40 Days Until Sestak-Specter and Halter-Lincoln

{First, a cheap plug for my blog Senate Guru.}

40 days from today – on May 18 – we will see two HUGE primaries for U.S. Senate.  Even though these races aren’t in Iowa, they impact Democrats across the country and, well, the entire country as a whole.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak will try to upset Republican-for-decades Arlen Specter.

In Arkansas, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter will try to upset corporate lackey Blanche Lincoln.

These two races are tremendously important to defining who and what the Democratic Party is and what we will be fighting for.

If you can volunteer for these candidates (or encourage friends and family in Pennsylvania and Arkansas to do so), that would be amazing.

Of course, if you can help with a contribution to either or both via the Expand the Map! ActBlue page as soon as possible, it will make a big impact.

Expand the Map! ActBlue page
Joe Sestak

Facebook, Twitter

Volunteer Page
Bill Halter

Facebook, Twitter

Volunteer Page
Expand the Map! ActBlue page

Polling shows that both Specter and Lincoln are at risk of – if not likely to – hand these Senate seats over to far-right-wing Republicans. (And, even if these two retain the seats, that’s not much better on many key issues.)

Congressman Sestak and Lieutenant Governor Halter winning these primaries are critical to keeping these seats in truly Democratic hands. Your support can help make that happen!  Please hop over to the Expand the Map! ActBlue page right away to make a contribution – an investment in the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party to pull out an old expression – and show your support.

Thanks SO much for any support you can provide. 40 Days.

Continue Reading...

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.

Continue Reading...

Grassley votes no as Senate Finance Committee approves health care bill

The Senate Finance Committee approved its health care reform bill on a 14-9 vote yesterday, with all Democrats and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine voting in favor. Ranking Republican Chuck Grassley, a key member of the committee’s “gang of six” negotiators this summer, joined the rest of the Republicans in voting against the bill. Speaking to the Des Moines Register Grassley “said he has no regrets about working with majority Democrats on the committee, only to oppose the bill. Given more time, he might have struck a deal, he said.”

This guy is the perfect picture of a bad-faith negotiator. From the Register:

Grassley said he objects most to provisions in the bill that would require Americans to obtain health insurance. But Grassley also said the bill does too little to block federal money being spent to provide abortions and provide coverage for illegal immigrants.

“Those aren’t the only things, but I think they are the most controversial or the most difficult to deal with,” Grassley told The Des Moines Register.

As Jason Hancock reported for the Iowa Independent last week, Grassley publicly supported the idea of an individual mandate to purchase health insurance this summer. I agree that requiring individuals to purchase insurance is problematic if there is no broad-based public health insurance option (because then the government is just subsidizing private insurers), but of course Grassley opposed the public option too.

In addition, the “gang of six” made changes in the bill before markup to address groundless Republican claims about illegal immigrants. According to PolitiFact, the “Baucus plan explicitly states that no federal funds – whether through tax credits or cost-sharing credits – could be used to pay for abortions (again, except for rape, incest, or the life of the mother).”

Trying to cut deals with Grassley is a waste of time. For more on that point, check out the skipper’s recent diary.

Speaking of Grassley, Cityview’s Civic Skinny thinks he should be worried about a potential race against attorney Roxanne Conlin. When a reporter asked Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack whether his wife, Christie Vilsack, might run against Grassley, he replied, “You should ask her about that.” (UPDATE: Dave Price did ask her and wonders whether she is the mystery candidate.)

As for the health care bill, the Finance Committee and HELP Committee versions have to be merged before a floor vote. It’s imperative that a public option be included in the version sent to the floor, and HELP Committee representative Chris Dodd says he will fight for that. On the other hand, Snowe and a few Democrats, like Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, might vote against the bill on the floor if it contains a public option. Chris Bowers wrote more at Open Left about the merging process in the House and Senate.

Continue Reading...

The way forward on a public health insurance option

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.  

