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Harry Reid

The beginning of the end for the Senate filibuster?

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Oct 06, 2011 at 20:23:15 PM CDT

Senator Tom Harkin has tried repeatedly to change Senate procedures that obstruct simple majority rule. In January of this year, Senate Democrats failed to coalesce around his reasonable filibuster reform proposals, opting instead for what Harkin called "baby steps" that "don't get to the heart of the matter."

Tonight, while the chamber debated a low-profile bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used a simple majority vote to change Senate rules. He was targeting a procedure that amounted to a repeat filibuster rather than the filibuster itself, but he may have set the stage for major rule changes in the future.

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Grassley and Harkin split over ending tax breaks for oil companies

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 17, 2011 at 19:49:17 PM CDT

A Republican-led filibuster blocked Senate consideration today of a bill that would end "tax breaks for the five largest oil companies: Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips and Chevron." Click here for more detail on tax breaks that would be eliminated. The 52 to 48 vote in favor of proceeding with the "Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act" failed because 60 votes are needed to overcome a filibuster. The roll call shows that Iowa's Chuck Grassley voted against the motion to proceed, as did all but two Senate Republicans. Tom Harkin voted for considering the bill, as did all but three Democrats.

I'm all for ending oil company subsidies, but this bill was about optics rather than good energy policy. Andrew Restuccia wrote in The Hill,

Democrats' pledge to continue pushing the bill signals that they view the effort as a winning political issue amid $4-a-gallon gas, soaring oil company profits and growing concern about the deficit. [...]

Democrats say the bill would save $21 billion over the course of 10 years, savings that can be used to reduce the deficit at a time of increased belt-tightening.

Those talking points would be more convincing if party leaders had genuinely tried to end oil subsidies when Democrats controlled the U.S. House and had close to 60 votes in the Senate. It also makes no sense to focus this bill on the biggest oil companies, rather than the sector as a whole. Democrats apparently wrote the bill that way because of those companies' large profits in the first quarter of this year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told journalists today that he will press for ending oil companies' tax breaks as part of legislation on raising the debt ceiling. The U.S. hit its current debt ceiling yesterday and won't be able to pay all its bills if Congress does not act to raise the ceiling by August 2. I believe President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats are playing a losing game by making budget negotiations part of a deal on raising the debt ceiling. When it was time to raise the government's borrowing limit in 1995, President Bill Clinton wisely refused to let Republicans use the occasion to "backdoor their budget proposals."

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: After the jump I've added a statement Grassley released on May 17, calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to approve the proposed Keystone XL Canadian pipeline project. Grassley depicts that project as a way for the Obama administration to help reduce the cost of gasoline. But an analysis commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy earlier this year suggested that building this pipeline might cause oil and therefore gasoline prices to rise in the Midwest. Environmental groups have raised many objections to the Keystone XL project as well.

SECOND UPDATE: I've also added below excerpts from a report by the Congressional Research Service on "the extent to which proposed tax changes on the oil industry are likely to affect domestic gasoline prices." The report briefly explains the five tax breaks that would be repealed under the bill senators filibustered.

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Unemployment benefits will run out for many today

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Apr 05, 2010 at 07:30:00 AM CDT

Although the March jobs report was encouraging, the unemployment rate and the number of long-term unemployed are still at historically high levels. Unfortunately, unemployment benefits for about 200,000 Americans will run out soon because Congress adjourned for its Easter recess before resolving an dispute over extending those and other benefits. The Hill reports:

The interruption in benefits will last two weeks at a minimum, according to Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), since lawmakers return from spring break on April 12.

As the two-week recess began, Congress was at an impasse over how to extend the emergency unemployment insurance program and other expiring provisions, including increased COBRA health insurance subsidies for the unemployed, the Medicare doctor payment rate and federal flood insurance.

Senate Republicans said the $9.3 billion, 30-day extension preferred by Democrats should be paid for, while Democrats said the bill's cost didn't need to be offset because the program was "emergency spending."

Under the jobless benefits program that ends Monday, Americans out of work are eligible for up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. The program, aimed at helping jobless Americans stay afloat when new jobs aren't readily available, gives an unemployed worker more than the 26 weeks of unemployment insurance normally available. But with the program ending, those out of work for as few as six months will see an interruption in their benefit checks.

I love how Republicans who approved every blank check for war in Iraq and every tax cut for the top 1 percent now demand that unemployment benefits be "paid for." I don't expect them to hold up action on unemployment benefits forever, but even if Democrats are able to apply extensions retroactively later this month, a lot of families will experience real hardship in the meantime. Democrats should not have adjourned for Easter before dealing with this issue. I hope they pass a bill to extend the benefits until the end of the year, so these battles won't recur every month.

In an April 2 statement regarding the latest jobs report, Senator Tom Harkin outlined additional steps needed to help people looking for work:

"First, Congress must overcome the obstructionism that is holding up an extension of unemployment insurance.  This critical safety net expires Monday and will leave nearly 38,000 Americans and 1,200 Iowans without benefits they need while they look for work.  In addition, we must take immediate action to prevent job losses among our nation's teachers - to protect the quality of education - and we need to pass job creating legislation.  When Congress returns, I intend to move immediately on those efforts."

