Friday, July 31, 2009

House Committee Reaches Deal

All that bluster yesterday about the House Energy and Commerce Committee compromising on a health care bill that weakened the public option and put more of the financial burden on middle-class families?

Apparently, that got through to the committee.

Committee chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) announced on Friday that the committee reached a deal that restored some of the tenets taken away on Thursday, including subsidies to help low- and middle-class families pay their health care premiums, the return of a strong public option and a provision to further cut drug costs.

Though light on details, Democrats of all political leanings in the House on Friday considered this a victory. The committee is expected to put the bill to a vote later in the afternoon. Considering the anger emanating through the party in the days and weeks prior, this bit of good news the day before the start of the August recess is welcome.

If nothing else, this gives the House some much-needed momentum. I've already mentioned how important the recess would be -- whichever side can dominate the message will likely be the side that wins -- and for members of the House to have something concrete to show their constituents over the next month is vital.

It's certainly a lot farther than where the Senate has gotten, where the Finance Committee still can't seem to iron out details. That's probably because Montana's Max Baucus -- a Republican in Democrat's clothing -- is more concerned with making sure his right-wing and health insurance buddies are protected.

Dude can't even decide how to vote on Supreme Court justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor. I think Baucus would be doing us all a favor if he just gave up the charade and called himself a Republican.

Still, of the five bills floating around the House and Senate, the Finance Committee bill is the only one that's stalled. Considering it's also widely considered the weakest of the five bills, that might not be such a bad thing. The agreement on the House Energy and Commerce bill is huge, not only for momentum, but for the public's confidence.

If you listen to certain members of Congress -- or almost anyone in the mainstream media -- this thing is automatically doomed to failure. But members of the House have something positive to point to when they talk to their constituents, as do members of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The White House will also have something positive to point to, and you know President Obama will use the recess to travel the country and push his message for reform.

The Republicans and insurance companies won't stay silent over the next month, so it's up to those who are for true health care reform to be even louder. The American people proved how loud their voices can be in November, when they elected Obama to the White House and gave the Democrats huge majorities in both ends of Congress.

Now, we need to get loud again. The importance of health care reform cannot be understated, and it cannot fail this time. If it does, not only will the political landscape in Washington change, but the hope Obama preached on the campaign trail might very well die.

And we can't let that happen.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Progressives Not Happy

If it seems like the American people are pissed about the latest developments in the ongoing saga that is health care reform, they're not the only ones; progressives in the House and Senate are also getting a bit miffed.

And why wouldn't they be? The Senate Finance Committee is already rumored to be doing away with employer mandates and a public option, and as of Wednesday there were also reports that the committee would do away with SCHIP -- which would leave roughly 11 million children without coverage.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced a compromise on Wednesday -- agreed upon by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) -- that would weaken the public option. The original public option in the bill would've structured payment rates for doctors and health care providers using a rate modified from the one used in Medicare. The compromised version, though, would allow doctors and health care providers to negoiate rates themselves.

Blue Dog Democrats claimed they trimmed $100 billion from the bill -- and The Washington Post played along -- but several sources claimed the new public option would do no such thing. In fact, sources such as Politico are saying the new public option would raise the bill's price tag anywhere from $60 billion to $100 billion.


So, back to the peeved progressives. The Hill reported on Thursday that progressive Senators have threatened to take away Max Baucus' gavel. Baucus (D-Mont.) is the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and some progressives want him removed from that position because of his efforts to compromise with committee Republicans, which have led to a watered-down (and ultimately pointless) bill.

Which is fine and dandy, but if we're gonna strip Baucus of his power, we might want to do the same to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). He hasn't been much help to the progressive cause, either.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) ripped into the Senate Finance Committee's proposals Wednesday night on MSNBC's Countdown, claiming the bill coming out of the Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee was far better.

Moods haven't been much better in the House.

Lynn Woosley (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, said, "We do not support this," before ultimately adding, "We might have to come back and start over."

I'm not sure if that's the best way to go, unless in the process of starting over, progressive put single-payer back on the negotiating table. As it is, the debate will be complicated by the August recess, with Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats content to slow down the process ... if they slow it down enough, they will effectively kill the effort.

According to Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the deal is unacceptable and several progressive members of the House have signed a pledge not to support a bill that does not contain a strong public option. Considering 72 percent of the American people want a public option, that's good to know.

Republicans aren't the problem here -- especially since their proposed bill has little chance of getting anywhere. The issue here is the Blue Dog Democrats, the conservative members of the party who, for whatever reason, oppose the public option. Many have cited fiscal conservatism, though it's clear many of the Blue Dogs are receiving healthy financial contributions from the health insurance industry.

Baucus is among the worst offenders, and Oklahoma Blue Dog Dan Boren even admitted on Wednesday morning that he is against the public option because of his concern for the private insurers located in his state.

Well, at least he's honest ...

Republicans are banking that failed health care reform could lead to more seats for the party in Congress following the 2010 elections. But conventional wisdom states that Blue Dog Democrats might be more to blame, given their resistance to follow party lines. The American people have given the Democrats control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, and those fighting hardest for health care will know which Democrats voted for true reform and which voted against it.

This is just a guess, but the Democratic National Committee might spend time in the coming months finding more progressive candidates to run against the Blue Dogs in party primaries, which would hopefully lead to larger progressive population in Congress. That strategy does carry risk, though; a lot of Blue Dogs hail from purple states or states that traditionally go Republican.

Those constiuencies might not be comfortable with a truly progressive candidate.

Still, in terms of the health care debate, more progressive Congressmen and women are needed. We know the right-wingers won't do anything, aside from screaming about socialism, racism and birth certificates ... and we know the Blue Dogs aren't really pulling their own weight.

I don't know much, but what I do know? August will be a crucial month in this debate.

Hastings' Failed DADT Amendment

When House Representative Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) suggested an amendment to a defense appropriations bill on Tuesday that would've prohibited "spending money to investigate or discharge members of the miliatry who reveal they are homosexual or bisexual," he received pressure from the White House to remove the amendment.

