You are browsing the archive for health care reform.

Weekly Pulse: Obama Signs Health Reform Bill, Backlash Begins

9:07 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Yesterday, President Obama signed health care reform into law. As Mike Lillis explains in the Washington Independent, the bill now proceeds to the Senate for reconciliation. The whole process could be complete by the end of the week. Republicans and their allies have already moved to challenge reform in court.

Legal challenges

The fight is far from over, however. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly notes that Republicans have already filed papers to challenge health care reform in court. The Justice Department has pledged to vigorously defend health care reform, according to Zach Roth of TPM Muckraker.

The legal arguments against health care reform center around the constitutionality of an individual mandate, i.e., the requirement that everyone must carry health insurance. This argument is specious. The bill characterizes the mandatory payments as a tax, and imposes a fine for those who don’t pay their insurance tax. There is no question that Congress has the authority to levy taxes in support of the general welfare and providing health insurance to the people easily meets that legal criterion.

Dave Weigel of the Washington Independent reviews some of the other formidable legal barriers to challenging health care reform in court. But take heart, teabaggers! Birther-dentist-lawyer Orly Taitz is on the case.

Violent outbursts from reform opponents

Some anti-reform activists have resorted to intimidation. Five Democratic offices were vandalized in the days surrounding the House vote, as Justin Elliott reports for TPM Muckraker. Someone hurled a brick through the window of the Niagara office of Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the chair of the powerful House Rules Committee.

Slaughter is notorious on the right for drawing up the controversial "deem and pass" strategy for moving the bill forward. Her plan was never put into action, but she has become a target anyway. Another Democratic office in Slaughter’s district was damaged by a brick bearing a quote from conservative icon Barry Goldwater: "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice."

Elliott notes that a conservative blogger in Alabama is doing his best to incite similar attacks, though it’s not clear whether he instigated any of the original five:

…Blogger Mike Vanderboegh has been tracking the breaking of windows at Dem offices after issuing a call Friday: "To all modern Sons of Liberty: THIS is your time. Break their windows. Break them NOW."

Reproductive rights take a hit

Anti-abortion extremist Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) failed to get his ultra-restrictive abortion language inserted into the health care bill, but the final bill does impede health insurance coverage for abortion.

For example, those who choose abortion coverage will have to write two checks: One for their regular premium and one for a dollar to go into a separate abortion coverage fund. Many analysts fear that the extra hassles will discourage private insurers from covering abortion at all. Pro-choice activists were in a weaker negotiating position because, unlike Stupak and his allies, they weren’t prepared to kill health reform if their demands weren’t met.

The greater good?

Now that health care reform is safely signed into law, the pro-choice movement is stepping back and asking itself some tough questions.

In The Nation, Katha Pollitt argues that the pro-choice movement deserves to be rewarded for sacrificing its own agenda for the greater good. She suggests that the Democrats could reward the reproductive rights movement by fully funding the Violence Against Women Act, addressing maternal mortality and other policy changes to advance women’s health and freedom.

Jos of Feministing counters that with their go along to get along attitude pro-choice groups have only demonstrated that they can be ignored with impunity: "You don’t get rewarded for demonstrating a lack of political power, you get further marginalized."

At RH Reality Check, Megan Carpentier argues that national pro-choice organization like NARAL and Planned Parenthood ceded their leverage too easily. While anti-choicers were beefing up their lobbying presence in Washington, major pro-choice groups were scaling back. Pro-choice groups compromised early and easily, perhaps because they were overly confident that their service to the Democratic cause would be rewarded in the end.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Obama to Push for Reconciliation

9:20 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Today, President Barack Obama will deliver a speech to Congress outlining his plan to move forward on health care reform. The president is expected to advocate the use of budget reconciliation.

Art Levine of Working In These Times warns that some centrist Democrats are already getting cold feet on reconciliation. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, went on TV to declare reconciliation impossible. These guys just don’t get it. It’s reconciliation or defeat. There is no other way. Without reconciliation, the bill dies. Without a bill, the Democrats get massacred in the mid-term elections.

Health care reform to date

Quick recap: The House and the Senate have both passed health care reform bills. The original plan was to merge those two bills in a conference committee and send the final version back to both houses of Congress for a vote. However, the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate when Republican Scott Brown defeated Martha Coakley in the special election in Massachusetts.

