Monday, December 7, 2009

The Weekly Strike-12/7-12/13

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, where we cover a packed week in politics. We'll start by covering the health care debate in the Senate this weekend, where there were four votes and a lot of negotiations. We'll then get to the upcoming week in politics.

HEALTH CARE: It's getting to be crunch time for health care in the United States Senate. Over the weekend, Majority Leader Reid convened a group 5 moderate and 5 liberal Democrats to hash out compromises on the outstanding major issues, including the public option and abortion. A compromise public option is emerging, and it probably won't make many progressives happy. The new plan would replace the public option with a health insurance exchange (an exchange within the exchange, if you will) similar to the Federal Employee Health Benefits exchange, run by the Office of Personnel Management. Within that regulated exchange, consumers could buy insurance through private companies, but the companies would have to be not-for-profit, and they would have to meet some basic national coverage standards. The best part about this idea is that the OPM would use government purchasing power to force insurance companies to lower prices and improve services. I'm also pleased that it would be administered at the federal level instead of the state level. Even though this plan would be available within state exchanges, it would still be regulated by the federal government. This will create a larger purchasing pool, which will hopefully put downward pressure on prices.

There's a lot to like with this idea, but it's not a public option. It will not force private insurers
to change their practices to compete with a public plan. Instead it will only force them to change practices to meet OPM standards. If this compromise is agreed to, I hope that liberals can win some concessions for our priorities, including increased subsidies. I would not be thrilled with this outcome, but it would still make the Senate bill worth supporting.

While negotiations were taking place over the weekend, Senators voted on four amendments. The first two dealt with home health benefits under Medicare. Home health services will be cut in this bill as part of the overall Medicare reductions in the bill. In isolation, I support this program, but independent analysts say that providers have received over payments in recent years. The Senate agreed to a Kerry (D-MA) "sense of the Senate" amendment against cuts in services by a vote of 96-0. On the Johanns (R-NE) amendment to eliminate all home health cuts, the Senate voted no by a 41-53 margin, 19 votes shorted of the 60 needed for passage. The vote was mostly along party lines, with all Republicans and Democrats Bayh (IN), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE) and Webb (VA) voting yes. Webb has been voting with th Republicans a lot recently. I wonder what gives.

Yesterday, the Senate dealt with two amendments of the populist nature. The first was a very good amendment by Senator Lincoln (D-AR) that would have limited CEO compensation for health care executives. Lincoln has been a thorn in the side of Democrats, but she seems to be showing true Democratic anti-elite colors in this amendment. Unfortunately, some Democrats are so beholden to political donations that they chose to support special interests over the common interest. It frankly disgusts me. The amendment failed to garner 60 votes to pass, but it did get 56-42 majority support. Republican Snowe (ME) voted yes with the Democrats, while Democrats Bingaman (NM), Carper (DE), Conrad (ND), and Lieberman (CT) are wholly owned subsidiaries of the health care industry. As are 39 Republicans.

The next amendment offered by Senator Ensign (NV) would cap attorney fees for medical malpractice suits. It failed by a bipartisan vote of 32-66.

We'll keep you up-to-date on health care as the week goes on, and hopefully we'll see some movement in a positive direction.

THE HOUSE: Not to be outdone, the House will also have a very busy week. Today and tomorrow, the House will consider bills under suspension of the rules. Some of the suspension bills are actually pretty significant, including two data security bills which were worked on with the help of friend of the blog, The Insider. On Wednesday, the House will vote on a bill to extend a variety of expiring tax provisions. This bill must be approved by the Senate by the end of the year, or various taxes will go up on January 1st. The Senate will probably vote on these extenders as part of a conference report full of must-pass legislation to be released later this month. Finally, the House will vote on a comprehensive, long overdue financial regulation bill. We'll have full details on this potentially historic bill when it comes to the floor on Thursday.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President has a busy week. Besides keeping his eye on health care negotiations in the Senate, he'll also be tuned in to negotiations at the climate summit in Copenhagen. President Obama is expected to join the summit later this week, and for the first time, the U.S. could agree to some meaningful cuts in global carbon emissions. In the meantime, the President holds a series of diplomatic meetings today, and meets with General McCrystal and Ambassador Elkenberry to discuss Afghanistan. The Big Picture caught a very tough article this morning on Afghanistan, and I'll let him close out today's entry. We'll see you tonight! Leave comments!

Front-page article in the Times today about how the administration had a unified message on the Sunday shows that in no way will we be leaving in July 2011, that's only the very beginning of a very long process, as James Jones said, "We will be there for a long while". Karzai said he didn't think his security forces would be trained by that point. They're saying this in response to criticism from Republicans and from the Afghan and Pakistani governments about the deadlines.

This is EXACTLY the dynamic of the Vietnam War. Get in, things go bad, escalate, but say we're escalating in order to leave, but we're never ready to leave, too much pressure from the right and from the corrupt local governments we depend on and hwo depend on us, and we just linger and linger.
It's amazing how quickly a speech can turn out to be at the very least a very deliberate mis-emphasis on what July 2011 would mean, and at worst just a lie cooked up to pacify people who disagree with the escalation.
My personal approval rating for Obama continuing to slide further and further.

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