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Gina Glantz: Congress: Take the "Hanging Out" Challenge

January 9th, 2010 admin No comments

Driving across the country the last three weeks meant rarely hearing punditry. On occasion I scanned the New York Times and Washington Post on line. Small town papers became my news staple. Conversations along the way opened doors into lives outside the Beltway. Home now, I discover that pundit focus, beyond terrorism, is on how many Congressional seats the Democrats will lose. Clearly that also consumes Members of Congress.

Party changing and retirements signal re-election nervousness and job dissatisfaction. Not surprising since Congress seems to be all about who is doing what to whom in Washington and little about what is really happening back home.

It is time for Members to put aside pouring over poll results and resist town hall meetings that attract the most enraged constituents. It is time they sat down and read small town or city neighborhood papers and visit — unannounced – locally owned diners and the like. Members need to see first hand that decisions made in Washington are played out daily in difficult decisions made around kitchen tables. They need to be reminded that national statistics distort and what we all think about, we don’t necessarily know about.

Over the last three weeks, at locally owned establishments, we dined with a giant stuffed moose and a taxidermied buffalo that had appeared in “Dancing with Wolves.” (Sadly, we arrived at four diners with CLOSED signs in towns with as many closed stores as open ones.) We asked folks how they felt about health care reform. Almost everyone had a story to tell about someone they knew not having health care or about being so lucky that they had health care. Almost everyone said they couldn’t figure out what was going on but felt “something had to be done but Washington will probably get it wrong.”

We met a young family that had moved to a small town in fear that a potential economic collapse would happen in big cities first. They searched for a small town where there was good hunting, good schools and good neighbors. The father, a pig farmer, and his wife, a doctor, investigated Illinois but rejected it because “it has the highest rate of malpractice suits and therefore the highest malpractice insurance costs.” After four months in their new home, they decided to take their oldest out of public school because “No Child Left Behind really means every child left behind.” Hearing we were from San Francisco, the farmer said that we were probably ideological opposites. It didn’t matter because, in fact, his family concerns matched mine of years ago except I felt guilty about moving my oldest child out of public school while the farmer felt frustrated and vindicated in his view of government-run anything. If his two year old hadn’t gotten antsy, our engaging, civil conversation could have gone on and on.

Conversations become good anecdotes. The mainstream media often pick up on local stories as anecdotes. Reading about events where they happen transcends anecdotes. A county report indicated that town-by-town unemployment ranged from 9% to 25%. So much for national down ticks. A ninth grade class was featured because it collected 13,000 pencils to be sent to students in Appalachia. When was the last time a bi-partisan group in Congress thought about children in America without pencils? I learned about the Bennett Freeze, which fortunately the Obama administration reversed. Nevertheless, only 3% of Native Americans affected by the Bennett Freeze have electricity. When was the last time a bi-partisan group in Congress became enraged over Americans without electricity?

Over 30 years ago I was a District Administrator for a congressman who came home every weekend and went door to door. I am sure there are still Members of Congress who do some version of that. I suspect there are a lot more who don’t. Today, polls and demonstrations seem to drive Members’ impressions and that does a disservice to those they serve because the result is policy driven by partisanship not people.

I am not suggesting legislation by anecdote, though I prefer it to what we have now — legislation by angry mob and high profile lobbyists. I am suggesting “hanging out”, without fanfare, with constituents where they spend their time. And to do it right means to go without a trailing media. And why not have a district office staffer assigned to “hanging out” every week and reporting back to the Member. Maybe if Members shared stories, they would discover that a conservative family in Kentucky has the same desires and values as a liberal family in NY.

President Obama gets it. He obviously can’t “hang out” so from the start of his Presidency he insisted on reading ten letters a day from around the country. Maybe the White House should create a job for someone who travels around the country without fanfare and has conversations like I did. Someone who reports back to the 7:30 morning meeting to remind those in the middle of chaos that what they decide connects palpably to ordinary Americans. Such a job should be time limited because hanging out in the White House or in the halls of Congress for too long makes one beholden to the institution rather than to the people.

Who knows, maybe “hanging out” would result in civil conversations and legislative deliberations about people’s lives rather than all-consuming ideological screeching.