UPDATE: Mike Lillis has more on benefits expiring and next steps in the Senate.

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Iowans split on party lines as House passes scaled-back jobs bill

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 04, 2010 at 18:58:59 PM CST

The House of Representatives approved a jobs bill today containing about $15 billion in tax incentives and a $20 billion allocation from the Highway Trust Fund to support infrastructure projects. (The Senate had approved the legislation on February 24.) Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) voted for the bill, while Iowa Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) voted against it (roll call here). Six Republicans joined 211 Democrats in supporting the bill, while 35 Democrats opposed it along with most of the GOP caucus. The Democratic opponents were mostly members of either the Progressive Caucus or the Congressional Black Caucus:

Congressman [Raul] Grijalva, one of the leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, had dismissed the tax-credit focused bill as not "dealing with job creation." [...] The CBC's position during the month long debate on the $15 billion jobs tax credit package was fairly straightforward - CBC members don't want to back a bill that was composed of tax breaks for business which they don't believe will necessarily create jobs when other job-creating programs the CBC supports, such a summer youth jobs program, face an uncertain future in the Senate.

Braley had introduced a separate bill last month containing language similar to part of the jobs bill approved today:

Braley's language in the HIRE Act provides small business owners with greater incentives to hire workers for long-term positions, providing $1,000 in additional tax incentives for businesses that retain employees for 52 consecutive weeks. The payroll tax cut provides greater incentive for employers to move quickly to hire new workers because the credit expires at the end of the year.  The sooner employees are hired, the more time small business owners have to benefit from the credit.

The [Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment] Act also includes the following provisions:

o       Tax cuts to spur new investment by small businesses to help them expand and hire more workers

o       Extension of the Highway Trust Fund allowing for tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment

o       Provisions -- modeled after the Build America Bonds program - to make it easier for states to borrow for infrastructure projects, such as school construction and energy projects

Earlier this week, Republican Senator Jim Bunning ended his filibuster of a bill including a temporary extension of unemployment benefits and other measures. The Senate then approved the bill by a 78 to 19 vote. Both Democrat Tom Harkin and Republican Chuck Grassley voted for the bill. However, Grassley defended Bunning's efforts to demand that the bill be paid for, while Harkin said Bunning had abused Senate procedures in blocking the bill for several days. I do agree with one point Grassley raised: the unemployment benefits should have been included in the jobs bill the Senate approved on February 24.

Obama signed the bill right away on March 3. Not only did that extend unemployment and COBRA benefits, it also allowed furloughed Department of Transportation workers to come back to work and prevented a big cut in Medicare payments to physicians from going into effect.

Speaking of jobs-related legislation, Roxanne Conlin's campaign blasted Grassley this week for announcing that some Dubuque workers are eligible for a retraining program that he voted against. After the jump you can read the press release, which includes background information on the program and Grassley's voting record.  

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Long-term unemployed pay the price for Senate dysfunction

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Feb 28, 2010 at 10:30:06 AM CST

As long-term unemployment continues to rise, unemployment benefits for many Americans will run out tonight because the U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill extending the benefits late last week. An estimated 1.2 million Americans, including about 75,000 Iowans, stand to lose unemployment benefits during the month of March if Congress does not act. For reasons I don't understand, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid left the benefits extension out of the jobs bill approved by the Senate on February 24.

The following day, the House of Representatives approved a separate bill containing a one-month extension of unemployment benefits, federal subsidies for people on COBRA health insurance plans, current Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors, and a few other programs. Democrats tried to bring this bill up for a Senate vote right away, but retiring Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky repeatedly objected to motions for unanimous consent. Democrats promised to keep filing motions until Bunning broke down, but instead they adjourned near midnight on Thursday night.

Democrats have been slamming Bunning in public statements and e-mail blasts. Here's an example from Senator Tom Harkin's office on Friday:

"We need to act quickly to extend the safety net and make sure laid-off workers have access to unemployment benefits through the end of the year, at least," said Harkin.  "It is heartbreaking to see political games being played with the lives of hardworking people who are struggling to find a job, particularly when there has been strong bipartisan support in the past to extend unemployment benefits and other vital safety net programs.  

"Unfortunately this is emblematic of the larger issue plaguing the Senate today: abuse of Senate procedure.  We saw it in November as well.  While Senate Republicans play games, families are sitting around their kitchen tables wondering how they will make ends meet.  

"I intend to do everything in my power to fight this and hope other Senators will join me in this effort."

[...] In November, Senate Republicans used a similar delay tactic to filibuster a motion to proceed to a bill to extend unemployment compensation.  After delaying and grinding Senate business to a halt for nearly a month, the bill passed 97-1.

Bunning's behavior is inexcusable, and he even had the gall to complain about missing a college basketball game while staying on the Senate floor to block this bill.