The amendment would've dealt a significant blow to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the policy that prevents gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. President Barack Obama has repeatedly stated he wants to repeal DADT, but so far has taken no action.

I've already written about why I think the administration hasn't moved on this, but I have to admit this doesn't make the White House look good. Not so much that they "pressured" Hastings into removing the amendment, but because there has been no statement from the White House explaining its position.

Then again ... what is Hastings doing trying to sneak an amendment into the appropriations bill? Why is someone who has never once touched DADT in nine terms of office suddenly so interested in repealing the act?

Hastings, along with 76 other Congressmen and women, wrote a letter to President Obama on June 22, asking him to write an executive order halting the enforcement of DADT while Congress works on a repeal. The President has yet to do so, and according to Hastings on Wednesday's edition of The Rachel Maddow Show, he has not heard from the President.

Again, why is Hastings concerned about DADT now? Why not just support colleague Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), who has authored a bill that would repeal DADT? Murphy, an Iraq veteran, has over 160 co-sponsors for his bill. My thinking is ... the White House asked Hastings to back off his amendment because there was already a bill floating around in the House that would've addressed the issue.

But if that's the case, why can't the White House just say so? The administration's silence in this instance does little on the matter of public opinion. Not that Hastings comes out of this looking particularly rosy, either; by sneaking the amendment into the appropriations bill instead of drafting legislation, I get the feeling this was just an attention grab.

Especially since the amendment has been taken away ... if the amendment stayed in the bill, would we hear about it? The media isn't exactly notorious for going through legislation with a fine-tooth comb and giving us all the details.

Frankly, we should hold the Obama administration accountable to the promises that have been made -- including the repeal of DADT. President Obama's lack of action on this issue has been disappointing, and the White House's decision to get Hastings to drop the amendment doesn't look good, but ... there's already a bill working its way through the House.

Murphy has this covered. Hastings should just support that bill and be happy with it.

(Also, why didn't Maddow ask Hastings about Murphy's bill? She's usually pretty thorough in reporting and conducting interviews, but she missed the ball on this one.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

White House Health Care Bullet Points

With even more health care news passing through on Tuesday -- including some really odd nuggets coming from the House of Representatives -- President Barack Obama admitted during an AARP-sanctioned town hall meeting that he was "a little frustrated" that more progress hasn't been made on his top domestic agenda.

A little frustrated, Mr. President? Really? How do you think those of us without health coverage (all 47 million of us), or those who have inadequate coverage, feel? What about Americans who have just lost their coverage because they came down with cancer, even though they always paid their premiums on time?

Sorry, got a little carried away there ... then again, if I were President and my party had a clear majority in both chambers of Congress, I'd be a tad miffed with the lack of progress too. Blue Dog Democrats seem more content to compromise with Republicans and line their pockets with money funneled to them by the private insurance companies (looking at you, Max Baucus ...).

If the private insurers had their way, no bill would pass. Or if one did, it would be so watered-down that it wouldn't matter.

The White House on Wednesday announced that not only would Obama spend the day in North Carolina and southwest Virginia -- traditionally Republican areas -- trying to push his health care reform pitch, he would do so with a more focused message.

Before I get into that, though ... anyone else notice that for the last few weeks, Obama stopped calling it "health care reform" and opted for "health insurance reform" instead? Despite what the champions of status quo might tell you, there is a difference.

Heading into these travel sessions, the President has fine-tuned his message, bullet-point style. Not the catchiest thing in the world, but there are eight points at the focus of his newfound health care reform pitch. The eight points, according to White House aides, are as follows:

-No Discrimination for Pre-Existing Conditions: Insurance companies will be prohibited from refusing you coverage because of your medical history.

-No Exorbitant Out-of-Pocket Expenses, Deductibles or Co-Pays: Insurance companies will have to abide by yearly caps on how much they can charge for out-of-pocket expenses.

-No Cost-Sharing for Preventive Care: Insurance companies must fully cover, without charge, regular checkups and tests that help you prevent illness, such as mammograms or eye and foot exams for diabetics.

-No Dropping of Coverage for Seriously Ill: Insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping or watering down insurance coverage for those who become seriously ill.

-No Gender Discrimination: Insurance companies will be prohibited from charging you more because of your gender.

-No Annual or Lifetime Caps on Coverage: Insurance companies will be prevented from placing annual or lifetime caps on the coverage you receive.

-Extended Coverage for Young Adults: Children would continue to be eligible for family coverage through the age of 26.

-Guaranteed Insurance Renewal: Insurance companies will be required to renew any policy as long as the policyholder pays their premium in full. Insurance companies won't be allowed to refuse renewal because someone became sick.

While many of these points are all well and good -- I've been fighting to get those with pre-existing conditions covered and to stop policy recission for a few months now -- none of the eight points mentions anything about a public option. You know, a government-run, public health coverage option that 72 percent of the American people want. The same public system that members of Congress and the military have. A model similar to Medicare or the VA plan.

Bill Kristol, right-wing blowhard extraordinaire, went on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Monday night and admitted the government could run a quality health care system ... because they already did so for the military. Kristol's point? Regular Americans don't deserve that kind of quality health care.

Thanks for looking out for us, Bill ...

Some Republican members of Congress, Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina among them, are suggesting health care reform would give the government the right to deny elderly people treatment, thus sending them to their deaths.

If that sounds kinda wrong and even more wacky than the conspiracy suggesting our President wasn't born in the United States, that's because it is. Not even a wise Latina could make sense out of the bluster spewing from the Republicans' collective blowholes.

It is worth noting, however, that during Obama's town hall on Tuesday, he twice expressed his support for a public option. The President mentioned last month that he would not sign a health care reform bill that lacked a strong public option designed to lower costs and premiums by competing with the corporate private insurers.

