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Update Dec 24: Senate Passes Health-Insurance Bill     Permalink

By a vote of 60 to 39, the Senate passed the health-insurance bill that will provide nearly universal health insurance for Americans. Now the hard part begins--merging the House and Senate bills, as described below.

Health-Insurance Bill To Be Voted on Tomorrow Morning     Permalink

Now that the health-insurance bill under debate in the Senate has passed its second hurdle, Republicans concede that the Democrats have enough votes to pass it. They were planning to fight until the last second, which would have kept the Senate in session until 9 P.M. Christmas Eve. However, minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has now agreed to speed up the process by not using up the full 30 hours of debate permitted after a cloture vote. Absent something very unexpected, the Senate will pass the bill tomorrow morning at 8 A.M. Then all the senators will run for the doors.

Once the Senate has passed a bill, the tricky business of merging the House and Senate bills begins. It is a foregone conclusion that the public option will not be in the final bill and neither will an expansion of Medicare to 55 year olds. Two sticking points are how to finance the subsidies to poor and middle-income people and the language about abortions. The Senate bill gets most of its money from an excise tax on gold-plated health plans; the House bill raises income taxes on rich people. One potential compromise is a little of each: taxing only really extravagant health plans and taxing only the truly wealthy. Another area where the chambers can split the difference is on how poor do you have to be to qualify for Medicaid. The Senate bill says 133% of the poverty line; the House bill says 150%. Anyone care for 140%?

Abortion is tougher because opponents of the procedure insist upon stringent language to make sure their tax dollars are not used to finance abortions however indirectly. There will be a battle over every word, no, make that every letter, but it is likely that some acceptable wording can be found because the people trying to restrict abortion realize that no matter what the final wording is, the bill won't affect them personally. Unlike a tax bill, which actually affects members of Congress, too, this is largely about grandstanding.

Progressive members of the House are dismayed at being told to either capitulate to two conservative senators, Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, or lose a bill they have been trying to pass for 60 years. They are trying to find some area of improvement that Nelson and Lieberman might accept. One such area is when the bill kicks in. The Senate bill delays most provisions until 2014 while the House bill starts in 2013. A big advantage of a Jan. 1, 2013 start is that even if the Republicans capture the White House and Congress in 2012, the bill will start operating before any of the winners take office and canceling existing insurance policies is much harder than preventing them from starting. The disadvantage of starting the subsidies earlier is that then the bill will cost more and the accounting gimmickry used to keep the total cost under $900 billion will fail.

Another area in which the Senate might have to give ground is employer mandates. The House bill has much stronger mandates for employers to provide insurance for their employees of face a fine. House conferees will probably insist on this as the price of dropping the public option. Other hot issues are whether the health exchanges are national or per state and whether the current antitrust exemption the insurance industry enjoys is eliminated or kept.

National and Congressional Committee Results Are In     Permalink

The six Democratic and Republican fund-raising committees have reported on their November hauls. The DNC and RNC are roughly in balance in terms of net cash as are the senatorial committees. However, the DCCC has more than five times as much net cash as the NRCC, which is significant since the real battles in 2010 are likely to be in the House. Historically, the Democrats can expect to lose 10-20 seats but such a large financial advantage may save them a few seats. Here are the numbers in millions of dollars.

Committee November receipts November expenditures Cash-on-Hand Debt Net
DNC $5.9 $5.6 $13.2 $4.9 $8.3
RNC $6.4 $8.9 $8.7 $0.0 $8.7
DSCC $3.0 $2.5 $11.9 $1.7 $10.2
NRSC $3.3 $1.8 $7.3 $0.0 $7.3
DCCC $3.6 $2.8 $15.4 $2.7 $12.7
NRCC $2.3 $2.2 $4.3 $2.0 $2.3

Parker Griffith Switches to GOP     Permalink

Rep. Parker Giffith (R-AL) announced yesterday that he is switching from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. He said he cannot align himself with a party that continues to pursue legislation "that is bad for our country, hurts our economy, and drives us further and further into debt." Since he voted with the Republicans on pretty much all legislation this year, his switch won't change the balance on any bills.

