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Posts tagged “health care reform

Time for Reid to ditch Lieberman, save health care reform

Photo credit Talking Points Memo

Enough is enough.

The news last night that Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is threatening to filibuster health care reform with a Medicare Buy-In,  a compromise spurred by Lieberman’s threats to filibuster the public option, is the last straw. It’s time for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to strip Joe Lieberman of his commitee chairmanship, maybe even kick him out of the Senate Democratic Caucus, then go through moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME) or some other means to get Health Care Reform passed.

Enough trying to figure out a member of the Democratic caucus from a very blue state who won’t keep his word. Enough trying to placate a senator who seems content on wrecking his caucus’ most important piece of legislation this Congress, specifically a component of it that, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, 56% of his constituents in Connecticut FAVOR. It’s time for Reid to drop the hammer on this guy and move on before the Democratic party gets destroyed next year.

I don’t know if Lieberman is still bitter about being primaried out by Ned Lamont in 2006 or what. But ever since he won re-election as an independent that year (Connecticut allows primary losers to do so), Lieberman has increasingly gone against the Democratic Party and, therefore, most of his constituents back home. He endorsed and campaigned for Republican John McCain for President last year. Reid let him keep his chairmanship and caucus spot after that, knowing that he’d need him to avert Republican filibusters and get the party’s agenda passed this year. And that gamble has backfired big time, to the point that it is now seriously threatening the legislation that will play a huge rule in determing the party’s electoral fortunes next year and possibly in 2012 as well.

First, Lieberman threatened to filibuster the public option. He wouldn’t even accept one with a trigger, the way Snowe has. Realizing they didn’t have the votes to pass a public option along the lines of what is in the House version, Reid and a group of his fellow Democratic senators composed a compromise that replaces the public option with a Medicare buy-in. But even before the new proposal was scored by the Congressional Budget Office (the CBO report should be in by the middle of this week), Lieberman said yesterday that he’d filibuster that too. Not allow to go to a vote and simply vote against – filibuster.

If Reid strips Lieberman of his chairmanship and/or kicks him out of the caucus, it’s not like the Republicans are going to welcome Lieberman with open arms. Lieberman remains pro-choice and has other liberal view points that won’t help him with the Republican leadership. And at this point Lieberman isn’t going to get re-elected in 2012 no matter what party he runs on. I suppose he could resign in a snit and leave Jodi Rell, Connecticut’s Republican Governor, to appoint a Republican replacement. But that Republican wouldn’t be much more damaging to the Democratic party’s cause than Lieberman has.

As for what alternatives Reid has without Lieberman, he could work with Snowe, who won’t state her position on the compromise until the CBO report comes back but at least has been relatively consistent. If Reid had Lyndon Johnson’s you-know-whats (which he doesn’t), he could twist the arms of other Democratic senators (like Nebaska’s Ben Nelson and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu) to get on board. But at least Nelson is consistent – he represents a very conservative constituency.

Reid could also try to do what Trent Lott and Co. famously tried to do in 2005 and invoke the “nuclear option” – change Senate rules to end debate with only a simple majority of the Senate, as opposed to the current 60 votes needed. The Republicans would certainly howl for blood if that happened, but they tried it first.

Using budget reconciliation (which only requires 50 votes plus Vice President Joe Biden) to pass the more controversial parts of the bill is probably not an option either. The bill is too complex, the Republicans would force the caucus to hold together through even more objections than it is now and if it was going to happen, Reid needed to do it already.

Whatever Reid does, health care reform needs to get through the Senate, go through conference committee and pass both chambers again. It MUST get done, or the normal losses the President’s party suffers in his first midterm elections will be catastrophic ones. Republicans are going to be motivated to take down the other party next year as it is. If health care reform doesn’t get passed, the Democratic base will stay home as well.

Health Care Reform must get done. And at this point, that means telling Lieberman to leave.


The Final Four in the way of public option

The political news website Talking Points Memo had a good piece last night analyzing the four Senate Democrats who are balking at supporting the public option, or even voting to bring a bill with a public option to a vote (ie, invoking cloture): Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Mary Landrieu (D-LA).

