Sebelius: Dems Need 60 Votes to Pass Health Care

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on just completed conference call Friday afternoon that health care legislation would require 60 votes to clear the Senate.

The statement comes as many liberals are pressuring Democrats to abandon the idea of bipartisanship and use the reconciliation procedure, which would enable them to pass a health care bill with a simple majority, while triggering a nuclear war with Senate Republicans.

During the call, a reporter asked Sebelius why the Obama administration was talking about bipartisanship when Democrats have enough votes in Congress to pass whatever they want.

“While the votes may be there because the majority is pretty hefty in the House of Democratic support, the reality in the Senate is basically you need 60 votes in order to move procedurally to a vote on anything,” she replied.

Mousavi Urges Iranians Abroad to Be “Faithful” to Islamic System

Mir Hossein Mousavi released a statement to Iranians living abroad, first thanking them for their support, then criticizing the government for stifling his speech, but ultimately asking them to remain supportive of the Islamic system of government:

I’d like to thank you again for your peaceful objections which have received widespread coverage across the world, and would like to ask you that by using all legal channels, and by remaining faithful to the sacred system of the Islamic Republic, to make sure that your objections are heard by the authorities in the country. I am fully aware that your justified demands have nothing to do with groups who do not believe in the sacred Islamic Republic of Iran’s system. It is up to you to distance yourself from them, and do not allow them to misuse the current situation.

This reinforces the point that for all the understandable enthusiasm for the idea of the Iranian people taking to the streets, Mousavi has not been willing to challenge the Islamic system of government itself. And as long as a theocratic regime persists in Iran, the pople will never be free.

About That New York Times Health Care Poll

Liberals have been touting a New York Times/CBS poll released last weekend suggesting broad support for government health care and higher taxes. Bill O’Reilly has written a column criticizing the poll because 48 percent of respondents said they voted for Obama, compared to just 25 percent who said they voted for McCain — obviously a huge discrepancy. But I noticed this on Monday, contacted a few people, including the New York Times, and decided not to write anything, because there was an explanation that sounded plausible to me — that after an election, there’s a tendency for people to want to say they voted for the winner rather than the loser. If you look at the party identification and ideological breakdown of the respondents in the poll, it’s actually pretty fair: 29 percent Republican, 35 percent Democrat, and 31 percent independent; 19 percent liberal, 41 percent moderate, and 34 percent conservative. 

Here’s the way Marjorie Connelly of the New York Times described it to me in an email:

When we ask respondents to our surveys who they voted for in 2008, we do so in order to look at voters who say they voted for Barack Obama as compared to those who say they voted for John McCain. We’re not looking to recreate the 2008 election, because recall of past vote is notoriously unreliable as a guide to what actually happened.

Traditionally, candidates who have won the election get a boost after the fact. Voting is socially desirable, and people who didn’t vote for whatever reason think they had and say they voted for the winning candidate. In addition, the gap between the candidates often expands and contracts as the
president’s popularity goes up and down.

In general, we use this question to provide crosstabs. For example, we might have looked at people who said they voted for Mr. McCain to see how what they said about health care reform. But, as you can see from our article, we used party identification for analysis instead.

Does this mean I think that most Americans are ready to embrace government health care? Not at all. The Washington Post/ABC poll that came out on Wednesday asked some helpful followups that showed how susceptible voters’ attitudes are to messaging. For instance, when asked whether they would still support the creation of a new government plan if it would drive private insurers out of business, support nosedived to 37 percent. We still have a long debate ahead of us, and if the lackluster ratings for ABC’s Obama health care special are any indication, Americans are not very engaged right now.

Surprise! Turns Out Specter Doesn’t Mean What He Says

Sen. Arlen Specter on Meet the Press in May:

MR. GREGORY:  Let me–I just want to turn, then, to the issue of health care. You would not support a public plan?

SEN. SPECTER:  That’s what I said…

MR. GREGORY:  OK.

SEN. SPECTER:  …and that’s what I meant.

Specter speaking to union activists about health care yesterday:

I know you are very interested in the public component and I think Senator Schumer has the right idea about having a public component which is to have a level playing field with the private sector, but the public component can be in place. 

Will the Left Kill Health Care Reform?

As President Obama and Democrats in Congress continue their push to overhaul the nation’s health care system this year, it’s turning out that their biggest obstacle is not Republicans, but each other.