Once they recovered from their shell shock, Democrats reluctantly converged around Plan B: Let the House re-pass the Senate version of the bill, thereby skipping the step where the Senate votes on the conference report. However, the Senate bill could not pass the House in its current form. So, the Senate needs to tweak the bill to make it acceptable to the House—either before or after the House re-passes the Senate bill. In order to make those changes without getting filibustered, the Senate Democrats will have to insert the modifications through budget reconciliation, where measures pass by a simple majority. Whew!

Of course, the Republicans trying to paint Democrats as tyrants for using reconciliation. Nevermind that 16 of the 22 reconciliation bills passed since reconciliation was invented in 1974 were passed by Republican majorities.

Whither the Public Option?

Reconciliation would appear to give the public health insurance option a new lease on life. The House bill has a public option, but the Senate bill doesn’t. The public option was traded away on the Senate side to forge the original filibuster-proof majority. As a procedural matter, the public option could easily be reinserted during reconciliation because it has such a direct impact on the federal budget, i.e., it would save the taxpayer a lot of money. The White House claims to support a public option. Yet Obama didn’t propose one in his health care plan last week.

Some observers take that as a sign that the White House doesn’t think the votes are there. (Cynics say it’s proof the White House never cared about the public option in the first place.) Even Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) told radio host Ed Schultz that he can’t support a public option for fear of killing the health care bill, according to Jason Hancock of the Iowa Independent. Harkin has been taking a lot of heat from progressives for refusing to join with other senators in signing a letter calling for a public option.

Abortion Storm Clouds

Speaker Nancy Pelosi had little to say about how she plans to overcome resistance within her own caucus on abortion and immigration issues within health reform, as Brian Beutler reports for TPMDC. Pelosi needs 216 votes to pass a bill. The original House bill only passed by 5 votes. Rabid anti-choice Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) claims to have assembled a coalition of like-minded Dems who consider the Senate’s slightly less restrictive rules for abortion funding "unacceptable." There is no reliable public vote count on how many of these representatives, if any, would vote to kill health care over abortion. If they do, it would be purely out of spite. Abortion language can’t be tweaked in reconciliation because it doesn’t directly affect the budget.

Stupak and the myth of federal funding for abortions

In The Nation, Jessica Arons takes a closer look at Stupak’s radical and misleading anti-choice rhetoric. The federal government is already legally barred from funding elective abortions, and nothing in the Senate bill would change that. Arons explains that the Senate bill would allow plans that participate in the federally-subsidized exchanges to offer abortion coverage provided that customers buy that coverage with their own money, not with subsidized federal dollars. If the government pays 30% of the cost of the policy and the consumer pays 60%, the money for abortion coverage comes out of the consumer’s end.

There’s a long tradition of segregating government money. Both Planned Parenthood and Catholic hospitals get federal funds. By law, Planned Parenthood can’t use that money to perform abortions, but it can use it to do pap smears and offer other health care. By the same token, a Catholic hospital can take federal money to provide medical care, but not to proselytize to patients. Arons ably satirizes Stupak’s extreme position:

If everyone thought like Bart Stupak, a woman seeking an abortion:

(1) would not be able to take a public bus or commuter train to an abortion clinic, even if she paid her own fare;

(2) would not be able to drive on public roads to a clinic, even if she drove her own car and paid for her own gas;

(3) would not be able to walk on public sidewalks to the clinic, even though she paid property taxes;

(4) would not be able to put her child in childcare while she was at the clinic if she received a tax credit that offset the cost of childcare;

(5) would not be able to take medicine at the clinic that was researched or developed by the government, even if she paid for the medicine herself.

Bunning backs down

In other health care news, AlterNet reports that yesterday Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) ended his one-man filibuster of the extension of a bill that would have prevented a 21% cut in Medicare reimbursement rates and extended unemployment benefits while the Senate finalizes the jobs bill. Bunning caved under pressure from his own party. Even Republicans realized that there was no political percentage in stiffing doctors and the unemployed.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Obama to Promote Health Plan at Summit

8:29 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Image courtesy of Flickr user Mad African!: (Broken Sword), via Creative Commons LicenseOn Monday, the White House released its plan for health care reform, which resembles the Senate bill with additional concessions for liberals and labor unions. Tomorrow, President Obama will hold a televised health care summit. Obama is billing the summit as a last-ditch attempt to solicit Republican ideas for health care reform. In fact, he’s hoping to give the GOP enough rope to hang itself.

