HEALTH CARE: In a dramatic ceremony in front of the front steps of the Capital, House Democrats unveiled the final version of health care reform, a product of months of negotiations that took place after three committees reported bills in July. You all probably know the most publicized details by now. The bill has a public option with rates to be negotiated individually with providers. It will set up a national health insurance exchange for those who don't get insurance through their employers, and it will offer subsidies for people who can't afford to pay. It will also expand the eligibility for Medicaid to 150% of poverty. The bill will be financed by savings in Medicare and through a surtax on individuals making above $500,000 and families that make over $1,000,000. Here are some great additions to the bill that mark major improvements from the original proposal in July:
- The bill is not only fully paid for, but it will actually reduce the deficit by over $104 billion over ten years. What happens after that (the so called out years) is unclear. A lot of these savings come from the decision to further expand Medicaid coverage, since it is cheaper to cover people under Medicaid than it is to subsidize private insurance. To be fair, some of these savings come from some creative accounting. For one, the bill doesn't include the "Doc Fix" which will come to the House floor as a separate $200 billion bill. Second, the bill does not adjust the surtax for inflation. This is potentially very dangerous, because in 20 years, $500,000 might be a middle-class income. Surely, Congress, like they do with the Alternative Minimum Tax, would pass a temporary fix.
- The bill includes a provision that forces insurance companies to spend 85% of their income on health services. This superb provision would be a great way to cut into egregious insurance company profits. I doubt it will pass the insurance-owned United States Senate.
- The best part about this bill, is that many great provisions will come into effect almost immediately. Not only will this be good for American families, but great politically for the Democratic party. Here is a full list of the provisions that will come into effect next year. As the Big Picture said, "talk about delivering!"
There are a couple of kinks to work out before we can start popping the corks. Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) has been trying to round up 40 votes to block the rule for considering the bill if his abortion amendment isn't included. The bill currently forbids federal funding for abortions (per the provisions of the Hyde amendment) but Stupak is insisting that it bar any money from government subsidies by spent to terminate pregnancy. Stupak is still trying to strike a deal with the Democratic leadership, but whether he can is still unclear. Democrats will try to pass a rule restricting amendments to the bill, because if Stupak's anti-abortion amendment passed (and it probably would), many pro-choice Democrats would vote against the bill. Stupak better not ruin this. Talk to your Michigan colleague John Dingell, Bart! He's been trying to get this done for over 40 years!
The House GOP responded to the bill with the usual laments about how long the text is. "It's 1990 pages long! Noooooo!!! We're not gonna have enough time to read it!!!" First of all, they won't read it anyway. They are completely predisposed to opposing the bill. Second of all, it is written in legalese, so reading it wouldn't help any normal person understand it. Third, is this seriously the best they've got? At the GOP press conference today, there was zero discussion about the contents of the bill besides buzzwords like a "government takeover." When reporters asked Minority Leader Boehner if Republicans would offer an alternative, he said he didn't know, but that Republicans have "ideas." I'm sure you do have ideas, but why don't you write a bill, take into consideration all of the complications with writing difficult legislation, get it scored by the CBO, make some trade offs etc. It's easy to talk about having good ideas when you don't have to make an actual proposal.
The leadership plans to begin debate on the bill in the middle of next week. A final vote would occur Thursday at the earliest, but most likely early the following week. The bill isn't perfect. I wish the public option was based on Medicare rates. But this is an exciting day. The bill will cover 96 percent of all Americans, and it will probably pass the House of Representatives in the next two weeks. Not too shabby.
THE WHITE HOUSE: The other big news of the day is that the economy grew by 3.5% during the 3rd quarter. This news is a mixed blessing for the White House. They tried to use the number as evidence that the stimulus has worked. After all, this is the first quarter that the economy has grown in a year. On the other hand, it's possible that the good GDP numbers will feed into the narrative that Obama may have saved the economy for elites, but with unemployment still hovering at 10%, what has he done for the rest of us?
I'm also worried that when the government's stimulus programs start to wind down toward the end of this year and the beginning of 2010, GDP growth might be stunted. I hope that the government has the courage to extend stimulus programs, even if doing so isn't politically popular.
The President used an address to small business leaders to talk about the GDP numbers, and also to stress that the work of rescuing the economy is still largely unfinished. He spent the rest of the day meeting members of Congress, and the Minister Mentor of Singapore.
THE HOUSE: The House today passed the conference report on the Interior Appropriations bill. This conference report included a continuing resolution that will fund the federal government through December 18th while Congress finishes the remaining 7 appropriations bills that have yet to emerge. The conference report also includes extensions of various tax credits from the economic stimulus package. With completion of this conference report (as you'll see in the next section, it passed the Senate today as well), Congress has now finished 5 out of the 12 annual spending bills. The final vote in the House was 247-178, with 10 Republicans voting yes, and 15 Democrats voting no.
Later, the House passed a popular bill to improve programs providing loan access to small businesses. It passed easily by a vote of 389-32, with all no votes coming from the GOP. The House also approved a Republican motion to recommit by a vote of 372-149. The motion instructed the Small Business Administration to conduct studies on additional credit risk factors. All no votes on the motion came from Democrats. Prior to final passage, the House considered several amendments. The full list is available here.
THE SENATE: The Senate is STILL in a stalemate over a bill to extend unemployment benefits. Republicans are insisting on votes on unrelated amendments. They have thus far rejected Democratic unanimous consent requests to vote on the bill immediately. Democrats, for some reason, have not yet called a vote on a motion to proceed to the bill, even though the Senate voted to cut off debate on that motion. Bottom line: Because Senators are acting like babies, millions of Americans are not getting unemployment benefits. It really baffles me that Senators can be so self-absorbed. I guess we'll have to wait until next week to see this bill come up for a vote.
The Senate did have time to pass the Interior Appropriations bill conference report/continuing resolution. The final vote was 72-28, with no votes coming from 25 Republicans and Democrats Bayh (IN), Feingold (WI) and McCaskill (MO). Prior to a vote on final passage, the Senate voted 60-40 to waive the requirement that conference reports only contain legislation previously passed by both chambers. That vote fell strictly along party lines. As far as I know, this was the first vote all year where 100 Senators voted, and all of them voted along party lines. 60 votes were needed to waive the requirement.
Whew. That's it for a busy day in politics. Please leave us some comments and start a discussion.