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CO-Gov: Salazar Won’t Run, Endorses Denver Mayor Hickenlooper

January 8th, 2010 admin No comments

Despite having the White House’s permission to quit his Interior Secretary post, Ken Salazar has decided to stay put, and won’t be running to fill the seat being vacated by Gov. Bill Ritter.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will not enter the race for Colorado governor and will endorse Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper for the post….

“Colorado needs a strong, experienced leader with optimism and new ideas for carrying our state forward. That is why I am endorsing John Hickenlooper for Governor of Colorado,” Salazar said in a statement. “John Hickenlooper is a uniter. He transcends political and geographic divides to bring people together to develop solutions. If he decides to run, he will make an excellent Governor for the State of Colorado.”

Hickenlooper has not been reached for comment.

The Democratic mayor said yesterday that he would wait for a decision from Salazar before deciding whether to enter the race.

Hickenlooper is the extremely popular Mayor of Denver, and now that Salazar as turned the bid down, is almost certain to run. Recent Rasmussen polling on Colorado is typically down on the Dems, but showed Hickenlooper performing better than Salazar against the likely Republican in the race.

The poll shows likely Republican nominee Scott McInnis beating Salazar 47%-41%.

Salazar has emerged as the most likely candidate to replace Governor Bill Ritter, who announced Wednesday he would not be running for reelection in 2010. However, Rasmussen showed Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, another prospective candidate, losing by only three points, 45%-42%. The poll also found Hickenlooper’s favorability rating to be 5 points higher than Salazar’s.

That favorable rating is high, 57 percent.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (CO-07) has also been tossed around as a potential candidate, but given that Salazar has expressly endorsed Hickenlooper, his entrance seems highly unlikely now. Despite the fact that he’s the Denver mayor, and the rest of the state–particularly more rural areas–tends to grouse about those Denver politicians, Hickenlooper is popular statewide.

We’ll have a Daily Kos poll on the race next week.


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GOP message of the day: Shut up, Michael Steele

January 8th, 2010 admin No comments

In the wake of Michael Steele’s “shut up” or “fire me” message to his Republican critics, Reid Wilson reports that senior Republican press aides told RNC staffers that Steele needed to be quiet on their regular daily message call.

House and Senate leadership aides are furious with RNC chair Michael Steele and have angrily confronted the RNC’s press shop over their inability to keep the chair on message.

In the course of a regular daily conference call between senior Congressional communicators, House and Senate aides berated RNC staffers over Steele’s comments that the GOP would not be able to take back the House, and that even if they did, the party would not be prepared to lead.

A senior Senate aide brought up Steele’s comments, arguing that he was ruining what should be several days of glowing press for the GOP in the wake of retirement announcements from Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Chris Dodd (D-CT).

“Steele is setting us far back with his comments and it needs to stop,” the aide said, according to 2 sources who were on the call.

I don’t know about you, but as RNC chief, Michael Steele gets my enthusiastic vote of confidence.


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Economic Outrage du Jour: Emails Exposed

January 8th, 2010 admin No comments

Hugh Son at Bloomberg reports that e-mails forced into the light show that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, parts of whose job is supposedly to be curtailing bankers’ riskiest impulses, told American International Group to conceal information about its payments to banks while the financial crisis was unfolding:

AIG said in a draft of a regulatory filing that the insurer paid banks, which included Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Societe Generale SA, 100 cents on the dollar for credit-default swaps they bought from the firm. The New York Fed crossed out the reference, according to the e-mails, and AIG excluded the language when the filing was made public on Dec. 24, 2008. The e-mails were obtained by Representative Darrell Issa, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. …

“It appears that the New York Fed deliberately pressured AIG to restrict and delay the disclosure of important information,” said Issa, a California Republican. Taxpayers “deserve full and complete disclosure under our nation’s securities laws, not the withholding of politically inconvenient information.”

You won’t hear any applause in this corner for the obstructionist, ultra-wealthy Darrell Issa. His self-funded recall petition encumbered us Californians with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the governorship, a position Issa himself hoped to capture. His support for English-Only laws, right-wing attacks on ACORN, dissing of the 9/11 widows and other antics since his self-funded campaign put him in Congress epitomize the politics progressives are duty-bound to grind into dust.

But, frankly, if the disclosures in those emails are what Bloomberg and Reuters and others are saying, congressional Democrats ought to be on top of this issue. Must we depend on the richest man in Congress to engage in an oligarch vs. oligarch battle to give us the skinny about what’s going on?