It takes two…

As Katrina vanden Huevel argues in the Nation, bipartisanship takes two parties, but the Republicans have refused to negotiate unless health care reform starts over from scratch. That’s not bipartisanship, that’s showboating. President Obama is giving the Republicans one last chance to waste the entire country’s time so that he can point to the sorry spectacle and say, "Look, what they made us do." Read the rest of this entry →

Weekly Pulse: Bayh-Partisanship=Giving Your Seat to a Republican

9:24 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

You will be shocked, shocked to hear that a Blue Dog Democrat who made a career out of undermining his own party is sucker-punching them on his way out. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana abruptly announced this week that he would not seek reelection in November. Bayh’s departure is ratcheting up insecurity in the Democratic caucus at the very moment they need to take decisive action to pass health care reform.

Bayh could easily have won a third term, but it’s unclear whether any other Democrat can hold the seat. To add insult to injury, Bayh waited until 24 hours before the filing deadline for Democratic primary candidates, sending Indiana Dems scrambling to find a candidate to run in his place. Bayh’s tardiness was calculated. Since no Democrats were ready to file by the deadline, the Indiana Democratic establishment will get to handpick Bayh’s successor.

In a call with state Democratic officials, Bayh said his abrupt departure is for the best, as Evan McMorris-Santo reports for TPMDC. According to Bayh, he’s doing the party a favor by sparing them a contentious primary process. Thanks a lot.

What does this mean for health care reform?

What does Bayh’s departure portend for health care reform? Monica Potts of TAPPED argues that replacing a conservative Democrat like Bayh with a moderate Republican won’t make that much difference. Bayh was never a reliable Democratic vote.

But Tim Fernholtz of TAPPED dismisses this view as naive. Fernholtz predicts that, for all of Bayh’s faults, the senate will be much worse without him: "In essence, the difference between this insubstantial Hoosier and, say, [GOP hopeful] Dan Coats, is simple: You can buy off Bayh." Bayh voted for health care reform and the stimulus, no Republican, no matter how "moderate" is going to vote that way.

Anyone who expects a moderate Republican from Indiana to support any part of the Democratic agenda is deluded. On the other hand, the Senate Democrats already passed their bill, their only remaining task would be to pass a "fix" through budget reconciliation to make changes in the legislation that would be acceptable to the House. Of course, reconciliation will be a bitter political fight. One wonders whether the demoralized Senate Democrats will have the stomach for it.

About that health care summit…

Note that congressional Republicans have yet to commit to attending the "bipartisan" health care summit that they called for. Christina Bellatoni of TPMDC reports that yesterday White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs wondered why the Republicans were for the summit before they were against it:

"Right before the president issued the invitation, the—the thing that each of these individuals was hoping for most was an opportunity to sit down on television and discuss and engage on these issues. Now, not accepting an invitation to do what they’d asked the president to do, if they decide not to, I’ll let them leap the—leap the chasm there and try to explain why they’re now opposed to what they said they wanted most to do," Gibbs said.

Busting the filibuster

On the bright side, the Democrats still have a sizable majority in the Senate, with or without Bayh. Republicans would have to beat all 10 vulnerable Democratic incumbent senators in the next election in order to regain control of the Senate. The more immediate threat to health care reform and the Democrats’ ability to govern in general is the institutional filibuster. Structural reform is needed to break the impasse. Lawyer and author Tom Geoghegan talks with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! on strategies for busting the filibuster.

Public option resurfacing

Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent reports that four senate Democrats have thrown their lot in with progressives clamoring for a public option through reconciliation. Sens. Sherrod Brown (OH), Jeff Merkley (OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Michael Bennet (CO) argue for the public option in an open letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid. The letter reads:

There are four fundamental reasons why we support this approach – its potential for billions of dollars in cost savings; the growing need to increase competition and lower costs for the consumer; the history of using reconciliation for significant pieces of health care legislation; and the continued public support for a public option….

Big pharma’s lobby

That’s nice, but let’s not forget who’s really in charge. In AlterNet, Paul Blumenthal recaps the sorry history of collusion between the White House, the pharmaceutical lobby group PhRMA, and the Senate. According to Blumenthal the White House steered pharmaceutical lobbyists directly to Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chair of the powerful Finance Committee, who was entrusted with crafting the White House’s favored version of health care reform.

