Tales from the Trail

Ho Ho Healthcare

USA-WEATHER/SNOWSTORMNothing says Christmas in Washington like a cloture vote!

Keep those fir trees, ornaments, the city blanketed in white — though of course the U.S. capital has all of those this year too. What real Washingtonians are looking for is a getaway by December 25. And with an early morning vote  today to cut off Senate debate on healthcare reform legislation, it could actually happen.

It’s all about cloture. And don’t feel bad if you’ve never seen that word before. It’s an inside-the-Beltway term that means agreeing to limit legislative debate. Cloture requires a 60-vote majority of the 100-member Senate, rather than a simple majority. It’s going to take three cloture votes to get to the final vote on the bill, expected late on Christmas Eve.

The mere fact that members of Congress are still working during the week leading up to Christmas is pushing the envelope.

Veteran Washington-watchers recall the days when U.S. lawmakers came back for a week or two after Thanksgiving and then headed home to their districts for a long holiday break. That tradition was broken, definitively, in 1998, when they stayed in session until December 19 to impeach President Bill Clinton. This year, the House of Representatives has already left town while senators hang around for a series of healthcare votes.

The first cloture vote was early on Monday, the second was this morning and a third one is expected on Wednesday.

What will be in Obama’s Christmas stocking?

The last thing Republicans want to see this Christmas is the U.S. Senate giving President Barack Obama a nicely wrapped package of health care reform legislation.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele made that plain today. He hopes the Senate will be a lousy Santa who leaves nothing in Obama’s Christmas stocking.BRITAIN

“I hope so. I really do,” he told NBC’s Today show.

Steele says that’s because the American public doesn’t want the kind of healthcare legislation that Senate Democratic leaders have been talking about lately.

Will Obama get a Senate Christmas gift?

Senate Democrats are confident they will pass a sweeping healthcare overhaul and give President Barack Obama a significant victory on one of his top domestic priorities. But will they do it by Christmas? OBAMA/

It will be hard. Right now the bill is hung up over a Democratic amendment that would allow patients and pharmacies to import cheaper prescription drugs from other countries, including Canada. Democrats are also waiting for an official cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office on a proposed compromise that would drop the government-run public option from the bill.

The compromise would call on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to contract with insurance companies to provide non-profit health plans that would be offered on proposed new insurance exchanges. The compromise would also allow people 55 to 64 to buy into the Medicare health program for the elderly.

The First Draft: Is the US healthcare debate making Americans feel better?

The healthcare reform debate brewing in the U.S. Senate may cause dyspepsia for some special interests.
    
But the mere prospect of reform could be making the American public feel better already — about health coverage, at least. That’s according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonpartisan philanthropic organization devoted to health and healthcare issues.
    
The foundation’s consumer confidence index for healthcare climbed to a new high of 104.4 points in October, as the debate gathered pace in the Senate and House of Representatives.
    
Why? There was a big jump in people’s confidence about future access to care and coverage. Fewer worried about losing their insurance and concerns about future affordability dropped, too.
    
“During a month when there was considerable momentum around health reform, including the passage of a reform bill by the Senate Finance Committee, the American public appears to be more confident about the future,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president and CEO, Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey said.
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“Americans of every ideology know that our health care system needs to be fixed and want some type of reform,” she added.
    
That last remark — “some type of reform” — could prove prophetic.
    
Republicans seem to think reform is a terrible idea and appear to be in lock-step opposition to it.
    
That leaves it to Democrats and allied independents to forge a filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority to push legislation through. Despite sharp differences within their already frayed coalition, Democratic leaders appear to be betting that the whole bunch, in the end, will opt for “some type of reform” rather than returning home empty handed for the holidays.

Photo Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (U.S. Capitol)

The First Draft: US healthcare reform as a tale of two cities

“…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
    
Charles Dickens never met U.S. senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. But he may have inadvertently captured the partisan spirit of the U.S. healthcare reform debate when he published his novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” with its famous introduction, 150 years ago.
    
Democrat Chuck and Republican Kay made clear on NBC’s Today show how many in their respective parties see the sweeping overhaul legislation that reached the U.S. Senate floor over the weekend. And by the sound of things, Washington could be two different cities. 
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Chuck seemed to present healthcare reform as a vehicle for economic salvation: “The future of the country depends on getting something done or the government will go broke, private businesses will go broke and people will go broke.”  

Or could reform lead in that other direction?    

Here’s Kay: “We are in a jobless situation in our country, an economic crisis. You are going to put taxes and mandates on business that are going to make that situation even worse. One in 10 people in America today do not have a job. Now you’re putting mandates and taxes on every individual who doesn’t have healthcare and every business that we want to ask to hire people. And yet you’re putting taxes and mandates on them that makes this unaffordable. This is a terrible idea at this time.” CONGRESS JUDGES
    
Of course, partisan differences will mean little if Democrats can retain the same 60-vote, Republican-filibuster-proof sense of community that got the bill to the floor in the first place.
    
Chuck seems confident: “We will come together for this reason. The healthcare system is broken in this sense: Medicare will be broke in seven years, private insurance doubles every six years (and) tens of millions will lose it. If we don’t do anything, that is the worst situation. And we have a good bill that cuts costs, reduces the deficit and covers more people.”
    
Either way, it’s bound to be one dickens of a debate. 

Photo credits: Reuters/Chip East (Schumer); Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Hutchison)

The First Draft: Will Giuliani try for the U.S. Senate?

He probably won’t run for New York governor but might for the U.S. Senate … or will he?
     
That’s the speculation swirling around Rudy Giuliani, the Republican former New York City mayor who walked tall after the Sept. 11 attacks and ran for U.S. president in 2008.
    
A spokeswoman says the 65-year-old former federal prosecutor has made no decisions.
    
But the New York Daily News, the New York Times  and the New York Post  all report that Giuliani has decided not to run for New York governor in 2010. USA-POLITICS
    
Analysts think he could defeat Democratic incumbent Governor David Paterson without much fuss. But overcoming a possible challenge from New York’s Democratic attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, could be have been difficult. Cuomo has not announced his candidacy.
    
The Daily News reports that Giuliani is strongly considering a Senate run against Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to fill out the remaining two years of Hillary Clinton’s term. Clinton, who lost in last year’s Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama, is now U.S. secretary of state.

The Daily News cites poll numbers showing Giuliani losing to Cuomo 53 percent to 43 percent in a race for governor,  but beating Gillibrand 54 percent to 40 percent for the Senate.

But the Senate speculation may not last long.

The New York Post quotes people close to Giuliani as saying a run for the Senate is unlikely.

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.

The First Draft: Democrats turn to Clinton in Senate healthcare push

Former President Bill Clinton is due to visit Capitol Hill today to talk healthcare reform with Senate Democrats and their independent allies. PHILANTHROPY-CLINTON/

The meeting’s important because Democrats have yet to find the 60 votes they need to stop Senate Republicans from blocking President Barack Obama’s signature domestic issue. House Democrats got their end of the job done over the weekend by passing landmark legislation.

Clinton’s presidency was overshadowed by his own failed bid to reform the healthcare system in the 1990s. But NBC said he could help sway Democrats wavering in the current debate, including Sen. Blanche Lincoln of his home state, Arkansas. CONGRESS BUDGET

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.