The dilemma is simple: moderate Democrats see the need to scale back legislation, but liberals yearn for something bolder. The evolving dynamic is similar to the one that ultimately killed comprehensive immigration reform during the Bush administration when Republicans tried to compromise to win over Democrats, but incurred the wrath of conservatives in the process.

The key sticking points on health care involve whether at a time of unprecedented debt, the nation can absorb the massive cost of insuring everybody, and whether Congress should create a new government-run plan, which proponents call the “public option.”

In recent weeks moderate Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu and Joe Lieberman came out opposed to the government-run option, while fellow Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad and Dianne Feinstein have publicly said that there aren’t enough votes in the Senate to pass such a plan.

Another moderate Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson, told the Hill that “There is a risk of not doing anything by trying to do too much.” He added, “I think there is going to be a narrowing-down as time goes on.”

Yet while a pared down piece of legislation could satisfy moderate Democrats and maybe even win over a few Republicans, many liberals view that as an unacceptable outcome. From their perspective, legislation centered on providing subsidies for individuals to purchase private insurance is not genuine reform, but merely a case of pouring more money into a broken system.

“I will not vote for any health care that does not include a public option,” Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison declared this week. “I will not do it, that’s a guaranteed no vote and I will not be dissuaded from that.”

Ellison is not alone. He’s a part of the House Progressive Caucus, whose co-chair, Rep. Lynn Woosley, has said repeatedly that a majority of the 80-member bloc would not vote for any bill that did not include a “robust” government-run plan, which typically means one modeled after Medicare. This is the formulation that is opposed most vigorously by the American Medical Association because it would drive down reimbursement rates for doctors, and by insurers who do not believe they would be able to compete with a government plan that had access to tax dollars and would benefit from the fact that government would be writing the rules of the game.

If Woosley is serious about liberal House members voting against a compromise bill, that means scaled-back legislation could die in the House even if some Republicans defect and vote for it. And on the flip side, should the House go ahead and pass a bill with a strong government-run plan, it would have a tough time getting the necessary votes in the Senate.

As a result, instead of attacking Republicans, liberal activists have focused their strategy on pressuring a handful of moderate Senate Democrats who hold the keys to health care legislation.

“Self-appointed spokespeople like Senator Feinstein and Senator Conrad [have been] lately saying, ‘Well, it’s a matter of getting enough Democratic votes,’” Roger Hickey, co-director of the activist group Campaign for America’s Future, explained on a Tuesday conference call. “They are the Democratic votes that we need to step up and pass this.”

Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary during the Clinton administration, suggested on the call that “it’s important for the President to make it crystal clear to Democrats and Republicans alike that he will not sign a bill that does not have a public option in it.”

On Thursday, thousands of liberal activists gathered in Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill to rally for the passage of health care legislation, and attendees heard speeches from a number of lawmakers and Sopranos star Edie Falco, who asked them to keep up the fight for the government plan.

The crowd waved signs such as “Health Care, Not Profits” and “Affordable: Yes/Premiums: No.” At one point, they sung a ditty, “We Want Health Care,” to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

“We’re counting on you to go across the street, and convince, and persuade, and cajole and do whatever you need to do to get a strong public option,” Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown hollered, the Capitol dome behind him.

As Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer gave a rousing speech urging the crowd to hold lawmakers’ “feet to the fire” to make sure they support a government-run plan as an option, a man with a bullhorn heckled, “Sen. Schumer, put single-payer back on the table, now!”

To single-payer advocates, preserving for-profit insurance in any form would be inefficient because the system would remain too fragmented.

“It’s very clear that as long as you keep the health insurance fox guarding the hen house of health care, you won’t have real reform,” said James J. Walsh, a member of Physicians for a National Health Program, who drove from Morganton, North Carolina,   to attend the event.

The strong presence of single-payer advocates suggested that even among liberal activists, there are clear divisions over how to approach health care.

Howard Dean, who has been leading a national drive for a health care bill that includes a government plan, was also on hand. Before he spoke to the crowd, he told TAS in an interview that it didn’t make sense to spend $1 trillion on a health care bill that didn’t insure everybody or create a government alternative.

“If you want health care reform, you should do health care reform, and a bill that doesn’t have a public option in it is not health care reform,” Dean said.

