Murkowski Part II Rears Its Ugly Head

On June 10th, we all celebrated the defeat of the Murkowski resolution, which would have gutted the EPA's ability to regulate carbon dioxide pollution.  Why we needed to defeat Murkowski was explained well by NRDC Action Fund Executive Director, Peter Lehner, who wrote the following prior to the vote:

EPA's proactive lead in greenhouse gas regulation is a critical aspect of the effort to reduce our rampant, destabilizing, and destructive dependence on foreign and offshore oil.  While the endangerment finding does not, in itself, prescribe regulations, it provides the legal basis for critical standards: EPA's proposed CAFE efficiency standard for light-duty vehicles is projected to save over 455 million barrels per year, and an anticipated standard for heavy-duty vehicles will save billions more.  Stripping EPA of its authority to implement these protections would increase our nation's dependence on oil and send hundreds of billions of dollars overseas.  We cannot afford this big step backward, especially as we watch more oil gush into the Gulf each day.

In the end, the Senate didn't take that “big step backward” on June 10th, as the Murkowski resolution failed by a 47-53 vote.   Many of us probably figured that was the end of this issue, and that the Senate would now move on to passing comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation.  Unfortunately, as is often the case in Washington, DC, it isn't that simple (let alone logical).

Today, clean air and public health are once again under an assault that constitutes, essentially, “Murkowski Part II.”  The Wall Street Journal reported on June 22:

As U.S. Senate lawmakers attempt to determine the fate of energy legislation, an influential Democrat is boosting efforts to suspend a controversial greenhouse-gas rule passed earlier this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

After introducing a bill to impose a two-year halt on the new EPA rule, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from coal-rich West Virginia, is now working to round up supporters for his legislation.

It should go without saying that this is completely unacceptable.  As we all know, the public was outraged at Senator Murkowski's Big Oil Bailout bill.  They understood that this moved the country backward, not forward, and that it was exactly the wrong way to go given the energy and environmental challenges we face.  Through all our efforts, our phone calls and emails (and blog posts and tweets, etc.), we helped to kill Murkowski Part I.  Now, unfortunately, Sen. Jay Rockefeller is pushing Murkowski Part II, yet there's far less attention being paid to this effort than to the Murkowski's EPA Castration Resolution Part I.   People have a lot of other things on their minds, and they thought this fight was over back in June.  But, once they find out that this effort is baaaaack, like a monster in a cheesy horror movie, they are not going to respond positively.  

Of course, why would the public – which overwhelmingly supports taking action to promote clean energy and deal with climate change – ever respond positively to a proposal aimed at throwing away one of our key tools to cut pollution and protect public health?  And why would they respond positively now of all times, as oil continues to spew into the Gulf of Mexico, as record heat waves scorch the United States, and as climate science is strengthened every day that goes by?  Last but not least, why would they support an effort to protect the corporate polluters and not all of us who are being hurt by that pollution?

The bottom line is simple: instead of wasting its time on legislation that will only move the country backwards – towards dirty energy forever – the Senate should be busy passing a bill that moves the country forward towards a bright future of green energy, clean tech jobs, energy security and climate protection.   Once our Senators hear that message loud and clear from all of us, Rockefeller's Murkowski Part II will be rejected by the Senate, just as Murkowski Part I was before it.

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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.  

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Health insurance co-ops: Designed to fail

Senator Jay Rockefeller was excluded from the bipartisan group of Finance Committee members who worked on the bill Chairman Max Baucus unveiled on Wednesday, so he spent part of his summer vacation researching the fake public option favored by some “gang of six” members. He reported on his findings in an open letter to Baucus and ranking member Chuck Grassley. You should click through and read Rockefeller’s whole letter, but here are some excerpts:

“First, there has been no significant research into consumer co-ops as a model for the broad expansion of health insurance. What we do know, however, is that this model was tried in the early part of the 20th century and largely failed. As the USDA states in its response letter, ‘Government support for the cooperative approach to delivering universal health care was reduced during [World War II] and terminated afterward.’ This is a dying business model for health insurance. Moving forward with health insurance cooperatives would expose Americans, who are hoping for a better health care system, to a health care model that has already been tried and largely failed in the vast majority of the country.

“Second, there is a lack of consistent data about the total number of consumer health insurance cooperatives in existence today, and there have been no analyses of the impact of existing health insurance cooperatives on consumers.

