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

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Health reform bill clears 60-vote hurdle in Senate

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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Hey, DSCC: Quit whining about Republican obstruction

I have had it with e-mail blasts like the one I got over the weekend from J.B. Poersch of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee:

Republicans tried every trick in the book to block us, but Senate Democrats scored important health care reform wins in the past two weeks. We passed the Mikulski Amendment, to make sure every woman gets crucial cancer screenings. And we defeated the Senate’s version of the Stupak Amendment – one of the biggest attacks on choice in a generation.

But these wins didn’t faze the Republicans. A lot of what they are doing to kill the Senate’s bill isn’t making the headlines – but that doesn’t make it any less insidious. We’ve pulled together facts on their latest heinous tactics in our new Obstruction Report.

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Confusion surrounds Senate Dems' deal on health care (updated)

Last night a group of Senate Democrats reached some kind of compromise on the health care reform bill. Senator Tom Harkin “told reporters he didn’t like the agreement but would support it to the hilt” in order to get a bill through the Senate. Reports on the nature of the compromise varied, but Talking Points Memo seems to have the most details:

If this trade-off carries the day, the opt out public option is gone. […]

As has been widely reported, one of the trade-offs will be to extend a version of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan to consumers in the exchanges. Insurance companies will have the option of creating nationally-based non-profit insurance plans that would offered on the exchanges in every state. However, according to the aide, if insurance companies don’t step up to the plate to offer such plans, that will trigger a national public option.

Beyond that, the group agreed–contingent upon CBO analysis–to a Medicare buy in.

That buy-in option would initially be made available to uninsured people aged 55-64 in 2011, three years before the exchanges open. For the period between 2011 and 2014, when the exchanges do open, the Medicare option will not be subsidized–people will have to pay in without federal premium assistance–and so will likely be quite expensive, the aide noted. However, after the exchanges launch, the Medicare option would be offered in the exchanges, where people could pay into it with their subsidies.

It appears as if liberals lost out on a Medicaid expansion that would have opened the program up to everybody under 150 percent of the poverty line. That ceiling will likely remain at 133 percent, as is called for in the current bill.

In addition to the new insurance options, the group has tentatively agreed to new, and strengthened, insurance regulations, which the aide could not divulge at this time.

Those unspecified insurance regulations might refer to this:

Additionally, there was consensus support for a requirement long backed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and other liberals for insurance companies to spend at least 90 percent of their premium income providing benefits, a step that supporters argue effectively limits their spending on advertising, salaries, promotional efforts and profits.

The health care bill approved by the House would require insurers to spend 85 percent of premium income on providing benefits. Upping that to 90 percent is even better; my concern is that if enforcement is left to state insurance commissioners, evasion will be widespread.

Chris Bowers is excited about three “meaningful concessions” Senate progressives received in exchange for dropping the (already weak) public option.

I’m off the bus, however, unless further details come to light about very good provisions buried in this compromise. This bill creates millions more customers for private insurers but doesn’t give Americans enough choices, doesn’t create a government plan to keep private insurers honest, and therefore is unlikely to reduce costs or solve the various problems of our current health care delivery system.

In the good news column, last night the Senate tabled (killed) Ben Nelson’s abortion amendment modeled on the Stupak language in the House health care bill. The vote was 54-45, with seven Democrats from conservative states voting with all but two Republicans (roll call here). Harkin voted to table this amendment, like most Democrats, while Chuck Grassley was on the other side.

UPDATE: Can any Obama fans defend this kind of action from his administration?

A proposal to enable the importation of cheaper prescription drugs could endanger the U.S. medicine supply and would be difficult to implement, the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday. […]

But the Obama administration’s declaration on the eve of the vote could derail the amendment despite the fact that Obama co-sponsored Dorgan’s drug imports bill while a member of the Senate and that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was a vocal proponent of the House version of the bill when he served as a member of the lower chamber.

Feel the hope and change!

SECOND UDPATE: The compromise still may not be enough for Joe Lieberman. They shouldn’t have given up on using the budget reconciliation process to pass a better bill with 51 votes.

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Vander Plaats pins health care reform on Branstad

Developing a line of attack he has used before, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats asserted yesterday that Terry Branstad’s past support for Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska makes Branstad partly responsible for any health care reform bill Congress passes this year.  

From the Vander Plaats campaign press release of November 23:

“Ben Nelson gave Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid the vote he needed to get the 60 votes to steamroll Republican opposition. It means the Democrats will be able to proceed with legislation that will effectively destroy our private health care system while saddling businesses and working families with hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes and limiting our access to care,” said Vander Plaats, who is seeking the 2010 Iowa Republican gubernatorial nomination. “Whatever happens from here on out, Terry Branstad is going to have to accept some responsibility because he was a very active supporter of Ben Nelson in his first campaign for the Senate.”

A few thoughts on this line of attack are after the jump.

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Harkin and Loebsack support public option in health care reform

Congress will begin making important decisions on health care policy very soon. The Senate Finance Committee began drafting a health care bill a few days ago.

I was glad to see two Iowans among the representatives and senators who urged colleagues this week to include a strong public option in any health care reform plan.

After the jump I have more on where Congressman Dave Loebsack and Senator Tom Harkin stand on health care, as well as the benefits of creating a public health insurance option.

UPDATE: Thanks to Populista for reminding me that all Iowa Democrats in Congress (Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack, Leonard Boswell and Tom Harkin) have signed on to support Health Care for America Now’s core principles for health care reform.

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