Hammering home this point? On MSNBC's Countdown on Tuesday, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (guest-hosting for Keith Olbermann) spoke at great length about the health care debate, calling Democrat attempts at bipartisanship a waste of time and detrimental to the bill. He also spoke with Wendell Potter, a former private insurance representative who has since turned into a whistleblower for the industry, and Philip Longman, author of the book Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care is Better Than Yours.

Rachel Maddow was also in on the debate, talking to Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders about health care reform. Sanders was not only adamant that health care reform without a public option was not really reform, he tore into the Senate Finance Committee for trying to reach an agreement on a bill that lacked such an option.

There are people on our side -- even if much of the mainstream media would have us believe otherwise. We just have to keep voicing our support on this, and do everything we can to get those who are on the fence to join the cause as well. August is going to be a hard month, with the Republican National Committee spending $1 million to kill health care reform, and the health insurance industry lobbying as best they can to do the same.

Our voices have to be louder. Talk to your Congressional officials during the August recess, tell them what you want. Write the White House; implore the President to make good on his promise and veto any bill that does not include a public option. We have to get this one right ... health care reform has been an on-again, off-again debate for the last 62 years -- since Harry Truman was President.

Isn't it about time we did something for the American people and not the faceless beaurocrats who sit back and count their millions while the rest of us fight to make ends meet and fear being one illness or injury away from losing everything?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Letter to the President

In light of recent reports out of the Associated Press regarding a possible bipartisan health care reform bill that lacks an employer mandate and a government-run public option, I felt it appropriate to write the White House ( and express my support for both tenets of any potential reform bill.

As I mentioned in this space last night, the bill being discussed has not been finalized and brought to the floor yet. Nor has it been reconciled with the HELP bill or whatever legislation comes out of the House. There's no guarantee this bill is the one that will hit President Obama's desk in the fall.

However, that doesn't mean we shouldn't speak up. My letter reads as follows:

"Mr. President,

In light of recent reports regarding a bipartisan health care bill in the Senate that lacks both an employer mandate and a government-run public option, I am writing you to ask that you veto any final health care bill that comes to your desk without either option.

Any bill that includes an individual insurance mandate, but not an employer mandate, is inherently flawed and unfair. I'm opposed to the individual mandate as it is, since I haven't yet seen how low-income individuals and families will be able to afford insurance, and since I'm not exactly sure how such a thing would curb costs. But if there is to be an individual mandate, then there must be an employer mandate, as well.

I also feel that without a strong public option, any attempt at health care reform will be a waste of time and money. The CBO has already agreed that a public option will be cost-effective, and that it will not drive private insurers out of business. What a public option would do, however, is compete with the private corporations to keep premiums and costs down.

I'm all for forcing the private insurers to take on people with pre-existing conditions, and I applaud the effort to keep them from randomly raising premiums. I also ask that you make it illegal for insurance companies to rescind policies on mere technicalities, just when people need them most.

But most importantly, Mr. President, I ask that you veto any health care reform bill that reaches your desk without an employer mandate and without a strong public option. The American people are loud and clear on this, and it is up to you to uphold your campaign promise and fight for us.

Let the insurance companies fend for themselves. The American people need your leadership.

Thank you for your time, Mr. President."

I encourage everyone to write to the President, their Senators and their representatives in the House. The more we tell our elected officials what we want, the more we put the pressure on them to do right by the American people. In addition, there are several online petitions making the rounds; add your voice to those as well.

We have as much at stake in this debate as Washington does, if not more so. Call or email your elected officials, tell them what you want. They are there to serve you, so we need to make more noise than those who oppose true reform.

It's up to us.

June Good Month for Stimulus

Hey, guess what? The stimulus is starting to work!

Sorry, had to get that out there. Taking off the blinders, Reuters reported that, according to a report released Tuesday by the House of Representatives, the number of jobs created or saved by the $787 billion stimulus package doubled in June from May. According to the report, 49,377 jobs have been "created or sustained" by the end of June.

These jobs included mainly water, highway and public transportation projects.

By investing jobs is such markets, the Obama administration hoped to curtail unemployment and solidify the states' infrastructures. While private sector jobs are still on the downturn, and unemployment has sailed past the President's projected height of 8 percent, the fact that jobs are being created and saved proves the stimulus hasn't been the failure several Republicans (like John Boehner of Ohio) have suggested.

Economic experts agree that unemployment is one of the last factors to bounce back in an economic recovery; even as the recession lessens, unemployment will continue to rise in the short term. Despite Obama's promises, there likely wasn't much he could've done about the unemployment numbers, even with the stimulus.

He was probably better off not promising that at all.

Still, six months into the bill's passage, we're starting to see results. These jobs have to be bid on, which usually takes a few months. Now that jobs are being created, things can start flowing. A lot of these are temporary jobs, but a lot of times, a crew that works on one project will simply move on to another one once it's completed.

Besides, new jobs are new jobs, regardless of what field they're in.

Saved jobs are of equal importance; South Carolina was set to lay off over 1,800 teachers statewide before Gov. Mark Sanford finally accepted his share of the stimulus. That money went directly to keeping those teachers on board.

My own mother has benefitted from this bill. A teacher's assistant in the kindergarten level at Hampton City Schools in Virginia, she was set to be potentially laid off last spring. Once the stimulus bill passed, though, Virginia used some of its share in education in the hopes of keeping staff employed.

The city of Hampton used some of its share to keep from laying off instructional assistants. Boom, no unemployment for my mother. She keeps her job, she keeps her health insurance, she can keep paying the mortgage.

Which, last I checked, is a good thing.

I don't care what anyone says ... a saved job is just as important as a created job. For one thing, saving a job keeps one more person out of unemployment. That institution of the states is stretched to the limit as it is; we don't need to be sending more people into that line.

Democrats have been careful to suggest the stimulus is a two-year process, and that states have yet to receive the full extent of their funds. To truly determine the success of this package, we'll have to wait. If we're better off a year and a half from now, the stimulus worked. If we're not, then it'll be time to think of another plan.

