Health Care Reform Hits the Road
The health care reform battle is heating up on several fronts. While the president takes his reform message the people, the volunteers who powered his campaign are listening to Americans and gathering their stories. USAToday:
Organizing for America, the Democratic group drawn from Obama’s campaign e-mail lists, is busy collecting chronicles about the existing health care system: People who have lost their insurance, can’t pay their medical bills, or see their businesses threatened by rising costs.
The hope is that the weight of testimony will pressure Congress into translating Obama’s vision for health care reform into legislation. It is a test for the volunteer organization that figures to be part of Obama’s re-election effort in 2012.
…On June 27, volunteers are planning events nationwide. The schedule includes a healthy-food walk in Muncie, Ind., a seminar on writing persuasive letters to Congress in Wauwatosa, Wis., and a blood drive in High Point, N.C. In the weeks ahead, they also will be working phone banks and walking neighborhoods to drum up support.
Along the way, people will be recording their experiences with the current health care system. “The most powerful thing we have at the grass-roots level is people’s stories,” said Dan Grandone, the Wisconsin state director with Organizing for America
Campaign for America’s Future’s Bernie Horn heard some of those stories and shared them (including his own), as he continued the discussion on single-payer health care reform.
Even as he raises the stakes on health reform, President Obama is also lowering expectations, telling Americans that a complete overhaul could take years. AP:
He told people in Wisconsin that it will take a few years to implement every change in any legislation.
Obama says there are some things that can be done quickly. But he says it will take four or five years after a bill is passed to have a whole system set up.
The president is calling on Americans to support his health care reform proposal. Volunteers are calling on Americans to share their health insurance horror stories. But wait, here come the number crunchers. MSNBC:
Whether President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats succeed in crafting health insurance legislation may depend as much on faceless analysts in the Congressional Budget Office as it does on the political calculus of the situation.
That’s because the CBO’s determination whether a specific proposal’s revenue and cost projections add up will go a long way toward determining if it will fly.
If CBO concludes the legislation will cost more than expected, support for the bill might erode and it could go down to defeat. On the other hand, if the CBO estimates that a particular provision will save many billions of dollars, that could help build critical mass for the legislation.
WaPo’s Ezra Klein says "Don’t Overestimate the Congressional Budget Office":
As I argued in my introduction to the CBO, the CBO is an responsible economic analysis agency operating inside an irresponsible Congress. Everyone knows its mandate and its limitations. Its estimates are, by definition, conservative, because the CBO can only give you numbers based on old ideas that we’ve tried and studied, not new ideas that we’re preparing to implement. As a senator once said to me, it’s like a navigator who tells you where you’re going by staring into the rearview mirror.
Members of Congress knows all this. If they think health-care reform is worth it, they’ll vote to pass the legislation. If they don’t, they won’t. The CBO’s judgments matter for budgetary reasons. But passage will be a function of the Congress’s judgment, not the CBO’s estimate.
Robert Parry of Consortium News says that to understand the financial stakes involved in health care reform, the two most important numbers to keep in mind are 50 million and 119 million:
[A]s Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. noted, the 50 million potential customers explain why the insurance companies have been so eager to sit down at the reform table.
…But Dionne and other mainstream analysts miss the significance of the other number – 119 million – and why it is even a more powerful incentive for private insurers to have the ear of key members of Congress and White House insiders. It is the figure that the industry and its backers cite as the potential exodus of disaffected customers to a public health insurance option.
The industry’s curious argument is that so many Americans would bolt to a government-run program that the option simply can’t be allowed.
Not that there was any doubt, but the insurance industry knows the financial stakes involved, if their increased spending on lobbying is any indication. USAToday:
The largest medical insurers and drug companies spent 41% more on lobbying this year as Congress began debate on an overhaul of health care, which may include a public insurance plan the industries oppose.
Despite an overall decline in lobbyist spending this year, a USA TODAY review of disclosure reports found 20 of the largest health insurance and drug companies and their trade groups spent nearly $35 million in the first quarter of 2009, up more than $10 million from the same period last year.
Drug and insurance companies support many changes Congress is considering but generally oppose government-run insurance, which President Obama touted Thursday in Green Bay, Wis. Public insurance is facing criticism from business groups and the American Medical Association, which will host Obama on Monday in Chicago.
Spending more on lobbyists may pay off for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Senate Democrats are offering to scrap the public plan option as a “compromise” on health car reform. McClatchy:
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the chairman of the Finance Committee, signaled his willingness Thursday to compromise to attract enough GOP support to pass the legislation in the Senate this summer with as many as 70 votes.
Baucus emerged from a morning session with key Republicans and Democrats saying he was “inclined toward” jettisoning the proposed government insurance program, which President Barack Obama endorsed last week, in favor of a new proposal to create national, state and regional health care insurance cooperatives.
Republicans oppose the public insurance option, saying it would undermine the private insurance industry and lead to a national health insurance system. Some conservative Democrats also are skeptical of the public plan option, even as they and Baucus support Obama’s goals.
Baucus said that the public insurance plan option is “so opposed at this point by Republicans” that “it’s basically the question of, well, gee, what do we have to do to compromise to get health care passed this year?”
Well, gee. Senator, what’s it worth to ya? OpenSecrets counts pharmaceuticals, HMOs, health professionals, hospitals, and the insurance industry the top 20 industries contributing to Baucus’ campaign coffers — to the tune of more than $2 million for 2005 – 2010.
