Tag Archives: Igor Volsky

D.A.D.T. D.E.A.D.?

Kerry Eleveld at The Advocate:

The Advocate has learned that concurrent meetings took place Monday morning at the White House and on Capitol Hill that could help clear the way for “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal to be attached to the Department of Defense authorization bill later this week.

LGBT groups met with officials at the White House while legislative affairs representatives from the White House and the Department of Defense met with the staff of House and Senate leadership offices on Capitol Hill along with those of Rep. Patrick Murphy and senators Carl Levin and Joseph Lieberman.

A White House aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed the White House meeting. “Our understanding is that Congress is determined to act this week and we are learning more about their proposal now,” said the aide.

A Democratic leadership aide called the development “promising” but said discussions were ongoing. The House Democratic leadership is expected to meet to discuss the proposal later this afternoon.

Ed O’Keefe and Michael Shear at The Washington Post:

President Obama has signed on to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” compromise between lawmakers and the Defense Department that is likely to clear the way for repeal of the 17-year-old ban on the military’s policy banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces.

Under the compromise, worked out in a series of meetings Monday at the White House and on Capitol Hill, lawmakers will proceed to repeal the Clinton-era policy in the next several days, but the repeal will not go into effect until a Pentagon study about how to implement it is completed.

In a letter to lawmakers pushing for a repeal, the White House wrote that “such an approach recognizes the critical need to allow our military and their families the full opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process through a thorough understanding of their concerns, insights and suggestions.” (See the full letter below.)

Gay rights advocates hailed the White House decision as a “dramatic breaktrhough” that they predicted would dismantle the policy once and for all.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is set to vote Thursday on adding a repeal to the defense authorization bill. Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) favors a repeal, but at least six senators on the panel are considered undecided. The House may also vote on a similar measure this week by Rep. Patrick J. Murphy (D-Pa.). House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) declined to include Murphy’s bill in passing the House version of the defense spending measure last week, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said she will allow a floor vote if there is enough support in favor of a repeal. Congressional aides said it’s unclear whether Murphy has the votes necessary to pass his bill.

Any repeal would take effect only after President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen review the Pentagon study and certify that the new law can be implemented without a negative impact on military readiness, recruitment and retention, according to the sources.

Dale Carpenter:

The repeal is limited in one sense. It does not ban discimination against gays in the militery. It returns the status quo ante DADT in 1993 when the president had sole authority to set military personnel policies on gays. The difference is that now the president has promised to reverse the old policy after a study is issued in December on how to implement the change.

In theory, the next president could reassert the ban. But that’s very unlikely to happen once gays are serving openly. Liberalization of anti-gay public policy tends to be governed by one-way ratchet. Plus, the experience in other countries has been that allowing service by openly gay personnel presents no real problems for recruitment, retention, or discipline, and controversy about it quickly subsides.

Joe My God:

While some see lots of holes in the compromise, most LGBT and progressive groups are responding favorably.

The Palm Center:

“The President’s statement today keeps his promise to lift the ban by establishing the terms on which ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ will be dismantled,” stated Aaron Belkin, Palm Center Director. “For the past seventeen years, every expert who has studied this policy has emphasized that dismantling it would require leadership. Leadership is what the President showed today.”Servicemembers United:

“This announcement from the White House today is long awaited, much needed, and immensely helpful as we enter a critical phase of the battle to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law,” said Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army interrogator who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” “We have been making the case to White House staff for more than a year now that delayed implementation is realistic, politically viable, and the only way to get the defense community on board with repeal, and we are glad to see the community and now the administration and defense leadership finally rally around this option.”Human Rights Campaign:

“We are on the brink of historic action to both strengthen our military and respect the service of lesbian and gay troops,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Today’s announcement paves the path to fulfill the President’s call to end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year and puts us one step closer to removing this stain from the laws of our nation.” “Without a repeal vote by Congress this year, the Pentagon’s hands are tied and the armed forces will be forced to continue adhering to the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law,” said Solmonese. “A solution has emerged: Congress needs to vote to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ now.”Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:

“The White House announcement is a dramatic breakthrough in dismantling ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ The path forward crafted by the President, Department of Defense officials, and repeal leaders on Capitol Hill respects the ongoing work by the Pentagon on how to implement open service and allows for a vote this week. President Obama’s support and Secretary Gates’ buy-in should insure a winning vote, but we are not there yet. The votes still need to be worked and counted. If enacted this welcomed compromise will create a process for the President and the Pentagon to implement a new policy for lesbian and gay service members to serve our country openly, hopefully within a matter of a few months. This builds upon the support Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed for open service during the February hearing in the Senate, and further underscores that this Administration is committed to open service.”The full language of the DADT repeal legislation can be found at AmericaBlog Gay.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

Advocacy groups appear to be pleased with the agreement, though one could obviously see pitfalls. A Pentagon ruled by those with a different ideological perspective could overturn the new open service policy, if they have the authority to do so. But this would be arguably less likely (or at least as likely) than a future Republican Congress, which would probably waste no time attempting to ban openly gay service. Once the new policy is in place, new restrictions become a harder sell.

All of this is apparently predicated on getting the necessary votes in the Senate Armed Services Committee (Three of these five swing votes – Robert Byrd, Bill Nelson, Evan Bayh, Jim Webb, Scott Brown – would be necessary for passage). If that is handled, then the House would adopt similar language, probably through an amendment to the defense authorization bill which the House Armed Services Committee completed work on last week. Once repeal is embedded in the defense authorization bill, it would take 60 votes in the Senate to remove it, and opponents don’t have that.

It’s puzzling that it took this long for a deal like this to be struck. This is basically what Carl Levin has been offering for months – repeal with a delayed implementation. Perhaps the White House realized the damage they would incur if they did not push repeal after announcing it with great fanfare in the State of the Union address.

The other complicating factor here is that Robert Gates has recommended a veto of this defense bill for totally different reasons. He feels that it consists of too many unwanted military spending projects. It’s unclear how the President would handle the delicate topic of vetoing a bill with a major gay rights initiative and explaining that there were different reasons for the veto.

Allah Pundit:

Any guesses as to why the left is eager to do this now instead of waiting until December for the Pentagon to finish its review?

The impetus for the meetings is a push in Congress, which passed the measure under President Bill Clinton, to add a repeal of the policy to the upcoming defense authorization bill.

Repeal “had been on a slow track awaiting completion of a Pentagon study at the end of this year,” reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin. “Gay rights proponents and their Democratic allies on Capitol Hill and in the White House have decided it’s now or not for a very long time since the elections this fall are expected to bring in a more conservative, more Republican Congress.”

The only thing that might stop it at this point is if Carl Levin can’t get 15 votes to attach the repeal to the appropriations bill. CBS says he’s a vote or two short, but several committee members on the fence. And who are those members? On the GOP side, you’ve got Graham, Scott Brown, and Susan Collins, any or all of whom should be ripe for the picking. (McCain, the committee ranking member, will surely vote no to keep Hayworth at bay.) I’m fascinated to see how many Republican votes are going to pop for this in the general floor vote, especially since Gates and Mike Mullen have endorsed repeal and doubly especially since it’s unclear how much tea partiers will care about a social issue as hot-button as this.

A group of military officers from U.S. ally nations told the Brookings Institute last week that they had no trouble integrating gays openly into their armed forces. Expect that talking point to figure prominently if this blows up in a couple of days. Exit question: Is it time?

Marc Ambinder

James Joyner:

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.   While homosexuality has been normalized enough that we have a president, SECDEF, Joint Chiefs chairman, and probably a majority in Congress willing to go on the record to support gays serving in the military — something that decidedly wasn’t the case when Bill Clinton took office in 1993 — it’s still a hot button issue in much of the country.   Referenda to ban gay marriage, for example, seem almost always to pass easily.

Will Republicans mount a filibuster on this issue?   I doubt it.   And it’s going to be very difficult to mount a credible argument opposing lifting the ban once the Pentagon certifies — which it almost certainly will — that doing so will not harm morale or be prejudicial to good order and discipline in the military.