We also don't need a second Obama stimulus.

If I had a hunch, I'd say this stimulus package will succeed. The first package, passed under George W. Bush, did not help -- then again, tax cuts for the wealthy and $600 checks for everyone else don't really stimulate anything. Saving and creating jobs does.

You know what else might stimulate the economy? Health care reform.

I'm just saying ...

UPDATE: It's not stimulus money, but the White House announced on Tuesday $1 billion in grants to Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to help keep police officers on the streets. Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder made the announcement.

Roughly 4,700 officers will keep their jobs because of these grants. Though not every city or state that asked for aid will receive it, the administration tried to hand out aid in terms of localities facing the worst budget shortfalls and/or the worst crime rates.

Simply put, the money's going to the places that need it the most -- including Philadelphia, Pa., Mobile, Ala., Rochester, N.Y., Baltimore, Md., Salt Lake City, Utah, Huntington, W.Va. and Providence, R.I.

The measure does come up short on its goal, though; COPS wanted to give out enough funds to retain and hire a combined 5,000 officers nationwide. The grants, however, will only help 4,699 officers.

Which is 4,699 officers more than if the grants hadn't been given out at all.

Frank Wants Tougher Rules for Wall Street

With all the hubbub surrounding health care reform, it's easy to forget another important issue floating around Congress these days: financial institutions and the money they pay their executives, and how it directly impacts consumers and the American economy.

Enter Congressman Barney Frank.

Frank (D-Mass.) has drafted legislation that would toughen the administration's new restrictions on Wall Street pay by banning salaries and bonuses that encourage what the government would call "inappropriate risk."

The proposal, which will be discussed Tuesday in the House Financial Services Committee, would give the government more power over how financial executives are rewarded; administration officials have warned that such extravagant compensation in the private sector -- such as recent bonuses for AIG and Goldman Sachs -- were what led to the financial crisis in the first place.

Never mind the fact that AIG and Goldman Sachs, among others, were just bailed out by the federal government earlier this year.

Frank discussed the issue Monday night on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.

The Obama administration sent Congress legislation earlier this month that would give company shareholders a nonbinding vote on how their executives get paid. Kenneth Feinberg, a lawyer who represented families of 9/11 victims, has been appointed to reject excessive pay plans at companies that received federal bailout money.

AIG? Goldman Sachs? We're looking at you ...

If approved in committee, Frank's proposal could be up for a vote on the House floor by Friday. Frank supports the administration's proposal, even as he's drafted his own measure. He has also called for financial companies to disclose to federal regulators the details of any compensation deemed to be incentive-based.

A package could be finished by September or October, and combined with a bill from the Senate, could be on the President's desk by the end of the year. If this issue seems complicated -- and I'll admit that at first glance, it does -- watch the video clip above. Maddow and Frank have a simple yet informative discussion that should tell everyone just how important this is.

And as an aside? Just watch The Rachel Maddow Show. One of the best cable news shows out there right now.

UPDATE: Though not related to the financial sector, Frank released a letter on Tuesday announcing his unwavering support for a public option when it comes to health care reform.

From the letter:

"I am a strong supporter of single payer, and I do reluctantly accept a full public option as the best we can do. So I am strongly committed to a public option and I will not vote for a bill that does not include a nationwide, genuine public plan. But I do not agree that it has to be available on day one. It is conceivable that to get the votes to get this done, we might have to accept, for example, a six month delay on a public plan going forward. I am not talking now about a trigger, which I greatly oppose, but simply a time delay for reasons that might be put forward either legitimately but politically."

Score another one for the American people. If only we had more Barney Frank's in Washington and fewer guys like Max Baucus. Then we might actually get something done ...

Bunning Won't Run in 2010

Senator Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) announced on Monday that he will not seek re-election in 2010, citing his inability to raise sufficient campaign funds and interference from members of his own party.

From April through June, Bunning has raised less than half the total funds of Trey Grayson, the Kentucky Secretary of State who has been eyeing Bunning's seat. Bunning barely won re-election in 2004, and he has publicly disagreed with Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on multiple occasions.

Bunning did not support many of the bailouts and exhuberent spending that was prevalent in the later years of the Bush administration, which placed him at odds with higher-ups within the Republican Party. The GOP had control of Congress until 2006, and George W. Bush spent 2000-08 in the White House.

In short, Bunning didn't support the Republican agenda 100 percent, so members of the party did everything they could to covertly sabotage any re-election effort. It's not a new theme; Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) left the GOP earlier this year when it became clear to him the Republicans would back his opponent in the Republican primary.

Again, Specter wasn't lock-step with the Republicans, so they decided to get someone else in his seat.

Bunning's annoncement reveals one of the larger issues facing the GOP in today's political climate: whereas the Democrats don't jettison those who disagree on certain issues (though given how the Blue Dogs are scuffling their feet on health care reform, some might want to), the Republicans are making sure anyone who has the audacity to not blindly follow party lines is branded with a scarlet letter of sorts -- and it's probably not an R.

Conservative (and certafiably insane) radio host Rush Limbaugh pretty much helped kick Specter out the door when he made his announcement, and has also criticized RNC chair Michael Steele and former Secretary of State Colin Powell for not being "real Republicans."

What did Steele and Powell do to bring about such bluster? Steele said Limbaugh was wrong ... only to crawl over to FOX News and apologize when Mr. Bouncey-Bounce threw an on-air tantrum. Powell criticized his own party for its potentially racist and needlessly disagreeable agenda ... and Limbaugh claimed Powell wasn't a "real Republican."

Moral of the story? If you have an R after your name, you better not think for yourself. The higher-ups in the GOP (and I do mean "higher-ups," given Limbaugh's battle with prescription painkillers) want all their little kids -- well, the ones who are left -- to tow the party line, and there are consequences if they don't.

Bunning was one such casualty.

