Tag Archives: senate

Lame Canard Session

The stakes are enormous: millions of Americans have lost their meager unemployment benefits; job creation is abysmal; unemployment is increasing; municipal and state governments are in dire need of revenue; the Bush-era tax cuts will expire on December 31st; and obstructionism in Congress is sure to be even worse in the next session.

Our formerly hopeful, now pragmatic President, knowing just how close our economy is to falling off the cliff, has embraced compromise to get help from Senate Republicans to stimulate the economy. The Republicans in the Senate, knowing that a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts is precisely the issue they will need for the 2012 election, are willing to compromise all principles to throw some scraps at the poor by extending unemployment benefits for a year and a month (past the next holiday season). Both parties are anxious for the one-year cut in payroll taxes that is also in the deal.

So just how bad is the deal?
Allowing the unemployment benefits to expire makes almost no economic sense. The stipend is tiny, but merciful, and it goes immediately back into the economy providing stimulus we badly need. How long it should be extended is debatable, but ending it before we have job growth is the answer.

Allowing the tax cuts to expire will hurt the working poor: the bottom 10% bracket will disappear and go back to 15%, plus the earned income tax credits will expire.

Allowing the tax cuts to expire will hurt the middle class: tax rates will increase 3%; families will lose $500 per child in deductions and some tuition credits; and singles will lose the marriage penalty fix. The House has already passed a bill to extend breaks for the poor and middle class. Should the bill fail to pass the Senate, there may be plenty of support for fixing it next year – especially if the economy continues to flounder.

Allowing the tax cuts to expire will bother the rich: 30 years ago, the top marginal income tax rate was 70%, now it is 35% and would go back up to 38%. Dividends will be again taxed as ordinary income, which it is. The long term capital gains rate, now zero, will go back up to 10%-20% – temporarily cutting the capital gains rate can create an incentive to invest, while cutting the tax rate to zero and keeping it there, does just the opposite. Estate taxes will go back into effect with a $1 million deductible.

The Bush tax cuts were spectacularly effective in increasing the wealth of the richest Americans and turned our surplus to deficit. The next 10-year cost of extending the tax cuts is about $4 trillion,

“…three times the entire projected Social Security shortfall. So giving in to Republican demands would mean risking a major fiscal crisis — a crisis that could be resolved only by making savage cuts in federal spending. And we’re not talking about government programs nobody cares about: the only way to cut spending enough to pay for the Bush tax cuts in the long run would be to dismantle large parts of Social Security and Medicare,” according to Paul Krugman.

But is this just a canard? Hard to know. This lame duck session of Congress is, mercifully, coming to an end soon. It seems likely the Obama-Republican compromise could pass the Senate, but whether the House will betray the same progressive beliefs as our President, is a toss up.

Back to Work to the People’s Business

Lawmakers are back to work this week after the long Labor Day recess. With elections just six weeks away and so many millions of Americans suffering poverty, unemployment, facing eviction, bankruptcy, hunger or without medical care, let’s take a look at how are representatives are going to prove to the voters that they take their jobs seriously.

In addition to prayers, committee meetings, general housekeeping and endless requests for things to be read into the record that didn’t actually occur, here’s what is on this week’s schedule in both chambers, I kid you not.

House of Representatives Senate
Resolutions, each requiring separate votes, expressing the sense of the House regarding…

  • Honoring what happened on 9/11/2001.
  • Honoring the Oklahoma National Guard service since 9/11/2001.
  • Honoring those who died on D-Day at the Battle of Normandy (1944).
  • Congratulating Miami Dade College on their 50th Anniversary.
  • Congratulating Michican Technology University on their 125th Anniversary.
  • Commending USC for winning the NCAA Men’s Tennis Championship.
  • Designating this week as, “National Hispanic-Serving Institutions Week.”
  • Recognizing the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
  • Permitting of Members of Congress to administer the oath of allegiance to applicants for naturalization to take advantage of photo opportunities, which look really nice in campaign flyers and videos.
  • Recognizing the 50th anniversary of the legislation that created REITs.
  • Designating the Post Office located at 218 North Milwaukee Street in Waterford, Wisconsin, as the “Captain Rhett W. Schiller Post Office.”
  • Designating the last week of September as National Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Week and the last Wednesday of September as National Previvor Day.
  • Expressing condolences to and solidarity with the people of Pakistan in the aftermath of the devastating floods.
  • Designating the Federal building and courthouse located at 515 9th Street in Rapid City, South Dakota, as the “Andrew W. Bogue Federal Building and United States Courthouse.”
  • Designating the facility of the Government Printing Office located at 31451 East United Avenue in Pueblo, Colorado, as the “Frank Evans Government Printing Office Building.”
  • Designating the federally occupied building located at 1220 Echelon Parkway in Jackson, Mississippi, as the “James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and Roy K. Moore Federal Building.”
  • Designating the Federal building located at 6401 Security Boulevard in Baltimore, Maryland, as the “Robert M. Ball Federal Building.”
  • Observing the fifth anniversary Hurricane Rita devastated the coasts of Louisiana and Texas, remembering those lost, etc.
  • Observing the fifth anniversary Hurricane Katrina, saluting volunteers, recognizing, remembering, reaffirming, etc.
  • Recognizes the value of recreational aviation and backcountry airstrips located on the nation’s public lands.