At the same time, it is pathetic that Democrats adjourned instead of standing and fighting Senate Republicans all weekend long. Apparently one or two other Republicans showed up Thursday night to back up Bunning, but so what? Democrats should have refused to leave until the unemployment benefits bill passed. At the Congress Matters blog, David Waldman explained other ways Democrats could have handled Bunning's procedural roadblock. Chris Bowers looked at the big picture here:

Democrats are in charge, and they are going to get blamed for this.  Democratic attempts to blame this on Senate procedure will ring utterly hollow.  Not only do people not understand, or care about, those rules, but it simply sounds wimpy and pathetic for the people running the United States Government to throw their hands up in the air and say "our procedural rules prevented us from doing anything to solve this huge problem. Sorry."

Democrats did not have to adjourn.  They could have kept fighting Bunning.  Further, they all agreed to the rules under which the Senate operates, and most of them are still defending those rules.  Blaming Senate procedure is not going to extend anyone's unemployment or COBRA benefits, and its not going to win many hearts around the country.

Sure, Jim Bunning is currently the biggest asshole in the country right now.  However, if you think that procedure is a problem, then start working to change the procedure.  If you think that unemployment benefits need to be extended, then don't adjourn for the weekend when those benefits are slated to run out.  

Sometime this week, or perhaps later in March, Senate Democrats will break the Republican obstruction. But when that happens, "state governments will still have to deal with the extra administrative costs of shutting down and restarting the extended benefits programs."

Some Republicans, like Representative Steve King, are philosophically opposed to extending unemployment benefits, but they fail to acknowledge that extending unemployment benefits has tremendous "bang for the buck." The Iowa Fiscal Partnership recently calculated that that the unemployment benefits extension contained in last year's federal stimulus bill "produced $501.7 million increased economic activity and $112.1 million in income in 2009, while creating or saving 3,727 jobs" in Iowa alone.

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Senate passes jobs bill; Grassley votes no

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 24, 2010 at 14:34:35 PM CST

The U.S. Senate passed a scaled-back jobs bill today by a 70-28 vote (roll call here). 57 of the 59 Senate Democrats voted for the bill; Ben Nelson of Nebraska voted no and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey was absent. 13 Republicans voted for the bill. Five of them helped Democrats break a Republican filibuster on Monday: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and the retiring Kit Bond of Missouri and George Voinovich of Ohio. Two Republicans who were absent for Monday's cloture vote also voted yes today: Orrin Hatch of Utah and Richard Burr of North Carolina. Six other Republicans tried to block this vote from going forward on Monday but turned around and voted for the bill today: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, George LeMieux of Florida, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Senate Democrats and the media are calling this a $15 billion jobs bill, but David Dayen notes, it's really a $35 billion measure: "the extension of the Highway Trust Fund would add $20 billion for infrastructure projects, but because of the way it's financed, through a fund shift, it doesn't count as an expense."

In addition to the highway fund money, the main features of the jobs bill are a tax credit for small businesses that hire new workers, "Build America Bonds" that help state and local governments to borrow money, and a provision to allow small businesses to write off more expenses.

Senator Chuck Grassley voted against today's bill and against the cloture motion on Monday. He and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus had agreed on a different jobs bill, which Senate Majority Leader Reid abandoned. In a statement submitted to the Senate record on Monday, Grassley slammed Reid's "disregard for bipartisanship" and noted that tax-extending provisions in the Baucus-Grassley bill had enjoyed broad support from both parties in the past.

The House passed a larger jobs bill in December that included many of the tax-extending provisions Reid omitted from the Senate bill.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moodys.com, said last week that Reid's jobs bill was "a good first step" but not nearly large enough to address the unemployment problem:

A failure to provide additional funding to struggling states, for example, would lead to job losses that would "overwhelm" all the other job-creating efforts being tried, he said. And while the Schumer-Hatch tax credit would create between 200,000 and 300,000 new jobs, Zandi estimated, that number is a drop in the bucket relative to the roughly 11 million new jobs needed to get the country back to pre-recession jobless levels.

Reid has promised to introduce more jobs-creating legislation soon. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will try to move quickly on the bill the Senate just approved, Roll Call reported.

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Baucus-Grassley "jobs" bill going nowhere (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Feb 12, 2010 at 09:15:00 AM CST

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and ranking Republican Chuck Grassley released a draft jobs bill yesterday that would cost about $85 billion. It "would give employers a payroll tax exemption for hiring those who have been unemployed for at least 60 days. The bill would also provide a $1,000 income tax credit for new workers retained for 52 weeks." Click here to read a copy of the draft bill.

A bipartisan jobs bill would be great if that bill would create a significant number of new jobs. Unfortunately, analysts agree that many of the measures in the Baucus-Grassley bill would do little on that front. More details are after the jump.