Say what you want about former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean ... he never ran his party in this manner (and for that matter, neither is current DNC head Tim Kaine). Sure, he gave the Blue Dogs hell last night when he came on The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC (video below), but he's not throwing anyone out because they disagree.

More importantly, he's not having some self-important mouthpiece do it for him.

Monday, July 27, 2009

AP Stokes Fire with Misleading Article

The Huffington Post's main story Monday night was a piece from the Associated Press discussing the ongoing negotiations among members of the Senate Finance Committee with regards to a potential health care reform bill. According to the report, a bipartisan compromise is being discussed -- one that could omit a requirement for businesses to offer coverage to its employees and a government-run public option.

The headline splashed on the top of HP's main page in red typeset? "AP: Senate Finance Committee To Drop Public Option."

If one actually reads the article, though, one would find that no such decision has been reached. The first sentence of the article reads:

"After weeks of secretive talks, a bipartisan group in the Senate edged closer Monday to a health care compromise that omits a requirement for businesses to offer coverage to their workers and lacks a government insurance option that President Barack Obama favors, according to numerous officials."

The key words in this sentence are "edged closer." Not "decided," not "agreed upon" ... "edged closer." The committee has been in talks for weeks with regards to a health care reform bill. No bill has been finalized within the committee, and there's no guarantee one will be finalized by the end of the week -- and the August Congressional recess.

Even if the Finance Committee bill, complete with these compromises, does make it to the Senate floor, it will have to contend with the HELP bill -- with Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of health care reform's staunchest supporters, as one of its defenders -- and will have to go through a reconciliation process.

There's also the issue of a bill coming from the House, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has promised will happen by the fall. Any bill from the House -- whether it's HR 3200 or HR 676, which is sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and has a lot of public support -- would also face reconciliation alongside any bills that come out of the Senate.

In short, should a health care reform bill make it to President Obama's desk by the end of 2009, it will likely look nothing like whatever ultimately comes out of the Senate Finance Committee. That bill could in fact contain a public option -- and if it doesn't, Obama can (and probably would) veto said bill.

Monday's story, while important, isn't nearly the cause for panic the AP and Huffington Post are making their readers believe. They are being sensationalist and stoking the ires and fears of the public; knowing full well how big an issue health care reform is, they would rather increase internet traffic and spark heated reactions than give out the facts.

Which is not journalism.

I'm not saying don't care, and I'm not saying don't contact your Senators repeatedly to tell them to do your bidding. Contacting your elected officials and constantly showing your support for true health care reform is the best thing you can do as American citizens. A lot of the members of Congress have influential lobbyists within the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, pouring millions of dollars in getting them to keep the status quo.

Your voice need to be louder.

The six Senate Finance Committee members involved in these discussions (you can contact them by visiting the main U.S. Senate page and finding each Senator individually):

-Max Baucus (D-Mont.)
-Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
-Kent Conrad (D-N.D.)
-Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.)
-Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)
-Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.)

Health Insurance Horror Stories

Whenever someone asks me why we need health care reform so badly, I share with them the story of recission, a practice in which insurance companies dump a policy just when the person really needs it because of a technicality. It's but another example of how health insurance does not equal health care in this country, and it illustrates what happens when an industry like health insurance becomes a for-profit business.

The following link is must-read for everyone. Regardless of whether you want reform or not, you have to read this, and understand just how broken our current system is.

Sadly, that's only one symptom of the problem. Still, any reform bill that ultimately makes its way to President Obama's desk has to have something to make this practice illegal. Recission makes sense when cases of legitimate fraud are unearthed, but most of the time, that's not the case.

We deserve quality and affordable health care ... and it's becoming clearer by the day our health insurance companies aren't giving it to us.

Sessions Vote Won't Be a Surprise

In news that will shock absolutely no one, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) announced via an opinion piece in USA Today that he will vote against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Obama's first Supreme Court pick is set to face a full Senate vote by the end of the next week, and she is virtually assured confirmation.

Sotomayor would become the country's first Hispanic Supreme Court judge. Somewhere, Pat Buchanan is pulling out what's left of his hair.

Sessions isn't the first Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee to admit he'll vote against Sotomayor; Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the second-ranking Republican on the committee, has also said he'll vote against Sotomayor.

Several Republicans, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said they would vote for her.

Sessions is the leading Republican on the committee, and he was not confirmed in his own Supreme Court nomination in the 1980s because of biased, racist views he expressed on nuerous occasions.

So, can anyone guess why he's going to vote against Sotomayor?

He claims it's because he doesn't think Sotomayor has the conviction to resist the pull of judicial activism -- even though just about every Republican on the committee admitted during her confirmation hearings that her record was "pretty mainstream," if not "slightly left of center."

Psst, Republicans! If you're gonna get on Sotomayor's case about judicial activism, why did you support John Roberts? Oh, that's right ... he's an old white guy, like you!

The racist undertones of the impending vote are only there because of the racial undertones of her confimation hearings. The Republicans spent three of the four days harping on her "wise Latina" comment, even after Sotomayor explained the context of the remark and expressed regret that she'd said it in that way.

There was also a Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy impression from one of the Senators that had racial undertones, and it seemed like the Republicans couldn't drop the issue that there was a smart Hispanic woman up for the high court -- probably like the birthers can't drop the issue that an African-American is in the White House.

Sessions even suggested Sotomayor should've voted alongside another one of her Puerto Rican colleagues. Because nothing screams racism like, "Don't all you people think the same way?"

That Sotomayor will become a Supreme Court justice is a virtual certainty ... as is the reality that as long as they keep playing the race card and pandering to the lowest common denominator within their party, the Republicans will continue to alienate themselves from the American people and render any argument they have on any matter useless.

The question is ... do they care?

Gillibrand to Hold Don't Ask, Don't Tell Hearings

We interrupt the incessant health care reform debate to bring you news on another hot-button topic of the Obama administration ...

