Capitol Hillbillies

Joe Lieberman: The monkey wrench in Democratic plans

Senate Democrats who thought they had found a workable compromise on health care reform learned otherwise from independent Sen. Joe Lieberman over the weekend.

The Connecticut senator, whose vote is critical to the bill’s prospects, threatened Sunday to join Republicans in opposing health care legislation if it permits uninsured individuals as young to 55 to purchase Medicare coverage.

Lieberman expressed his opposition twice Sunday: first in an interview with CBS, and more strongly later, according to Democratic officials, in a private meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Obama applauds passage of financial restructuring

President Barack Obama on Saturday applauded House passage of an ambitious restructuring of federal financial regulations designed to correct failures that led to the economic meltdown.

He called for quick action by the Senate “because we should never again find ourselves in the position in which our only choices are bailing out banks or letting our economy collapse.”

The bill would grant the government new powers to split up companies that threaten the economy, create a new agency to oversee consumer banking transactions and shine a light into shadow financial markets that have escaped federal oversight.

Health care bill loophole benefits insurance companies

A loophole in the Senate health care bill would let insurers place annual dollar limits on medical care for people struggling with costly illnesses such as cancer, prompting a rebuke from patient advocates.

The legislation that originally passed the Senate health committee last summer would have banned such limits, but a tweak to that provision weakened it in the bill now moving toward a Senate vote.

As currently written, the Senate Democratic health care bill would permit insurance companies to place annual limits on the dollar value of medical care, as long as those limits are not “unreasonable.” The bill does not define what level of limits would be allowable, delegating that task to administration officials.

House waters down curbs on Wall Street abuses

House Democrats head into the final stretch on a long-awaited Wall Street regulation bill with two crucial and contentious votes looming before they can declare victory on one of President Barack Obama’s legislative priorities.

The sweeping regulatory overhaul aims to address the myriad conditions that led to last year’s financial crisis.

Test votes during two days of debate indicate that Democratic support for the underlying legislation will hold in final passage. Prodded by moderates, however, nearly half the Democrats teamed up with Republicans late Thursday to loosen restrictions on derivatives and reject tougher regulations.

Black lawmakers to Obama: Put up or shut up

Rep. Barbara Lee

Long-silent black members of Congress are fed up with what they see as President Barack Obama’s failure to deliver on promises to the minority communities.

So they are stepping up efforts to make Obama put up or shut up.

And their frustration is starting to show.

Congress wants to question gate crashers

A congressional panel voted on Wednesday to subpoena a married couple who slipped into a White House dinner, making them the world’s most famous gate crashers and raising questions about security.

The subpoenas direct Tareq Salahi and his wife, Michaele Salahi, to appear on January 20 before the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee.

On back-to-back votes of 26-3 and 27-2, the committee authorized the subpoenas of the two in response to the Virginia couple’s refusal to come before the panel voluntarily last week.

Senate drops public option (maybe) from health plan

Sen. Harry ReidDemocrats in the Senate agreed Tuesday night to drop the controversial public option plan from health care reform legislation and replaced it with a privatized program with government oversight.

The deal, however, still allows creation of a government-run program if private companies cannot deliver what Uncle Sam wants.

Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, under fire for what many consider lackluster leadership in the health care debate and other issues, hails the deal as a “breakthrough” and says deal will “overcome a real problem” Democrats had with the on-again, off-again public option.

But the deal, hailed by Democrats, still faces opposition from Republicans and possibly some Democrats so the debate may be far from over.

Public option watered down in Senate

Sen. Ben NelsonThey may still call it a “public plan,” but private insurers — not the government — would offer coverage under a compromise Democrats are considering to win Senate passage of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

The latest idea bears little resemblance to the original vision outlined by liberals, and embraced by Obama, during the 2008 presidential campaign. That called for the government to sell insurance to workers and their families in competition with industry giants like UnitedHealthcare.

Congress wants answers about Afghan war plan

Gen. Stanley McChrystalCongressional Democrats plan to give the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan a chance Tuesday to explain how he will use an emergency infusion of 30,000 U.S. forces and whether he will be able to assure lawmakers that these troops will begin to be brought home in 18 months.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal is the star witness for a second round of congressional questioning since President Barack Obama announced the Afghanistan war surge last week. McChrystal had warned of failure without an addition of about 40,000 U.S. forces and, like other military leaders, he has made clear that the 18-month timeline is not a firm deadline to close out the war.

Abortion remains divisive issue on health care reform

Sen. Harry ReidBuoyed by a presidential pep talk and intense rounds of negotiations, Senate Democrats hope to move closer to embracing a major health care bill this week by tackling the nettlesome issue of abortion.

Anti-abortion lawmakers in both parties have insisted that taxpayer funds not be used to pay for abortions in government-run health programs. But some liberals say proposed restrictions go too far by barring federally subsidized health insurance plans from covering abortion even if the procedures were entirely paid for with customers’ premiums.