senator Hatch (R-UT). The bill, wisely, seeks to cut spending on the Medicare Advantage program, which gives taxpayer money to private companies to do what the government does more efficiently (aka providing quality health care to seniors.) Republicans, who have tried for years to gut Medicare, Medicaid, and every other entitlement program, love the Medicare Advantage program, because it gives loads of money to the insurance companies. Senator Hatch's amendment would block cuts to the program if hte cuts afect people's benefits. Democrats, rightly in my view, argued that people can receive the exact some care under regular Medicare at a much lower cost. The amendment failed by a vote of 14-9, with Senator Snowe joining all Democrats in voting no. The vote is significant because it maintains a main, and appropriate source of funding in the bill.

The next big amendment had very little to do with health care at all. The committee spent an hour debated the case of Humana Health. The insurance company receives government money through the Medicare Advantage program. When they saw that the program was targeted for cuts, they sent out letters to customers warning them about the cuts, which was a breach of their contract with the federal government. Baucus has started an investigation into the company. Republicans are complaining that this investigation violates freedom of speech (even though it was codified in a contract!!) Senator Kyl (R-AZ) proposed an amendment to basically protect Humana. Go figure. The amendment was defeated on party lines.

One amendment that was not considered today was a very important one from Senator Nelson (FL). This amendment would kill the agreement made between the White House and drug companies. It would require the drug companies to pay more to support the cost of the bill, and would redirect some of that money back into Medicare Advantage (I'd rather the money be relocated somewhere else, but I would still support the amendment). The amendment would lower the cost of the bill by about $50 billion without making cuts to any of the key affordability provisions. Baucus, one of the negotiators of the deal, has put off the vote until tomorrow. I expect it to pass narrowly.

The committee will now move to amendments dealing with cost and affordability. These will be some of the most crucial amendments the committee will consider. We will give you full details tomorrow. Because of the snail-like pace of the committee, they probably won't be able to finish the mark up by Friday. As a result, Senator Reid's (D-NV) plan to merge the bill with the HELP committee measure will have to be put off until October. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she could put a bill on the House floor in the next couple of weeks.

Yes, these delays are irritating. But after all the hubbub of the Summer, we are actually getting close to holding votes in both chambers on what will be, at the very least, pretty good health care bills. They key is to keep Democrats unified and resolved to get this done. Massachusetts just passed a law today allowing for the interim appointment of a replacement Senator for Ted Kennedy. When that nominee is sworn-in, the Democrats will have 60 votes in the Senate. There are some centrists who don't want to vote for this bill without Republican support, but they must be steamrolled by the leadership, plain and simple.

THE PRESIDENT'S DAY: President Obama today gave his first address to the U.N. General Assembly. The speech was signature Obama to a tee. He opened by highlighting his differences with the Bush administration. He pledged that the U.S. does not torture in any form. He reiterated his promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Turning the tables though, as Obama always does, he told the U.N. that he will never apologize for protecting the country. This started the portion of his speech where he got tough with other world leaders. He said that it's time for other countries to not wait around for the U.S. to act. We will seek improved diplomatic relations, but we need a renewed support from the international community.

On specific issues, the President offered no surprises. He warned Iran and North Korea that their nuclear programs cannot be tolerated. He said, to muted applause, that the U.S. is getting serious about addressing climate change and financial regulation (do the rest of these countries understand that we have to deal with the United States Senate???). He also got a huge (well-deserved) applause for saying that the U.S. does not view Israeli settlement growth as legitimate.

It seems like the speech was a strong, well-delivered message of renewed optimism combined with a bit of tough love.

The President spent the rest of the day in a series of diplomatic meetings, including one with Russian President Demitri Medvedev.

THE HOUSE: Not much to report from either House of Congress tonight. The House passed one bill today under regular order. The bill would designate a portion of the Santa Cruz Valley in Arizona a national heritage area. The bill passed 281-142, with all no votes coming from Republicans. The Republicans did succeed in passing a motion to recommit that protects the rights of property owners in the area. That motion passed by a vote of 259-167, with all no votes coming from Democrats.

The House also passed several bills under suspension of the rules, including those extending various small business and and surface transportation programs.

Tomorrow, the House will vote on a continuing resolution that will keep the government running when the fiscal year ends a week from today. Still no word on when the House and Senate will agree to a compromise on any of the appropriations bills that have passed both chambers, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a conference report or two tomorrow.

THE SENATE: The Senate today continued its consideration of the Interior Appropriations bill. Only two record votes were taken today. The first was to table (kill) a Clown motion to recommit that instruct the appropriations committee to make significant cuts to the bill. The motion was tabled by a vote of 56-42. All Republicans voted no, as did Democrats Begich (AK) and Nelson (NE). Next was a motion to table a McCaskill (D-MO) amendment that would strike earmark funding for the "Save America's Treasure" program. It looks like McCaskill is channeling her inner John McCain with her earmark-hating amendments! Her amendment was killed by a vote of 72-26. Bayh (IN), Feingold (WI) and McCaskill (D-MO) were the only Democrats to support the amendment.

The Senate will hopefully finish this bill tomorrow. They need to take action on a House-passed extension of unemployment benefits and the continuing resolution by the middle of next week. I'll believe it when I see it.

That's it for tonight. Leave us more comments! We love to see them!

No comments:

Post a Comment