Weekly Pulse: Obama to Promote Health Plan at Summit

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Monday, the White House released its plan for health care reform, which resembles the Senate bill with additional concessions for liberals and labor unions. Tomorrow, President Obama will hold a televised health care summit. Obama is billing the summit as a last-ditch attempt to solicit Republican ideas for health care reform. In fact, he’s hoping to give the GOP enough rope to hang itself.

It takes two…

As Katrina vanden Huevel argues in the Nation, bipartisanship takes two parties, but the Republicans have refused to negotiate unless health care reform starts over from scratch. That’s not bipartisanship, that’s showboating. President Obama is giving the Republicans one last chance to waste the entire country’s time so that he can point to the sorry spectacle and say, “Look, what they made us do.”

In other words, the White House has finally accepted what progressives have been saying for months: There’s no way to pass an acceptable health care reform without using the budget reconciliation process to circumvent the filibuster.

What’s in the White House plan?

What does the White House want for health reform? Kevin Drum of Mother Jones summarizes some highlights of the Obama plan: Increasing premium subsidies for working families; delaying the so-called “Cadillac” tax on expensive health plans and increasing the threshold at which plans are subject to tax; and empowering the Department of Health and Human Services to crack down on exploitative premium hikes, like the 39% increase recently announced by Anthem of California.

In AlterNet, Byard Duncan points to a lesser-known but important facet of the president’s plan, reviving the Indian Health Care Improvement Act—which would modernize the Indian health care system, which serves 1.9 million Native Americans and indigenous Alaskans, and not a moment too soon. American Indians are 3 times more likely to die of diabetes, 5 times more likely to die of alcoholism, and 6 times more likely to die of tuberculosis than any other ethnic group. If Obama’s plan is approved, the Indian Health Service (IHS) will get a 13% budget increase to address these and other pressing issues.

Stupak, stopped?

Abortion continues to cast a shadow over health reform. As Nick Baumann explains in Mother Jones, the original House health care bill only passed by 5 votes. Then Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) resigned and Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) died. Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA) only voted for the House bill because he liked the Stupak abortion funding ban, which is no longer operative. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and his coalition of anti-choice Democrats supported health reform last time around in exchange for their notorious amendment. Nobody knows how many of them Speaker Nancy Pelosi can keep in the fold. At this point, she has the counter-intuitive advantage of having nothing to offer them.

The Senate’s abortion language can’t be modified through reconciliation for procedural reasons. The Stupack Pack’s bluff has been called: Either they’ll kill health reform out of spite, or they’ll fall into line. They could go either way.

Speaking of abortion, Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check reports that “Amelia”, a young pregnant woman in Nicaragua is being denied chemotherapy because it might hurt her fetus. Amelia’s doctors say she needs an abortion, but all abortion is illegal in Nicaragua. Nicaraguan women’s groups are urging people to write to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and Nicaraguan government officials to protest.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Weekly Pulse: Obama to Promote Health Plan at Summit

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Monday, the White House released its plan for health care reform, which resembles the Senate bill with additional concessions for liberals and labor unions. Tomorrow, President Obama will hold a televised health care summit. Obama is billing the summit as a last-ditch attempt to solicit Republican ideas for health care reform. In fact, he’s hoping to give the GOP enough rope to hang itself.

It takes two…

As Katrina vanden Huevel argues in the Nation, bipartisanship takes two parties, but the Republicans have refused to negotiate unless health care reform starts over from scratch. That’s not bipartisanship, that’s showboating. President Obama is giving the Republicans one last chance to waste the entire country’s time so that he can point to the sorry spectacle and say, “Look, what they made us do.”

In other words, the White House has finally accepted what progressives have been saying for months: There’s no way to pass an acceptable health care reform without using the budget reconciliation process to circumvent the filibuster.

What’s in the White House plan?

What does the White House want for health reform? Kevin Drum of Mother Jones summarizes some highlights of the Obama plan: Increasing premium subsidies for working families; delaying the so-called “Cadillac” tax on expensive health plans and increasing the threshold at which plans are subject to tax; and empowering the Department of Health and Human Services to crack down on exploitative premium hikes, like the 39% increase recently announced by Anthem of California.

In AlterNet, Byard Duncan points to a lesser-known but important facet of the president’s plan, reviving the Indian Health Care Improvement Act—which would modernize the Indian health care system, which serves 1.9 million Native Americans and indigenous Alaskans, and not a moment too soon. American Indians are 3 times more likely to die of diabetes, 5 times more likely to die of alcoholism, and 6 times more likely to die of tuberculosis than any other ethnic group. If Obama’s plan is approved, the Indian Health Service (IHS) will get a 13% budget increase to address these and other pressing issues.