Andrew Sullivan:

My major fear up to now has been that the repeal could get lost legislatively if the GOP made big gains in the House and Senate this fall, as is historically almost certain. This compromise removes the basis for that fear, while allowing the military and the defense secretary to manage the transition to ensure a smooth ride. I hope it works. If it does, it really will be a feather in the cap of Jim Messina, the good folks at SLDN and Servicemembers United, and the Obama administration. It will also redound to the credit of those who did not give up on this, who refused to concede that this was not a civil rights question of the first order, and to the countless servicemembers, past and future, who put their lives and careers on the line for this change.

It’s been a long two decades. So long one almost feels numb at exactly the moment one should feel exhilarated. But that’s probably how all such breakthroughs feel, when they eventually happen. For the first time in American history, gay people will be deemed fully worthy of the highest call of patriotism – to risk one’s life for the defense of one’s country.

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:

The Boston Globe reports that Senator Scott Brown will vote against a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on Thursday:

“I am keeping an open mind, but I do not support moving ahead until I am able to finish my review, the Pentagon completes its study, and we can be assured that a new policy can be implemented without jeopardizing the mission of our military,” Brown said in a statement provided to the Globe.

Brown, who is also a lieutentant colonel in the Massachusetts National Guard, said he came to his decision after hearing the views of multiple officers and enlisted personnel.

“For some time now, I have been seeking the opinions and recommendations of service chiefs, commanders in the field, and, most importantly, our junior soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines,” he said in the statement. “I believe we have a responsibility to the men and women of our armed forces to be thorough in our consideration of this issue and take their opinions seriously.”

But the AP reports that Senator Susan Collins will vote in favor of repeal.

There are 28 senators on the Armed Services Committee (16 Democrats and 14 Republicans). So, if Collins supports repeal and all other Republicans oppose it (which seems likely), the Democrats can afford two “no” votes and and still pass it out of committee with 15 votes.

Jim Webb, Ben Nelson, and Robert Byrd seem like potential Democratic “no” votes, but we’ll just have to wait and see how it all works out on Thursday.

Kevin Drum:

This is actually not much of a compromise. It’s basically a complete win the DADT repeal forces, since implementation always would have taken some time no matter when repeal was passed. Pelosi and Reid already support repeal, and now, with Obama’s active support, the chances of getting it through Congress are excellent. Adam Weinstein has more here.

So if things go the way I think they’ll go, by later this year Obama, Pelosi, and Reid will have passed a historic stimulus bill, the Lily Ledbetter Act, healthcare reform, college loan reform, financial reform, repeal of DADT, and Obama will have withdrawn from Iraq.1 Not bad for 18 months of work. And who knows? There’s even a chance that Obama’s Afghanistan escalation will work. If it does, what president since LBJ will have accomplished more in his first term?

1Except for the pesky “residual force,” of course. Still, once the combat forces are gone, it’s hard to see a scenario in which they’re ever sent back in.

UPDATE: John McCormack at The Weekly Standard

Igor Volsky at Think Progress

Adam Bink at Open Left

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Filed under LGBT, Military Issues

And Now For Something New: This Really Is Obamacare

Marc Ambinder:

For a year, critics of the Democratic health care plans have been applying the label “ObamaCare” to whatever the current draft was. That was inaccurate — because, as Democrats were eager to say, it was never quite clear to them what President Obama actually wanted out of a health care bill.  Today, the questions end. The President has unveiled his own comprehensive health care bill. It borrows heavily from the Senate’s bill, adds some White House ideas, throws in some Republican-sponsored amendments, and pronounces itself ready for inspection.

Philip Klein at American Spectator:

President Obama’s plan (available here), would eliminate the so-called “Cornhusker Kickback” and instead raise the Federal government’s Medicaid subsidies to all states; it would close the so-called “donut hole” on Medicare prescription drug benefits by providing more subsidies to seniors; it would increase subsidies for individuals and small businesses to purchase insurance; and it would hike funding for health clinics. To address the controversy surrounding the so-called “Cadillac Tax” on benefit rich health care plans, it essentially gives everybody the deal that unions cut last month, which would delay enactment of the tax until 2018 and raise the value of the health plans that are affected. All of these provisions will make it more costly than the Senate bill.