Abortion and health care reform

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, Nick Baumann of Mother Jones notes that the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) is making abortion is an obstacle to passing health care reform through reconciliation. The NRLC is insinuating that Bart Stupak (D-MI) and his coalition of anti-choice Democrats will vote against the Senate health care bill because it it’s slightly less restrictive of abortion than the bill the House passed. The good news is that it’s procedurally impossible to insert Stupak’s language into the Senate bill through reconciliation. The bad news is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) needs every vote she can get to pass the Senate bill and anti-choice hardliners could be an obstacle.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Obama Stalls for Time with Health Care Summit

8:26 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

President Barack Obama’s February 25 health care summit, where he will appear on TV with Republican leaders, has been hailed and assailed as yet another gesture towards bipartisanship. But the summit is really a delaying tactic. It’s a decoy, something shiny to keep the chattering classes entertained while Congressional Democrats wheel and deal furiously behind the scenes.

At this point, there are two ways forward, and neither of them require Republican support. The first option is for the House to pass the Senate health care bill as written—but with the understanding that the Senate will later fix certain contentious parts of the bill through reconciliation. The second option is for the Senate to pass the reconciliation fix first and the House to pass the bill later.

Someone has to go first

Art Levine of Working In These Times diagnoses a severe case of paralysis on the left: Nancy Pelosi is willing to entertain the first option, but labor leaders like Rich Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, want the Senate to go first because they don’t trust the Senate to fix the bill later. Nobody wants to go first, but somebody has to. If neither the House nor the Senate takes the initiative, reform will fail by default and Americans will continue to suffer.

If the Democrats are going to attempt reconciliation, they need a plan to steer the legislation through the Senate. While everyone else is talking about the summit, procedural experts are probably huddling with leadership, nailing down the details.

Obama’s ‘Waterloo’

Everyone knows that Obama isn’t going to pick up any Republican votes, summit or no summit. The House bill got 1 Republican vote, the Senate bill got 0. Quite simply, Republicans want health care reform to fail. No Republican president since Richard Nixon has attempted comprehensive health care reform. In opposition, Republicans have been intractably opposed reform because they’re afraid the Democrats will take credit for it. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) famously said he wanted "break" Obama by making health reform the president’s "Waterloo."

Health care reform in the media

Meanwhile, as Monica Potts notes in TAPPED, the media seems to be bending over backwards to treat the Republican’s pro forma suggestions as serious proposals for reform, even though the Congressional Budget Office has already analyzed the plan and determined that it will leave millions uninsured without lowering costs. The health care bills as written are already chock full of Republican proposals, like eliminating the public option, easing restrictions on buying insurance across state lines, allowing people to band together in insurance-purchasing coops.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones worries that the upcoming summit will just give the Republicans more free airtime to spread falsehoods about "government controlled health care."

Voices of the uninsured

This week, The Nation is publishing the stories of some of the millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans: An uninsured woman who was diagnosed with throat cancer last month; a father with a severely disabled son who is about to hit is $5 million lifetime insurance benefit cap; a single mom on the verge of medical bankruptcy; and many others.

In other news

Dr. Gabor Maté, the official physician of Canada’s only supervised drug injection site, talks about the science of addiction and his new book with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!.

Todd A. Heywood reports in the Michigan Messenger that American Family Association of Michigan is doubling down in the dying days of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Not only do they want to ban gays from the military, they want to re-criminalize homosexuality.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse:Who are Landrieu’s Alleged Phone Tamperers?

9:35 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

The four young men arrested last week for allegedly attempting to tamper with the phones at the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) have ties to Republican politicians, conservative think tanks, radical campus activists, and even the intelligence community.

It appears that Landrieu was targeted, at least indirectly, because of her stance on health care reform. Two of the men posed as telephone repairmen while a third taped them with his cell phone. A fourth alleged accomplice was arrested in a car a few blocks away.

Right wing operative James O’Keefe, famous for posing as a pimp to "expose" unethical behavior at the anti-poverty group ACORN, claimed that he and his crew were trying to expose a problem with the phones at Landrieu’s office which were keeping constituents from reaching her.

Constituents getting a busy signal?

O’Keefe says they wanted to embarrass Landrieu by exposing whatever was wonky about her phones, but that justification strains credulity. Defenders of the four implied that Landrieu’s people might have somehow disabled their own phones to avoid angry constituents. Supposedly, these citizens wanted to express their outrage at Landrieu’s decision to vote for the Senate health reform bill in exchange for a line item to give Louisiana an additional $300 million federal health care dollars.

