Free Markets, Free People

Senate

So Where Are We On Health Care Reform?

That depends on who you talk too. Sen. Chuck Schumer says it will pass in the Senate. But then Schumer always says things will pass whether they do or not. Joe Lieberman says he’s going to be “stubborn” about his vote. If the bill has a public option, he won’t vote for it.  Harry Reid has said it will have some form of a public option, in the case of the pending bill a public option which states can opt out of.  With Liberman saying no, is there any doubt the focus will shift to a certain Republican Senator from Maine?  And, of course, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-LA, is in the middle of being ” bought” with hundreds of millions of your tax dollars promised in the “health care reform” bill if she’ll just sign on and help it pass.  They call that “payola” in the broadcasting business and it is illegal.

In the United States Senate, it’s business as usual.

Probably the most interesting take on the Senate right now comes from Howard Dean who says he sees trouble for Democrats regardless of the outcome:

“I think if you passed the Senate bill tomorrow it would be OK. But then the problem is they don’t have any defense for their members in 2010,” Dean said, noting that the public option would not become operational until 2014. “On the other hand, if they drop the public option [to placate moderate members], I think they lose seats.”

“So this is really tough. I didn’t anticipate being in this position. I thought it would pass. Maybe Harry has some magic up his sleeve. But I don’t see how he gets those four votes [Sens. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.)] without compromising the bill,” Dean concluded.

The former Vermont governor warned that if the party allowed the four moderates to further water down the bill (or defeat it altogether) it could lead to primary challenges or a drop in fundraising from the party’s base.

“If you have members refusing to vote for Reid on procedural issues you will have a revolt in the party,” Dean said. “What is the point of having a 60-vote margin? This is going to be death for the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] and the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee]. Why would anyone donate to them if they’re supporting candidates who defeat the Democratic agenda?”

And, of course, he has a “solution”:

There was, he insisted, an out clause. Reconciliation — the budgetary maneuver that would allow portions of reform to be considered by an up or down vote — “looks better every time,” Dean said. “Someone has to say, at some point, we need to pass a bill.” Reid has hinted that reconciliation is an increasingly unlikely proposition.

Nothing but lousy options. Damned if they do, double damned if they don’t. This is precisely the position I enjoy seeing Democrats in, especially as it concerns the monstrosity they’re trying to birth and call “health care reform”. I have to say, this is the one time in my life that I’m actively hoping for a still-birth. It will take all of the Senatorial GOP sticking to their guns, and one of four of the Democrats in question actually living up to their promises. The question is, are any or all of them willing to be known as the Senator(s) who killed health care reform. I know, given this mess, I’d wear that as a badge of honor. I’m still not sure these four would view it that way.

~McQ

[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!

Harry’s Version Of The Health Care Monstrosity

Over 2,000 pages (yeah, nothing can be hidden in there, can it?) the bill sets up at least 370.2 billion in new taxes over the next 10 years:

1. 40% excise tax on health coverage in excess of $8,500/$23,000 ($149.1 billion)
2. Employer W-2 reporting of value of health (negligible revenue effect)
3. Conform definition of medical expenses ($5.0 billion)
4. Increase penalty for nonqualified health savings account distributions to 20% ($1.3 billion)
5. Limit health flexible spending arrangements in cafeteria plans to $2,500 ($14.6 billion)
6. Require information reporting on payments to corporations ($17.1 billion)
7. Additional requirements for section 501(c)(3) hospitals (negligible revenue effects)
8. Impose annual fee on manufacturers & importers of branded drugs ($22.2 billion)
9. Impose annual fee on manufacturers & importers of medical devices ($19.3 billion)
10. Impose annual fee on health insurance providers ($60.4 billion)
11. Study and report of effect on veterans health care (no revenue effect)
12. Eliminate deduction for expenses allocable to Medicare Part D subsidy ($5.4 billion)
13. Raise 7.5% AGI floor on medical expenses deduction to 10% ($15.2 billion)
14. $500,000 deduction limitation on taxable year remuneration to health insurance officials ($0.6 billion)
15. Additional 0.5% hospital insurance tax on wages > $200,000 ($250,000 joint) ($53.8 billion)
16. Modification of section 833 treatment of certain health organizations ($0.4 billion)
17. Impose 5% excise tax on cosmetic surgery ($5.8 billion)

That’s according the non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation (via Tax Prof).

According to the CBO, this turkey comes in at 849 billion over 10 years. Let me again stress that the cost is a bogus cost because of the way the spending is structured. CBO is limited to a 10 year window. So what it is saying is that within that 10 year window, if passed exactly as written and with no changes, it will cost that much over that 10 year span. It isn’t chartered to look beyond that. So, over the years, the Democrats have learned how to use that restriction to sell budget busters as deficit reducers.