To finance the changes, President Obama proposes raising taxes even more than the Senate plan does. Under Obama’s proposal, higher income workers would see their portion of the Medicare payroll tax double, to 2.9 percent. The tax would create a marriage penalty by applying to individuals earning over $200,000 and couples earning over $250,000. When the original version of the Senate health care bill was produced, the Medicare tax on those earning over $200,000 was supposed to be 0.5 percent. In the version that passed in December, the tax had been raised to 0.9 percent. And though it hasn’t even been made law yet, Obama is raising the payroll tax for the third time, to 1.45 percent (that’s on top of the 1.45 percent all workers already pay). This follows the historical pattern of payroll taxes, which have increased 20 times since first introduced in 1935, going from a combined total of 2 percent (including employer/employee contributions) to 12.4 percent today. When adding the new Obama tax, the rate would be almost 14 percent on higher incomes.

Igor Volsky at Think Progress:

The Obama plan maintains key elements of the Senate proposal but also incorporates stronger anti-fraud provisions and allows the federal government to review insurance rate hikes. On a call with reporters Pfeiffer insisted that the administration has not determined “on which path to move forward with”, but the bill’s substance suggests that Obama is hoping to bypass a prolonged-Senate debate and use the reconciliation process to fix the Senate bill and convince reluctant House progressives to pass the Senate legislation. “The American people deserve up or down vote on health reform,”Pfeiffer said. “We can get an up or down vote if opposition decides to take extraordinary steps of filibustering health reforms.”

But it’s unclear if progressive House members will embrace the new compromise. While the bill addresses House members’ affordability concerns, increases the excise tax thresholds and completely closes the donut hole in Medicare Part D, the legislation does not include a public option, retains the Senate bill’s state-based exchanges and keeps the start date for most reforms at 2014. (Obama’s plan also retains the Senate’s abortion compromise and most other core provisions).

The White House explained that it paid for its changes (which cost approximately $75 billion) by levying higher penalties on individuals and employers that don’t meet the legislation’s requirements, extending the payroll tax to unearned income, $10 billion in fees on branded pharmaceuticals, and increased savings from Medicare Advantage.

The proposal also eliminates the so-called Cornhusker kickback and provides full federal funding for Medicaid expansion for four years starting in 2014. Between 2018 and 2019, the federal government will pay 90% of the cost of the expansion and provide extra funds to states with generous Medicaid programs.

Michael F. Cannon at Cato:

This morning, President Obama released his latest health care blueprint, which he hopes will breathe life into his moribund effort to overhaul one-sixth of the U.S. economy.  The new blueprint is almost exactly the same as the House and Senate health care bills that the public have opposed since July.  It mostly just splits the difference between the two.

One new element, however, is the president’s proposal to impose a new type of government price control on health insurance premiums.  I explain here how those price controls are a veiled form of government rationing that helped sink the Clinton health plan.

If anything, those price controls make the president’s new plan even more bureaucratic and government-heavy.  The Senate bill would take an ill-advised stab at cost-control by imposing a tax on the highest-cost health plans.  That president proposes to pare back that excise tax and instead have a panel of federal bureaucrats cap the growth in health insurance premiums for all health plans.  Those new government powers could make it even harder for people to obtain the coverage and care that they need.

Ezra Klein:

There’s not a lot of policy news in the president’s new health-care plan. The changes are pretty much what we expected: more money going to subsidies (which are now being referred to as “the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history”), an excise tax that kicks in later and affects fewer plans, a new Health Insurance Rate Authority to oversee premium increases and reject them if they’re unfair, the elimination of the Nebraska deal, and so on. There’s no public option, nor any significant retrenchment. In fact, the cost of the bill has increased by $75 billion, the result of more generous subsidies.

But if the changes to the underlying policies are modest, the impact on the politics will be tremendous. It might even be, as Olympic announcer Ed Olcyzk said about the Canada/U.S. hockey game, “tremendously tremendous.” The release of this plan marks the end of the Scott Brown election and the resumption of the health-care process.

This is not the first time Democrats have waited out a bad political period and then used a combination of televised events, substantive releases, and legislative progress to take back control of the media’s narrative. In August, when the Tea Parties geared up and the town halls went nuts and the opposition found its voice, the Obama administration and the Democrats waited out the storm and then used the president’s big speech to pivot to the release and subsequent passage of the Senate Finance Committee’s bill. Even as the politics fell into chaos, the process ground on, which eventually brought the media back.