Stupak, stopped?

Abortion continues to cast a shadow over health reform. As Nick Baumann explains in Mother Jones, the original House health care bill only passed by 5 votes. Then Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) resigned and Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) died. Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA) only voted for the House bill because he liked the Stupak abortion funding ban, which is no longer operative. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and his coalition of anti-choice Democrats supported health reform last time around in exchange for their notorious amendment. Nobody knows how many of them Speaker Nancy Pelosi can keep in the fold. At this point, she has the counter-intuitive advantage of having nothing to offer them.

The Senate’s abortion language can’t be modified through reconciliation for procedural reasons. The Stupack Pack’s bluff has been called: Either they’ll kill health reform out of spite, or they’ll fall into line. They could go either way.

Speaking of abortion, Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check reports that “Amelia”, a young pregnant woman in Nicaragua is being denied chemotherapy because it might hurt her fetus. Amelia’s doctors say she needs an abortion, but all abortion is illegal in Nicaragua. Nicaraguan women’s groups are urging people to write to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and Nicaraguan government officials to protest.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Obama's Failure of Leadership

The White House healthcare proposals, the attempt to bridge the gap between the House and Senate versions, did not include a public option. On this omission, Ezra Klein writes in the Washington Post that this demonstrates "a complete and utter failure of White House leadership."

They need to give this effort their support, or they need to kill it by publicly stating their opposition. But they can't simply wait for someone else to make the decision for them, which has been their strategy until now.

If the White House decides that reviving the public option is a good idea, there's reason to believe the Senate would follow them on that. It would make some sense, after all: The public option is popular, its death was partly the product of industry pressure, and the sudden spate of high-profile rate increases offers a nice rhetorical pivot for anyone who wants to argue that individuals should be able to choose an insurer who's not a profit-hungry beast. Plus, Democrats need an excited base going into the 2010 election, and this may be the only way to get it.

While the death of the public option may have partly been a result of industry pressure, the onus lies squarely with the White House. After all, where does the buck stop? Who is willing or unwilling to fight the powers that be? Some fights are worth having but we have a President and a Chief of Staff who would rather cut a deal than fight the good (and hard) fight. It has been a complete and utter failure of White House leadership.

To be sure the White House has paid lip service to the idea of a public option now and again most recently earlier this week when they trotted out HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to suggest that if the Senate wanted to push for a public option via the reconciliation process then Majority Leader Harry Reid was free to do so. Such a suggestion is a passing of the buck. Corralling 51 votes on this was always going to be arduous task but nonetheless 23 Senators had stepped forward until Senator Jay Rockefeller rained on the parade.

There's more...

Passing Public Option Via Reconciliation Gathers Steam

The effort to bring the public option up for a vote continues to gather steam in the wake of the Bennet Letter written by Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado - and orginally co-signed by Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon - to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to use the reconciliation process. Eighteen Democratic Senators have now signed the letter. Those who have signed on are Senator Barbara Boxer of California, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Senator Roland Burris of Illinois and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

The other development overnight is a bit of a mixed bag. Appearing on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show last night, Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that the White House is willing to make a push for the public option if Senate Democrats decide to bring it up for a vote. 

"Certainly. If it's part of the decision of the Senate leadership to move forward, absolutely," she told Rachel Maddow.

While welcomed, it is not exactly the strongest display of leadership. This I will if you will is passing the buck to Harry Reid when it should be the President that leads. Still, it perhaps merits taking a wait and see approach. The New York Times reports this morning that the Administration will put forward comprehensive health care legislation intended to bridge differences between Senate and House Democrats ahead of a summit meeting with Republicans next week.

Democratic officials said the president’s proposal was being written so that it could be attached to a budget bill as a way of averting a Republican filibuster in the Senate. The procedure, known as budget reconciliation, would let Democrats advance the bill with a simple majority rather than a 60-vote supermajority.

Congressional Democrats, however, have not yet seen the proposal or signed on.

The House and the Senate each adopted a version of sweeping health care legislation late last year. But efforts to combine the measures stalled after a Republican, Scott Brown, won a special Senate election in Massachusetts on Jan. 19, effectively stripping the Democrats of the 60th vote they needed to overcome Republican filibusters.

“It will be a reconciliation bill,” one Democratic aide said. “If Republicans don’t come with any substantial offers, this is what we would do.”

Officials said that the White House would post the president’s plan on the Internet by Monday morning. But even as Mr. Obama tries to unite his party behind a single plan, it is unclear that Democrats can muster the needed votes in the House and the Senate given the tense political climate of a midterm election year.

