Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/3/09-Action Thursday

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike on this busy day in politics. We'll be focusing on two of the three December pillars tonight: jobs and health care. We'll also run down the estate tax bill that passed the House today, and address some reader comments as well! Enjoy!

JOBS: The White House held a jobs summit today at the White House in an effort to jump start action on the most pressing domestic policy problem. The summit comes a day before the latest unemployment numbers are released, and at the same time as House Democrats mull legislative options to boost job growth. The summit brought together business leaders, economic analysts and representatives of the labor movement. As expected, there were no major deliverables from this meeting. In fact, the President made reference to the fact that it could seem like a photo-op. They did discuss some interesting ideas that I hadn't thought of, like ways that the government can promote U.S. exports through the legal system. President Obama says he will announce more specific proposals for job creation next week.

The Republicans had their own job summit today at the Capital, blasting the President and proposing "reforms" of their own. As others have noted, their proposals are Bush-era recyclables like corporate tax cuts, discretionary spending freezes and gutting regulations. This is why life is so easy in the minority. Your proposals are never tested, so they don't actually have to work (though I think the Bush era is evidence enough).

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has indicated that the 2010 session of Congress will be largely focused on the economy, jobs (yay!) and deficit reduction (boo!). In making this announcement, Hoyer noted the public anger about the federal deficit. I believe that concern about the deficit is a pretty nebulous thing that usually represents general angst about the economy. Also, people will be more prone to be angry about deficits if they think that massive government spending isn't helping them. The biggest question for the next year, in my view, is whether the President will learn from history and emphasize job creation over deficit reduction. There are very few issues that I would say determine the fate of an entire Presidency, but this is one of them.

HEALTH CARE: The Senate today finally voted on a couple amendments to the health care bill after four days of Republican delay tactics. Off the floor, Democrats are still trying to find a way to get 60 votes on the bill. There are intense negotiations going on relating to the public option. There are also other potential landmines, like the abortion issue. While amendment votes are important, we have to keep in the back of our mind that this bill cannot advance unless we can cobble together a 60 vote majority.

The Senate voted on 4 amendments today. The first two concerned women's health. An amendment by Senator Mikulski (D-MD) increases funding in the bill for women's access to preventative care. Republicans saw this issue as a vehicle to discuss "rationing." After a report a couple of weeks ago that recommended against women having mammograms in their 40's, Republicans have tried to warn that we are on the cusp of having the government ration care. Of course, the advisory's recommendations a) have absolutely no bearing on government policy, and b) are based on best practices research. To make their political point, Republicans (led by Senator Murkowski of Alaska) proposed a side-by-side amendment that would "ensure patients receive recommendations for procedures without government intervention." Various medical groups believed that the Murkowski alternative would do away with evidence-based standards.

The Mikulski amendment passed 61-39, with support from 58 Democrats as well as Republicans Snowe and Collins of Maine and shockingly, Senator Vitter (LA). Senator Nelson (D-NE) and Feingold (WI) voted no. The Republican alternative was defeated 41-59, with only Nelson (NE) going across party lines.

This afternoon, the debate turned to the $500 billion in Medicare savings in the bill. A good portion of these savings come from the duplicative Medicare Advantage program, which pays exhorbitant amounts of taxpayer money to private insurance companies to perform the same services (pretty much) as regular Medicare. New found single-payer health care advocate John McCain proposed an amendment that would strike the Medicare cuts (cuts which incidentally are half as large as those he proposed during last year's Presidential campaign). These cuts were necessary to keep the bill budget neutral. The Senate first voted on a Democratic alternative amendment from Senator Bennet (CO) that would express the sense of the Senate that cuts should not be made in services to Medicare beneficiaries. The Bennet alternative passed 100-0. McCain's amendment was defeated by a vote of 42-58, with Senators Nelson (NE) and Webb (VA) voting yes with the entire GOP caucus.

There have been no agreements as to the consideration of other amendments, though it's possible we'll see some votes over the weekend. We will have the full rundown for you as the debate continues.

THE HOUSE: The House today passed a bill that will keep the estate tax at 2009 levels for the foreseeable futures. As we explained the other day, the Bush tax cuts from 2001 stipulate that the estate tax will be completely eliminated next year. However, those tax cuts expire after 2010, so the larger 2001 estate tax rates would return in 2011. The bill passed to day ensured that only estates worth more than $3.5 million would be taxed, and that they would be taxed at 45% marginally. In 2001, estates worth more than $1 million were taxed at 55% marginally. I'm not thrilled about this bill. I would rather have rich people's estates be taxed at the 2001 levels. Cutting estate taxes just perpetuates the transfer of wealth through generations that keeps our society from being truly meritocratic. But at least this tax won't be eliminated next year. And by passing this bill, we would stave off attempts by Republicans and centrist Democrats to make these taxes even lower. The bill itself passed by a vote of 225-200. All Republicans voted no, as did 26 Democrats. About half of the Democratic "no" votes are from liberals who are against keeping taxes low for millionaires when average Americans are struggling. The other half of the "no" votes were from self-professed fiscal conservatives who want to greatly INCREASE the deficit by cutting estate taxes even more.

Luckily, the House defeated a Republican motion to recommit that would have kept the scheduled elimination of the estate tax (or as the Republicans call it, the "death tax") through 2011. The 187 members who voted for this are never allowed to talk about the deficit again. This is a textbook case of what David Sirota would call "Selective Deficit Disorder." Among those 187 members were 18 Democrats. 233 Democrats voted no.

COMMENT: Finally, I want to address a comment someone wrote to yesterday's entry. I'm all for opposing viewpoints to write comments on this blog. In fact, I think it's great to get a good dialogue going. I'm glad that whoever this was commented last night. It's just hard to believe that people think the way this person does. This person acts like it's established fact that Democratic health care bills will " deny hospitalization and an IV for having nothing more wrong than simple dehydration." Where do people get this information? I guess I know the answer to that. But honestly, it amazes me how people will believe anything they hear. Where in the bill would you even get this idea? Also, this person repeats the Republican talking point (which helps feed crazy conspiracy theories) that we're trying to jam this bill through without giving the legislature time to know what's in the bill. That's absolute baloney. These bills have been considered for months, if not years. They've gone through the vetting of five Congressional committees, and they've been online for the general public for weeks now.

Anyway, I hope whoever that was keeps on commenting, because it allows us to highlight some of the fearmongering and ignorance that has distorted this health care debate. That's it for tonight, see you tomorrow!

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