The financial stakes in health care reform are pretty big for small business, according to a recent study. Reuters:
Small businesses would benefit significantly from an overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system even if they were required to help pay for the medical coverage of their employees, a study release on Thursday said.
The study commissioned by Small Business Majority, a nonprofit healthcare advocacy group, said small businesses could save as much as $855 billion over the next decade with a broad overhaul that aims to reduce costs and provide medical coverage to millions of uninsured.
Many small businesses are opposed to the idea of requiring employers to help pay for their workers’ medical coverage.
…The study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Jonathan Gruber assumes lawmakers will include some tax benefits for small businesses that offer health insurance and penalty payments for employers who do not.
What proressives knows and some Senate Democrats don’t, when it comes to health reform (among other issues), ePluribus Media’s Carol White sums up as she concludes a three-part seires of posts on the America’s Future Now! conference.
The sweeping Democratic party victory in the last election signalled that a majority of Americans were no longer willing to buy the into the illusion pedalled by right-wing ideologues, that the magic of the market place and greed constituted the American Dream, now that more and more people were faced with a nightmare reality
…President Obama may or may not rise up to the challenge but much will depend on how successful grass-roots organizing will be in strengthening the clout of the Progressive Caucus in the House and Senate. As the polls show Americans are looking to the President and Congress to enact progressive legislation.
In a speech given on Jan.1941, FDR said:
The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are equality of opportunity for youth and for others; jobs for those who can work; security for those who need it; the ending of special privilege for the few.
That still represents the American Dream and defines the task before us.
CEOs In the Hot Seat
It’s been brewing for couple of days now, as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigated claims that former Treasury Sec. Henry Paulson and Fed chairman Ben Bernanke pressured Bank of America chief Ken Lewis to take over Merrill Lynch. But the rhetoric around the investigate just ratcheted up an notch. BBC:
US lawmakers have accused the US Treasury of “putting a gun to the head” of Bank of America boss Ken Lewis over the bank’s takeover of Merrill Lynch.
The allegation, also leveled at the Federal Reserve, was made as Mr Lewis testified in front of Congressmen.
Mr Lewis said he had not been put under undue pressure and the takeover was in the best interests of shareholders.
Bank of America bought Merrill last year, a move that reduced its cash reserves when it needed them most.
The FDIC is keeping up the pressure on Citigroup, and CEO Vikram Pandit says the company “will continue to shrink” as it returns to its core. Businessweek:
Can you give shareholders a sense of how different Citi is today than it was, say, a year ago?
We’re a much smaller Citigroup. More important, we want to be Citicorp, not Citigroup, going forward. Citicorp is our global bank for consumers and businesses. At the same time, we’ve also decided there are some businesses we need to sell. We closed one of them, the Morgan Stanley Smith Barney joint venture. And we’re methodically selling and rationalizing what we call Citi Holdings.
So it sounds as though the jewel at Citicorp is plain-vanilla banking.
We are going back to our core. This is a unique franchise. We are in 109 countries around the world. We move $3 trillion to $9 trillion in cash every day around the world, and 99% of the Fortune 500 are our clients. And we have very strong regional banks, particularly in the emerging markets.
Move over, CEOs. Make room on that hot seat of yours. Financial disclosure forms reveal some top lawmakers are heavily invested in bailed-out firms. WaPo:
From stock holdings to retirement funds to mortgages, more than 20 House leaders and members of the House Financial Services Committee had large personal stakes in the Wall Street powerhouses whose collapse last year led to an unprecedented government intervention in the marketplace. In some instances those lawmakers, like millions of other investors, sold their holdings at steep losses while others retained the stocks at greatly diminished value.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her husband lost hundreds of thousands of dollars investing in American International Group, which has received $170 billion in government loans and cash injections, making it by far the largest recipient of federal bailout dollars. Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and his wife held stock, retirement plans and other investments worth at least $183,000 and as much as $495,000 in firms benefiting from federal government rescue efforts, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
…The disclosure forms require lawmakers to reveal a broad range of personal holdings and liabilities but not the precise value. Lawmakers are not required to disclose any information about their primary residence, only on rental properties that they own, and they do not have to reveal the terms of those mortgages. Also, Congress requires only that lawmakers list the place of employment and board memberships for spouses, not their annual salaries or director’s fees received by spouses.
Some ethics watchdogs were critical of members of Congress for investing directly in companies they oversee. “You wonder if they’re voting on things because it’s good for the country or because it would increase their personal wealth,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
It’s (Still) the Economy
Earlier this week, the Fed said that while the economy hasn’t quite turned the corner yet, Americans overall mood is improving. Maybe the Fed should tell that to working Americans facing tough times in this downturn. USAToday:
The employed worked fewer hours in May – an average of just 33.1 hours a week — than at any time since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began counting in 1964. Part-time work is at a record high. Overtime is at a record low.
The magnitude of job losses — 6 million jobs gone, a 9.4% unemployment rate — has overshadowed the groundbreaking nature of the nation’s employment troubles, especially the financial decline of those still working.
“You can rip a whole chapter out of your Economics 101 textbook because the job market isn’t behaving the way we were taught,” says David Rosenberg, chief economist at money manager Gluskin Sheff and Associates.
Even working people have less to spend.
Not to mention the drop in wealth that all of the above amounts to for American families, to the tune of a $1.3 trillion drop in household net worth. Reuters.