Monday thus looms large. It may be a make or break day for the Administration and the progressive movement. Should the White House fail to show leadership on this, it may be time to take full stock of Administration that is long on rhetoric but short on delivery.

Weekly Pulse: Bayh-Partisanship=Giving Your Seat to a Republican

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

You will be shocked, shocked to hear that a Blue Dog Democrat who made a career out of undermining his own party is sucker-punching them on his way out.  Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana abruptly announced this week that he would not seek reelection in November. Bayh’s departure is ratcheting up insecurity in the Democratic caucus at the very moment they need to take decisive action to pass health care reform.

Bayh could easily have won a third term, but it’s unclear whether any other Democrat can hold the seat. To add insult to injury, Bayh waited until 24 hours before the filing deadline for Democratic primary candidates, sending Indiana Dems scrambling to find a candidate to run in his place. Bayh’s tardiness was calculated. Since no Democrats were ready to file by the deadline, the Indiana Democratic establishment will get to handpick Bayh’s successor.

In a call with state Democratic officials, Bayh said his abrupt departure is for the best, as Evan McMorris-Santoro reports for TPMDC. According to Bayh, he’s doing the party a favor by sparing them a contentious primary process. Thanks a lot.

What does this mean for health care reform?

What does Bayh’s departure portend for health care reform? Monica Potts of TAPPED argues that replacing a conservative Democrat like Bayh with a moderate Republican won’t make that much difference. Bayh was never a reliable Democratic vote.

But Tim Fernholtz of TAPPED dismisses this view as naive. Fernholtz predicts that, for all of Bayh’s faults, the senate will be much worse without him: “In essence, the difference between this insubstantial Hoosier and, say, [GOP hopeful] Dan Coats, is simple: You can buy off Bayh.” Bayh voted for health care reform and the stimulus, no Republican, no matter how “moderate” is going to vote that way.

Anyone who expects a moderate Republican from Indiana to support any part of the Democratic agenda is deluded. On the other hand, the Senate Democrats already passed their bill, their only remaining task would be to pass a “fix” through budget reconciliation to make changes in the legislation that would be acceptable to the House. Of course, reconciliation will be a bitter political fight. One wonders whether the demoralized Senate Democrats will have the stomach for it.

About that health care summit…

Note that congressional Republicans have yet to commit to attending the “bipartisan” health care summit that they called for. Christina Bellatoni of TPMDC reports that yesterday White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs wondered why the Republicans were for the summit before they were against it:

“Right before the president issued the invitation, the—the thing that each of these individuals was hoping for most was an opportunity to sit down on television and discuss and engage on these issues. Now, not accepting an invitation to do what they’d asked the president to do, if they decide not to, I’ll let them leap the—leap the chasm there and try to explain why they’re now opposed to what they said they wanted most to do,” Gibbs said.

Busting the filibuster

On the bright side, the Democrats still have a sizable majority in the Senate, with or without Bayh. Republicans would have to beat all 10 vulnerable Democratic incumbent senators in the next election in order to regain control of the Senate. The more immediate threat to health care reform and the Democrats’ ability to govern in general is the institutional filibuster. Structural reform is needed to break the impasse. Lawyer and author Tom Geoghegan talks with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! on strategies for busting the filibuster.

Public option resurfacing

Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent reports that four senate Democrats have thrown their lot in with progressives clamoring for a public option through reconciliation. Sens. Sherrod Brown (OH), Jeff Merkley (OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Michael Bennet (CO) argue for the public option in an open letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid. The letter reads:

There are four fundamental reasons why we support this approach – its potential for billions of dollars in cost savings; the growing need to increase competition and lower costs for the consumer; the history of using reconciliation for significant pieces of health care legislation; and the continued public support for a public option….

Big pharma’s lobby

That’s nice, but let’s not forget who’s really in charge. In AlterNet, Paul Blumenthal recaps the sorry history of collusion between the White House, the pharmaceutical lobby group PhRMA, and the Senate. According to Blumenthal the White House steered pharmaceutical lobbyists directly to Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chair of the powerful Finance Committee, who was entrusted with crafting the White House’s favored version of health care reform.

Abortion and health care reform

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, Nick Baumann of Mother Jones notes that the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) is making abortion is an obstacle to passing health care reform through reconciliation. The NRLC is insinuating that Bart Stupak (D-MI) and his coalition of anti-choice Democrats will vote against the Senate health care bill because it it’s slightly less restrictive of abortion than the bill the House passed. The good news is that it’s procedurally impossible to insert Stupak’s language into the Senate bill through reconciliation. The bad news is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) needs every vote she can get to pass the Senate bill and anti-choice hardliners could be an obstacle.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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