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 2)

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 07, 2010 at 14:56:38 PM CST

Following up on the diary I posted this morning, this post compiles links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage of national politics from July through December 2009. Health care reform was again the number one topic. I wish there had been a happy ending.
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Health reform bill clears 60-vote hurdle in Senate

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 21, 2009 at 09:19:08 AM CST

Last night the U.S. Senate voted 60 to 40 to move forward with debate on the health insurance reform bill. All senators who caucus with Democrats voted for cloture, and all Republicans voted against. The breakthrough came on Saturday, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid secured Senator Ben Nelson's support with extra money for Medicaid in Nebraska and new language on abortion.

At Daily Kos mcjoan published a good summary of what's in the latest version of the bill.

Reid reportedly promised Nelson a "limited conference" on this bill, meaning that very few changes will be made to the Senate version. However, it's far from clear that the House of Representatives will approve the Senate's compromise. About two dozen House Democrats plan to vote against health care reform no matter what, meaning that it will only take 15-20 more no votes to prevent supporters from reaching 218 in the House.

Bart Stupak, lead sponsor of the amendment restricting abortion coverage in the House bill, has been working with Republicans against the Senate's abortion language. Meanwhile, the leaders of the House pro-choice caucus have suggested the Senate language may be unconstitutional.

Even before Reid struck the final deal with Nelson, Representative Bruce Braley told the Des Moines Register, "I think the real test is going to be at the conference committee and if it doesn't improve significantly, I think health care reform is very remote based on what I'm hearing in the House."

Senator Tom Harkin has done several media appearances in recent days defending the Senate compromise. He seems especially pleased with the Medicaid deal for Nebraska:

The federal government is paying for the entire Medicaid expansion through 2017 for every state.

"In 2017, as you know, when we have to start phasing back from 100 percent, and going down to 98 percent, they are going to say, 'Wait, there is one state that stays at 100?' And every governor in the country is going to say, 'Why doesn't our state stay there?'" Harkin said. "When you look at it, I thought well, god, good, it is going to be the impetus for all the states to stay at 100 percent. So he might have done all of us a favor."

Ezra Klein has posted some amazing spin this morning about how the Senate bill is "not very close to the health-care bill most liberals want. But it is very close to the health-care bill that Barack Obama promised." Sorry, no. Obama campaigned on a health care plan that would control costs and include a public insurance option, drug re-importation, and letting Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices. Obama campaigned against an individual mandate to purchase insurance and an excise tax on insurance benefits.

Those of you still making excuses for Obama should listen to what Senator Russ Feingold said yesterday:

"I've been fighting all year for a strong public option to compete with the insurance industry and bring health care spending down," Feingold said Sunday in a statement. "Unfortunately, the lack of support from the administration made keeping the public option in the bill an uphill struggle."

Republican Senator Olympia Snowe was about as unprincipled and two-faced during this process as White House officials were. She voted for the Senate Finance Committee's bill in October and had suggested her main objection to Reid's compromise was the inclusion of a public health insurance option. Yet Snowe remained opposed to the bill even after the public option was removed last week. Because of her stance, Reid cut the deal with Nelson. The supposedly pro-choice Snowe could have prevented the restrictions on abortion coverage from getting into the bill if she had signed on instead.

Speaking of Republicans, the Iowa Republican posted this rant by TEApublican: "Nebraska And Huckabee Respond To Ben 'Benedict' Nelson's Christmas Senate Sellout." If you click over, be prepared to encounter mixed metaphors and misunderstandings about what this "reform" does. Still, the rant is a good reminder of how Republicans will still scream about government takeovers even though corporate interests got everything they wanted out of the bill.

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MoveOn.org has lost credibility with me

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 17, 2009 at 09:15:00 AM CST

I'm likely to ignore future e-mails from MoveOn.org Political Action after reading the last two appeals they've sent me. They are raising money off the health care reform battle while absolving President Obama from blame for the pitiful state of the Senate bill.

Excerpts from the MoveOn.Org appeals and some commentary are after the jump.

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White House orders capitulation to Lieberman

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 22:12:51 PM CST

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to give in to all of Joe Lieberman's demands.

So Reid did. We have a "health insurance reform" bill with no public option, no trigger, no Medicare buy-in. And it will probably continue to get worse from here.

There is no point in pretending that President Obama wanted any comprehensive bill to pass. There was zero pressure on Lieberman to cave, no talk of using the budget reconciliation process--only pressure on Reid to give Lieberman everything.

Emanuel didn't just leave it to Reid to find a solution. Emanuel specifically suggested Reid give Lieberman the concessions he seeks on issues like the Medicare buy-in and triggers.

"It was all about 'do what you've got to do to get it done. Drop whatever you've got to drop to get it done," the aide said. All of Emanuel's prescriptions, the source said, were aimed at appeasing Lieberman--not twisting his arm.

Organizing for America will get a rude awakening when they try to round up canvassers and phone bankers. All the volunteers and donors and voters who brought Obama where he is turned out to be less important than one senator from Connecticut who campaigned for John McCain.

Yes, you early Obama supporters out there have every right to be furious. My candidate before the caucuses turned out to be a jerk in his personal life, but he was right to warn against replacing "a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats."

