CHIMPS: Making a Monkey out of You and Me

CHIMPS, as in "changes in mandatory program spending." In order to reach the FY 2011 budget accord to avert the government shutdown on Friday night, Democrats came up with $17 billion worth of CHIMPS—cuts in things such as agricultural subsidies or certain banking and justice programs that fall under the umbrella of "mandatory government spending."  

Details are now emerging as to what precisely these CHIMPS cuts entail. From the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

As Senator Schumer (D-NY) and other Democrats had called for, the package includes "changes in mandatory programs" (CHIMPs) which essentially allows some mandatory cuts to be counted as discretionary. In fact, almost half the savings -- $17.8 billion of the $38 billion -- comes from cuts to mandatory programs.

This does include two changes to the health care reform law that will affect mandatory spending. These changes would cut $2 billion from the budget for non-profit health insurance co-operatives (the CO-OP program, which is intended to function as a weaker version of the public option) and it would eliminate a part of the law that would allow low-income earners to opt out of employer-sponsored health insurance to purchase insurance on the new exchanges.

Other details about the CHIMPs are unknown at this point.

So just like that gone are the herculean efforts of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden to win two key ideas on health care cost containment in the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Senator Wyden, who was the architect of the opt-out provision, lamented its demise.

“Publicly,” Mr. Wyden said, “both parties say they are champions of choice and competition and making health insurance more affordable for everyone. But then behind closed doors they kill a program that does exactly that. This seems like a victory for special interests.”

Many employers had objected to the Wyden provision, saying it would increase their costs by allowing younger and healthier entry-level employees to opt out of employer-sponsored plans. Still it is the loss of funding for the non-profit health insurance co-operatives, the most progressive idea in the corporate give away that is Affordable Care Act,  that is just simply devastating. These were fought for tooth and nail by Senator Sanders. They were seen as a consolation prize on the lack of a public option. For the insurance industry and the GOP however, these non-profit health insurance co-operatives were considered as laying the framework for some future public option.

Indeed at the time of this debate, progressive voices warned that "a non-profit public co-op instead of a government run public option is not the solution.  It leaves for-profit insurers a legislative means for tearing them down.  It is their Trojan Horse.  It is their means for eventually tearing down the co-ops or buying them outright and stripping away any pretense of public benefit." That day has come to pass. The most progressive feature, the one that does the most to reign in health care costs, of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 has been gutted.

We have not only been defeated, we have been betrayed.

Senator Sanders on the Budget Battle

 

MSNBC host Cenk Uygur speaks with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) about negotiations on the federal budget deficit and proposed spending cuts.

Bernie on Barack and the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Law

Here's Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders taking two questions from constituents. The first is Senator Sanders' thoughts on the achievements and disappointments of President Obama's tenure and the second is on Senator Sanders' views on the recently passed Wall Street reform law.

 

Quick Hits

A few items making news and worth a read.

Sharron Angle is dead, the trend is inescapable and the race’s dynamic is fundamentally altered writes Jon Ralston in the Las Vegas Sun.

The Boston Globe reports that the Massachusetts state Legislature is poised to give final approval this week to a new law intended to bypass the Electoral College system and ensure that the winner of the presidential election is determined by the national popular vote.

The world's oceans have for too long been a dumping ground and are clearly in trouble. In an effort to make sense of of the dozens of US laws and overlapping agencies governing policy on oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes, John Holden, the White House Science Advisor, announced that it was forming a new National Ocean Council. The new body, which will include 24 officials from various federal agencies, will not have the power to propose new laws or regulations. Rather it will set broad policy goals and try to referee between conflicting commercial and recreational uses of the nation’s aquatic resources. By signing an Executive Order establishing a National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, Coasts, and Great Lakes, President Obama strengthens ocean governance and coordination, establishes guiding principles for ocean management, and adopts a flexible framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning to address conservation, economic activity, user conflict, and sustainable use of the ocean, our coasts and the Great Lakes. More from the New York Times.

In a related story, new research from the National Center for Atmospheric Research suggests that climate change is already causing even greater sea level rise along the coastlines of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Java—coastlines inhabited by hundreds of millions of people. The same climate change is also responsible for falling sea levels around the Seychelles and a potential weakening of the monsoons. A podcast from Scientific American.

Staying on global warming related topics, Federal officials noted last week that they fear an outbreak of dengue fever in Florida after a survey of Key West residents found that at least 5% had been infected or exposed to the virus. With the exception of a handful of isolated cases along the Texas-Mexico border, there had previously been no cases in the continental United States since 1946 and no outbreak in Florida since 1934. I have had dengue fever twice, once after a trip to the Chocó rainforest and a second time after a trip to Belize. The incubation period takes two weeks, I'd expect to see increased reports of dengue fever in the press the next few weeks. The virus produces high fever and a sensation that your bones are breaking apart. 

Matt Taibbi writes on the shenanigans surrounding a vote on Senator Bernie Sanders' proposal in the Senate to put a 15 percent cap on credit-card interest. Another Senate Charade highlights how Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall initially voted "no" but change their votes once it became clear the measure was headed for defeat allowing the Senators to claim that they stood for consumer protection.

Vice President Biden sung the praises of Speaker Nancy Pelosi today while at a fundraiser for Bryan Lentz, who is running to replace Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) who is now running for the Senate. Biden called the Speaker from San Francisco the “most powerful person in U.S. politics.” In what's likely to add to the catalogue of the quotable Biden, the Vice President said that “the single most successful, the single most persuasive, the single most strategic leader I have ever worked with is Nancy Pelosi,” before adding that "Nancy, you are the mother of healthcare.” The full story at The Hill.

 

Poor Blanche, Stuck in the Middle with No One

Shaila Dewan of the New York Times has opted to throw Senator Blanche Lincoln a pity party bemoaning her primary challenge from Lt. Governor Bill Halter as well as the various Republicans lining to challenge her should she win the May 18th primary.

In a state where voters are known for valuing personal relationships over ideology, Mrs. Lincoln, a moderate Democrat, is in trouble even here in her own hometown, among those who attended high school with her or went hunting with her father. And her tenuous position shows just how dangerous a place the political middle has become.

Caught in a surge of antigovernment sentiment, Mrs. Lincoln has been blasted by conservatives for allowing health care legislation to proceed, and has already attracted a slate of potential Republican challengers. At the same time, in a state with a more centrist tradition than most others in the South, she has become a target of the left for opposing a government-run public health care option, easier organizing rules for unions and regulation to fight global warming.

Not only do polls show her behind several of the Republicans, she now also faces a challenger in the May 18 Democratic primary, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who has been championed by national liberal groups that have pledged to spend millions of dollars to fight her.

“I am the rope in the tug of war, folks,” Mrs. Lincoln told supporters in Little Rock last week.

It's hard to have much sympathy for Blanche the bland. It's a sad testament to the state of the nation's politics if the definition of moderate is Blanche Lincoln. The liberal advocacy group MoveOn noted that Senator Lincoln  is “one of the worst corporate Democrats in Washington,” saying that she had taken $866,000 from insurance companies and over $1 million from Wall Street firms.

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