He insisted that the plan would have the votes in the Senate. “Look, when 72 percent of the American people want something, they’ll be enough votes for it,” he said, referring to a recent New York Times/CBS poll.

But a Washington Post/ABC poll released Wednesday found that when respondents were told that some insurers would go out of business if a government-run plan passed, support for the provision dropped to 37 percent. 

Thursday’s event was organized by Health Care for Americans Now, a coalition of unions and liberal groups such as MoveOn.org, ACORN, and the National Council of La Raza, who plan to spend $82 million to push their agenda.

As part of the effort, MoveOn.org released a new ad Thursday blasting Feinstein for noting the difficulty of winning enough votes to pass health care legislation.

The other factor that may determine the success of health care reform is the pesky financing issue. President Obama has promised that any health care legislation will be deficit-neutral, but so far, the Congressional Budget Office has been critical of Democratic efforts. Last week, the CBO determined that a just a portion of a bill produced by Ted Kennedy’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee would add $1 trillion to the deficit. It later slapped a $1.6 trillion price tag on a draft of the Senate Finance Committee bill, forcing chairman Max Baucus to delay the bill so that he could chop its cost by $600 billion.

The problem is that every revenue-raising measure being considered makes some contingent of people unhappy. President Obama proposed limiting the charitable contributions deduction for wealthy Americans, but that dropped like a lead balloon in Congress. Senate Democrats are considering limiting the employer tax exclusion on health insurance, a huge pot of money, but President Obama attacked John McCain during last year’s campaign for proposing it, and unions remain strongly opposed.

Gerald McEntee, President of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), warned at Thursday’s rally that any attempt to tax employee health benefits would “turn good people against great reform.”

In the coming months, President Obama will face the most difficult legislative test of his young presidency. If he wants to get health care legislation done this year, at some point, he’s either going to have to convince moderate Democrats to abandon their reservations over the price tag and the creation of a government plan, or he’ll have to get liberals to settle for less. If both sides dig in, health reform will go down in flames once again, and Democrats won’t be able to pin the blame on Republicans.

Liberals Rally for Health Care NOW!

Thousands of liberal activists representing major unions, ACORN, and other affiliates of the Health Care For America NOW! coalition rallied in Upper Senate Park across from the Capitol today. A parade of speakers, including Sens. Chuck Schumer, Sherrod Brown, and Bob Menendez; Howard Dean; and Sopranos star Edie Falco touted the need for legislation that created a new government-run health care plan.

There was also a large presence of single-payer advocates, carrying signs such as “Affordable YES; Premiums NO” and “Desperately Seeking Single-Payer.” One of the single-payer advocates heckled Schumer with a bullhorn as SEIU representatives tried to quiet him down.

I asked Dean about whether he was concerned about moderate Democrats who were not behind the inclusion of a government plan, and he said, “I think at the end of the day they will (support it).”

Will be working in more reporting from the rally into a longer piece for tomorrow’s main site, so will have more details on the rally then.

Conservatives Counter ABC Obamacare Infomercial

On a day when ABC News has turned over its programing to the White House so that President Obama can promote his health care agenda, Americans for Tax Reform gathered together a group on Capitol Hill to offer a competing, market-based vision for health care reform.

Sen. Jim DeMint was there to tout his health care proposal along with Rep. Tom Price.

Price, a former physician in Atlanta, said that, “If the fourth estate continues to be in the tank (for the Obama administration, it would endanger the future of the nation.” Price outlined three “death knells” for the health care system: a government plan that would crowd out private insurance, coverage mandates, and “ceding quality to the federal government. He said patients need to make their own health care decisions and be able to choose plans that they own and control.

“We don’t need an expansion of government,” DeMint said, and he outlined his plan for health care that would maintain the employer-based insurance system, give vouchers to individuals that would replicate the tax advantages enjoyed by those who obtain coverage through their employers, and allow people to purchase insurance across state lines.

DeMint said his plan would be deficit-neutral because it would be financed by terminating the $700 billion TARP program. If the program isn’t terminated, he said, it would just be used as a “slush fund” for the Treasury Department. However, when I asked DeMint how the plan would be paid for once the TARP money runs out, he replied, “We just have to see where we’re going.” He insisted that his reforms would bring down health care costs, and in any event would be less than the trillions that Obama’s proposals would cost.

“We can win this if we engage the American people,” DeMint said of the health care battle. “They are not stupid.”