UPDATE: Darcy Burner explains why the Senate bill is worse than doing nothing on health care.

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Senate health bill has public option, no thanks to Obama

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Oct 27, 2009 at 11:31:03 AM CDT

Good news, part 1: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced yesterday that the health care bill he'll bring up on the Senate floor will have a public health insurance option. That means opponents of the public option will have to try to strip out the measure with amendments on the Senate floor. They don't have 60 votes to do that.

Good news, part 2: at yesterday's press conference, Reid "definitively stated that a trigger bill wouldn't get a [Congressional Budget Office] score - effectively taking it off the table as a legislative option." The insurance industry and its allies in Congress, including Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, have pushed the "trigger" idea because it would virtually guarantee that the public option would never go into effect.

Bad news, part 1: Reid's compromise would allow states to opt out of the public health insurance option, and limits participation in the public plan in many other ways too.

Bad news, part 2: At crunch time, President Barack Obama did nothing to help progressives fighting to strengthen the health care bill. On the contrary, he urged Reid to drop the public option in favor of a "trigger."

More thoughts on that betrayal are after the jump.

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Don't punt the public option debate to the states

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Oct 10, 2009 at 11:00:00 AM CDT

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.

I consider this idea's pros and cons after the jump.  

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Dorgan will offer amendment on importing prescription drugs

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Oct 01, 2009 at 07:04:44 AM CDT

The White House agreement with the pharmaceutical industry, which is reflected in the Senate Finance Committee's health care bill, is one of the most shameful episodes of the health care reform process. Presidential candidate Barack Obama had promised to "put an end to the game-playing" in Washington, citing in one television ad the deal the pharmaceutical industry wrote into the Medicare prescription drug legislation. Yet in order to bring big Pharma on board with health care reform, the White House "stood by a behind-the-scenes deal to block any Congressional effort to extract cost savings from them beyond an agreed-upon $80 billion."

Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota says no deal, according to Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post:

A Senate Democratic leader is hoping to blow up the deal reached between the White House, drug makers and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), by introducing an amendment on the floor to allow prescription drugs to be re-imported from Canada.

It's one of the simplest ways to reduce health care costs but was ruled out by the agreement, which limits Big Pharma's contribution to health care reform to $80 billion over ten years.

North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, a member of Democratic leadership, isn't a party to that bargain. "Senator Dorgan intends to offer an amendment to the health reform bill and his expectation is that it will be one of the first amendments considered," his spokesman Justin Kitsch told HuffPost in an e-mail. "Prescription drug importation is an immediate way to put downward pressure on health care costs. It has bipartisan support, and has been endorsed by groups such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses and AARP." [...]

Jim Manley, senior communications adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said that he sees no reason the amendment won't get a floor vote.

If an amendment on reimporting drugs from Canada gets to the Senate floor, it is hard to see how it fails to pass. Grim notes that a separate bill to allow re-importation of prescription drugs from Canada "has 30 cosponsors, several Republicans among them." I hope the White House doesn't start twisting arms to keep that amendment off the Senate floor.

Giving the government the ability to negotiate prescription drug prices would bring costs down even more. Obama should support that reform, since he says he won't let the health care bill add a dime to the deficit. But apparently, not taking that step was part of the White House deal with drug companies.

Speaking of backroom deals, Alexander Bolton reports for The Hill, citing "senior Democratic aides," that Reid will "not include legislation repealing antitrust exemptions for the health insurance industry in the healthcare package he will bring to the Senate floor."

So far the powerful insurance industry has held back waging a full-out battle against Democratic health reform proposals because companies stand to gain tens of millions of new customers. But adding language that would open health insurance companies to prosecution by the Justice Department would provoke a strong counterattack from the industry.

Hey, why take something valuable away from the insurance industry (the ability to fix prices) just because we're about to hand them a "bonanza" (individual mandate to buy their products)? They might run ads against us.

It is time to replace Reid as Senate majority leader. Since Senate Democrats are unlikely to take that step, I agree with Chris Bowers that Reid losing re-election next year wouldn't be such a bad thing. Getting a more effective majority leader, like Dick Durbin of Illinois or Chuck Schumer of New York, would make up for losing Reid's Senate seat.

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The way forward on a public health insurance option

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Sep 30, 2009 at 14:13:41 PM CDT

As expected, the Senate Finance Committee rejected two amendments yesterday that would have added a public health insurance option to the health care reform bill Chairman Max Baucus drafted with a big assist from industry lobbyists. Five Democrats voted with all the committee Republicans against Senator Jay Rockefeller's amendment, which would have created a national public option tied to Medicare rates. Three Democrats also joined Republicans to vote down Senator Chuck Schumer's much weaker "national level playing field" public option. CA Berkeley WV liveblogged yesterday's hearing for Congress Matters.

Senator Chuck Grassley sang the same old song about the "government run plan" forcing private insurance companies out of business. He got a little tripped up when Senator Chuck Schumer asked him for his views on Medicare, though.