Edward Harrison at Credit Writedowns says, quite correctly:

At issue is whether the 100 cents on the dollar payments by AIG to its credit default swap counterparties were a backdoor bailout.  Most market watchers believe that AIG counterparties would have received significantly less on the free market, exposing them to tens of billions in losses instead of taxpayers (see CW story from March 2009 on this issue). So, in a very real sense, many believe taxpayers were defrauded by the government’s handling of the AIG affair.  This latest revelation only adds to that belief.

Moreover, in regards to Tim Geithner personally, this revelation is extremely damaging. Not only did he, Paulson and Bernanke mishandle the Lehman bankruptcy which triggered the panic central to the financial crisis, but he has now been personally implicated in withholding – covering up, if you will – vital evidence on the looting of taxpayers to the benefit of financial companies, some of whom are not even domestic institutions. You have to see this in a negative light.

With the economy continuing to show signs of at least short-term improvement, many Democrats and some progressives in and out of the party, seem unwilling to second-guess what was done on the fly at the height of the financial crisis. And, with an election year already under way, there may be a tendency to stand publicly and firmly behind Geithner. Hoping for what? That even more damaging revelations don’t come to light before November? How much that was unknown when this was written might become known by then?

Next week, Chairman Phil Angelides will hold the first hearings of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that was approved in May. Some people hope this will operate with the same spirit as the 1930s investigation that came to be known by the name of its last and toughest chairman, the Pecora Commission. If Tim Geithner’s name doesn’t come up a few times during those hearings, it will be a very big surprise.

= = =
The emails are here. (h/t to fladem)


Categories: Politics Tags: , , , ,

Obama Pushes Excise Tax, House Dems Fight It

January 8th, 2010 admin No comments

President Obama remains steadfastly committed to forcing the Senate’s Chevy tax on health plans over the House’s millionaire’s surtax.

WASHINGTON — President Obama told House Democratic leaders at a meeting on Wednesday that they should include a tax on high-priced insurance policies favored by the Senate in the final version of far-reaching health care legislation, aides said.

The White House has long expressed a preference for the excise tax on high-cost plans, which health economists say could be an important tool in controlling long-term health care spending for the government and for individuals and families….

Senate Democrats are generally believed to have greater leverage in the negotiations to reconcile the two bills because they cannot afford to lose a single vote and some centrists have warned that they would turn against the bill depending on how it changes.

The Senate approved its bill on a party-line vote, 60 to 39, on Dec. 24.

But the House does not have much wiggle room either. It approved its bill on Nov. 7 by a vote of 220 to 215, with just one Republican joining 219 Democrats in favor. That means Ms. Pelosi could spare just two votes without jeopardizing the bill’s chances.

This is undoubtedly not a smart tax in terms of politics.

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) notes that Obama pledged not to raise taxes on anyone earning under $250,000 and that he attacked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on the campaign trail in 2008 over his plan to do away with the tax-free treatment of employer-provided benefits. Pro-Republican groups are already turning the tables by running ads accusing Democrats of wanting to tax benefits.

“It’s a plan that has great political risk for the Democrats,” Courtney said.

And it’s so unpopular in the House that Courtney has the signatures of 190 Dems who oppose it.

Courtney actually collected the signatures against the excise tax back in September and October, but he said that in the only caucus of House Democrats before Christmas, the majority of comments from members objected to the tax. He said that the Senate is “leaning hard for their position,” and they have some support from the White House. But judging from Nancy Pelosi’s recent comments, “this is where there’s the most resistance to the Senate plan because she knows this is where the caucus is.”

Courtney believes that the feeling has intensified among House Democrats because of input from constituents at town hall meetings and polling, both public and private. He cited several public polls showing 2-1 opposition to the excise tax, and said that members have conducted their own polling showing the tax to be “politically toxic.” He added that “on policy and political grounds, the House approach is right approach.”

The millionaires’ surtax, supplemented by the Medicare tax on individuals earning more than $200,000 a year from the Senate bill, is much fairer, better politics, and doesn’t have the potential policy problems that the excise tax could bring.


