Capitol Hillbillies

Gay-friendly legislation coming in Congress

Two of Congress’s three openly gay members said Saturday that the U.S. House is poised to pass bills to provide health coverage for the same-sex partners of gay federal workers and to protect all gay and transgender employees from job discrimination.

Speaking to an international conference of gay politicians in San Francisco, U.S. Reps. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., said they expect a domestic partner benefits bill to come up for a vote by the end of the year and the employment bill to reach the floor early in 2010.

Senators target exessive insurance salaries

Democratic senators are taking aim at insurance industry executive pay as they jockey for advantage in a rare weekend session to debate President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

Republicans are showcasing the bill’s cuts to Medicare, seeking to undermine support for the legislation among seniors and others as partisan debate rages over the sweeping remake of one-sixth of the nation’s economy.

Both sides were bracing for more grueling and unpredictable debates and negotiations Saturday, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., racing the clock to complete action on the 2,000-plus page bill by Christmas.

Sen. Baucus recommended girlfriend for U.S. Atttorney

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus was romantically involved with a former staffer when he recommended her earlier this year to become the next U.S. attorney for Montana, a spokesman said.

The Montana Democrat and his former state office director Melodee Hanes began their relationship in the summer of 2008 after Baucus separated from his wife, Ty Matsdorf told The Associated Press late Friday.

Baucus nominated Hanes for the U.S. attorney post in March. But she later withdrew, saying she had been presented with other opportunities she couldn’t pass up.

Democrats fight each other over public option

On the Senate floor, Democrats are debating Republicans on health care. Behind the scenes, they’re debating each other.

Those closed-door discussions may be less predictable — and more consequential — as majority Democrats struggle to settle controversies within the party that are standing in the way of passage of President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care overhaul. The most contentious of these is a proposal for the government to sell insurance in competition with private companies, an approach supported by liberals but opposed by most Democratic moderates and conservatives.

Democrats were engaged in urgent talks to settle the government insurance plan issue.

Despite doubts, Congress will back Obama’s war plan

President Barack Obama appears to have secured what President George W. Bush couldn’t: bipartisan support for an unpopular and faltering war.

Despite expressing an uneasiness about the details, lawmakers are poised to back Obama’s plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan after getting assurances that some soldiers and Marines will begin withdrawing in July 2011.

The strategy marks the largest expansion of the war since it began eight years ago. Critics conceded that Obama will have little trouble early next year getting Congress to provide an added $30 billion or $40 billion to carry it out.

Tempers flare in angry health care debate

A Republican senator asserted Tuesday during a rancorous floor debate that President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul will shorten the lives of America’s seniors by cutting Medicare.

“I have a message for you: You’re going to die sooner,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., an obstetrician-turned-lawmaker.

A senior Democrat decried such comments as scare tactics designed to kill legislation that he said would improve some benefits for seniors. At times, the debate recalled the raw charges and countercharges of the summer’s town hall meetings.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., defended the health care legislation, saying it would make Medicare a smarter buyer and improve prescription coverage and preventive benefits for seniors.

House will vote to extend estate tax rates

House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer said the chamber would vote this week to permanently extend the estate tax rates scheduled to expire at the end of 2009, but the road will be tougher in the Senate.

The House will take up a bill introduced last week by Democrat Earl Pomeroy to extend the current policy of taxing estates over a $3.5 million threshold at a rate of 45 percent.

“We believe that a permanent extension of the existing law is the best policy,” Steny Hoyer, the chamber’s majority leader, told reporters.

Preserving the current rates will be harder in the U.S. Senate because that body’s rules require a way to pay for it.

Get ready: Health care debate will be nasty

Democrats called it a historic opportunity. Republicans called it a sham.

Long-awaited debate over President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul kicked off in the Senate with lawmakers trading bitter partisan words over the measure to remake one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

The legislative struggle is expected to last for weeks in a test that pits GOP senators determined not to give ground against Senate Democrats determined to deliver on Obama’s signature issue.

The 10-year, nearly $1 trillion legislation includes a first-time requirement for most Americans to carry insurance, greatly expands the Medicaid federal-state insurance program for the poor, and would require insurers to cover any paying customer regardless of their medical history or condition.

Sanders opposes Bernanke renomination

Sen. Bernie SandersSenator Bernie Sanders said on Sunday he will not vote to reconfirm Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve, in a preview of the rough treatment Bernanke may get this week on Capitol Hill.

The central bank chief will testify on Thursday before the Senate Banking Committee at a hearing on his nomination to a second four-year term. The session could be difficult, with the Fed under fire from across the political spectrum.

Democrats: Health care reform will pass, but…

Leading Democrats on Sunday said they expect Congress to pass a major healthcare reform backed by President Barack Obama, but supporters may have to accept legislation that falls short on some issues.

The U.S. Senate on Monday is set to begin debate on the sweeping overhaul of the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system amid growing concerns about the cost of the legislation that aims to provide medical coverage for millions of the uninsured.

“We want to cover the uninsured, yes, but we don’t want to do it in a way that’s going to drive up the costs for folks who currently have it,” said Senator Evan Bayh, one of a number of centrist Democrats whose support will be crucial to pass the overhaul in the face of solid Republican opposition.