"I think that Medicare is part of the social fabric of America just like Social Security is," Mr. Grassley said. "To say that I support it is not to say that it's the best system that it could be."

"But it is a government-run plan," Mr. Schumer shot back.

Mr. Grassley, a veteran Senate debater, insisted that Medicare did not pose a threat to the private insurance industry. "It's not easy to undo a Medicare plan without also hurting a lot of private initiatives that are coupled with it," he said.

Chairman Baucus scored highest on the chutzpah meter, praising the public option even as he refused to support it. Grassley also held out false hope that maybe someday some other bill will accomplish that goal.

Several Senate Democrats, including Tom Harkin, insisted yesterday that they will get some kind of public option into the bill that reaches the Senate floor. After the jump you'll find lots of links on the battles to come.

I agree that the public option is not dead yet, but for it to survive, President Barack Obama and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid will need to do a lot more than they've done so far to lean on the Senate conservadems.  

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Will Specter outrank Harkin?

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Apr 28, 2009 at 14:29:59 PM CDT

Something jumped out at me in Jonathan Singer's thread on Senator Arlen Specter's press conference announcing his party switch:

Update [2009-4-28 14:32:44 by Jonathan Singer]: Specter says that he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have agreed to respect his seniority as if he had been elected as a Democrat in 1980.

Update [2009-4-28 14:37:18 by Jonathan Singer]: On follow up, Specter indicates how this seniority issue plays out, specifically in terms of subcommittee chairmanships -- though from the grin on his face you have to get the sense that he is not coming to the Democratic caucus without the possibility of retaining some power.

Update [2009-4-28 14:43:50 by Todd Beeton]:Specter: "I'd be ahead of Senator Harkin." Implying that he would take over the chairmanship of the Health Sub-committee of Appropriations. Bullshit.

Harkin was first elected to the Senate in 1984. I have a call in to Harkin's office to find out what assurances he has received regarding his committee and subcommittee positions. As John Deeth wrote recently,

Senority, while not as all-important as it was before the 1970s, is still a big deal, determining committee assignments. Day of swearing in rules over all [...]

I find it hard to believe that Reid would strike a deal with Specter putting him ahead of Harkin, but this bears watching until we know for sure what Specter will get as a member of the Democratic caucus. I'll update this post when I hear more on this front.

Incidentally, Reid did the heavy lifting to talk Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont into leaving the Republican caucus in 2001. He spent considerable time lobbying Jeffords,

And when no other Democrat would offer up a committee chairmanship to Jeffords should he leave the Republicans, it was Reid who gave up what would have been a job helming the Environment and Public Works Committee.

That was a more earth-shattering switch, because it shifted control of the U.S. Senate from Republicans to Democrats.

The blogosphere is full of reaction to Specter's move today. Todd Beeton's review of some conservative blog commentaries was entertaining.

UPDATE: Harkin interviewed by MSNBC's David Shuster, "indicated that he'd spoken to Specter before he made the switch, said, 'Welcome, Arlen.'"

From NBC's Kelly O'Donnell:

NO CHAIRMANSHIP ON THE TABLE: Sources say Specter will not be given a chairmanship during this Congress, the 111th. For now, "chairmanships were not on the table" as a part of the party switch negotiations.
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Open thread on good news and bad news in the stimulus bill

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 14:01:18 PM CST

It didn't take long for representatives and senators to reach a compromise on a $790 billion stimulus bill. Chris Bowers posted a good summary of the bill at Open Left. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's selling point is that the bill that came out of conference creates more jobs than the original Senate bill while spending less money than the original House bill.

I don't believe the bill is large enough to do the job it's supposed to do, especially since it still contains costly measures that won't stimulate the economy much (such as fixing the alternative minimum tax, which hits high-income Americans).

I hope President Barack Obama will take a tougher line in future negotiations with Congress. He did too much pre-compromising with Republicans, to the detriment of the final bill. His original suggestion of an $800 billion price tag for the stimulus, seen by some as a "floor" that would increase when Congress got to work, became a "ceiling" above which any bill was viewed as too expensive.

He also included too many non-stimulative tax cuts in his original proposal to Congress. Predictably, Republicans demanded (and got) even more concessions, even though none of them voted for the bill in the House and only three voted for it in the Senate.

Bowers noticed one Q and A from Obama's prime-time press conference the other night, which hints that the president learned a lesson about negotiating from this experience.

Bowers believes that "The deal isn't perfect, but it is still probably the best piece of legislation to pass Congress in, oh, 15 or 16 years."

David Sirota is also mostly pleased:

I'm not happy that the stimulus bill was made less stimulative by reactionary Republicans and embarrassingly incoherent Democrats. I'm also not happy that direct spending on infrastructure/social programs comprises a miniscule 4.6% of all the government funds spent to deal with this economic crisis. However, considering how far progressives have pushed the debate, I'd say the deal on the economic stimulus package is a huge victory.

Remember, only months ago, the incoming administration and the Congress were talking about passing a stimulus bill at around $350 billion. Remember, too, that Obama started out pushing a stimulus package chock full of odious tax cuts. Now, we've got a bill that's $790 billion (including a sizable downpayment for major progressive priorities) and stripped of the worst tax cuts.

