Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/9/09-Once Again, Waiting for the CBO

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. We might have broken an impasse on health care. Or maybe we haven't. Let's get right to it.

HEALTH CARE: A group of moderate and liberal Democrats sent a compromise proposal to the Congressional Budget Office, possibly signifying a breakthrough on the public option. Details on the compromise aren't completely clear. Apparently, Senator Reid (D-NV) didn't even tell his caucus exactly what's in the revised language. But we do know bits and pieces. The public option will be scuttled and replaced with an exchange like the FEHB package, with private insurance options operated by the Office of Personnel Management. In exchange, liberals have apparently gotten a provision that allows people 55-64 to buy into Medicare. In addition, a public option would come into effect if the OPM managed plans didn't meet some sort of standards. Liberals also won a provision that requires 90% of insurance company premiums to be spent on medical services.

In terms of policy, the devil is always in the details. I highly suggest reading these key questions that Johnathan Cohn poses over at The New Republic. I like the idea of a Medicare buy-in. It would fulfill one of the key goals of the public option, which would be to provide competition to the private insurance industry (at least in one market). If buying into Medicare proves popular, people younger and younger could soon be able to buy into the program. This strikes me as the most plausible path to a single-payer system in the United States (not that I think that's likely). The compromise isn't at all what we've wanted, but still worth supporting. The Big Picture has a somewhat different view:

But my basic concern persists: how are you going to trick these Senators (or really their staffs/lobbyists) who have made it clear that no matter the mechanism, they oppose any effort that will actually make health insurance better and no longer a racket.

Very indicative remark here from Cohn, really tells you all you need to know about Joltin' Joe Lieberman and his merry band of idiots:

I'm not saying vote against it, I'm just tempering how good it could possibly be if these folks are supporting it, because it's abundantly clear that they will only support something that doesn't threaten the insurance racket and therefore doesn't improve choice, competition, coverage.

My biggest concern at this point is that we haven't gotten 60 votes for this proposal yet. Key centrists, like Senators Lieberman (CT), Nelson (NE), Landrieu (LA), Lincoln (AR) and Snowe (ME) haven't committed one way or another. We shouldn't be making these deals public unless we've secured 60 votes. At the very least, none of the swing votes have said they'll vote against it for sure. I think a lot of it depends on what the Congressional Budget Office says. If the CBO gives moderates cover by saying that the compromise reduces the overall cost of the bill, then we may have an actual deal. I expect that we'll know what the CBO says by the end of the week. The changes would be incorporated into a manager's amendment. We would then have to go into 30 hours of cloture on the manager's amendment, 30 hours of post-cloture debate on the amendment, 30 hours of cloture for the bill itself, 30 hours post-cloture for the bill. This really could go on until Christmas.

There were no votes on amendments today. Senators are expected to vote on a drug importation amendment tomorrow.

THE HOUSE: The House voted to extend a slew of various tax breaks and cuts through 2010. A full list of the extended tax breaks is listed here. The extended tax cuts include those from topics ranging from charitable contributions to " mine rescue team training expenses," whatever that means. The bill passed by a vote of 241-181. 2 Republicans voted yes, and 10 Democrats voted no. The Senate will probably take up this bill early next year, meaning that some of these tax provisions may indeed expire, at least temporarily.

The House will have a busy next couple of days. Tonight, members will begin debate on a sweeping financial regulation bill. (We'll describe this key bill in major detail tomorrow night). On Friday, the House will take up an Omnibus bill combining 6 of the 7 remaining annual appropriations bills. The final spending bill, the one on defense, is being saved for next week so that Democrats can attach some unrelated goodies to a must-pass bill. One of the oldest legislative tricks in the book!

JOBS: President Obama met with a bipartisan delegation from Congress today to discuss his job's plan. The President solicited ideas from members of both parties on how he can increase jobs growth. The most interesting part about this meeting was that the President challenged Republican members head on. He asked them to provide any evidence that the Republicans' plan to freeze government spending would help job growth. I wish he'd directly challenge these "common sense" conservative proposals more frequently and more forcefully.

That's it for now. See you tomorrow!

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