“These are the four Democrats threatening to filibuster a public option bill down the line. They’re also in discussions with leadership and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) regarding a compromise modeled on Snowe’s trigger. How they change the bill so significantly remains unclear (can Reid round up 60 votes to swap the provisions? Does he pull the bill off the floor and reintroduce it with a different public option?) For the time being, though, liberals are turning up the heat on these four. And to succeed, they’ll need to be well aware of what buttons to push.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in a VERY tough spot here. the Dems can rip Lieberman, Jim DeMint, et al in the press or even on the Senate floor all they want. It won’t matter. If no Health Care Reform passes, the Dems are going to get their rears handed to them next year and likely in 2012 as well. The public isn’t going to care that the Republicans or Joe Lieberman wouldn’t vote for cloture. All that will matter to them is that the Democrats had the White House and large majorities in both chambers of Congress and once again proved incapable of governing and actually accomplishing things.

If Reid tries to go Tony Soprano (figuratively speaking, of course!) on those four, he risks at least three of them switching parties and no longer voting with the Dems even some of the time. Lincoln, Nelson and Landrieu would likely benefit politically from this (all three represent states that President Obama lost by at least 15 points last year).  Who knows with Lieberman?  He represents a very blue state and votes with the Democrats on social issues and even a lot of fiscal ones, but was primaried out in 2006 (he later won re-election anyway as an independent) and may still hold a grudge against the party because of that. He campaigned for John McCain last year, yet still got to keep his committee chairmanship and place in the caucus because Reid knew he’d likely need his vote to get stuff passed. Maybe Lieberman would change parties, serve out the rest of his current term and retire in 2012. Or maybe he’s just grandstanding to get attention for himself and will back down when Reid puts the gun in his face and starts to squeeze the trigger.

Reconcilliation, which doesn’t require invoking cloture (and hence only needs 50 votes plus Vice President Joe Biden), likely won’t work either. Only certain parts can be passed that way, and which ones are at the sole discretion of the Senate parliamentarian. If you think the Republicans are fighting this viciously now, just imagine how many bogus amendments they would propose to bog things down if this goes the reconcilliation route. And even if the Dems could keep 50 votes together through that entire process and get it passed, it would have to be re-approved in 2015. If the Republicans have control of the Senate by that point, Health Care Reform is dead before it’s even had a chance to take effect.

Reid announces Senate healthcare reform bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) unveiled his chamber’s version of Healthcare Reform yesterday. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate’s version will guarantee health insurance coverage for 94% of Americans and cost $849 billion over 10 years, which will ultimately reduce the budget deficit by $127 billion.

“We’re proud of these figures,” Reid told reporters. “Not only do we make [health insurance] affordable for every American, we certainly do it in a fiscally responsible way.”

As expected, the Senate version includes a public option with an opt-out clause, persumably allowing Democrats from more pro-Republican constituencies the cover of voting for the bill, or at least for cloture, while claiming that the bill will give states the option to not participate if they so choose. The Senate version, like the House version, prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortions.

Now the tough part begins for Harry Reid. He has to make sure he has 60 votes on board to invoke cloture and get the bill to the floor for a vote. If he does and it passes, the Senate and House versions will have to be combined in conference committee, after which both chambers will have to pass the final version. So while Sen. Reid deserves praise for getting healthcare reform this far in the Senate, there is still a ways to go.



Health care reform: Don’t pop the champagne corks yet

President Obama, Democrats and health care reform supporters are giddy today over the House passing its version of reform late last night. It is certainly a big step in the right direction – a bigger one than any administration and Congress has taken since Lyndon Johnson created Medicare in the 1960s.

But I would caution those supporters to not get too giddy. Because there are still several mountains left to climb before this is a done deal.

The next one is in the Senate, which has yet to pass its own version. On paper, this shouldn’t be a problem – the Dems and those caucusing with them control 60 seats and have the Vice President – more than enough to get a simple majority. In practice, however, it’s not nearly that simple.

Senate debate rules require 60 votes to “invoke cloture,” or stop debate and bring a bill to an up-or-down vote. So Majority Leader Harry Reid actually needs 60 votes to get this done. And there are a number of Democratic caucus members who represent conservative constituencies (or are just in the pockets of the insurance companies) who will be a tough sell to get on board with a public option – one of the most critical parts of any real healthcare reform, in my opinion. This group includes Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Evan Bayh (Indiana) and Joe Lieberman (Connecticut). Lincoln and Bayh are both up for re-election next year. But Lieberman could be an even bigger fly in the ointment – he represents a rather liberal state (which went for Obama by 20 points last year) and votes with the Dems on most social issues. But he voted for the Iraq War and campaigned for Republican John McCain against Obama last year, even speaking at the Republican National Convention.

