Health Care Bill's Public Option Still Popular
The "public option"--a government run health insurance plan people could choose if
they are unhappy with commercial alternatives--remains quite popular according to a new
In this poll, 58% of the respondents say it is extremely important to have this
choice and another 19% say it is quite important. In contrast, 7% say it not important
and 15% say it is not at all important. Clearly, the much-publicized town hall meetings
this month have not moved public opinion very much. Interestingly, the number are pretty
much the same among all demographic groups. Men, women, whites, blacks, college graduates, noncollege
graduates, young people, old people, etc. feel pretty much the same way, with huge
majorities favoring a public option.
Pelosi Says She Can't Pass a Bill Without a Public Option
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has
she can't pass a health reform bill without a public option in it.
Of course, Pelosi herself supports such an option so her words probably don't have a lot
of meaning. She is just trying to gain support for her ideas. If the 52
conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the House were to stick together and she were faced
with the choice between a bill without a public option or no bill at all, who knows what
she would do--other than try to peel off 13 of them to get 218 votes.
Two-Bill Scenario Gaining Credibility
One possible scenario that is becoming more plausible by the day is that the House will
pass a health insurance reform bill that includes a public option and the Senate will pass
one without a public option. At that point the bills go to a conference committee made up
of members from both chambers to try to hammer out a compromise. If the leaders were
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) it could get very messy since the two
really don't see eye to eye. One
that Democratic leaders are starting to seriously consider is that the conference committee
split the bill into two parts. Bill 1 would contain the portions that all Senate
Democrats agree on, such as a law prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating against
people with preexisting conditions, a ban on annual and lifetime caps on
reimbursement, and an individual mandate to buy health insurance.
Such a bill could probably get the 60 votes to invoke cloture and pass via the normal
procedure. A handful of Republicans might even vote for it, such as the two senators from
Maine and perhaps one or two of the retiring senators who are now free to vote their conscience.
Bill 2 would contain the controversial material, such as the public option and
the financing. Possible ways of financing health care for people who can't afford it
include a surtax on the rich, limiting the tax exemption on expensive employer-supplied
health plans, a tax on sugary soft drinks, and other things. All of these taxes have
strong enemies. This second bill would use the reconciliation process, which cannot be
filibustered and requires the votes of only 50 senators and Vice President Joe Biden to pass.
Going this route would anger the Republicans beyond belief, even when they were
reminded that reconciliation was how George Bush got his tax cuts through the Senate.
The reconciliation process has some disadvantages though. It is only supposed to be
used for budgetary issues. This provision was added by Sen. Robert Byrd when the
procedure was established and the process
of vetting a bill to see if it contains only budgetary items (and not new policy) is
known as giving the bill a Byrd bath. The Byrd bath is performed by the Senate
parliamentarian. However, the Senate can overrule him by majority vote. The current parliamentarian
is a man named Alan Frumin
who was hired in 2001 after the Republican-controlled Senate fired the previous
parliamentarian, Robert Dove, because it didn't like some of his rulings.
If the Democrats didn't like Frumin's rulings, they could fire him, too, and replace
him with someone more amenable to their views.
Another problem with reconciliation is that anything passed that way expires in 5 years
and has to be renewed then. Who knows what Congress will look like in 2014, or who will
be President then? Still, this two-bill strategy is looming larger as it becomes clear
that a bipartisan deal in the Senate is increasingly unlikely.
Kennedy Wants to Change Massachusetts Law for Filling Senate Vacancies
The Democrats' hopes of getting the health bill through the Senate relies on having
the 60 votes to invoke cloture on at least part of the legislation. While they do have
60 votes now (including independents Bernie Sanders, a sure vote, and Joe Lieberman,
a likely vote), they may not when the bills are actually being voted on. Two senators
are seriously ill. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) is 91 and in failing health, although he has
appeared in the Senate several times in the past months and voted on bills. If he should
die, Gov. Joe Manchin (D-WV) would instantly replace him with another Democrat, possibly
Manchin himself. So this vote is safe for the Democrats, unless Byrd falls into a coma
and is unable to vote or even resign.
The other iffy vote is that of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) who has crusaded for health care
reform his entire life. He certainly won't miss voting if he is at all able to do so.
However, he skipped the funeral of his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, last week, something
that was undoubtedly very painful to him. But apparently he just wasn't up to it.
Whether he could be flown to the Senate and be able to cast a vote depends on his health
in the next two months. As an aside, it is worth noting that when the civil rights
bill came up for a cloture vote in 1964, Sen. Clair Engle (D-CA), who, like Kennedy, was
suffering from a brain tumor, was unable to speak, so he pointed to his eye to signify
"aye." Kennedy could do the same, if need be.
However, the situation is more complicated should Kennedy die before the bill comes to
a vote (or the reconciliation bill comes to a vote). In 2004, the Massachusetts
legislature, which is dominated by Democrats, was nervous about Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)
appointing a Republican to the Senate in the event John Kerry were to be elected President.
So they passed a law over his veto stripping the governor of the ability to appoint
senators to vacancies and instead requiring a special election within 5 months.
But having Kennedy's seat vacant for 5 months would be a disaster for the Democrats,
so Kennedy himself is now
the legislature to change the law again, allowing the governor, currently Democrat
Deval Patrick, to make a temporary appointment until the special election was held.
As a safeguard against a possible Republican governor making a future appointment, the
law could require consent of the state Senate, a body the Democrats are well entrenched in.
Senate Committees Report Fundraising
Both the Democratic and Republican senatorial committees have
their July fundraising amounts.
The Republicans raised slightly more than the Democrats and now have a net worth about
half a million dollars more than the Democrats. That is actually pretty good considering
they have little power and little ability to give goodies to their donors. Typically,
the party with the most power raises the most money.
|| $2.1 million
|| $7.2 million
|| $3.3 million
|| $3.9 million
|| $2.8 million
|| $4.4 million
|| $4.4 million
Potential Kissell Challengers Decline to Run
As many political junkies remember, in 2006 Larry Kissell (D), a totally unknown
high school teacher decided on a lark to run for Congress against a well-entrenched
multimillionaire textile heir, Robin Hayes (R). in NC-08.
Despite getting no help at all from
the DCCC on his fool's errand, he came within 329 votes of winning. He ran again in
2008 and this time, with a lot of help from the DCCC, he defeated Hayes, getting 55%
of the vote. Now both Hayes and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, Kissell's biggest worries
in 2010, seem unlikely to
Kissell in 2010. As a fairly conservative incumbent in an R+2 district without a top-tier opponent,
Kissell is likely to survive.
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