What a United States Senator Sounds Like

Kudos to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and the women of the Senate Democratic caucus who took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to rise in defense of reproductive rights. You also got to love the not so subtle dig at Arizona Senator Jon Kyl for his gross indecency for claiming on the Senate floor that "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does" was provide abortions when the actual number is just three percent. Senator Kyl's office later and laughably issued a statement that Senator Kyl had not intended his remarks to be a factual statement.

Here is Senator Gillibrand's astute and well placed jab:

For my friends and colleagues, this is a factual statement. Current law already prevents federal money from paying for abortions. This has been the law of the land for over 30 years. Shutting down the government for a political argument is not only outrageous, it is irresponsible. The price for keeping the government open is this assault on women's rights.

The New York Observer writes that "Gillibrand seems to have gotten a little more aggressive over the past few months, emboldened maybe by having been elected to the upper chamber, but more likely just stirred up by the Republican House, which has made a particular point of going after women's issues." Whatever the reason, Senator Gillibrand's voice is a welcomed arrival on the national scene. She is everything a United States Senator should be: smart, passionate yet measured, focused on issues of human dignity, and above all factual. I have always held that when we stick to the facts we win. The Democrats have a winner in Kirsten Gillibrand.

New York, New York: Zuckerman, Paterson & Rangel

Citing personal reasons, billionaire real estate magnate and publisher Morton Zuckerman, owner of the tabloid New York Daily News, has decided against running for the US Senate seat currently held by Senator Kristen Gillibrand.

From the New York Daily News:

Mr. Zuckerman, chairman and publisher of the Daily News, said personal and professional reasons were behind his decision not to challenge Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

"I was encouraged by many major political figures in New York to look closely at running for Senate," Mr. Zuckerman said.

"However, at this time, it is very difficult to see how I can devote the necessary time to either a campaign, or to working in Washington, if I were to win."

Mr. Zuckerman pointed out that he has a young family, which is the most important focus in his life.

In addition, he has assumed the position of CEO of Boston Properties Inc., the real estate company he co-founded with Ed Linde, who recently passed away.

"Ed and I were partners for more than 45 years, and with him no longer a part of our company, I owe it to all the loyal people who have worked with me for so many years to contribute to our continuing success," he said.

Mr. Zuckerman added that he had been extremely flattered that a possible run for Senate had brought widespread, bipartisan support from many corners of the state.

"I believe that there is a great deal that needs to be achieved in Washington, not only on behalf of the people of New York, but in trying to break some of the paralyzing deadlock that has gripped the political decision-making process," he said.

"However, it demands unhindered attention, which I am unable to give at this time."

These are unsettled times in New York State politics but at the very least the path to re-election for Senator Gillibrand, never really in doubt, now seems clearer.

In other news, embattled Governor David Paterson who last week was forced out of his bid for reelection as allegations surfaced that his office had intervened in an assault case against out of his top aides ruled out resigning before the end of his term. The unfolding scandal today claimed the head of the New York State Police,  Superintendent Harry Corbitt, who has chosen to take early retirement. Corbitt had acknowledged last month that a State Police official had contact with a woman who had accused a top Paterson aide of assaulting her on Halloween in the Bronx.

Lastly, House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel who represents the New York Fifteen Congressional District that encompasses Harlem in Manhattan is reportedly set to relinquish his gavel and take a "leave of absence" from his chairmanship according to MSNBC. If Congressman Rangel does step aside the chairmanship of the powerful committee will temporarily pass to Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan according to leadership sources, or to Rep. Pete Stark of California, the committee's second-ranking Democrat.


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.

The Bennet Letter

Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado today stood up for the American people and wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to bring the public insurance option back up for a vote and to pass it via the reconciliation process which requires only 51 votes. The Bennet letter was co-signed by Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

The four Senators, all Democrats, cite that they support a public option plan for four reasons: the cost savings the public option is estimated to achieve, continued public support for the public option, the need for increased competition in the insurance market and the Senate's history of using the reconciliation process for health care reform. The letter points out that the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare Advantage, and the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) were all enacted under reconciliation.

"Although we strongly support the important reforms made by the Senate-passed health reform package, including a strong public option would improve both its substance and the public’s perception of it," the letter stated. "The Senate has an obligation to reform our unworkable health insurance market — both to reduce costs and to give consumers more choices. A strong public option is the best way to deliver on both of these goals, and we urge its consideration under reconciliation rules."

"Put simply, including a strong public option is one of the best, most fiscally responsible ways to reform our health insurance system," the letter says. "Although we strongly support the important reforms made by the Senate-passed health reform package, including a strong public option would improve both its substance and the public’s perception of it."

More from Politico:

Bennet took the lead in the Senate to round up co-signers for the letter, which was spearheaded by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America and Credo Action. A similar effort in the House netted 119 signers to a letter.

The senators have made the calculation that the public option is popular with Democrats, and the absence of one in the final bill is one reason that voters are unenthusiastic about it.

When the public option was still on the table, proponents in the Senate thought a majority of the Democratic caucus would vote it, making the inclusion of one in a bill passed through reconciliation a mathematical possibility.

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