The Daily Beast is reporting that Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has prompted the Senate to hold hearings on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the policy enacted in 1993 that prevents gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. Even though the repeal of DADT was one of Barack Obama's campaign promises, little has happened on that front -- unless you count the 265 men and women who have been dismissed under the policy since Obama took office.

The hearings are an indirect result of Gillibrand offering an amendment to the Military Reauthorization Act, which would've halted DADT. The amendment was never introduced since, in spite of the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), she did not have enough votes to prevent a filibuster.

Still, the hearings are a sign that things may be changing. The administration has been slow, even reluctant, to act, though Obama did host several leaders of the GLBT community at the White House last month. During that meet-and-greet, the President again pledged his support in repealing DADT, claiming the act harmed our national security.

At this point, though, Obama has been all talk.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 69 percent of Americans think gays should be allowed to serve in the military. Public opinion toward homosexuals has evolved since 1993 -- if nothing else, the focus now is on whether they should be allowed to marry -- and there are plenty of people throughout the country, gay or straight, trying to hold the President to his word.

These hearings are one of the first steps. The House is also getting involved; Iraq veteran and freshman Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) has taken the lead on the Military Readiness Enhancement Act -- which would repeal DADT.

Obama could strike an executive order to suspend the enforcement of DADT until Congress passes a repeal, but he has yet to do so -- even though the Palm Center at UC-Santa Barbara asked him to back in May. If Obama were to draft an executive order and a bill never made its way through Congress, there remains the chance that Obama's successor could draft an executive order of his or her own to reinstitute DADT.

There's also the matter of perception. After the allegations being levied against the Bush administration for not always adhering to the law, Obama has to be careful not to give the same impression. Though he repeatedly calls for the repeal of DADT, the President is mindful that the law is still intact, and an executive order to halt its enforcement could give the impression that the administration feels its above the law.

Remember Richard Nixon and his "when the President does it, it's not illegal" line? Yeah, let's avoid that, if we could ...

This way, by letting Congress take the lead, Obama would be making the repeal more solid. The issue hasn't been resolved in a timely fashion -- leading to ire from one of Obama's largest bases of support during the campaign last year -- but between Murphy's bill in the House and these hearings the Senate are calling for, DADT could be a thing of the past before too much longer.

Just not long enough for the capable servicemen and women who are either fighting to stay in the military or constantly looking over their shoulders, worrying if members of their platoon will "out" them. This isn't just a moral issue; this is a national security issue.

DADT needs to go. Our safety depends on it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Republican Criticism Grows Louder

Remember when Texas governor Rick Perry threatened secession from the United States in April? You know, back when he was railing against the $555 million his state was set to receive from the stimulus package?

Well, Perry is at it again; the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on Thursday that Perry floated the possibility of resisting a health care reform bill -- should one eventually make its way through Congress and be signed into law. Perry would be well within his rights to do so, thanks to protections offered to the states by the 10th Amendment of the Constitution.

While Perry has joined a growing chorus of right-wing opposition to health care form -- more on that in a bit -- his stance does come with some political risk. Perry will face a tough gubernatorial primary race against U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson in 2010. Perhaps of greater concern, though, is the fact that roughly 5 million Texans have no health insurance. One out of every four Texans are uninsured, the highest rate in the country.

While it's obvious Perry disagrees with Obama's health care ambitions -- derisively calling it "Obama Care" -- for him to turn away reform while his state faces the brunt of the country's health care issues is ... shall we say risky.

Other Republicans spoke out in opposition
to health care on Friday, including several female members of the House of Representatives. Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who earlier in the week railed against a public option because it would be 30 to 40 percent cheaper (and thus inadvertently making the case for the public option), wondered why anyone would want health care reform when it would just increase wait times to see doctors and raise the "hassle factor."

Bachmann claims to have five biological children and 23 via adoption. In her mind, health care reform would make it harder for her to get health care for her children in a timely fashion -- completely ignoring that her children are covered under her solid, taxpayer-funded public health plan.

Simply put, health care reform would inconvenience her, so we should just not do it. This from the same Congresswoman who railed against the 2010 Census Report because she was convinced it was a conspiracy from ACORN.

Republican Judy Biggert, from Illinois, also hammered the wait issue, saying, "I think most all of us here have had the opportunity to take our kids to a fast-food restaurant. We want to get a good dinner, and you walk in and there's 50 people there and it seems like everybody in line wants to buy food for their soccer team or whatever. The American people aren't particularly good at standing in line, but that's exactly what's going to happen if this health care plan goes through."

Little tip, Rep. Biggert? When talking about health care, fast food isn't the best analogy to make ...

But wait! There's more! North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx took a page out of the George W. Bush playbook, saying that the President was wrong in claiming there are 47 million Americans without health care.

“There are no Americans who don’t have healthcare. Everybody in this country has access to healthcare,” she said. “We do have about 7.5 million Americans who want to purchase health insurance who can not afford it."

Foxx's solution? Much like the one posited by Bush when he made the same statement in July 2007, she thinks all the uninsured should just go to the emergency room.

Memo to Rep. Foxx: you can't get chemotherapy at the emergency room. Nor can you have bypass or open-heart surgery.

Just think, we're still a week away from the August Congressional recess. That means we're probably going to have a month of Republicans and insurance companies feeding us these silly stories and astonding half-truths. If it seems the GOP is increasingly out of touch with the plight of the average American ... well, you're not wrong in that assessment.

I can only hope enough of the country can see this foolishness for what it is. There's opposing bills as they stand and offering to debate different amendments and ideas -- and then there's stuff like this. I'll be the first to admit that one of the bills being considered in the House -- HR 3200 -- is weak, but what the GOP is doing is just absurd.

And we have a month of this to look forward to. Yaaaaay ...

San Francisco Mayor Weighs in on Health Care

Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, Calif., wrote a column in his blog at The Huffington Post on Friday arguing for the inclusion of a public option in whatever health care reform bill Congress finally passes. His argument? San Francisco already has a public option, and it works.