Tyler Cowen:

I’m confused by the recent discussions emanating from the Obama administration.  If something like the current proposals pass, and those proposals “work,” low-risk individuals end up subsidizing the health care of high-risk individuals.  Prices for insurance won’t need to go up at outrageous rates, or so we are told.

If current proposals fail to pass, insurance companies can still just dump people.  Forcing them to lower their prices will induce them to dump even more people and to have a tighter definition of preexisting conditions.

It seems to me this announcement is either just headline-seeking or an admission that, after the plan is passed, premia will continue to rise at high rates.  The latter case runs contrary to the narrative of how the plan will contain “the health insurance death spiral of the status quo.”

Peter Suderman at Reason:

Given last week’s brouhaha over health insurance rate increases in California, it’s certainly timely. And given the widespread public frustration with insurers, it’s probably politically savvy, too. It’s also hard to oppose: Who could be against blocking excessive rate increases? After all, they are, by definition, excessive (or, depending on who’s talking, unreasonable).

But the problem, of course, is that what constitutes excessive or unreasonable isn’t easy to define. I was at a conference with a number of lawyers this weekend, and one of them joked about how great words like “reasonable” were for the profession. (How many lawyers does it take to define what “unreasonable” means? Well, how many do you have?)  The idea is to create some legal wiggle room, but you tend to end up with absurdly circular definitions like Arizona’s, which defined excessive insurance rate hikes as those that “are likely to produce an underwriting profit that is unreasonably high.” It’s excessive if it’s unreasonable! Unreasonable if it’s excessive! Feel free to ride this definitional merry-go-round until you puke.

Fun as that sounds, let’s go ahead and answer some key cable-news questions in advance: Is Obama’s proposed rate-review commission a death panel? Nope! But it could result in insurance companies denying coverage more than they would otherwise in order to meet premium requirements. Is it a government takeover of the country’s health care system? Not exactly. But it gives the federal government a lot more authority over health insurers. So what is it then? If you guessed “a form of price controls,” you’re today’s lucky winner. And, just like when Bill Clinton proposed them, medical price controls are a deeply problematic idea.

Jonathan Cohn at TNR:

The administration official describing the plan also pointed out that the new authority would not pre-empt existing state regulations. The feds would step in only if states did not, or could not, stop high rate increases on their own. This ought to allay the concerns of those who worry about the federal government trampling on state rights–or, more generally, about government interfering with the private market. (If Arkansas has this sort of regulation, how radical can it be?)

At the same time, this idea ought to ease the anxiety of those who worried that, without a public option, insurers could jack up rates virtually at will.

None of this is to say rate review is some kind of magic elixir for rising health care costs. Clearly, it isn’t. Once I learn more about this idea–I’ll resume reporting at daybreak–some downsides will surely become apparent.

There is also a major procedural question to answer: Would the parliamentarian deem this proposal sufficiently relevant to the budget to qualify for part of the reconciliation process under the Byrd rule?

Still, at first blush, this looks like good politics and good policy. That’s not a bad way to start off this make-or-break week for health reform.

Greg Sargent:

In the course of unveiling Obama’s new health reform proposal on a conference call with reporters this morning, White House advisers made it clearer than ever before: If the GOP filibusters health reform, Dems will move forward on their own and pass it via reconciliation.

The assertion, which is likely to spark an angry response from GOP leaders, ups the stakes in advance of the summit by essentially daring Republicans to try to block reform.

“The President expects and believes the American people deserve an up or down vote on health reform,” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said on the call.

Pfeiffer said no decision had been made how to proceed, pending the outcome of the summit. But he added that Obama’s proposal is designed to have “maximum flexibility to ensure that we can get an up or down vote if the opposition decides to take the extraordinary step of filibustering health reform.”

Translation: If the GOP doesn’t cooperate with us in any meaningful sense, we’re moving forward on our own.

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The “Haw, Haws” Have It

Karen Tumulty at Swampland at Time:

Multiple sources are now reporting that Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, the last Democratic holdout, is now saying he will support the latest version of the health care bill. That makes 60 votes, enough to overcome a fillibuster.

So what’s actually in this bill? And what did it take to get the last votes? I’m still going through it, and will file more as I figure that out, but you can see some highlights here. A senior Democratic aide says this:

The manager’s amendment builds upon the strong bill we already have.

