Capitol Hillbillies

Crucial test vote on health care reform tonight

A crucial first Senate vote on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul in a rare Saturday night session looms as a test of Democratic unity and the president’s prestige.

Democratic leaders are optimistic of success, but they need every Democrat and both independents to vote “yes,” and two moderates remained uncommitted ahead of the roll call, which is expected around 8 p.m. The vote will determine whether debate can go forward on Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 2,074-page bill to dramatically remake the U.S. health care system over the next decade.

Republicans call Democratic health plan ‘bait & switch’

Digging in for a long struggle, Republican senators and governors assailed the Democrats’ newly minted health care legislation Thursday as a collection of tax increases, Medicare cuts and heavy new burdens for deficit-ridden states.

Despite the criticism, there were growing indications Democrats would prevail on an initial Senate showdown set for Saturday night, and Majority Leader Harry Reid crisply rebutted the Republican charges. The bill “will save lives, save money and save Medicare,” he said.

The legislation is designed to answer President Barack Obama’s call to expand coverage, end industry practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions, and restrain the growth of health care spending.

Republicans saw little to like.

Let the health care debate, fireworks begin!

After months of maneuvering, the Senate stands at the brink of a historic battle over health care with President Barack Obama and his allies on one side and Republicans, outnumbered but unflinching, on the other.

“Now it’s America’s turn, and this will not be a short debate,” Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, warned after Majority Leader Harry Reid unveiled long-awaited legislation Wednesday night to extend coverage to 30 million more Americans and force insurance companies to take all comers.

“Higher premiums, tax increases and Medicare cuts to pay for more government. The American people know that is not reform,” McConnell said.

Sen. Bob Byrd now longest serving member of Congress

West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd has become the longest-serving lawmaker in congressional history, a milestone to be marked Wednesday with a Senate resolution.

“I look forward to serving you for the next 56 years and 320 days,” Byrd said in a statement marking the occasion. His only regret, Byrd said, was that his late wife, Erma, was not there with him.

“I know that she is looking down from the heavens smiling at me and saying congratulations, my dear Robert — but don’t let it go to your head,” Byrd said.

It was unclear whether Byrd would be able to attend Wednesday’s session.

Setting records is old news to the white-maned Democratic lawmaker. Since June 12, 2006, Byrd has been the longest-serving senator and later that year he was elected to an unprecedented ninth term. His colleagues have elected him to more leadership positions than any senator in history. He has cast more than 18,000 votes and, despite fragile health that has kept him from the Senate floor during much of this year, has a nearly 98 percent attendance record over the course of his career.

Health care reform foes ramp up campaigns

Business foes of health care overhaul legislation are outspending supporters at a rate of 2-to-1 for TV ads as they grow increasingly nervous over a final bill.

Led by the giant U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opponents of the Democratic health care drive have spent $24 million on TV commercials over the past month to $12 million spent by labor unions and other backers. That’s an abrupt reversal from the vast spending advantage supporters enjoyed most of this year, according to Evan Tracey, president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ads.

Abortion becomes a key issue in health care debate

Abortion rights groups, outflanked and outnumbered in the health debate, are scrambling to regain lost ground after the House passed a health bill with strict abortion limits.

They’re blanketing Capitol Hill with lobbyists, petitions, letters and phone calls in efforts to defeat the restrictions in the Senate, where debate could begin in a few days. They also have a larger goal: to prove that with their Democratic allies in control of the White House and both congressional chambers — but increasingly appealing to conservative voters who back abortion limits — they still have clout.

Congressman’s policy adviser cops fraud plea

A senior policy fellow for Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) has pleaded guilty to defrauding the government and private lenders of nearly $822,000 by using aliases to obtain student loans and more than 90 credit cards.

Ernest B. Moore, who went by Bernard Moore and Bernard Glenn-Moore on Capitol Hill, had a penchant for putting together events with marquee names — and a special legislative interest in sentencing issues and measures like the “Second Chance Act,” which is designed to help nonviolent offenders reabsorb into society.

“Who knew that he was writing that bill for himself?” quipped a former congressional aide who knows Moore.

Catholics flex their muscle in health care debate

Catholic bishops have emerged as a formidable force in the health care overhaul fight, using their clout with millions of Catholics and working behind the scenes in Congress to get strong abortion restrictions into the House bill.

They don’t spend a dime on what is legally defined as lobbying, but lawmakers and insiders recognize that the bishops’ voices matter — and they move votes. Representatives for the bishops were in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol suite negotiating with top officials last Friday evening as they reached final terms of the agreement. Earlier in the day, Pelosi, a Catholic and an abortion rights supporter, had been on the phone to Rome with Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Washington’s former archbishop, on the subject.

Bill Clinton weighs in on health care reform

Former President Bill Clinton knows just how high the political stakes are in the fight to overhaul America’s health care system.

His failed attempt to revamp the delivery of medical care contributed to the Republican takeover of the House and Senate in 1994.

Fast forward to 2009, where health care’s white-hot spotlight now shines on the Senate. Clinton is still in the picture, and he’s expected to speak to Senate Democrats about health care legislation during their weekly caucus Tuesday, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his schedule.

House health care celebration may be short-lived

After a landmark win in the House of Representatives, President Barack Obama’s push for healthcare reform faces a difficult path in the Senate amid divisions in his own Democratic Party on how to proceed.

On a 220-215 vote, including the support of one Republican and opposition from 39 Democrats, the House backed a bill late on Saturday that would expand coverage to nearly all Americans and bar insurance practices such as refusing to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions.

The battle now shifts to the Senate, where work on Obama’s top domestic priority has been stalled for weeks as Democratic leader Harry Reid searches for an approach that can win the 60 votes he needs to overcome Republican procedural hurdles.