Continue Reading...

Harkin committed to reforming student loans

In his latest e-mail blast to constituents, Senator Tom Harkin touches on his priorities as the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. One point he mentioned hasn’t been on my radar screen this year:

The full agenda of the Committee will focus on reforming federal student loan programs so that we can stop subsidizing private banks and instead focus on loans that the federal government can make more cheaply.  We can save $87 billion over 10 years in that effort, and use that money to increase Pell grants for low- and middle- income college bound students, and to fund other important education initiatives.  

I had forgotten about President Barack Obama’s effort to reform the student loan system:

His plan is to do away with a system in which the Federal Government subsidizes banks and other private finance companies like Sallie Mae to lend money to students. The Administration essentially wants to cut such companies out of the game and run the system itself. Democrats claim the move will save $87 billion over 10 years, which can be used for a laundry list of education priorities, including increasing the maximum amount of Pell Grants, expanding Perkins Loans and investing in community colleges and other programs. […]

Educational institutions currently have two ways to offer federal loans to students. In the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL, pronounced “fell”) program, the government pays subsidies to banks and lenders to dole out money to borrowers and reimburses companies up to 97% of the cost of any loan that is not paid back. The second way is the direct-loan program, created in 1993 as an alternate option, in which the government cuts out the middle man, lends money directly and gets all the profits. If the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) passes both houses of Congress, the approximately 4,500 colleges and universities that are currently signed up for FFEL will have to abandon the program and start using the direct-loan option by July 1, 2010.

Directing federal money toward programs that help needy students, such as Pell Grants, makes a lot more sense than subsidizing private banks to make student loans.

Finding 60 votes in the Senate for this proposal will be challenging, however. This is one banking bailout Republicans will fight hard to protect, and according to Time magazine, at least one Democrat (Ben Nelson of Nebraska) opposes the plan too. If this bill passes, it will probably be through the budget reconciliation process, which requires only 51 votes in the Senate.

Health care reform is sure to take up a lot of Harkin’s time this fall, but I’m glad the HELP chairman will also focus on other bills that could change many lives for the better. Even if the health care project falls apart in the Senate, Harkin could accomplish a lot this year if he gets the student loan bill through and brokers a good compromise on the Employee Free Choice Act.

I see only one downside to Harkin becoming the HELP chairman, and that’s Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas taking over the Agriculture Committee. Jill Richardson has been on this case at La Vida Locavore. I recommend reading her posts on industry lobbyists who used to work for Lincoln, Lincoln’s strong support for corporate ag interests such as Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, and Lincoln’s positions on trade, the climate change bill, and the Clean Water Act.

Continue Reading...

What you can do to support the public option

Iowa State Senator Jack Hatch was in Washington yesterday to chair the first meeting of a working group on health care. According to a White House press release,

State Legislators for Health Reform includes leaders from across the country who will educate their communities on the need for health reform this year.  The legislators will host public events, author opinion pieces in local publications, and use their established networks to organize constituents in support of health reform.

The Iowa Senate Democrats issued a statement from Hatch, who said the state legislators told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that “state-level health care reforms can only go so far.” He added that Sebelius

“stressed the need to expand choices in the health insurance market is essential.  Increased competition will lower costs and improve patient care.

“That’s why we all agreed that Americans must have a public health insurance option and now is the time to speak up.”

A public option that makes health insurance more accessible and affordable for adults is also likely to improve the health of children. Kevin Concannon of the Iowa Department of Human Services explained why in his contribution to the Reforming States Group’s May 2009 Healthy States/Healthy Nation report:

Ultimately, to achieve better health care access and better health status for children, the United States needs to cover parents as an essential, linked strategy for children. If parents have health insurance, they will better utilize the health care systems available to their children.

If you believe that real health care reform requires a public option for health insurance, you have two new and easy ways to do something about it. Neither will take more than a minute or two of your time.

Details are after the jump.

Continue Reading...
View More...