Your opinion of the stimulus may depend on which issues you care about most. Open Left user WI Dem noticed that the compromise bill included more funding for high-speed rail but less for urban public transit, which "has a far greater effect on CO2 [emissions] and on people's daily lives."

Via the twitter feed of Daily Iowan opinion writers, I found this piece by Climate Progress on "what's green" in the stimulus compromise.

The Republican Party is already planning to run ads against 30 Democrats who will vote for the stimulus. It makes sense for the GOP to bet against the stimulus, because they won't get credit if it succeeds, and their best hope for a comeback in the next election cycle is for Democrats to fail. The main risk for them is that if the stimulus package succeeds, the upcoming advertising campaign people could make more people remember that Republicans tried to stand in its way.

Speaking of Republican propaganda, contrary to what your wingnut friends may tell you, the stimulus bill does not earmark $30 million to save "Nancy Pelosi's mouse." It does include some funding for federal wetlands restoration, however.

UPDATE: TPM's Elana Schor provides surprising proof that no politician is wrong 100 percent of the time. Apparently Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma got a $2 billion "clean coal" earmark out of the stimulus bill.

Greg Sargent explains how "Pelosi's mouse" went from fabrication to talking point for right-wing television pundits.

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Will Blue Dog power decline in the next Congress? (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 26, 2008 at 01:00:00 AM CST

Many a bad bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives with the votes of Republicans and Democratic "Blue Dogs." These representatives call themselves "moderates" or "centrists," and you often find them voting with corporate interests, against the majority of the House Democratic caucus, when the chips are down.

This Washington Post article about the upcoming debate over an economic stimulus bill cites Representative Baron Hill of Indiana as "incoming co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of 51 fiscally conservative House Democrats."

Hill wants the economic stimulus money to go toward road and bridge construction, whereas others would like to see more of the money spent on "green jobs" and infrastructure projects that are more environmentally friendly than building new roads. Progressives would like to spend the transportation money on fixing our existing roads and bridges while expanding public transit and rail.

Friends of the Earth has launched a campaign to "keep the economic stimulus clean":

Transportation in the U.S. is responsible for 30 percent of our global warming pollution and 70 percent of our oil consumption. We cannot solve the energy and climate challenge without making our transportation system far cleaner and more efficient.

President-elect Obama and the congressional leadership are moving quickly to pass an economic stimulus package that creates green jobs with a new, clean energy infrastructure. Public transportation, smart growth and green transportation alternatives are a crucial part of this effort.

Unfortunately, the road-building lobby is attempting to hijack this bill and divert billions of dollars to the construction of new, unnecessary roads, highways and bridges that would deepen our nation's dependence on oil and increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Click here for more details about the economic and environmental consequences of letting new road construction dominate the stimulus bill.

Getting back to the title of this diary, Matt Stoller read that Washington Post piece about debates over the stimulus and was intrigued to learn that Hill claims 51 members for the Blue Dog Coalition:

Last session, there were 49 Blue Dogs, and during the election season the caucus continually bragged about how they would add a substantial number of new members in 2009.  Still, their PAC didn't give to very many Democratic candidates, two Blue Dogs lost reelection, and a bunch of their candidate prospects lost.  If it's true that the Blue Dogs have only increased their number by 2, and I'm not sure it is, then they really are far weaker in the House than they were from 2006-2008.  There are 257 Democrats in the next Congress and 178 Republicans.  While the Blue Dogs are still a swing bloc, they only have 11 votes to give.  That's not very many, considering that this number assumes all Republicans always vote with the Blue Dogs.  If Republicans split off from their caucus on certain votes, even small numbers of Republicans, then Blue Dog priorities are far less likely to matter overall.

Leonard Boswell (IA-03) is the only Iowa Democrat in the Blue Dog group. Once the new House convenes, it will be interesting to see how the Blue Dogs compare in number to the Progressive Caucus, which had 71 members in the last Congress, including Dave Loebsack (IA-02). My hunch is that the Progressive Caucus will add a lot more new members than the Blue Dogs.

After the new year I'll try to find out how many members Bruce Braley (IA-01) was able to recruit to the Populist Caucus he is forming.

Whether or not Blue Dog power declines in the House, it may be on the rise in the Senate. Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana is setting up a Blue Dog caucus in the upper chamber. Although Senate Majority leader Harry Reid's spokesman claims Reid is "upbeat" about Bayh's plans, it's likely that the Senate Blue Dogs will collude with Republicans to obstruct Barack Obama's agenda.

Matthew Yglesias advanced a very plausible hypothesis about Bayh's move:

With Republicans out of power, the GOP can't really block progressive change in exchange for large sums of special interest money. That creates an important market niche for Democrats willing to do the work. It was a good racket for the House Blue Dogs in 2007-2008 and there's no reason it couldn't work for Senate analogues over the next couple of years.