Protects our good coverage, cost, and affordability numbers

· Reduces Deficits – estimated to save over $130 billion first ten and roughly $650 billion second ten

· Expands Coverage – over 94 percent of Americans under 65 years of age, including over 31 million uninsured

· Reduces Costs – most Americans will see their health care costs reduced relative to projected levels

Makes health care more affordable for Americans by expanding small business tax credits

· $12 billion increase

· Begins in 2010

· Expands wage thresholds for tax credits

Demands greater accountability from insurance companies/ creates more choice and competition

· Medical Loss Ratio 85/80 percent – Insurance companies will be forced to spend more money on care and less money padding their bottom line.

· Starting immediately children cannot be denied health coverage due to pre-existing conditions

· Insurance companies who jack up their rates will be barred from competing in the exchange.

· Give patients the right to appeal to an independent board if an insurance company denies a coverage claim

· Health insurers will offer national plans to Americans under the supervision of the Office of Personnel Management, the same entity that oversees health plans for Members of Congress.

· Provides significant resources for Community Health Centers

Nelson has recently complained that the proposed expansion of Medicaid to those earning below 133% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) would burden his state of Nebraska and suggested that states should be able to opt-in to the program.

Under the current merged legislation (the version unveiled on November 18th), the federal government fully finances care for the expanded population for two years and increases its matching funds (known as FMAP) thereafter. Page 98 of the managers amendment specifically identifies Nebraska for higher federal matching funds, fully funding its expansion for an additional year:

‘‘(3) Notwithstanding subsection (b) and paragraphs (1) and (2) of this subsection, the Federal medical assistance percentage otherwise determined under subsection (b) with respect to all or any portion of a fiscal year that begins on or after January 1, 2017, for the State of Nebraska, with respect to amounts expended for newly eligible individuals described in subclause (VIII) of section 1902(a)(10)(A)(i), shall be determined as provided for under subsection (y)(1) (A) (notwithstanding the period provided for in such paragraph)

Subsection (y)(1)(A) refers to page 399 of the original merged Senate legislation which fully funds state Mediciad expansions for the first two years. The manager’s amendment also provides 2.2% increase in FMAP to help states finance their existing Medicaid programs.

Ed Morrissey:

That will be worth at least hundreds of millions of dollars in federal cash for Nebraska … for the first three years.  After that, Nebraskans get as screwed as the rest of the country. And what about that abortion coverage? Nelson caved, as one can read in the published version,

Steve Benen

Matthew Yglesias:

Part of what Ben Nelson seems to have gotten in exchange for his vote is an arbitrary extra year of federal Medicaid funding for Nebraska. There’s no conceivable policy justification for this, but it’s a small price to pay for the support of a crucial senator. But when I say it’s a “small price to pay” I mean that quite literally—the amount of money involved is tiny. The ability to do this mostly underscores how ridiculous Nelson’s Medicaid objections were to begin with.

Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner:

I’m holding out hope for Jim Webb or someone to be the profile in courage in this Senate story. (No, I’m not holding my breath. But I’m happy to be thanking Webb on Christmas eve.)

Carol Platt Liebau at Townhall:

Bargaining behind closed doors, Democrats have prevailed upon Ben Nelson to provide the 60th vote for a health care bill that no one — besides, apparently, 60 Senate Democrats — really wants.

No one really knows what’s in the bill and no one really knows how much it will cost.

People from the left, right and center have made their opposition clear.

But in the greatest act of legislative arrogance of my lifetime, Democrats have pressed on.

John Cole:

Now, in typical Democratic fashion, we will probably get the bill to conference, have a couple more weeks of acrimonious debate, pass the bill, get a bill with some meaningful reform and some decidedly bad things, and then spend the next year fighting a civil war and convincing ourselves that the bill is horrible and Obama hates the base.

being a Republican was SOOO much easier. Obligatory Will Rogers reference.

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Filed under Health Care, Legislation Pending

There’s Always Been A Great Lack Of “Yo Momma” References In The Senate

Rachel Slajda at TPM:

Just before the Senate Finance Committee wrapped up for the long weekend, members debated one of Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-AZ) amendments, which would strike language defining which benefits employers are required to cover.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) argued that insurers must be required to cover basic maternity care. (In several states there are no such requirements.)

