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PW logo Polling Firm Reprimanded Obama in Strong Position on Health Care
Whitman Rarely Voted Deeds Closes On McDonnell
Patrick Would Win Three-Way Race McCain Looks Safe for Re-Election

News from the Votemaster

Massachusetts State Senate Passes Interim Appointment Bill     Permalink

The Massachusetts Senate passed (by a 24 to 16 vote) a bill yesterday that would authorize Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) to name a successor to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. The successor would serve until the winner of the January 19 election is seated. The state House has already passed a similar bill. After a formality today, the bill is expected to land on Patrick's desk today or tomorrow. He has already said he would sign it. Massachusetts could have its second senator--and the Democrats' 60th--by Monday. The consequence, of course, is that the health bill currently pending in the Senate could pass with Democratic votes alone. Even if the Democrats don't do this, it reduces some of the leverage Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) has, since she is no longer essential to passing the bill if the Democrats can stick together.

Health Bill Markup Began Yesterday     Permalink

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, began the public markup of his health-care bill yesterday. The full committee will process over 500 proposed amendments, rejecting nearly all of them. Nevertheless, Baucus was apparently surprised by the poor reaction his bill got from the Democrats. While he knew that only one Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), might conceivably vote for it, he wasn't expecting so much criticism from the Democrats, including the guy just below him on the committee totem pole, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who bluntly stated he would vote against the bill in its current form.

Even before the bill hit the table, Baucus began changing it, moving leftward even so slightly. The new version will give bigger subsidies to poor people unable to pay for insurance and reduce the penalty for middle-class people not eligible for subsidies but still unable to afford insurance. Furthermore, he is considering reducing the excise tax on gold-plated insurance plans at the insistence of Rockefeller, who represents a state with many coal miners who have managed to get very good plans from their employers due to their dangerous work. The markup will probably go on all week.

One of the key amendments to watch is the Wyden amendment, proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and which would open the insurance exchanges to everyone and would mandate that employers offering insurance give their employees a choice of at least two plans. The Congressional Budget Office has stated that this amendment would force private companies to compete and would reduce total health-care costs by $1 billion over the next 10 yars. But far more important is that it would give individuals a choice in how they are covered, something now rarely the case. Wyden has long championed the idea that the way to drive health-care costs down is to force private insurance companies to actually compete with each other. Here is a list of amendments Baucus has agreed to so far. Expect more today and tomorrow.

But make no mistake, the public markup is all theater. The real action is behind the scenes, when Baucus asks people like Rockefeller and fellow critic Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA): "What do I have to do to get your vote?" That is when the real sausage making begins. The public session will just ratify what has been agreed on privately.

Meanwhile, over at the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is moving to the left and insisting on a public option at the same time that majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is moving to the right and trying to make a deal with House Republicans. Those two are not buddy buddy and this is not the first time they have pulled in opposite directions.

Whitman Announces She is Running for Governor of California     Permalink

Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman has announced that she is running for governor of California. Whitman has never held or even run for public office before. The announcement was held in a peculiar place: the Fullerton-based district of former California assemblyman Mike Duvall who just resigned after being caught bragging about having sex with a lobbyist. With Whitman running for governor and former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina running for the Senate, the Republican ticket in 2010 will be headed by two women who were real powerhouses in their previous jobs. It is hard to remember any ticket featuring two such high-profile women.

Lazio Running for Governor of New York     Permalink

On the other side of the country, former Long Island representative, Rick Lazio (R) has announced he is running for governor of New York. Even given the peculiarities of New York politics, he has virtually no chance of winning. Earlier this week, it was leaked that President Obama wants the state's beleaguered and ineffectual governor, David Paterson (D-NY) to refrain from running in 2010. If Paterson gives in to Obama's wish, then it is very likely that popular Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) will run and be elected governor easily. If, however, Paterson stays in the race and Cuomo does not run, then one or more Republicans far better known than Lazio will enter the race and one of them will defeat Lazio in a primary. Former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani and former governor George Pataki are both keeping their powder dry for the moment but are following developments closely.

In an obscure but potentially important decision, the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, has upheld Paterson's appointment of Richard Ravitch as lieutenant governor, a position that became vacant when former lieutenant governor Paterson was elevated to the governor's mansion when Eliot Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal. The state constitution does not provide any mechanism for filling an empty lieutenant governor's position, but Paterson just did it anyway and got away with it. The consequence of this decision is that Obama now has a graceful way of getting rid of Paterson: appoint him to some position where he can't do much damage, such as ambassador to some small country in Africa. After such an appointment, Ravitch would become governor and at 76 would be unlikely to run in 2010.

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-- The Votemaster