Barbara Boxer: Champion in the Senate Against the Afghanistan War

If you've ever spent quality time trying to move an agenda through Congress, you know that moving an agenda isn't just about lobbying individual Members. You need a "champion" for your issue. The champion introduces your bill. The champion recruits other offices to sign up. The champion introduces an amendment that carries the same idea as the bill and lobbies other Members to vote for it. The champion circulates letters to other offices. The champion raises the profile of your issue in the media.

When Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold lost his bid for re-election, advocates working to end the war in Afghanistan lost their champion in the Senate. It was Feingold's office that introduced the bill, introduced the amendment, circulated the letter, led the lobbying of other offices, led the charge in the media.

Now California Senator Barbara Boxer has re-introduced Feingold's bill requiring the President to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan - a timetable with an end date. So far, Senators Dick Durbin, Tom Harkin, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sherrod Brown have signed on as co-sponsors of Senator Boxer's bill.


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Boehner Jokes

One of Jon Stewart’s most outstanding moments during the Bush administration was a 2006 segment—they called it “Rambling Man”—in which he dutifully displayed the 43rd president’s hapless and constant speechifying in response to violent events in Iraq that had spiraled out of his control and the resultant collapse of his popularity. In the interest of fairness and journalistic integrity—two things are no doubt synonymous with the awesome Daily Show—Mr. Stewart has now given the 44th president the very same treatment. The result: Escapist hilarity followed by a depressing comedown.  

If Barack Obama’s personal and much-publicized attack on incoming House speaker John Boehner is any indication, we can assume the White House has finally caught up to what is certain to be the ugly result of the upcoming elections. This, Dear Readers, is what both people like me (self-aware employers of clichés) and the president (as a basketball enthusiast) must recognize as running out the clock.

The president journeyed to someplace known as Parma, Ohio, to tout three new economic initiatives. Since we know for certain that the demonstrable failure of already-implemented policies aren’t to blame for Democratic electoral woes, many in the Washington chattering class have been hectoring him to make a “hard pivot”—i.e. renewed speechifying and feckless stop-gap measures—to economic issues to shore up support for the party.

POLITICO has some salient details:

Touting his own economic plans, Obama alluded to three new proposals to jolt the struggling economy: a $50 billion federal investment to overhaul the nation’s railroads, highways and runways; a big tax break for businesses that conduct research and experimentation; and tax write-offs for companies’ expenditures on hiring, equipment and expansion.

Those measures carry a $180 billion price tag; Obama was careful to avoid calling it an economic stimulus plan, given the current national mood against government spending and the massive national debt. Republicans have nevertheless hammered the president, comparing his plan to the $814 billion emergency spending package he pushed through Congress last year – a measure the GOP leadership has declared a failure.

Weekly Pulse: Crunch Time in the Senate

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is determined to get a health care bill passed in the Senate by Christmas.

This is a momentous time, as John Nichols writes in The Nation:

...Harry Reid has a health-care reform bill, and it is advancing. Indeed, with Saturday night's 60-39 Senate vote to open a historic debate on the measure, the movement humanize America's healthcare system -- which began almost 70 years ago -- is closer to a congressional breakthrough than at any time in its history.

It won't be a cakewalk, though. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has famously threatened to torpedo the bill if it includes a public option. This week he tried to rewrite history. "This is a kind of 11th hour addition to a debate that's gone on for decades," Lieberman told reporters that "Nobody's ever talked about a public option before. Not even in the presidential campaign last year." Brian Beutler sets the record straight at Talking Points Memo: In fact the Obama campaign's health policy white paper explicitly called for the creation of a public option.

According to Mike Lillis in RH Reality Check, progressive senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is feeling optimistic about the public option's prospects.

Also in RH Reality Check, reproductive health policy analyst Jessica Arons reports that the merged Senate bill does not call for the much-debated abortion restrictions encoded in the Stupak amendment to the House bill.

In the Progressive, Ruth Conniff takes a closer look at the controversy over the latest mammogram guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a commission appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Compared to the old guidelines, the new recommendations suggest that women start getting regular mammograms later and wait longer in between screenings.

Liberals and conservatives are accusing the federal government of cheating women out of preventative care to save money. But as Conniff explains, more mammograms aren't necessarily better. There's just not much statistical evidence that screening women in their forties saves lives. In this age group, regular mammograms are more likely to generate hair-raising false alarms than lifesaving discoveries. Furthermore, mammograms use x-rays, which are inherently carcinogenic. That doesn't mean that mammograms are dangerous, just that unnecessary exposure should be avoided. Conniff writes:

...[O]verscreening and overtreatment are as much of a plague in the U.S. medical system as cost-cutting measures. And looking at breast cancer screening rationally, as the federal panel has done, makes a lot of sense.