Richard (RJ) Eskow: Weird Science: Why Politicians and Pundits Cling to the "Cadillac Tax" Idea

January 8th, 2010 admin No comments

The theory behind the “Cadillac tax” on health plans is little more than wishful thinking based on dubious research. Advocates believe that forcing employers to cut benefits will lead to cheaper, better care. That’s like preventing rain by outlawing umbrellas. Yet the President has reversed his campaign opposition to the tax and now supports it. John Kerry, who I respect, is defending it too.(1) Why?

They’re poorly served by their advisors, and by pundits who cling to the idea in the face of new evidence. Although the Washington Post got it right, too many analysts and journalists are beholden to ideas that Art Levine rightly dubbed “voodoo economics for the punditocracy.”

Why do President Obama and his advisors keep touting the tax? And why do journalists like David Leonhardt of the New York Times keep asserting that “health economists” think it’s a good idea? Uwe Reinhardt – the most respected health economist in the country – said the idea that “with high cost-sharing, patients will do the only legitimate . . . cost-benefit calculus … surely is nonsense.”

The best-known advocate for the tax is MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who was hyping it as recently as a week ago, without mentioning new and contradictory data.

The Post described Gruber in 2007 as “possibly the party’s most influential health-care expert and a voice of realism in its internal debates.” How can a “voice of realism” claim that this is “a tax that’s not a tax,” one that affects “generous” plans? That statement was published only nineteen days after a paper in the influential journal Health Affairs (summarized here) disproved it. Using actual benefits data, the authors showed the tax would not target “generous” plans. Instead it would unfairly affect plans whose enrollees were older, worked in the wrong industry, or lived in an area where treatment costs are high. A leading actuary came to a similar conclusion.

Gruber also claimed that the money employers save (by slashing benefits to avoid the tax) would be returned to workers as wages or other compensation. But two leading health benefits firms (2) had already published surveys in which the vast majority of employers polled insisted they would do no such thing.

These are intelligent, ethical, dedicated people. So what’s going on? I suspect the problem is an inability to reject an attractive idea, even when confronted with contradictory facts. There is a simple truth in the world of ideas: Theories can be beautiful. Reality can be ugly.

This “beautiful” idea was born in research. The RAND Corporation published the results of its long-term Health Insurance Experiment (HIE) in the 1980s. Researchers claimed that forcing people to pay more for their medical treatment leads to reduced use of medical services, which saved money without making anyone sicker.

The HIE suggested that people who had to pay more for their care avoided treatments their doctors considered medically necessary about as much as those considered unnecessary. Yet, surprisingly, it concluded that they were no less healthy. The HIE became the theoretical foundation for 25 years of benefits-cutting, providing moral cover for a generation of analysts as they shifted medical costs back to patients. (I was one of them.) Now it underlies the thinking behind the “Cadillac tax.”

Here’s Problem #1: The HIE’s been challenged by a number of economists. As University of Minnesota economics professor John Nyman told me, “I don’t believe you can have a reduction of 25% in hospital admissions and not have it show up in any health measures.” While we don’t have space here to tackle the debate, it’s fair to say that the study’s conclusions are controversial at best. Gruber, a RAND defender, described the study as the “gold standard.” Others disagree.

Problem #2: Even if you accept RAND’s findings, you have to believe they still apply after widespread changes in society, the economy, and employer/employee relations. And then you have to believe Gruber’s assertion, based on long-term wage and benefit trends, that employers will give most of that money back to workers as compensation.

Even though surveys say they won’t …

So let’s review this fragile latticework of assumptions: First, that the RAND study is sound. Second, that the tax will only target ‘generous’ plans, despite a very thorough study disproving that. Third, that employers will give much of this money back to workers, although they say they won’t.

On that thin reed of assumptions the White House, many Senators, some economists, and the tax’s editorial supporters (Leonhardt, Ezra Klein, etc.) are prepared to support a policy that by 2016 will reduce coverage for one American in five with employer insurance. That’s more than eleven million people – and the figure would rise sharply each year.

What went wrong? I can’t know for sure, but here’s a thought: Experts can have an “aha” moment, a flash of insight, even when the pattern they perceive isn’t really there. They can build models and theories – even reputations – around that pattern. When evidence proves the pattern is false, they literally can’t see it.

Fortunately, it’s not too late. We can see it. There’s still time for the President, Senator Kerry, and other leaders to change course. Prof. Gruber and other tax advocates can still review these new findings. They and their advisors can discard an attractive but disproved theory and do the right thing for the American people.