Let's hope the memory of the 1994 Republican landslide will induce conservative Democrats not to block most of Obama's agenda. The Democrats who ran Congress in 1993 and 1994 wanted to show Bill Clinton who was boss, but the effect was to make Democrats look incompetent, depressing Democratic base turnout in 1994 and turning swing voters toward the Republicans.

On the other hand, I would not underestimate the Blue Dogs' willingness to do what big money wants, whether or not it's good for the Democratic Party.

Share any relevant thoughts in the comments.

UPDATE: Kagro X notes that the Progressive Caucus seems to be a more cohesive voting bloc than the Blue Dogs, which is surprising.

Meanwhile, Chris Bowers argues persuasively than the Blue Dogs have achieved little on their alleged signature issue of "fiscal responsibility":

If the Blue Dogs only exist in order to promote "fiscal responsibility," isn't it pretty clear that, rather than getting their way, they have actually failed across the board over the last eight years? From the Bush tax cuts, to soaring deficits, to making exceptions for war, to making exceptions for bailouts, to making exceptions to stimulus packages, the Blue Dogs have completely and utterly failed at their stated primary policy area and done so at every available opportunity.

The only actual successes of the Blue Dogs appear to be the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] re-write and blank check funding for Iraq. It is notable that 38 of the 47 Blue Dogs voted in favor of both these measures, which jointly render a member a "Bush Dog" in Open Left's terminology. Given that 70 House members voted in favor of both those measures, the Democratic defectors on those issues were clearly spearheaded by the Blue Dogs.

Mainly, I am impressed that Blue Dogs keep earning press that describes them as fiscally responsible and wildly powerful, when the record shows otherwise. When offered opportunities to actually clamp down on spending over the last two years, the Blue Dogs have balked at every turn, favoring blank check funding for Iraq, blank check funding for the bailout, and massive funding for the economic stimulus. That a group of House members can do all of this and still be described as both "fiscally responsible" and "powerful" is pretty impressive. Maybe what we progressives really need is to hire the Blue Dogs' PR people.

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How's that bailout working for us?

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Nov 13, 2008 at 18:23:59 PM CST

I wouldn't mind Democrats passing an incredibly unpopular bill a few weeks before an election, if the bill solved a big problem.

Unfortunately, the Wall Street bailout Congressional leaders rushed to pass this fall doesn't seem to have accomplished much, besides hand some Republican incumbents a great campaign issue.

We were told that the Bush administration needed this plan passed immediately, or else credit would dry up and the stock market would go into a tailspin.

But as it turns out, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had no idea what to do:

The Bush administration dropped the centerpiece of its $700-billion financial rescue plan Wednesday, reflecting the remarkable extent to which senior government officials have been flying by the seat of their pants in dealing with the deepening economic crisis.

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson said the administration would scrub plans to buy troubled mortgage-backed securities but continue to devote bailout funds to restore liquidity to credit markets.

[...]

"You've had a tremendous amount of improvisation here," said Douglas W. Elmendorf, a former Federal Reserve economist and an informal advisor to Obama's transition team. "Even smart people get things wrong when they have no models to follow and are acting quickly, so it's natural that there'd be some reworking."

Or as Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) put it: "When you see so many changes, you wonder if they really know what they're doing."

Paulson, who originally dismissed emergency government investments in financial institutions as a recipe for failure, said most of the first half of the $700 billion had already gone to making emergency investments in banks and other companies aimed at reviving the routine borrowing and lending that are crucial to the economy.

Although Paulson said those actions had helped thaw credit markets and prevent "a broad systemic event" in the global economy, he acknowledged that most financial firms are still deeply reluctant to lend.

So, Paulson has been winging it, doing what he originally opposed, but credit remains very tight.

But no problem, because Congress imposed strict accountability measures in that revised version of the bailout, right?

Not according to the Washington Post: Bailout Lacks Oversight Despite Billions Pledged

In the six weeks since lawmakers approved the Treasury's massive bailout of financial firms, the government has poured money into the country's largest banks, recruited smaller banks into the program and repeatedly widened its scope to cover yet other types of businesses, from insurers to consumer lenders.

Along the way, the Bush administration has committed $290 billion of the $700 billion rescue package.

Yet for all this activity, no formal action has been taken to fill the independent oversight posts established by Congress when it approved the bailout to prevent corruption and government waste. Nor has the first monitoring report required by lawmakers been completed, though the initial deadline has passed.

"It's a mess," said Eric M. Thorson, the Treasury Department's inspector general, who has been working to oversee the bailout program until the newly created position of special inspector general is filled. "I don't think anyone understands right now how we're going to do proper oversight of this thing."

To put that $290 billion in context, the U.S. spent about $170 billion on the war in Iraq during all of 2007. Yet the stock market is still swinging wildly and financial institutions are "still deeply reluctant to lend."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got suckered into backing bad policy that was also bad politics. Barack Obama was eager to go along as well.

Next time leading Democrats want to pass something that expensive, could they at least make it something useful, like universal health care or high-speed rail connecting major cities?

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