Capitol Hillbillies

Senators pledge ‘no failure’ on health care reform

Top Senators working with the White House to merge rival health care bills reported no breakthroughs after a first day of talks but promised that “failure is not an option.”

The congressional front of US President Barack Obama’s historic fight to remake health care has moved behind closed doors as his Democratic allies seek a consensus bill before final votes in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hosted talks with top White House aides including chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, as well as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Senator Christopher Dodd, who shepherded a version of the legislation through the Senate’s health committee.

Health care reform clears Senate hurdle

Historic legislation to expand U.S. health care and control costs won its first Republican supporter Tuesday and cleared a key Senate hurdle, a double-barreled triumph that propelled President Barack Obama’s signature issue toward votes this fall in both houses of Congress.

“When history calls, history calls,” said Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, whose declaration of support ended weeks of suspense and provided the only drama of a 14-9 vote in the Senate Finance Committee. With her decision, the 62-year-old lawmaker bucked her own leadership on the most high-profile issue of the year in Congress, and gave the drive to remake health care at least a hint of the bipartisanship that Obama seeks.

Congress divided over how to tax health care

A proposed tax on high-cost, or “Cadillac,” health insurance plans has touched off a fierce clash between the Senate and the House as they wrestle over how to pay for legislation that would provide health benefits to millions of uninsured Americans.

Supporters, including many senators, say that the tax is essential to tamping down medical spending and that over 10 years it would generate more than $200 billion, nearly a fourth of what is needed to pay for the legislation.

Critics, including House members and labor unions, say the tax would quickly spiral out of control and hit middle-class workers, people more closely associated with minivans than Cadillacs.

Left pissed at Dems over Charlie Rangel

Some of the progressives who helped put Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in power are demanding that they come down hard on House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel and any Senate committee chairmen who stray from the flock on health care reform.

Don’t hold your breath.

While three Democratic insiders say leaders have privately discussed the possibility of ousting Rangel or asking him to step aside, there has been no move to approach the New York Democrat — and aides to Pelosi have made it clear that she won’t do anything about him until the House Ethics Committee finishes its probe.

That doesn’t sit well with Markos Moulitsas and Arianna Huffington, two stars of the liberal blogosphere who’ve joined House Republicans in calling for Rangel’s ouster.

Health care reform headed for vote

President Barack Obama’s plan to remake the nation’s health care system is about to take its biggest step yet toward becoming reality.

The pivotal Senate Finance Committee was poised to approve sweeping legislation Tuesday requiring nearly all Americans to purchase insurance and ushering in a host of other changes to the nation’s $2.5 trillion medical system.

Much work would lie ahead before a bill could arrive on Obama’s desk, but action by the Finance Committee would mark a significant advance, capping numerous delays as Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., held marathon negotiating sessions — ultimately unsuccessful — aimed at producing a bipartisan bill.

Democrats scramble for damage control

Insurance companies aren’t playing nice any more. Their dire message that health care legislation will drive up premiums for people who already have coverage comes as a warning shot at a crucial point in the debate, and threatens President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority.

Democrats and their allies scrambled on Monday to knock down a new industry-funded study forecasting that Senate legislation, over time, will add thousands of dollars to the cost of a typical policy. “Distorted and flawed,” said White House spokeswoman Linda Douglass. “Fundamentally dishonest,” said AARP’s senior policy strategist, John Rother. “A hatchet job,” said a spokesman for Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Congress set to conceal prisoner abuse photos

Congress is set to allow the Pentagon to keep new pictures of foreign detainees abused by their U.S. captors from the public, a move intended to end a legal fight over the photographs’ release that has reached the Supreme Court.

Federal courts have so far rejected the government’s arguments against the release of 21 color photographs showing prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq being abused by Americans.

The Obama administration believes giving the imminent grant of authority over the release of such pictures to the defense secretary would short-circuit a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act.

Don’t expect any GOP votes for health care reform

The House is inching closer to voting on a comprehensive health-care bill, even as the chamber appears so divided that the measure may not attract a single Republican supporter.

The final vote, likely in late October, is impossible to predict, but lawmakers and aides from both parties said this week that there is a strong chance the GOP will be unanimous in its opposition. Such a result would mark the second time — the first came on the economic stimulus package in February — that the entire House minority rejected one of President Obama’s top domestic initiatives.

“We’re still hoping that some of them will come on board, but we see no sign of it,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), a member of the Democratic leadership.

Senate approves unemployment benefit extension

Senate Democrats said Thursday they have reached a deal to extend unemployment insurance benefits to the nearly 2 million jobless workers across the country who are in danger of running out of assistance by the end of the year.

The agreement would give an additional 14 weeks of benefits to jobless workers in all 50 states. Workers in states with an unemployment rate at 8.5 percent or above would receive six weeks on top of that.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tried to bring the measure to a quick vote on the Senate floor, but Republicans objected, saying they needed more time to study the proposal and its costs and possibly offer amendments.

Frank says gay rights marches aren’t the answer

Rep. Barney Frank, the first openly gay member of Congress, says he’d rather see gay rights supporters lobbying their elected officials than marching in Washington this weekend, calling the demonstration “a waste of time at best.”

Frank , in an interview with The Associated Press, said he considers such demonstrations to be “an emotional release” that does little to pressure Congress.

“The only thing they’re going to be putting pressure on is the grass,” the Massachusetts Democrat said Friday.

Thousands of gay men and women are expected to gather for Sunday’s National Equality March.