“I don’t need maternity care,” Kyl said. “So requiring that on my insurance policy is something that I don’t need and will make the policy more expensive.”

Stabenow interrupted: “I think your mom probably did.”

The amendment was defeated, nine to 14.

Igor Volsky at Think Progress:

Kyl’s amendment would prohibit the government from defining which benefits should be included in a standard benefit package and would permit health insurance companies to design policies that exclude higher-cost beneficiaries. Currently, “it is difficult and costly for women to find health insurance that covers maternity care” in the individual health insurance market. According to a survey conducted by the National Women’s Law Center, the vast majority of individual market health insurance policies “do not cover maternity care at all. A limited number of insurers sell separate maternity coverage for an additional fee known as a ‘rider,’ but this supplemental coverage is often expensive and limited in scope.”

A well defined minimum benefits package would compel health insurers to provide basic services to all Americans. The Kyl amendment, which ultimately failed, would have allowed the industry to continue profiting from discriminatory practices. As former health insurance executive Wendell Potter explained in an interview with ThinkProress, insurers would like to move us all into “these limited benefit plans that are very skimpy and don’t cover you, don’t cover what you need. That way, when you do get sick, they’re not on the hook to pay you anything. They would love to have you enrolled in these.”

Steve Benen:

It generated laughter in the hearing room, and with good reason, but it’s worth emphasizing why Kyl’s argument is worthy of derision. In the hopes of making insurance cheaper, Kyl is comfortable with not covering basic maternity care. The status quo — only 21 states require insurers to provide maternity care benefits — is just fine with the #2 senator in the GOP leadership. If discriminatory practices boost industry profits, it’s just the free market working as it should.

Taylor Marsh:

A response a woman would be more likely to give; a critical point that matters to the health of American families and our country’s future. Nothing less.

Not surprised it was lost on the good Senator from Arizona, who just happens to be a Republican and a colleague of John McCain, someone who voted against equal pay for .

Senator Kyl being part of the “family values” crowd that evidently thinks we can have healthy families without healthy moms.

Ezra Klein:

The words you’re looking for are, “Oh, SNAP!”

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Filed under Health Care, Legislation Pending

Letters. We Get Your Letters.

Obama writes a letter to Baucus and Kennedy.

Mattthew Yglesias

Igor Volsky

James C. Capretta in National Review

What do the Senators think now?

The Hill on Judd Gregg:

Gregg said that the president’s letter, which said a public option should be included in the legislation, stalled “significant progress” in negotiations.

“We were making great progress up until yesterday, in my opinion,” Gregg said during an interview on CNBC. “There’s a working group under Sen. Baucus that involves senior Republican and Senate senior members who are involved in the healthcare debate, and we were, I thought, making some fairly significant progress.”

Gregg said that the president’s late-day letter to Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) had thrown up a roadblock to garnering GOP support for a final deal.

“Then the president came out with his letter that said any package has to have a public plan,” he said. “Well, the public plan’s a non-starter for us, on our side of the aisle.”

Brian Beutler at TPM on Chuck Grassley

Ezra Klein:

Huffington Post‘s Ryan Grim has been doing great work covering Sen. Ben Nelson‘s (D-Neb.) endless flips and flops on the public health insurance plan. A few weeks ago, you might remember that Nelson was talking about forming a “coalition of like-minded centrists opposed to the creation of a public plan, as a counterweight to Democrats pushing for it.” Back then, the public plan was a “deal breaker.”

Now? He’s open to a public plan. Neat how that works. But Nelson isn’t alone. Support for the public plan seems to have elevated in a few corners. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), previously cool to the idea, is now said to be fighting “tooth and nail” for its inclusion. Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), once a monosyllabic opponent (“no”), is now proclaiming himself open to the idea.

Meanwhile, the public plan’s supporter — Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), and others — have organized and begun insisting, rather than merely mentioning, the idea. Liberal senators came together and signed a letter in support of the policy. The White House, which seemed relatively unsinterested in the issue a few months ago, has begun pushing hard for it.

On the broader issue of the public option:

Paul Krugman

Nick Gillespie in Reason

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