Here’s how. See all those taxes above? They begin immediately. However the major costly programs don’t begin until 2014. Consequently, the taxes are going to have a plus effect on the deficit over those first few years. Then, as the spending kicks in, since we’ve already pre-paid it with the taxes, it will appear as much less spending than it really is. Once outside that 10 year window, it explodes. The real cost, not the gamed cost to get past the CBO and attempt to fool the public, is estimated to be about 1.8 trillion over 10 years – or twice what is being claimed – and that’s if nothing changes or is added.  And it doesn’t include the 250 billion “doc fix” which will put it over 2 trillion.

One other thing to note – all the taxes above are only part of the plan to “pay” for this. Don’t forget the 500 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid as well (cuts that will never happen at the size projected if at all).

It’s pretty simple when you look at the numbers – this is another huge, costly program we can’t afford and we don’t need – at least in the form Congress insists on putting it in.  Common sense reform – ok.  But common sense reform doesn’t cost 2 trillion in “deficit reducing spending”.

I still can’t imagine anyone actually believing 2 trillion in new spending will reduce the deficit.

But they are – hook, line and sinker.

~McQ

[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!

Senate Update: Reconciliation Out – Luring RINOs In?

Is anyone else tired of hearing about Sarah Palin?  As an aside, she’s ginned up one heck of a media storm to push her book – I’ll give her that.  One of the best I’ve ever seen.

Anyway, on to the Senate.

First the semi-good news from the senior chamber – the Senate won’t consider the cap-and-trade economy buster bill until spring. Harry Reid, Senate majority leader and all around putz, says they simply can’t get to it before then.  That, of course, gives us the opportunity to concentrate fully on the other legislative monstrosity they’re engaged in trying to pass – health care reform.

Reports have Reid “cautiously optimistic” about getting the 60 votes necessary to invoke cloture and pass the bill.  How, you say?  Well there’s a new strategy, apparently.  Forget reconciliation and get Republican Senator Olympia Snowe on board (yes, the terrifying RINO attack).  CQ (via Brian Faughnan) reports:

Senate Democrats have abandoned plans to use a fast-track parliamentary strategy to avert a threatened Republican filibuster and pass a health care overhaul — a signal that they are considering major policy concessions to moderates.

The most significant of these could be restructuring or dropping altogether a proposed government-run insurance plan — the so-called public option — that many liberals consider a necessary part of the overhaul.

The idea, of course, is to attract at least one Republican by removing the obstacle of a “public option”. It would also supposedly allow all Democrat hold-outs (Lincoln, Landreau and Nelson) and Independent (Democrat) Joe Lieberman to support the bill.

The substitute?

One possible fallback is a proposal by Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., to create a government-sanctioned insurance plan that would be available only in states deemed to lack affordable private insurance plans. Under Carper’s plan, the insurance plan would be structured as a private nonprofit entity, run by a board appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate…

You have to love the use of “private” immediately followed by the president having to be “confirmed by the Senate”. Yeah, no undue pressure can be brought to bear in that sort of a set-up can there?

Anyway, the entire point of Carper’s plan is to lure Olympia Snowe on board (the fact that it isn’t a public option should bring Lieberman and others on board – or at least that appears to be the thinking):

…[Carper’s] proposal is similar to one Maine Republican Olympia J. Snowe offered that would create a “trigger” for the public option, making it available only if private insurers fail to meet deadlines and targets for affordable insurance plans.

What a coincidence. A plan that a RINO could love. Of course the details have yet to be set in concrete:

Carper said he was still discussing how the government would determine whether private insurance in a state is unaffordable. A bill the Finance Committee approved (S 1796) deems insurance unaffordable if premiums consume more than 10 percent of a policyholder’s income.

The government would lend money to the new nonprofit for startup costs. After that, Carper said, the plan would have to be self-sufficient.

Of course the policyholders may not care that premiums consume more than 10% of their income if the benefits warrant that. However, as I recall, the plan is to tax “Cadillac plans” into oblivion anyway – so we can all suffer the same mundane “benefits” despite our willingness to pay for more. So I would think the trigger would never be pulled. Oh, what am I saying, this is government we’re talking about – triggers are mechanisms placed in bills to allay legislative fears and give legislators cover back home when explaining their vote. All of them know that there is every intention, if a trigger is placed in the legislation, of finding an excuse to pull it. And my guess is they’ll use the same sort of math to decide to pull the trigger as they have in computing “saved and lost jobs”.

Secondly, does anyone believe that if the government gives this new “nonprofit” startup money, it won’t save it if it begins to fail? If so, I’ll have to ask which turnip truck you fell off of last night. This, like the vast majority of the legislation on health care, is all smoke and mirrors designed only to provide political cover for its passage.

That’s apparently the developing plan in the Senate. Reid has to get this done and passed before Dec. 18th when Congress plans on going into recess until next year. Your job, should you decide to take it, is to ensure they go home unhappy and unfulfilled with this legislation still marked as “pending”.