Some callers have reported trouble getting through to their representatives. Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones reports that members of the Tea Party movement have complained to her about not being able to get through to their members of congress. She tried calling some senators and also had a hard time getting through to a real person.

Now that he’s out of jail, O’Keefe is furiously spinning his activities as investigative journalism gone awry, according to Justin Elliott of TPM Muckraker. O’Keefe told Sean Hannity in an interview that these tactics were standard journalistic tools. But let’s be realistic, here. Impersonating a repairman to covertly access a Senator’s phones is more Watergate burglar than Woodward and Bernstein.

O’Keefe’s activist theater

O’Keefe and his buddies are political operatives who come out of the world of right wing campus organizing, as Dave Weigel reports for the Washington Independent. Over the years, they’ve earned notoriety by using various forms of political theater and media to advance their issues. O’Keefe and Ben Wetmore, a fellow activist who let the alleged tamperers crash at his house before the Landrieu operation, even got married to each other to illustrate that shady people can marry each other for benefits, just like with straight marriage. On his now-defunct blog, Countermedia, Wetmore urged conservative activists to target seniors with a health care robocall featuring a Barack Obama impersonator.

The Landrieu crew is no stranger to more traditional forms of conservative politics, either. O’Keefe and Wetmore both formerly worked for the conservative Leadership Institute, a group that funds political training for right wing activists. Fake repairman Robert Flanagan interned for Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and a GOP congresswoman. O’Keefe was revealed to be on the payroll of the right wing news site Big Government at the time of his arrest.

The Landrieu incident is a continuation of their campaign to use guerrilla video for political dirty tricks. O’Keefe became famous last year for videos that appear to show him dressing up as a pimp and soliciting questionable advice from ACORN staffers. The video touched off a panic that led to ACORN’s federal funding being yanked.

Links to the intelligence community

Maybe they hoped to make the news rather than break it. The men are charged with attempting to tamper with Landrieu’s phones, not just observe them. As I reported for AlterNet last week, one of the alleged tamperers has longstanding ties to the intelligence community.

In 2008, Stan Dai was the deputy director of a recruiting program for aspiring spies at Trinity Washington University. As Sahil Kapur reported in Raw Story, this program was funded by a $250,000 grant from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Yesterday, Laura Flanders interviewed Dr. David Price and me on GRITtv about the links between O’Keefe’s crew and the intelligence community. Dr. Price is an anthropologist who studies the relationship between the intelligence community and academia. He has been keeping a close eye so-called "centers of academic excellence" funded by the intelligence community on college campuses.

Right now, most of what we know about the incident comes from a single affidavit from an FBI officer and leaks from law enforcement. We’ll probably learn a lot more about the men and their motives if they go on trial.

‘Very, very close’ to passing reform

In other health care news, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told participants on a conference call yesterday that Democrats are "very, very close" to passing health care reform. According to Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly, who was on the call, Pelosi signaled that the House will not pass a bill until the Senate passes a list of modifications to be reinserted during budget reconciliation. Brian Beutler of TPM DC reports that progressives shouldn’t get their hopes up for reviving the public option: Pelosi conceded that a public option lacks the necessary support in the Senate.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Did Wiretappers Target Landrieu Over Health Care Deal?

10:00 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

The conservative videographer who donned a pimp suit to embarrass the anti-poverty group ACORN was arrested in New Orleans, LA for allegedly conspiring to bug the office of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.

It’s not clear why Landrieu was targeted, but many suspect that she was singled out because she played a pivotal role in advancing health care reform.

Filmmaker James O’Keefe and three other men have been charged with been charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony, according to Justin Elliott of TPM Muckraker. At RH Reality Check, Rachel Larris notes that, if convicted, the four could face up to 10 years in prison.

Like chum in the conservative shark tank

Landrieu, a conservative Democrat, negotiated an extra $100 million in Medicaid funds for Louisiana in exchange for allowing the health care bill to come to the senate floor. Accepting health care for the poor in the interest of health reform was like chum in the conservative shark tank.

Rush Limbaugh called her the most expensive prostitute of all time. "She may be easy, but she’s not cheap," crowed Glenn Beck. It got so bad that Democrats call on Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) was called upon to denounce the chorus of conservatives attacking his fellow Louisiana senator as a prostitute. (Correction: Vitter did not call Landrieu a prostitute.)