It's called Healthy San Francisco and it was formed two years ago. It seems like a solid option now that California, like many other states around the country, is cutting millions of dollars from programs designed to offer health care to low-income people and children.

Read about it in his blog, and if you want to show your support, sign his petiton here.

What is Wrong with the Republican Party

Let me be frank: I am a liberal. I wasn't always, but over the years, as I've matured and learned certain facts about the ways of the world, my opinions have swung like a proverbial pendulum, from just right of center to increasingly left with each passing day.

I've made a habit of late, as I suggest everyone do, of writing my public officials, sharing my opinions and viewpoints with them. To me, that's a vital part of the political process; by communicating with the Representatives, Senators and even the President that I helped put into office, I'm doing my part to ensure these officials do the work of their constituents. If they do, that's great; if not, then it makes our decisions as everyday Americans a lot more complicated come Election Day.

It's really quite simple; serve the needs of your constituents, they re-elect you. Don't serve your constituents, and they'll be picking someone else's name in the voting booth. I strongly suggest everyone contact their elected officials -- particularly when it comes to such important matters as health care. Our job as American citizens doesn't end once the votes have been tallied, a winner's been declared and those pretty ballonns start magically falling from the sky.

I've also taken it upon myself to keep in contact with political officials who I did not vote for; just the other day, I wrote an email to Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, to inform him of why I thought the Republican Party was in such shambles. It wasn't to embarrass or insult him -- I think you'll find I tried to be as cordial and professional in my comments as possible -- but to hopefully get those within the GOP to reconsider where they are politically and ideologically.

There's a reason a large number of newly-registered voters have been Democrats, and a lot of registered indepedents voted for Barack Obama this past November.

Below is my correspondance with Steele from the other day. I have not yet received a response, nor do I honestly expect one.

Chairman Michael Steele,

My name is Jeff Cunningham, and up until a few years ago, I was a Republican. That was back when being a Republican meant something -- like standing up for the values of fiscal conservatism and personal responsibility. However, thanks to the misguided efforts of the Bush administration, as well as the Republican-controlled Congress that led us into a destructive and unnecessary war in Iraq and helped turn a massive surplus into a massive deficit, I have since switched to the Democrats, and I feel it is my duty as an honest, patriotic American to inform you where I believe your party has gone wrong over the years.

Your party preaches fiscal responsibility, yet the previous administration took the surplus left to us by Bill Clinton and turned it into a massive deficit that we are still dealing with today. The War in Iraq, needless that it is, has squandered much of that money -- money that would easily help pay for programs that would help the American people. If we funneled even half of the money we sent to Iraq into health care, we'd have enough to pay for the health care reform the Republicans are so afraid of. Without the War in Iraq (which has also taken away from the efforts to bring in Osama bin Laden, who was actually responsible for 9/11), education could be improved, and a lot of the programs designed to helped by the stimulus plan would be on the ground by now.

I'm all for having a strong military that can defend our country when needed, but sending them to a costly and ineffective war has effectively crippled the rest of this country. It is but one example of how I believe your party does not care for the average American citizen. It is also but one of many examples of the Republican Party saying one thing and doing the exact opposite.

The emphasis on personal responsibility that I once saw in the Republican Party has morphed into this disgusting image of Christianity and morality. Morality should never be legislated, and whenever your party rails against anything from gay marriage to a woman's right to choose an abortion, you are proving to be both insulting and exclusionary. Banning gay marriage is prejudiced and bigoted, and I have no stomach for anyone who uses the Bible to support these hate-based opinions. Gay people have the right to make the same choices heterosexual people make, because unlike what the bulk of the Republican Party might say, they are not second-class citizens. They are Americans, just like the rest of us.

No one is pro-abortion. Democrats do not want everyone to have an abortion. All we ask for -- and the Supreme Court has backed us on this -- is to give women the right to choose, particularly in cases of rape, incest or an instance where a pregnancy is potentially life-threatening to the mother. Some within your party and those who profess to speak for your party (you know who I'm referring to) do nothing but incite hatred and potential violence with their misleading ramblings.

I wouldn't have a problem with the Republican Party using religion if it weren't so hypocritical. How can I take the GOP as the Party of God seriously when it seems there's a new Republican official daily being accused of an affair? How can I take the GOP as the Party of God seriously when there are Republican Senators who have been associated with a secret house called C Street that reportedly teaches these men they are above such things as morality and God's teachings?

Not everyone in this country is Christian; I know I'm not. So when I see a member of the Republican Party point to the Bible or offer a religious point of view for their misguided legislative views, it insults me. It also insults me knowing a lot of the Republican officials who claim to be Christian do little to act as such. Christians are loving and accepting; using religion to deny gay people basic civil rights does not follow the religion's teachings. If your party is so worried about upholding the sanctity of marriage and family values, then you should spend more energy on this country's divorce rate and all those extra-marital affairs. Gay marriage should be the least of your worries.

I also grow weary of how the Republican Party defends the wealthy at the expense of the ordinary American. Tax cuts are all well and good in theory, but taxes are what pay for a large portion of government programs, and if you cut taxes too much, then there's not enough money to pay for everything. Only cutting taxes for the wealthy, while the middle class sees no such relief also does nothing for our national economy. I'm not saying the wealthy aren't important, but your party has made a concerted effort in the last decade to favor them over the middle class. Trickle-down economics don't work. They didn't work under Ronald Reagan, and they don't work now.

But perhaps my biggest issue with the Republican Party is two-fold: the extreme right-wing -- those who are racist and bigoted in their views, and for some reason believe our President is not American even when faced with proof that he is -- as well as your party's refusal to add anything substative to policy matters. It is your duty as party officials to call the extreme right-wing on their hate; when they are wrong in their bigotry, call them on it. Not doing so makes the party as a whole resemble its most extreme outliers. Do you really want to be seen as the party of racists and bigots? You already run that risk with your constant efforts to derail the President and the way your Senators handled Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings.