~McQ

[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!

Harry Reid: Good For Me, But Not Thee

Democrats have become rather adept at including things in bills which the Republicans don’t support but because of the overall bill in which they’re included, can’t vote against.   The hate crime legislation is a good example – it was included in a bill which authorized defense spending.

Apparently Republicans are trying to play the same game now:

Senate leaders remained at an impasse Wednesday over adding tax provisions to a bill that would extend unemployment insurance benefits to millions of jobless workers.

The impasse:

But Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., remained at loggerheads on what other amendments the chamber might consider. Republicans have been pushing for amendments on the community group ACORN and on the E-Verify system that checks potential employees’ immigration status.

Turnabout is fair play in politics, but Harry Reid finds this all to be just a terrible bother:

Reid called those amendments “vexatious,” “argumentative,” and “not relevant.”

Of course when Reid is adding hate crime legislation to a defense appropriation bill, it isn’t at all vexatious, argumentative or “not relevant”. It was simply business as usual.

~McQ

[ad] Empty ad slot (#1)!

“Cram Down” Bill Defeated By Senate

An moment of sanity prevailed in the Senate today:

For the second time in two years, a provision to allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages died in the Senate today, handing the Obama administration a significant defeat in its plans for arresting the foreclosure crisis.

Supporters argued the measure would keep 1.7 million borrowers in their homes, but it ultimately foundered in the face of fierce financial industry and Republican opposition. The bankruptcy modification provision, which was offered an amendment to a broader housing bill, failed by a vote of 45 to 51.

I love how this is reported by the WaPo. The measure failed because of ‘fierce financial industry and Republican opposition?”

Apparently it failed because 14 Democratic Senators said “no”.

Of course, passage of such a measure would make legal contracts in this country subject to review by the courts and arbitrarily changed based on political concerns. Certainly, in this case, such power is only being given for changing mortgage amounts – but as we all know, precedent is what courts operate under, and such a precedent would just as certainly be used to attempt to give the court similar power with other types of contracts.

It’s a phenomenally bad idea, but one you can expect to see attempted again and again, as promised by Dick Durbin:

“I’ll be back. I’m not going to quit on this,” said Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who sponsored the measure.

[…]

“At some point the Senators in this chamber will decide the bankers shouldn’t write the agenda for the United States Senate. At some point the people in this chamber will decide the people we represent are not the folks working in the big banks, but the folks struggling to make a living and struggling to keep a decent home.”

You’ve got to love the populist rhetoric and the absolute misrepresentation of what he and those that were trying to get this monstrosity passed were attempting. A fundamental change in how this country has operated since its inception. If courts can arbitrarily change the terms of a contract for social/political reasons, we’re doomed. And that’s precisely what Durbin and his ilk are proposing.

Unfortunately I have no confidence that he won’t manage, at some future time, to push this piece of legislation through. But at the moment, it’s where it needs to be – in the virtual garbage heap of bad legislation.

~McQ

Knowing Your Base And Not Really Caring What They Think

I have to admit I’m surprised that the bill that came out of markup was smaller than either the House or Senate version of the bill. That’s a true rarity. If it wasn’t such a bad bill, I’d have to complement the three Republican Senators who helped negotiate it.  It speaks to how badly the Democrats want to be able to say “bi-partisan” when they talk about it.  It won’t fly of course, but it does demonstrate the point.

“I’m all for bipartisanship, but I don’t consider three Republican senators bipartisan,” said Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who oversees economic recovery issues for the CBC. “Let’s not deny who we are legislatively for three senators.”

But they have to deny it if you can believe a 790 billion dollar bill denies much of anything. Are we so numbed to the numbers that some think that what these people came up with is a significant savings? Do we not understand what 1.2 trillion (including interest) means?

Good grief.

Of course “progressives” are very unhappy with the final bill:

Some House Democrats are working furiously to reinstate funds the Senate cut from an $789 billion economic stimulus package speeding to the floor this week.

In particular, progressive Democrats and members of the Congressional Black Caucus would like to see more money for social spending programs that was cut from the Senate package over the weekend in a deal with three moderate Republican senators. It’s not clear if they will get all their wishes, but the deal announced this afternoon will be finalized in the coming hours.

The CBC sent House negotiators a letter Wednesday asking them to add an additional $4.2 billion for the federal government to lend states money to acquire foreclosed homes, another $4 billion for job-training programs and $14 billion for school construction.

Question: Does anyone think any of the Democratic leadership cares one whit what the CBC wants put back in there? Furthermore, does anyone think the CBC won’t vote for this if they don’t get their way?

Nope – three Republican Senators and the ability to say “bi-partisan”, no matter how thin it sounds, is far more valuable to the Dems than the CBC. And not for the first time.

~McQ