O’Keefe must have realized that an exposé of Mary Landrieu would be a hot commodity.

"This is Watergate meets YouTube," said Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief

Health care reform in limbo

The arrests could not have come at a better time for the Democrats. Health care reform is in limbo as congressional leaders plan their next move after losing their filibuster-proof majority. The bugging scandal is deflecting attention from tense internal negotiations.

Brian Beutler of TPMDC reports that the House Democrats are converging on a strategy to get reform done: The House will pass the Senate bill and the Senate will fix it through budget reconciliation.

The Republican counter-strategy

While the Democrats agonize over what to do next, that senate Republicans are honing strategies to thwart any Democratic attempt to pass health care reform through budget reconciliation, as Dave Weigel reports in the Washington Independent. The reconciliation process allows both sides to vote on unlimited number of amendments. GOP leadership is hinting that if Dems take the reconciliation route, they will be forced to vote on every politically embarrassing amendment the opposition can dream up.

The stakes are high. In the American Prospect, Paul Starr reminds progressives that there’s till a lot worth fighting for, even without a public option. For all its faults, the Senate bill would still cover 30 million uninsured Americans, expand Medicaid, end discrimination based on preexisting conditions, and set up exchanges designed to keep rising insurance premiums in check.

A memo for reform

Finally, our sources tell us that Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly is making quite a stir on Capitol Hill with his memo advising the House Democratic caucus on the need to forge ahead with health care reform. In 1994, conservative commentator William Kristol wrote a health care memo to Republicans that became the backbone of their anti-reform strategy, even up to the present day. Benen hopes his memo will be a useful counterweight for Democrats. Benen warns the Democrats that it’s far riskier to fail than to pass reform that doesn’t please everyone.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Abortion Doctor’s Assassin Goes to Court

9:07 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

The man who admitted to gunning down Dr. George Tiller in church last May went on trial in Kansas on Friday. Tiller was one of a small number of doctors performing late term abortions in the U.S.

Scott Roeder admitted to shooting the Tiller, but he is pleading not guilty to murder, as Robin Marty reports in RH Reality Check. Yesterday, Judge Warren Wilbert shocked observers by allowing Roeder’s lawyers to argue that their client is guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not premeditated murder.

Kansas law allows the accused to plead "imperfect self-defense" if he had an "honest but unreasonable belief" that deadly force was necessary to protect innocent third parties. Roeder says he killed to protect the unborn. Pro-choice activists are alarmed that the judge allowed Roeder to use this defense. If he beats the murder rap, Roder could face just five years in prison. In the unlikely event that his legal gambit is successful, the precedent could be tantamount to declaring open season on abortion providers.

No doubt Nidal Hussein sincerely believed that he was protecting innocent lives when he murdered 12 soldiers at Fort Hood last November. Somehow, I doubt the Army will be as deferential to Hasan’s crazy religious ideas as Judge Warren Wilbert has been to Roeder’s.

In other health care news, Robert Reich of TAPPED asks whether the rich or the middle class will pay for health reform:

There’s only one big remaining issue on health care reform: How to pay for it. The House wants a 5.4 percent surtax on couples earning at least $1 million in annual income. The Senate wants a 40 percent excise tax on employer-provided “Cadillac plans.” The Senate will win on this unless the public discovers that a large portion of the so-called Cadillacs are really middle-class Chevys—expensive not because they deliver more benefits but because they have higher costs.

Reich cites a shocking statistic: Less than 4% of the variation in the cost of insurance coverage is based on differences in benefits provided. Most of the difference in price is based on the perceived riskiness of the beneficiaries. So, if you’re in a high risk pool comprised of, say, retired autoworkers, you’re going to pay a lot more for the same benefits than someone in a younger, healthier risk pool. When you look at it that way, it seems unfair to pay for reform on the backs of people who are already paying more for the same thing due to circumstances beyond their control.

President Barack Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are meeting with top labor leaders on the "Cadillac tax," as Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo reports. Obama and Sebelius are trying to hash out a compromise that would be acceptable to the unions, who so far, have been implacably opposed to taxing expensive health care plans. The unions are reluctant to give any ground on this issue because so many of their members have accepted expanded health care benefits in lieu of wage increases over the years. Taxing those benefits now would effectively erase some hard-won gains by workers. Obama and the unions are reportedly discussing some kind of grandfather clause proposal that would exempt existing plans and only tax new plans.

