Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/15/09-Moving On as the Dust Settles

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. We hope you are all recovering from post-Lieberman depression syndrome. Let's get to the day in politics.

HEALTH CARE: There is a divide among liberal Democrats right now in reaction to Majority Leader Reid's capitulation to the demands of Joe Lieberman. Most liberal lawmakers, and about half of the liberal blogosphere, has argued that yes, Lieberman is a jerk, but overall the bill is a major step in the right direction and should be passed. The other camp, led by Markos Moulitsas and former DNC Chairman Howard Dean is saying that the Senate bill is so bad that we should kill it and start over. Their argument is that forcing people to buy insurance when there is no public option represents a huge giveaway to the insurance companies, and little benefit to consumers. I'm sympathetic to Kos and Dean, but I think they're wrong. Lieberman's demands have made the bill significantly worse, but it will still cover 30 million Americans, it will enact important insurance market reforms, and it has hundreds of other provisions that will make our health care system better and more efficient. We can't let our anger at Lieberman and his cohorts prevent us from passing a pretty good bill. If this fails, health care reform opponents will be emboldened, the Democratic party will suffer heavy losses next year, and reform will be pushed off for another generation. If this passes, we won't get everything we want, but it will be something to build on.

Of course, we're not there yet! Though Lieberman indicated today that he's close to being able to support this bill, Reid still is short of 60 votes. Ben Nelson (D-NE) still has concerns over abortion that haven't been adequate addressed. If they choose to ignore his concerns, they could try and restart negotiations with Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Snowe, however, seems disinclined to support reform, because she thinks the process is being rushed. Also, though most liberal Senators have said that they can live with the compromise bill, there are a couple who haven't spoken up yet, like Senators Sanders (VT) and Feingold (WI). This weekend, we'll be writing a comprehensive entry on how we got to this point, and what we can do in the future to build on the current health reform effort.

THE SENATE: The Senate took 4 votes today on health care amendments, even as Democrats took time to visit the President at the White House. The first two votes dealt with middle class tax increases. Republican Senator Crapo (ID) proposed an amendment to assure that no taxes are raised under the bill for those making under $250,000. The excise tax on high cost insurance plans, as well as various other fees that help raise revenue for the bill, may impact some middle-class families. The Senate, in my view, should have taken the House approach by taxing the very wealthy. Still, it would not be prudent to gut a key revenue source, especially one (the excise tax) that may bend the proverbial health care. Democrats, as they have done throughout this whole debate, proposed a side-by-side amendment that makes a general statement (sense of the Senate) against middle-class tax increases.

The Democratic amendment, proposed by Senator Baucus (D-MT), passed by a vote of 97-1, with only Senator Nelson (NE) voting no. I have no idea why Nelson voted no on this. The Crapo amendment failed by a vote of 45-54. All Republicans voted yes, as did Democrats Bayh (IN), Cantwell (WA), Klobuchar (MN), Lincoln (AR) and Nelson (NE).

Next up were votes on two amendments dealing with drug importation. Senator Dorgan (D-ND) proposed an amendment to allow prescription drugs to be imported from Canada. Because of Canada's SINGLE-PAYER (!) health care system, the government can negotiate cheaper drug prices. This amendment was opposed by many Democrats who helped craft an agreement this year with the drug companies this year, which was that the companies would support reform if Congress didn't in any way threaten their massive profits. Interestingly, the amendment also drew opposition from Republicans. The amendment failed by a vote of 51-48, short of the 60 votes required for passage. Both caucuses were pretty much split down the middle on this issue.

An alternative proposal, from Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) would have allowed limited importation of drugs from Canada with a bevy of restrictions. The Lautenberg amendment came close, but failed by a vote of 56-43 (remember, a 13 vote majority is failure in the United States Senate!). Once again, each caucus was split down the middle on this amendment. There will be more votes on amendments tomorrow.

Assuming Democrats can close ranks around the modified bill, they will start the arduous process to bring this debate to a close (a process that could take 6 days.

THE HOUSE: The House passed various bills under suspension of the rules today, including a measure that imposes sanctions on petroleum products from Iran. This bipartisan bill passed by a vote of 412-12, with 9 Democrats and 3 Republicans in opposition. 4 members voted present.

Another bill passed that will forbid TV stations from making commercials louder in volume than the actual broadcast. Awesome.

The House will have a very busy day dealing with various year-end items tomorrow, including a Defense Appropriations bill (loaded up with tax extenders and other unrelated goodies), plus a bill to raise the debt ceiling. It's possible that the House will adjourn for the year tomorrow (depending on what the Senate plans to do with these must-pass measures).

That's it for today. Yes, it was a short entry, but it was a holiday party evening in Strike-land. We'll be back with a more detailed entry tomorrow night.

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