Speaking of public health, as I report for Working In These Times, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration has published new guidelines to help retailers reduce the risk of crowd stampedes and trampling deaths at Black Friday sales. Have a safe and happy holiday and good luck standing in line for that $99 Blu-Ray player.

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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Don't punt the public option debate to the states

Senate Democrats have not given up on passing health care reform through normal procedures requiring at least 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. The problem is, several conservative Senate Democrats are on record opposing a public health insurance option. Meanwhile, a bill with no public option will have trouble passing the House of Representatives, where the overwhelming majority of the Democratic caucus supports a robust public option tied to Medicare rates.

The obvious political solution is to include some watered-down public option in the bill, giving cover to Progressive Democrats who insist on a public option while placating House Blue Dogs and Senate conservatives who want to protect private insurers' market share.

The "triggered" public option favored by many industry allies didn't fly, because most Democrats understand that the trigger would never be pulled. This past week, a new possible compromise emerged:

It was pulled out of an alternative idea, put forth by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and, prior to him, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, to give states the power to determine whether they want to implement a public insurance option.

But instead of starting with no national public option and giving state governments the right to develop their own, the newest compromise approaches the issue from the opposite direction: beginning with a national public option and giving state governments the right not to have one.

Chuck Schumer of New York confirmed that Senate Democrats are giving serious consideration to the opt-out idea. Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin sounds open to the compromise. Former Governor Howard Dean, who has been railing against "fake" public options all year, told the Huffington Post he might support this compromise.

"If I were a member of the U.S Senate I wouldn't vote for the [Senate Finance Committee] bill but I would vote for this [opt-out plan]," Dean said, "not because it is necessarily the right thing to do but because it gets us to a better conversation about what we need to do. [...] if this passes I won't say it is not reform because it is reform. If this is what it takes to get 60 votes I say go for it."

Supporters of this compromise assume that very few states would opt out, because the public health insurance option is so popular. Alternatively, some people argue that even if a lot of red states opt out, blue states will reap economic benefits, while Republican politicians at the state and federal level are put in an awkward position.

There's no question that enacting some kind of nationwide public health insurance plan with an "opt-out" would give far more Americans access to the plan than Carper's "opt-in" proposal.

However, my concern is that quite a lot of states might ditch the public health insurance plan. Corporate interests have at least as much influence over state legislatures as they do over Congress--perhaps more. The public option would particularly benefit residents of states with little to no competition in the private health insurance market. But Representative Bruce Braley (IA-01) seems on target in warning that states with "strong political influence from one or two major health insurance companies" would be most likely to opt out, leaving "consumers in those states without a meaningful choice."

Daily Kos user eugene argues here, "Not only is this a bad idea because of the policy and political costs of throwing 'red states' overboard, it dramatically understates the very real risks that even so-called 'blue states' would choose the opt-out." Click through to read his case.

This Huffington Post piece points out another reason to be wary:

"One problem with the opt-out idea is that Republicans may seize on it in the future and turn it into a general opt-out for states to exempt themselves from the whole bill," said Paul Starr, health care expert at Princeton University. "Remember there will be four years and two elections before the reforms go into effect. This would be the easiest step for Republicans take during that period to ensure that the whole thing would unravel. And it would unravel because states that adopted the reform would become magnets for migration by the sick from states that opted out."

Punting the public option choice to the states might squeeze a few extra votes out of the Senate, but at what cost? Passing a more comprehensive bill with just 51 votes in the Senate, using the budget reconciliation process, seems more promising than obtaining 60 votes for an opt-out.

In related news, Senator Chris Dodd promised yesterday to "fight for a strong public option" when he works with Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus to merge the bills passed by the HELP and Finance committees. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and 29 other Senate Democrats sent Reid a letter this week supporting a public option "available continuously in all parts of the country."

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Obama/Biden in Dublin, OH (pics!)

I was at the Obama/Biden appearance in Dublin, Ohio (suburb of Columbus) last night. There was an insane number of people there, at Dublin Coffman High School's football stadium and astroturf playing field. Press estimates are 20,000+ attendance.

Introductory speakers were John Patrick Carney, running for the Ohio House, Rich Cordray, running for Ohio Attorney General, Mary Jo Kilroy, running for US Congress in the 15th District, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Gov. Ted Strickland and Sen. John Glenn.

Here are some photos:

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