And if you insist on disagreeing with the President and other Democrats in Congress, how about adding some ideas of your own? If you didn't like the President's budget, you should've proposed one of your own -- and the four-page leaflet with no numbers on it doesn't count. Disagreement and dissent can be healthy, so long as you offer legitimate alternative ideas. That creates healthy debate and political discourse. But to disagree with an initiative and offer no concrete alternative makes you seem like The Party of No, a bunch of grumpy old white men who just want to see everything fail without ever adding anything to the table.

If you have an idea for health care reform (that is not maintaining the unmaintainable status quo), share it. Offering concrete ideas to benefit the American people, while shedding the racism, bigotry and righteous morality, is the only way the Republican Party can return to relevancy. Until then, you will be faced with even more people like me, who are tired of your childish, hypocritical ways. Until then, you will be faced with even more people like me, who want a party that better represents them and what America is becoming.

The more I see the Republican Party in action, the more I wonder ... is it the GOP that hates America? Because it's certainly not those of us who are trying to fix the mess the last eight years left us in.

Thank you for your time. I hope for your sake, and the sake of this country, that the Republican Party finds its way and starts acting like a party of intelligent, responsible adults again.

-Jeff Cunningham
Proud Democrat from Virginia


You want proof? Here's proof.

Now, can we please move on to matters that are actually important?

Health Care Reform Delayed -- Does That Mean it's Dead?

When former President Bill Clinton tried to tackle the issue of health care reform in 1993, Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate worked feverishly to stall the issue to the point of death -- and reaped huge political rewards for it. Republicans won big in the 1994 midterm elections because they killed health care reform, leaving Clinton to deal with a Republican-controlled Congress for the rest of his tenure.

Fast-forward to 2009, and Republicans are employing the same strategy. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced on Thursday that his chamber would not meet President Barack Obama's August deadline in passing a reform bill. That means Congress will head into the summer recess without a bill on the table, giving reform opponents and special-interest groups a month to do everything in their power to kill whatever momentum Obama and the Democrats have created.

Obama told a crowd in Cleveland on Thursday that he was fine with that.

"We just heard today that well, we may not be able to get the bill out of the Senate by the end of August or the beginning of August," he said. "That's OK. I just want people to keep on working. Just keep working. I want the bill to get out of the committees, and then I want that bill to go to the floor, and then I want that bill to be reconciled between the House and the Senate, and then I want to sign a bill. And I want it done by the end of this year. I want it done by the fall."

While the President's confidence is appreciated, the fact that Congress is likely going to go a month without discussing, debating or amending any of the countless health reform bills floating around both chambers could spell good news for reform opponents. Republican National committee chairman Michael Steele has been on the offensive in that regard, calling Obama's plan for a reform a "dangerous experiment," while South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint said that Republicans would make health care reform Obama's "Waterloo. It will break him."

Add Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) to the list of naysayers. He made note of Clinton's reform attempts in 1993 on Janet Parshall's radio show on Wednesday, saying he expected a similar political victory for the Republicans should they again defeat health care reform. Though the Republican Party is arguably in worse shape now than it was in 1993, Inhofe's point is a fair one.

An argument can be made that Republicans and centrist Democrats (derisively called "Blue Dog" Democrats) would shoulder the blame if Obama's top domestic priority fails, but one can also be made for Obama and the progressives in Congress. The 2010 midterm elections will be very telling if health care reform doesn't pass; do Republicans seize on that opportunity to gain more seats and cut into the Democrats' stranglehold on both chambers, or can the Democrats rightfully place the blame on those right of center en route to giving the progressives a louder voice on Capitol Hill?

Count DeMint, Inhofe and Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) among those counting on a political win if they successfully derail health care reform.

For Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the strategy should be to keep health care reform in the national discussion, even as members of Congress enjoy their paid vacations and their taxpayer-driven health care plans. Pelosi has been far more vocal in the urgency of getting something passed than Reid, even going so far on Wednesday as to suggest the GOP was "scared" of what health care reform would mean for them politically.

Pelosi has also said she is not bound by deals the White House has struck with pillars of the health care industry (such as pharmaceutical companies), and that Blue Dogs Democrats wouldn't stop the bill. She has also suggested she would support a provision that would tax families making at least $1 million a year to help pay for reform. Obama, while not saying he supported such a tax, did say in his primetime press conference on Wednesday that such a tax would meet his criteria -- he promised during his campaign that no one making less than $250,000 a year would see a tax increase.

Pelosi has also expressed strong support for a public option, something many centrist and conservative Democrats in both chambers have refused to do. Progressives in Washington agree with over 70 percent of the American people in arguing that a public health care option would keep the private insurance companies honest and help keep costs down. Republicans, while not offering ideas of their own, oppose the public option, calling it socialized medicine and trying to scare people into thinking the government will take over people's health care and leave a government agent standing between people and their doctor.

As if that's any scarier than now, when people have insurance representatives standing between them and their doctors.

The biggest key going into the August recess will be how the conversation is steered. If Obama and his progressive allies in Congress can keep hammering home the need for reform -- and they have a lot of help in the form of television ads, according to NBC's Chuck Todd -- missing the August deadline will be nothing more than a speed bump. But if Republicans and health insurance lobbyists can exert their influence in that time, and convince the American people that the plan they want is actually some scary form of socialism, then Obama's plan could fail the way Clinton's -- and Carter's, and Nixon's and Truman's -- did.

That would not only change the landscape in Washington come 2010 and 2012, it would also change the landscape in the health insurance industry, where already there are millions without coverage, millions more are losing coverage and 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies in this country are at least partially due to medical bills.

The Republicans might be smart in their own way to battle health care reform for political reasons, but they'll be hurting their constituents -- the people they allegedly serve -- in the process. There's a time to play politics and there's a time to buckle down and focus on what's right for the American people.

This, ladies and gentlemen on both sides of the aisle, is the latter.