_________________________

(1) Although it was gratifying that Sen. Kerry acknowledged that the tax’s thresholds are too low.
(2)Towers Perrin Employer Survey, “Health Care Reform 2009: Leading Employers Weigh In,” (pdf), September 17, 2009; Mercer, “Majority of Employers Would Reduce Health Benefits to Avoid Proposed Excise Tax,” December 3, 2009

Richard Eskow is currently working with the Campaign for America’s Future to stop the health excise tax. He blogs at:

No Middle Class Health Tax
A Night Light
The Sentinel Effect: Healthcare Blog

Website: Eskow and Associates

More on Barack Obama


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Alabama vs. Texas: BCS National Championship Game Airs TONIGHT

January 8th, 2010 admin No comments

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Mack Brown wore a gray suit. Nick Saban was in navy. The two men shook hands in front of the national championship trophy, looking as much like candidates for governor before election day as football coaches getting ready for the big game.

Then again, they probably could run for governor, given what football means in their respective states. Saban coaches Alabama, where the Crimson Tide makes news 365 days a year. Brown coaches Texas, where football on every level is often larger than life.

The undefeated Crimson Tide and Longhorns will each try to add another championship to their considerable pedigrees Thursday night. It’s a meeting of two old-line programs from the South – Roll Tide vs. Hook ‘em Horns – where football, on many days, is the biggest thing going.

“Everyone that sees that ‘A’ and sees the Longhorn knows the programs,” Brown said, “and that’s what makes this game so special.”

The game will pit All-American quarterback Colt McCoy of Texas against the player who beat him for the Heisman Trophy, running back Mark Ingram of Alabama.

In his third year in Tuscaloosa, Saban has led a quick rebuilding program, aiming to bring the first championship to the school since 1992, when Gene Stallings – a protege of the late, great Bear Bryant – roamed the sidelines.

“We have a tremendous amount of respect for the tradition and the passion that our fans have,” Saban said.

But, he said, tradition doesn’t win ball games. Players like Ingram and 350-pound defensive lineman Terrence Cody do. So, Saban has tried to ignore the hype and has gone about doing what he did six years ago when he led LSU to the BCS title: recruit top prospects, coach them up, try to turn them into good players, students and citizens.

“The rest of it really doesn’t affect that,” Saban insisted.

Brown grew up in small-town Tennessee and saw Bryant as the larger-than-life figure he was, the same way anyone of a certain age from that part of the country would.

Now, he’s at Texas. Once derisively known as “Coach February” – the guy who could recruit all the talent but never cash in come January – Brown has won seven of his last eight bowl games, led the Longhorns (13-0) to one national title and can easily be mentioned in the same breath as their own legendary coach, Darrell Royal.

He tells his players to focus on the “three Fs.”

“I wasn’t the smartest guy in the world, so one day I said it’s full of ‘Fs’ – it’s fast, have fun, be physical,” Brown said. “They all laughed. Some of them didn’t get it. That bothered me more.”

Kidding aside, Brown used Wednesday’s news conference to continue a theme he’s been building on all month – that the two best teams are meeting at the Rose Bowl and a true national champion will come out of the game.

It was a legitimate debate five weeks ago when the BCS pairings came out and there were five undefeated teams – Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State. Since then, Cincinnati got blown out 51-24 by Florida in the Sugar Bowl and TCU lost 17-10 to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. It leaves the Broncos as the only team with an argument – one they undoubtedly won’t win.

Alabama (13-0) comes into the game as a four-point favorite, in part because the Tide was so much more impressive than Texas in its last game.

Led by Ingram on offense and a stifling defense anchored by Cody and linebacker Rolando McClain, the Tide shut down Tim Tebow in a 32-13 crushing of Florida in the Southeastern Conference title game.

Texas, meanwhile, beat Nebraska 13-12 in the Big 12 championship game, after officials put a second back on the clock following a pass McCoy threw out of bounds. It allowed Hunter Lawrence to kick the winning field goal, even though McCoy’s sloppy game management at the end nearly cost Texas a chance to win it all.

Even though both teams won, those games essentially sealed the Heisman race. McCoy threw for 184 yards, three interceptions and got sacked nine times. Ingram ran for 113 yards and three touchdowns to become Alabama’s first Heisman winner.

