Tales from the Trail

Senate surprise: tax cosmetic surgery

The Senate’s healthcare reform legislation published by Democratic leaders last night included a big surprise for anyone saving up to enhance or undo what God gave them — a new 5 percent tax on elective cosmetic procedures. OBAMA/

The tax would take effect beginning in January and is being proposed as part of the sweeping healthcare overhaul to partly pay the cost of helping millions of uninsured people obtain medical coverage.

It would raise nearly $6 billion over 10 years, and who knows, perhaps even a few lawmakers might be enhancing the Federal Treasury if the tax ends up in a final bill signed by President Barack Obama.

The tax proposal came as a bit of a surprise to investors, and shares of Allergan, which markets popular wrinkle fighting Botox and Natrelle breast implants, fell in early trading along with the share prices of other makers of products for cosmetic procedures.

BRITAIN/It is possible that the proposed new tax will be cut from the bill during the upcoming Senate debate.

The First Draft: More is Less

The Senate has spoken — for the moment. But it’s definitely not in one voice.

Senator Harry Reid, the leader of Democrats, last night unveiled a healthcare bill cobbled from two Senate versions.  USA/

At 2,074 pages, it is longer than the 1,990-page House bill. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office put the plan’s 10-year cost at $849 billion, which is below President Barack Obama’s $900 billion goal and the House bill which came in at more than $1 trillion.

Senator Byrd sets record for congressional longevity: 20,774 days

Dubbed “the world’s most exclusive club and deliberative body,” the U.S. Senate is packed with white-haired lawmakers, many of whom have served in the chamber for decades.

While Americans generally retire in their mid-60s or so, about half of the 100 senators are 65 years or older.

And one of them, Democrat Robert Byrd, 91, of West Virginia, set the record on Wednesday as the longest serving member of the U.S. Congress ever — 20,774 days. OBAMA/BUDGET

Republican sees Democrats passing healthcare overhaul

Sarah Palin says on her Facebook page that the healthcare overhaul passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week should be “Dead on Arrival” in the U.S. Senate. 

The House-passed bill, which includes a new government health insurance plan, may not be what the mooseSenate passes. But the far-reaching healthcare reform backed by President Barack Obama is far from dead. At least one influential Republican senator believes Congress will enact sweeping legislation.

“I think a bill is going to pass,” said New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg. In an interview with C-Span’s “Newsmakers” that will air on Sunday, Gregg said Obama has invested too much political capital in his top domestic priority to allow it to fail. Gregg once considered joining the Obama administration, but now has become a major critic of Obama’s proposed healthcare reform and its impact on the country’s mounting debt.

Clinton hopes for success where his effort failed

Former President Bill Clinton is clearly hoping that Congress succeeds this time around where his administration failed 15 years ago.

clintonAnd perfection is not required — just get healthcare reform done. That was Clinton’s message to Senate Democrats who are now behind the steering wheel in trying to move legislation forward.

Clinton’s own effort to overhaul the healthcare system in 1994 fizzled long before reaching this far — the House of Representatives approved its version of a bill last weekend.

Abortion issue hard to avoid in healthcare debate

Like it or not, the healthcare debate has turned into a fracas over abortion rights.

pelosifingerU.S. House Democratic leaders had hoped to avoid just that in their push to expand healthcare coverage and reform the health insurance market.

But getting the votes to pass the historic legislation on Saturday boiled down to settling a dispute between pro-choice and pro-life forces over abortion.

Politics aside, Al and Joe still friends

A lot has happened since the 2000 presidential race, when two Senate Democrats headed their party’s ticket in a losing campaign for the White House.

Al Gore, the former vice president and 2000 Democratic presidential nominee, went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize, an Oscar and a Grammy after his documentary on climate change.

gore

His running mate, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, left the Democratic party to become an independent, which put him in a position of power player in the Senate. And now he’s a pivotal force as the congressional healthcare debate inches toward resolution.

Senate healthcare bill: Opt-out is in, Snowe is not

The opt-out is in.

USA HEALTHCARE/REIDThe Senate healthcare reform legislation will include a form of public option that would allow states to opt out of participating in a government-run insurance plan if they choose.

And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says his Democrats will support it.

“While the public option is not a silver bullet, I believe it’s an important way to ensure competition and to level the playing field for patients with the insurance industry,” Reid said.

But by including the opt-out, the Democrats lost the lone Republican senator to vote for healthcare legislation — Senator Olympia Snowe from Maine — who opted out because of the opt-out.

Senate recess shortened, Reid says there’s work to do

Things are really getting serious in the U.S. Congress. Telltale sign: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday shortened the Columbus Day recess.

With plenty of work to do, particularly on healthcare, and polls showing only one in four Americans approve of Congress, Reid cut the Senate recess to two days from the previously scheduled five. FINANCIAL/

“With all the things going on here, it just would not be right for us to take that week off,” Reid announced on the Senate floor. “I apologize to everyone.”

Democratic strategist: don’t bet against Harry Reid

A top Democratic strategist has a tip for political gamblers: Don’t bet against Harry Reid.

OBAMA/Polls show the embattled Senate majority leader in jeopardy of being rejected by voters in his home state of Nevada for a fifth, six-year term. But Robert Menendez, the Senate Democratic campaign chief, said he expects Reid to pull through next year.

“I’m convinced that Harry Reid will win,” Menendez told reporters on Tuesday at the headquarters for the Senate Democratic campaign committee. “I would not bet against Harry Reid.”