Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/25/10-The Health Care Summit

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Today was a quite a spectacle. I don't think we would have ever seen President Bush engaged in an unscripted event with his Democratic counterparts for 6 hours. It certainly gave us a lot to swallow.

SUMMIT: The President hosted members of Congress from both parties today in a high-stakes health care reform summit. The summit, as expected, did not lead to any breakthroughs. The fundamentals of the debate remain the same. Most Democrats want a bill to pass in some form but are politically fearful of the consequences. Republicans don't want a bill to pass and are giddy about the political ramifications.

The summit did have some usefulness, however. The public got some clarity as to the deep ideological divide between the two parties. Democrats want to expand access to insurance by having the government give assistance to low-and-middle income Americans. Republicans do not. Democrats want to regulate the insurance industry so that people are not abused and are guaranteed fair minimum benefits. Republicans believe that regulation of the insurance industry is detrimental, and that defining minimum benefits is "government intrusion." Democrats believe in solving big problems with comprehensive pieces of legislation. Republicans want "piecemeal," small reform packages because they are distrustful of government. I don't mean to oversimplify things, but I do think that these fundamental differences became crystal clear after today's session.

The summit also gave the President a chance to confront his critics directly. One of the main problems for Democrats during this debate is that Republicans repeat false memes (death panels, government takeover, higher premiums etc) so much that they become ingrained the public's mind. Today, President Obama was able to address these falsehoods head-on. Here are some highlights:

-The meeting got underway with a great exchange between Obama and Republican Senator Lamar Alexander. Alexander falsely claimed that the Congressional Budget Office said that the Senate bill would raise premiums. The CBO actually said that for those who get insurance through their employers, the price of insurance would stay the same or would be slightly lower. For those getting insurance through the individual market, people would pay more for insurance because they would be getting far better services. The value of insurance, therefore, would be much greater. Also, they would be spending more money on insurance largely because they would be spending government subsidies. Obama repeatedly told Alexander that his contention was just not true. It was good to see that charge rebutted.

-We got a little 2008 election redux when the President sparred with John McCain. McCain, like many other speakers, talked about the process rather than the policy. When McCain mentioned President Obama's promise to televise negotiations on CSPAN (see the irony?), Obama sharply reminded McCain that the campaign was over. McCain seemed like he was bubbling with anger (as he often does). I should also mention that many Democrats very wisely reminded viewers that the focus should NOT be on process. Americans don't care about process, they want results. Oftentimes, we forget why we are doing this: to give people health security and to save people's lives Who cares about the reconciliation process?

-The President called out House Minority Whip Eric Cantor for using the giant 2,400 page bill as a prop. Obama reminded Cantor that we can pretend that these issues aren't complicated but they are. Obama also chided House Minority Leader/Attack Dog John Boehner for spewing out talking points.

I don't think today's event changes much. Ultimately, health care is in the hands of 218 House Democrats and 50 Senate Democrats (if the Democrats pass legislative fixes to the Senate bill through reconciliation). The President was able to show the American people that he was willing to engage with his opponents. He also told Republicans that there were areas of compromise, like more tort reform. Republicans offered zero concessions of their own. I don't think enough people who are on the fence on health care really tuned into this event. I'll be interested to see if the summit has any effect on health care polling.

If you want to read some great material on today's event, as always I recommend Ezra Klein's blog. He delves into some of the GOP's talking points.

THE HOUSE: While Congressional leaders were at the White House summit, it was still a pretty busy day on the hill. The House began debate on an Intelligence Authorization bill, and went through several amendments. Consideration of the bill has come to a temporary standstill, because Democrats tried to insert an amendment that would allow punishment for intelligence officials who torture detainees. Republicans were outraged that the provision was put in the manager's amendment. It looks like the bill will be pushed to next week. The bill sets intelligence policies for the rest of the fiscal year which ends at the end of this September.

The House also voted to extend various expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act through the beginning of next year. The Senate approved these extensions by unanimous consent last night. The House approved the bill by a vote of 315-97. 87 Democrats and 10 libertarian-leaning Republicans voted no.

THE SENATE: The Senate passed a bill tonight to encourage international tourism into the United States. The bill is a pet project of Majority Leader Reid, who wants to help his constituent businesses in Las Vegas. The Senate passed a different tourism bill last year, but the bill changed when it got to the House of Representatives. The House sent this new bill to the Senate late last year. The Senate first voted to cut off debate on the bill by a vote of 76-20, with all no votes coming from Republicans. Republican Senator DeMint (SC) tried to introduce a non-related amendment relating to the designation of national monuments, but his effort was stymied by a vote of 38-58. Senators Nelson (NE) and Tester (MT) voted with the GOP, and Republicans Collins (ME), Gregg (NH) and Snowe (ME) voted with the Democrats. The bill itself was approved by a vote of 78-18. It will now go to President Obama for his signature.

Senator Reid tried to gain unanimous consent to extend unemployment and COBRA benefits for 30 days while the Senate worked out a long-term extension. Republican nihilist Jim Bunning (KY) objected to the request because he wanted the extension to be paid for with other spending cuts. Reid even offered Bunning a chance to offer an amendment to offset the objection, but Bunning was apparently only interested in making a political point at the expense of millions of struggling Americans. The Senate will have to consider the bill early next week.

That's it for a busy day. We'll see you again tomorrow! Leave some comments/thoughts on the health summit!

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