Reid could get around cloture rules by trying to pass the Senate’s version through budget reconcilliation, where he would need only 50 votes plus Vice President Biden. But this move would require the spending authorization to be renewed after 5 years. If the Republicans were to regain control of the Senate by that point, you know what would happen then.

The bill has already been delayed in the Senate and now may not even get passed this year, breaking President Obama’s second deadline. And if the debate goes into next year, moderate and conservative Democrats who are up for re-election in otherwise Republican districts or states are going to be even more reluctant to get on board.

Even if the Senate passes its version, it will have to be merged with the House version in conference committee. Both chambers will then have to pass the final combined version before President Obama can sign it. Same rules and obstacles will still apply.

So be happy with this step forward. But don’t pop the champagne corks just yet.

House passes healthcare reform bill

After a day of wrangling and debate and voting on amendments, the House of Representatives passed its healthcare reform bill late tonight. Most of the Blue Dogs (a group of 45 or so moderate or conservative Democrats) voted nay, and others needed an amendment proposed by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) that banned plans that paid for abortions from the proposed new exchange to be satisfied. But the bill passed by a 220-215 vote shortly after 11 p.m. ET. Joseph Cao (R-LA), who was elected from an overwhelmingly pro-Democratic district in New Orleans last year after “Dollar Bill” Jefferson was indicted for corruption (most famously having $90K in cash in his freezer), was the only Republican to vote for it.

President Obama gave House democrats a pep talk before today’s debate and voting. He reminded them to “answer the call of history.”

Now the ball is in the Senate’s court. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who I’ve been very critical of, is showing some fire in trying to get his caucus on board and avert a Republican filibuster (he needs 60 votes to invoke cloture). He’s running into a lot of resistance from Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who was primaried out by Ned Lamont in 2006, won re-election as an independent, caucused with the Democrats, but then campaigned for Republican John McCain in last year’s Presidential election. I’m not sure what Lieberman is trying to do – CT is a very Democratic state. But he could be a bigger fly in the ointment than Olympia Snowe or even Ben Nelson.

Anywho, if the Senate passes its version – and who knows if or when that will be – the two versions will go to a conference committee to form one final bill, which both chambers will vote on one last time.

Reid does something Right after all

I didn’t think Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had it in him to pull off something like this. But despite the obstacles in the Senate (named Nelson, Lincoln, Bayh, Landrieu and Lieberman), and even with President Obama himself reportedly pushing back against it, Reid has gotten a public option into the health care reform bill that will go before the whole Senate. And presumably he wouldn’t have let it go to the floor unless he had the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and put it to a vote.

This public option, unlike the House version, does have an opt-out clause for states. But that’s a fair and acceptable compromise, IMO. And it’s far better than the “trigger” option championed by Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and reportedly favored by the White House, which would have been too easy for the insurance companies to game.

Maybe the “pushback” from the White House was nothing more than Obama not being sure that Reid could get the votes and wanting to make sure he could at least get something to the floor. Maybe it was just another case of unnamed sources trying to push their own agenda and the media going along with it. I certainly hope Obama wasn’t naive enough to think that getting one lone Republican on board (and the most moderate one in the Senate at that) was worth badly weakening a bill that will ultimately be a big part of his legacy.

If the Senate can invoke cloture and pass this version (and, again, you’d think Reid wouldn’t announce this to the public unless he was sure those things would happen), the House and Senate bills will go into a conference committee to form the final bill that both chambers would have to approve before President Obama can sign it. The fact that both the House and Senate versions will apparently have a public option raises the likelihood that the final bill will have one too.

There is still work to be done. But if Harry Reid pulls this off, I’ll have to admit that he does have some cojones after all.

It’s time for Obama to lead and take a stand

I’m sure even Barack Obama’s strongest critics, the ones who never would have even considered voting for him last year, would admit that he is an excellent campaigner. But in case anyone hasn’t noticed, the election has been over for almost a year now. And Obama is no longer Senator Obama, candidate for President. He is President Obama.

Which means he has to lead. And that means it is time for him to take firm positions, no matter what they are or how risky they are.