Which sets up a very similar scenario as the last time Texas played at the Rose Bowl.

Back then, it was the Longhorns against Southern California in the weeks after Texas quarterback Vince Young lost the Heisman to USC’s Reggie Bush.

“They weren’t showing us no kind of respect at all, so we just kind of used that all as motivation until game-time came,” said Young, who is expected on the sideline Thursday night.

Young had one of the best performances in college football history in a 41-38 win over USC – passing for 267 yards, running for 200 more and transforming himself into something more than just another great player to Texas fans, who have seen their share.

That’s the kind of thing that can happen to a player who leads his team a national title in Texas or Alabama, two states where football and life always intersect.

“You’re under the microscope,” said Longhorns left tackle Adam Ulatoski, who played at high school powerhouse Southlake Carroll near Fort Worth. “But it’s a little different when it’s a town watching you and the state of Texas watching you. It’s a little bit of pressure, but it’s a whole lot of fun.”

In Alabama, too.

“They tend to maybe idolize people who play football here, even though we’re just regular people,” said Alabama kicker Leigh Tiffin, a native of Muscle Shoals whose dad, Van, kicked for the Tide in the ’80s. “Something like this is probably the most exciting thing that happens in Alabama the entire year.”


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Reagan’s Grandson — The Family K-Fed

January 8th, 2010 admin No comments

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President Ronald Reagan’s grandson just bailed out of Van Nuys jail — and let’s just say, he’d fit in perfectly at a Federline family gathering.31-year-old Cameron Reagan was taken into custody early this morning after someone in his house pushed a …

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White House Crashers — 5000 Reasons to Party

January 8th, 2010 admin No comments

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The White House Party Crashers have their eyes on another huge, exclusive party — but this time they’re not only invited … they’re actually getting paid.Sources close to the situation tell TMZ Tareq and Michaele Salahi will land a cool $5,000 to …

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Pelosi Pushing Against Excise Tax, Obama Commits to Affordability

January 7th, 2010 admin No comments

While Obama and Dem Congressional leaders might have agreed to “a fast-track alternative” on the non-conference conference, there are still critical issues to be worked out, and Pelosi doesn’t appear ready to roll over for the White House or Senate on a key issue.

[A]ides say she’s particularly steamed that the White House wants her to largely adopt the Senate bill in its entirety. And she’s particularly unhappy that the White House has thrown its weight behind the Senate bill’s chief funding mechanism: an excise tax on so-called “Cadillac” insurance policies, which she and many in her caucus have long believed violates President Obama’s pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class. According to one aide, that–not the public option–was likely the reason she ribbed Obama at her press conference yesterday, quipping, “there were a number of things he was for on the campaign trail.”

The House proposes paying for its bill by imposing a surtax on high-income Americans. And though there’s been speculation for months that the final reform package will include a combination of both sources of revenue, Pelosi, who’s already had to accept the demise of the public option, wants the excise tax gone.

Those “high-income” Americans that would be subject to the surtax are actually millionaires–couples making more than $1 million, a much, much fairer solution than the Chevy excise tax. Given everything progressives have had to swallow in this process, a fairer tax structure is little to ask for the price of their votes. Bloomberg reports that one option being considered for compromise is revisions to the Senate’s “0.9 percent Medicare tax on individuals earning more than $200,000 a year in salary and on joint filers who make more than $250,000.”

Another top priority for the House is affordability. From that same Bloomberg article:

Providing subsidies for low-income people to buy insurance will be “a critical part of this discussion” with the Senate, Van Hollen said. The House version “is much more generous” for people who earn more than the poverty level and don’t qualify for Medicaid, he said.

The Senate version would provide $426 billion for such subsidies while the House would offer $602 billion. “Since we are asking people to share in the responsibility for purchasing health care for the first time, we need to make sure that it’s affordable,” Van Hollen said.

HuffPo reports that “Obama agreed at Tuesday evening’s meeting to help strengthen affordability measures beyond what’s in the Senate bill.” That’s good news for the millions of Americans who should not be forced into buying insurance they can’t afford.

Of course, the excise tax and affordability issues come back to the same basic principle that all Democrats should be able to agree upon: “reform” on the backs of an already stretched thin middle class is no reform at all.


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