A Senate panel on Tuesday rejected a government-run "public" insurance option as part of a broad healthcare overhaul, handing insurers an early victory and setting the stage for a long fight over one of the bill's most contentious issues.
The two votes in the Senate Finance Committee were the first of several battles expected in Congress over a public insurance option, a flashpoint in the raging debate over President Barack Obama's top domestic priority.
The panel's Democratic chairman, Max Baucus, opposed both amendments and said Democrats could not muster the 60 Senate votes needed to clear Republican procedural hurdles and pass a healthcare reform bill if it includes the public option.
A sweeping health overhaul bill has survived a major challenge from the left, but onslaughts loom from the right on thorny issues including abortion and insurance coverage for illegal immigrants.
Liberal Democrats failed in two efforts Tuesday to include a government-run insurance option in the legislation before the Senate Finance Committee. Finance is the last of five congressional panels completing work on President Barack Obama's No. 1 domestic priority, a top-to-bottom reshaping of the U.S. health care system to hold down costs and extend coverage to the uninsured.
Wall Street has spent close to $11 million this year to buy votes in the Senate and the vote it covets most comes from New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer.
Schumer has pocketed $1.65 million in campaign contributions from the financial industry -- more than twice the amount to other Democrats and 500 percent more than contributions to any Republican.
While spending by big business is down in recession-driven economy, it's clear the boys with the bucks are counting on Democrats to save their bacon in the halls of Congress.
Senate Republicans on Friday pulled out of a bipartisan investigation into controversial "war on terror" detentions and interrogations, including tactics widely condemned as torture.
The move by the opposition party dealt a sharp blow to the Senate Intelligence Committee's efforts to find out exactly what methods were used when and whether they paid off -- without prosecuting witnesses or agents thought to have committed abuses.
Senator Kit Bond, the panel's top Republican, blamed Attorney General Eric Holder's investigation into alleged CIA abuse of detainees, which he said made it impossible for current or former CIA officials to work with the committee.
Republicans say Democrats have ignored the public's concerns in drafting new health care legislation under debate in the Senate Finance Committee.
Democrats are giving the public anything but an "open, honest and bipartisan debate," Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said in the GOP's weekly radio and Internet address.
The Finance Committee is the last of five congressional committees to take up health care legislation, which tops President Barack Obama's domestic agenda.
Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., negotiated with top Republicans on the panel for weeks before talks broke down. Baucus' bill leaves out a primary demand of many Democrats — that reform include a government insurance option — and it has a lower price tag than other Democratic proposals.
A former executive assistant to California Rep. Loretta Sanchez was sentenced Friday to three years probation for stealing office funds to get herself pizza, groceries, airline tickets and an authorized bonus.
Caroline Valdez, a 28-year-old engaged mother from Arlington, Va., could have faced up to six months in prison for forging the Democratic congresswoman's signature to get $6,000 in bonus salary in 2006 and using Sanchez's House credit card for the personal expenses. But prosecutors supported Valdez's request for probation, agreeing that she has accepted responsibility by pleading guilty and repaying what she stole.
Massachusetts on Thursday named a Democratic replacement to fill the late Edward Kennedy's Senate seat, giving President Barack Obama a vital extra vote in his health care reform battle.
Governor Deval Patrick named Paul Kirk, 71, as an interim replacement to Kennedy, whose death last month left the Senate one vote short of a critical 60 votes needed to block any Republican efforts to stall debate on a health care bill.
The additional Senate vote is more needed than ever, as Obama fights to push health reform through a skeptical US Congress.
"This appointment is a profound honor," said Kirk, making clear that his appointment was only temporary until new elections could be held.
With no Social Security cost-of-living increase expected in January, House Democrats want to cancel all of next year's premium increases for Medicare Part B recipients.
Most seniors won't face a Medicare premium increase anyway, but Democrats say those few who would should be shielded. A vote on a bill to stop the Part B increases was scheduled for Thursday.
With no Social Security cost-of-living allowance, the vast majority of Medicare recipients already are exempt from premium increases for Part B, which provides coverage for doctor's visits. However, a small group of seniors would face increases. The standard premium is projected to go from $96.40 a month this year to $104.20 a month in 2010. Some could face premiums high as $120 a month, according to House Democrats.
Senate Finance Committee Democrats have rejected a GOP amendment that would have required a health overhaul bill to be available online for 72 hours before the committee votes.
Republicans argued that transparency is an Obama administration goal. They also noted that their constituents are demanding that they read bills before voting.
Democrats said it was a delay tactic that could have postponed a vote for weeks.
The Democrats noted that unlike other committees, the Finance Committee works off conceptual language that describes policies — instead of legislative language that ultimately becomes law, and which the GOP amendment would have required.
Democrats accepted an alternate amendment to make conceptual language available online before a vote.
With no end in sight to the country's job market woes, the House has agreed to give the jobless in a majority of states another 13 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits.
The bill, which passed the House 331-83 , approves the extra three months of benefits for those jobless living in 27 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, with unemployment rates topping 8.5 percent. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate. The longtime unemployed in states with lower levels of joblessness would not get the extension.