The event also featured a panel of activists, policy experts, and a Canadian woman who shared her horror story with their government-run health care system.

Merrill Matthews, the director of the Council for Affordable Health Insurance, took aim at the government option. He argued that Medicare and Medicaid are rampant with fraud and abuse and use their market share to impose price controls on doctors and hospitals, which providers then recoup by jacking up prices on individuals and private insurers. He noted that though proponents of government health care like to point to the low administrative costs of Medicare, their estimates leave out costs such as staff salaries, building rent ,and insurance — alll of which show up elsewhere in the federal budget. Nor do the estimates of administrative costs include fraud and abuse. The creation of any new government plan, Matthews said, would ding taxpayers for the start up costs, and would continue to change the rules on the private sector so that it could not compete.

Today, Preident Obama officially said he changed his mind and now supports the inclusion of an individual mandate requiring people to purchase health insurance. But Greg Scandlen, director of Consumers for Health Care Choices, explained that mandates have proven ineffective. For instance, even though we have mandates for car insurance, roughly 15 percent of car owners remain non-compliant. 

The room also heard from Shona Holmes, a Canadian who was suffering from vision loss and had to come to America to get treated because she was put on a several month waiting list to see a specialist in her home country, even though she risked losing her vision if she was not treated in four to six weeks.

Obama Says Thinking “Evolved” on Individual Mandate

One of the few actual domestic policy differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama during their contentious primary involved whether to have a mandate forcing individuals to purchase health care. Obama was strongly opposed, his campaign hammered Clinton on this, and the issue was aired over and over again during their many debates. Yet today, Obama told Diane Sawyer that he’s reversed on the issue because, “People have made some pretty compelling arguments to me that if we want to have a system that drives down costs for everybody, then we’ve got to have healthier people not opt out of the system.” This is ridiculous. He knew all of those arguments during the campaign, Clinton insisted that he’d have to adopt a mandate, and he pushed back forcefully.

Here’s what he had to say during their Austin, Texas debate in February of last year:

SEN. OBAMA: Number one, understand that when Senator Clinton says a mandate, it’s not a mandate on government to provide health insurance; it’s a mandate on individuals to purchase it. And Senator Clinton is right; we have to find out what works.

Now, Massachusetts has a mandate right now. They have exempted 20 percent of the uninsured because they’ve concluded that that 20 percent can’t afford it. In some cases, there are people who are paying fines and still can’t afford it, so now they’re worse off than they were. They don’t have health insurance and they’re paying a fine. (Applause.) And in order for you to force people to get health insurance, you’ve got to have a very harsh, stiff penalty. And Senator Clinton has said that we will go after their wages.

Transcript here. Video below.

This is now part of a wider pattern for Obama of blatantly deceiving the American people. Just last week, he told the American Medical Association:

And that means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.

Of course, in his press conference yesterday he said he didn’t really mean it. There’s no reason to believe anything Obama says, especially when it comes to health care.

Sanford and Sons

The Mark Sanford news is profoundly sad on so many levels. Sanford was one of the only Republicans who has been a consistent defender of limited government. During his time in Congress in 1995-2001, he racked up a solid economically conservative — even libertarian — voting record, slept on the couch in his Washington office to save money on housing, and kept his pledge to only serve three terms. As governor, he’s been at war with the Republican-controlled legislature, vetoing one spending bill after another, in a battle that culminated with his valiant fight to reject the stimulus money. During an era when most Republicans talked a big game, he repeatedly put his career on the line to fight for smaller government. Today, conservatives everywhere should be mourning, because we lost the man who was in the best position to run for president in 2012 articulating limited-government philosophy. As I followed this week’s story, I thought Sanford handled it poorly, but was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he just took off to clear his head. I chalked it up to his eccentric and intospective nature. Unfortunately, once again it turns out you can never be too cynical as a political reporter.

It’s absolutely disgraceful not only that he had an affair, not only that he lied about it publicly, but that he put his staff in a position to lie about it. And anybody who has followed Sanford was given the impression that he was a family man. Always close to his sons, so tight with his wife that she managed every one of his campaigns and even served temporarily as his chief of staff while he was governor. And yet he abandons them on Father’s Day weekend to fly off to Argentinia to see his mistress, and now forces them to live through all this emotional pain in the media spotlight.