However, he may not have done himself a favor. Had he stayed a Democrat, the national Democrats would have grumbled about his voting record, but otherwise left him alone knowing John McCain won his district with 61% of the vote last year. As a Democrat, he had a decent chance of being reelected in 2010. However, conservative groups are not at all happy with him. They want a real Republican and will certainly primary him. Thus this switch does not change any votes in the House and is likely to result in a bloody Republican primary, which might even give the Democrats a small chance to hold the seat if (1) the winner of the Republican primary ends up bruised and broke and (2) the Democrats can find a dog blue enough for the district (like, say, Travis Childers in MS-01).

Party switchers as a whole often get a mixed reception. While the most likely result of Griffith's switch is that he will lose his seat to a Republican even further to the right than he is, when Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) jumped ship, he was welcomed with open arms by the entire Democratic establishment, from the President on down. He wasn't welcomed by the blogosphere, however, and has to fend of a primary challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), but having the official party people on your side is a big help. Griffith won't have that because the party has become very hesitant to support "moderate" Republicans against tea baggers in primaries and Griffith is almost certain to draw a tea bagger in a primary.

Paul Catches Grayson in Kentucky     Permalink

Rand Paul (R), son of Republican gadfly Rep. Ron Paul (R), has taken the lead in his primary fight against the establishment candidate, Trey Grayson (R), in the battle to succeed the retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY). A new PPP poll puts Paul ahead of Grayson 44% to 25%. While it is still early, the initial euphoria the Republicans have about 2010 being a good year could rapidly dissipate if there are too many bitter ideological primary battles. The Kentucky Senate race is one of three very high profile Senate races between establishment candidates and grass roots tea-bagger candidates. The others are Chuck DeVore vs. Carly Fiorina in California and Marco Rubio vs. Charlie Crist in Florida. The Texas gubernatorial primary between Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) is also shaping up to be a humdinger.

Florida Republican Primary Heats Up     Permalink

The Florida Republican senatorial primary is rapidly turning into civil war now involving an attempt by conservatives to oust the state party chairman, Jim Greer, a Crist supporter. The problem for the Republicans is that ideological primaries are rarely good for the party because they generate a lot of bad blood and generate PUMA (Party Unity My Ass) voters.

The Florida race is in many ways more troubling than the Kentucky race because popular governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) was seen by most observers as a shoo-in against an unknown representative, Kendrick Meeks (D). With one recent poll showing Crist in a 43% to 43% tie with former Florida house speaker Marco Rubio and the unendorsement of Crist by two Cuban-American congressmen, all of a sudden Crist is in a fight to the death. In a general election battle between the Cuban-American Rubio and the African-American Meeks in a swing state with a decidedly mixed ethnic background, it could be very close (and unpredictable). Furthermore, if Rubio continues to gain ground, this will encourage tea baggers to challenge other mainstream Republicans deemed insufficiently tea loving, setting up more bloody primaries.

There is really nothing analogous on the Democratic side. While many progressives are grumbling about the health-insurance bill, there is no organized movement to primary the Blue Dogs. The only ideological battle currently on the front burner is the Sestak-Specter senatorial primary in Pennsylvania, and even that is a special (and not repeatable) situation. The Democrats who support Sestak see Specter as a turncoat, but since turning coat he has voted the Democratic party line very consistently to try to demonstrate that his switch was sincere (which it most certainly was not--he simply saw the handwriting on the wall that he would lose the Republican primary).

Guiliani Not Running for Public Office in 2010     Permalink

Former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani announced yesterday that he is not running for senator or governor in 2010. There are probably two reasons for this decision. First, he thinks he'd probably lose. Second he is making millions in private industry as a 9/11 consultant. As to the first reason, he probably is assuming that New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo will eventually declare that he is running for governor and Giuliani has seen plenty of polls showing he'd be badly defeated by Cuomo. He would do better against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) but knows full well that he isn't that popular upstate (where her strength is) and while he is more popular in New York City, the city is very blue and it is a tough nut for any Republican to crack in a statewide race, especially against an extremely well-funded opponent like Gillibrand, who is also the protege of that master of New York politics, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

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