“Third, all of the consumer health insurance cooperatives identified by the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and [National Cooperative Business Association] operate and function just like private health insurance companies. Therefore, it is unclear how expanding consumer health insurance cooperatives would actually achieve greater affordability for consumers or bring about greater competition in the private market…

The Congressional Budget Office doesn’t expect the co-ops to affect the cost of the Baucus bill:

(The proposed co-ops had very little effect on the estimates of total enrollment in the exchanges or federal costs because, as they are described in the specifications, they seem unlikely to establish a significant market presence in many areas of the country or to noticeably affect federal subsidy payments.)

The failure of co-ops to provide competition in Iowa bears out the CBO’s expectations:

In the 1990s, Iowa adopted a law to encourage the development of health care co-ops. One was created, and it died within two years. Although the law is still on the books, the state does not have a co-op now, said Susan E. Voss, the Iowa insurance commissioner.

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield collects about 70 percent of the premiums paid in the private insurance market in Iowa and South Dakota.

It’s past time for President Obama to stop sending out White House staff and cabinet secretaries to signal that Obama might accept cooperatives as an alternative to a public health insurance option.

Here’s hoping that even in the absence of presidential leadership, Rockefeller can get strong amendments attached to the Baucus bill or make sure it never gets out of the Senate Finance Committee.

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Chuck Grassley, bad-faith negotiator

Senator Jay Rockefeller speculated two weeks ago that the Republicans working with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus on a health care bill were only trying to delay reform and diminish the bill as much as possible before voting against it. On Monday, “gang of six” member Senator Chuck Grassley went on MSNBC and in effect admitted Rockefeller was right:

“I am negotiating for Republicans,” he said. “If I can’t negotiate something that gets more than four Republicans, I’m not a good negotiator.”

When NBC’s Chuck Todd, in a follow-up question on the show, asked the Iowa Republican if he’d vote against what Grassley might consider to be a “good deal” — i.e., gets everything he asks for from Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D) — Grassley replied, “It isn’t a good deal if I can’t sell my product to more Republicans.”

Grassley’s problem isn’t not being a good negotiator, it’s his failure to negotiate in good faith. Remember, three months ago he was dangling the possibility of 70 to 80 Senate votes for health care reform if only Democrats would take a bipartisan approach to the bill.

Up to now, Baucus and the White House could use Grassley as cover for giving away the store to corporate interests. (Republicans conveniently insist on the same things the drug and insurance lobbies want in or out of the bill.) But if Grassley won’t even commit to voting for a bill that contains everything he wants, what is the point of continuing this charade?

Unfortunately, negotiating with Grassley has already done considerable harm. His comment at a town-hall meeting last Wednesday was telling:

“…If (Democrats) do go ahead (on their own), this is what I fear.  They get done what they want, they’re going to change our health care system forever. You understand I feel a little bit like the boy sticking his finger in the dike, trying to stop the ocean from coming in…If I had not been at the table, there would have been a bill through the (Senate Finance) Committee the week of June 22 and it would have been through the senate by now because there’s 60 Democrats so I think that I have, by sticking my finger in the dike, I’ve had an opportunity to give the grassroots of America an opportunity to speak up as you’re seeing every day on television and I think that’s a good thing.”

Iowa Republicans who can’t see how much Grassley is helping their cause amaze me.

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Chill out, Republicans: Grassley won't vote for health care reform

Iowa conservatives are becoming increasingly concerned by Senator Chuck Grassley’s refusal to “just say no” to President Obama’s health care reform plans. Grassley is part of a group of six Senate Finance Committee members who are working on a compromise bill. While some Republicans are hoping that defeating health care reform will become Obama’s “Waterloo,” Grassley has warned Republicans should could pay a price for blocking reform.

Now it’s not just Bill “crazier than Steve King” Salier who is floating the idea of a primary challenge against Grassley. Craig Robinson wrote at the Iowa Republican blog on Thursday,

The longer Sen. Grassley strings along Iowa Republicans, the more difficult his re-election effort may become. At the beginning of the year, it would have been absurd to suggest that Sen. Grassley could face a legitimate primary challenge. Now, with each and every passing day that Grassley flirts with supporting some version of health care reform, the possibility of a primary challenge grows. In fact, some Republican sources have told TheIowaRepublican.com that if Sen. Grassley votes for President Obama’s healthcare proposal, Grassley will indeed face a serious primary challenge.

Republicans needn’t worry about the game Grassley is playing on health care. I’ll explain why after the jump.

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