Elsewhere in our high-deductible democracy, it turns out that health insurers secretly steered more than $20 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to oppose health reform while publicly professing to support the effort, according to Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones. The bagman was America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP). While AHIP was soliciting donations to run attack ads, AHIP’s top lobbyist, Karen Ignagni penned an op/ed in the Washington Post assuring the public that AHIP supported reform.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly hopes that the scandal will give ammunition to Democrats in the last big push to pass health care reform: "Policymakers struggling to resolve differences on the final reform bill may want to keep a simple adage in mind: Don’t let AHIP’s duplicitous campaign win."

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Bachmann Fan Threatens to Shoot Up Newspaper

9:27 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

A Michigan woman threatened a Minnesota newspaper with mass murder for criticizing Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN)’s anti-health reform rally, reports Paul Schmelzer in the Minnesota Independent:

…A woman in Michigan, angered over a newspaper editorial criticizing Bachmann’s event, threatened to take a gun to the paper and “do what they did at Fort Hood” in response.

How pro-life.

David Corn of Mother Jones reports that Bachmann (R-MN) may also face an ethics investigation for using her taxpayer-funded website to promote the Tea Pary-Superbowl of Freedom, a partisan political rally to defeat health care reform. The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a non-profit political watchdog, alleges that Bachmann violated a House rule against using official websites for "grassroots lobbying or [to] solicit support for a Member’s position." She literally told her supporters to come to Washington on Nov 5 and tell their representatives to vote against health reform. That’s textbook grassroots lobbying and a clear no-no for a taxpayer-funded website.

Speaking of pesky rules and regulations, Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-MI) C Street residence is no-longer tax exempt. Stupak, who became famous for inserting a radical and far-reaching abortion funding ban into the House health reform bill, lives with several other lawmakers at a house on C Street. The house is owned by a secretive fundamentalist sect known as The Family. For years, C Street avoided paying property taxes by claiming to be a church. All that’s over now. Ed Brayton of the Michigan Messenger reports that the IRS has finally figured out that C Street is a dorm.

Alex Koppelman reports in Salon that Stupak is reiterating his threat to kill health care reform if his language is stripped from the final bill:

"They’re not going to take it out," Stupak said of Senate Democrats during an appearance on "Fox and Friends" Tuesday morning. "If they do, healthcare will not move forward … At least 10 to 15 to 20 of us will not vote for it."

At Feministing, Jos Truit discusses the Hyde Amendment, a piece of 1976 legislation that bans the use of federal funds for abortions. The Hyde Amendment is back in the news because Stupak is falsely claiming that his amendment merely applies Hyde principles to health insurance.
Does he know that 45,000 born people die every year because they don’t have health insurance?

The fight over abortion coverage in a reformed health care system is far from over. It’s unlikely that Reid wrote Stupak language into his version of the bill, and it’s equally unlikely that anti-choicers have the 60 votes to add it back in as an amendment. (Contrary to popular belief, the Senate is much more pro-choice than the House.) Anti-choice Dems Sens. Ben Nelson and Bob Casey seem to be walking back from their earlier threats to vote against a bill without Stupak language.

Harry Reid announced that Democrats would meet today to preview the Senate’s version of the health care bill. The first procedural vote on the Senate bill could come before Thanksgiving.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Public Insurance Option Not Optional

9:01 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, TMC Mediawire blogger

During a press conference yesterday, President Obama voiced support for government-administered health insurance for all who need it (aka the "public option"), as a key component of healthcare reform. Though Obama stopped short of threatening to veto a bill that didn’t contain such an option, he said that a public option is needed to enforce market discipline. If the system is going to reform, the health insurance companies can’t just keep selling the same bad coverage with bigger public subsidies for their monopolies. Essentially, Obama isn’t about to force taxpayers to buy overpriced insurance from private companies.

"The public plan, I think, is an important tool to discipline insurance companies," Obama said during yesterday’s White House news conference. "I think there is going to be some healthy debate about the shape that this takes." He outlined three options: Get insurance through your employer, buy insurance on your own, or buy insurance from a marketplace where public and private insurance providers compete for business.

In the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen notes the central irony of the standard insurance industry criticism of Obama’s plan:

A public option, critics tell us, would provide a horrible, bureaucratic service for customers, including rationing Read the rest of this entry →