So far, President Obama has been VERY lacking in this regard. Sure, he can still give an excellent speech and speak colorful words. But when it comes to actually stating where he stands and what he wants, he continues to give wishy-washy responses and hedge his bets. That’s expected, if not ideal, if you’re a candidate and are trying to win over as many as possible. It’s totally unacceptable if you’re a leader and 300 million people, not to mention the government you head, need your direction.

The most recent bit of wishy-washyness that compelled me to write this entry was Obama’s constant refusal to take a clear position on the healthcare reform plans on which he has staked much of his political capital. He campaigned for a public option last year. Now, he won’t say if he wants one or not. Hell, he won’t say what specifically what he wants at all.

I am well aware of the mistake Bill Clinton made in 1993, when he tried to put together the whole thing himself and then force it through Congress. I’m not saying President Obama should go to that extent. And I also know that, given the political divide in this country, no Republican would likely vote for whatever bill eventually goes before both chambers, regardless of whether it has a public option or not. But that’s besides the point, given the Democrats’ majorities in both chambers of Congress.

But President Obama can strike a balance between Clinton’s micromanaging and leaving all of the details up to Congress. I have very little faith in either party in Congress, since both seem to only care about scoring shallow, short-term victories that will help them get re-elected. And that lack of faith has been validated by the way they have dragged this healthcare reform debate on and on for months.

Obama didn’t have to let that happen. He could have said from the beginning that he wanted a public option with elements X, Y & Z, given that mandate to Congress and let them sort out the details for making it work. Or, if he really didn’t want a public option, he should have said that from the beginning too.

Bottom line is that he needed to take a stand either way. He needed to make clear, at least in a general way, what he wanted. He would have made some enemies no matter what he did, to be sure. But leaders have to take stands and accept the consequences if it turns out they took the wrong one. But by not taking a stand, he angered his base, allowed the Republicans to take control of the narrative of the public debate and, most damagingly, left too much decision-making power in the hands of the body of our government that is LEAST suited for making clear decisions.

President Obama has staked much of his credibility on healthcare reform. If he wants to get it done, and he wants the final product to be something that really works and that he can be proud of, he needs stop campaigning for healthcare reform and actually take a position on it.

That’s what leaders do.

Health Care bill passes Senate Finance Committee

By a 14-9 vote, including a “yes” vote from Olympia Snowe (R-ME), the Senate Finance Committee passed its version of health care reform today. The full Senate will now make a combined bill that will go before the whole chamber, while the House will do likewise. There is a long way to go. But the squeaky wheel is slowly getting its oil.

I don’t like the Finance Committee’s version at all because it doesn’t allow for any kind of public option. And as much as this notion appals staunch fiscal libertarians (including some friends and family members of mine), we can’t trust the insurance companies to keep rates in check without a strong public option. There are just too many parts of this country where one insurance company has a monopoly on the market and can charge whatever it wants.

In one of my previous posts, I mentioned a proposed compromise of including a public option but allowing individual states to opt out. This may give enough Blue Dog democrats and even some more moderate Republicans enough political cover to vote for it. As long as the option has real teeth (which the trigger concept would not provide), that’s what matters most.

An agreeable public option?

Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Carper (D-DE) have been floating a version of health care reform with a public option that allows states to opt out. I like this idea. And it sounds like more conservative Democrats like Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Max Baucus (D-MT) are warming up to it too.

I think there needs to be a public option, if only a limited one, because health insurance companies can’t be trusted to keep premiums (for the uninsured or people having to buy on their own), co-payments and/or deductibles affordable. In many parts of the country, because of state laws or what not, there may be only one health insurance company to choose from, and costs reflect as much. Even people who have health insurance through their employer can be ruined financially from paying deductibles and co-payments required for treatment of cancer and other major diseases or injuries.

This plan would give reps and senators from more conservative constituencies (who distrust anything coming from Obama) political cover, because they can say they’re simply giving the power to their state rather than actually voting for it. If their constituents don’t want it, their state legislature can simply reject it. If their constituents want it and the legislature opts out, then the legislators will feel the heat.

Most importantly, this is better than the other compromises being floated, such as the “trigger” favored by Olympia Snowe (R-ME) or co-ops that would result in a weaker bill that is doomed to failure.

Certainly other things need to be done to reform healthcare. One tactic that I agree with, favored by former Congressman and 2010 Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate Pat Toomey, is to allow people to buy health insurance across state lines. As long as you then allow, say, NJ residents who buy PA or DE insurance to then go to doctors in NJ, this too will increase competition and lower costs.