Legislation (note: in addition to the people’s new business, the House has 44 bills, which they passed in this session, was sent to the Senate and passed (all, but two by unanimous consent), but a final required vote in the House for them to become law hasn’t happened)…

  • Amends a law so that the Navy’s procurement contract for F/A-18E, F/A-18F, and EA-18G aircraft that expired in March and be extended until two weeks ago.
  • Amends the Made in America Promise Act of 2009 to prohibit Representatives and Senators from making a determination under the Act that is inconsistent with the Act on purchases made by their offices which bear a congressional seal – passed.
  • Amends a law to prohibit the Department from Homeland Security from procuring clothing, tents or natural fiber products directly related to national security that are not grown, reprocessed, reused or produced in the US unless they cannot be procured when they are needed.
  • Requires any person judged in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 from being awarded a government contract unless the head of the agency awarding the contract wants to give it to them anyway and they tell Congress about the next month – passed.
  • Authorizes the GSA to allow the American Red Cross to distribute stuff the government bought during disaster response.
  • Amends a 2002 law that allows the Rural Utility Service to make energy efficiency loans, to make them interest free.
Resolutions, each requiring separate votes, expressing the sense of the Senate regarding…

  • Honoring the Oklahoma National Guard service since 9/11/2001.
  • Designating this month as “National Preparedness Month.”
  • Recognizing “National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.”
  • Recognizing the victory in the America’s Cup race.
  • Remembering Ralph Smeed.
  • Remembering Bobby Eugene Hannon.
  • Commending the entertainment industry’s encouragement of interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Judicial Confirmation Votes

  • Confirmation of the nomination of Jane Stranch to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit (held hostage for 400 days). Judge Stranch was confirmed.

Procedural Votes

  • Four cloture motions were scheduled with respect to the Small Business Jobs bill (held hostage since June), which would create a $30 billion small business lending fund, funnelled though banks holding less than $10 billion in assets, and provide $12 billion in tax breaks to help small businesses grow and add new employees. Two Republicans, Sen. George Voinovich [R, OH] and Sen. George LeMieux [R, FL] voted with every Democrat in favor, making the other motions moot and allowing a vote on the bill.

Legislation (note: in addition to lobbyists’ new business, the Senate has 372 bills yet to be acted on in this session that have been passed in the house – most of them non-controversial and passed by an overwhelming and bi-partisan majority (only 16 of the 372 by less than 60% support), but are being held hostage in the Senate by secret holds, threats of filibuster by the party of no and legislative shenanigans)…

  • No votes are scheduled, but it is expected that the Small Business Jobs will be voted on late Thursday. Update: the bill passed on a 61-38 vote, Thursday, so they can go home for the weekend.
Acknowledgement: This post was inspired by and much of the content derived from OpenCongress.com – a non-profit, independent public resource. Other sources for this story include Senate.gov, ThinkProgress.org,





Dog Days News

So Blago’s guilty of lying, but after six and half years of Justice Department investigations, many millions spent, federal prosecutors couldn’t convince 12 of his peers that he was guilty of any of the other 23 charges. Blago will likely be re-tried.

Our hemisphere is having the hottest summer ever recorded – wildfires in Russia, an iceberg four times the size of Manhattan has broken off Greenland, and Pakistan has more than 20 million affected by flooding with 8+ million in desperate need of food and clean water – yet, the Climate and Energy Bill is being held hostage by Senate Republicans who continue to deny global climate change has been caused by their hot air.

Caffeinated by the tea party, a one-word “no” platform, 309 Senate bills on Republican hold, gay marriage and immigration laws in the courts, a Muslim community center in Manhattan, and the Bush economy/legacy of failure abandoned on Obama’s doorstep, the Republicans are so poorly managed they only have $10.9 million for fall campaigns – now they get a $1 million partial bailout from News Corp., the owner of the Wall Street Journal and Fox Not-Really-News.

With a “real” unemployment rate of 16.5%, a net loss of 131,000 jobs last month, wage growth a misnomer, the current rate of bankruptcies near a 5-year high, record numbers without health insurance, record numbers of foreclosures, exports tanking, trade deficits exploding, bank earnings weakening, 80% of the exiting stimulus allocated to the states, but only 47% spent, and a second stimulus bill dead in the Senate waters –  the $10 billion subsidy just passed to pay states to keep or hire teachers has many school districts saying they aren’t going to rehire teachers, they’ll try to save it to help next year which is sure to be worse.

Haiti is still in ruins, 1.5 million people are still displaced, only about 10% of the money pledged (including the US contribution) has actually been given, Bill Clinton is out doing collections while Hillary is leading by example: she’s contributed $10 via text to relief efforts, but there’s still hope – Fugees’ rapper Wyclef Jean is running for President.

Gone in August:  Oscar-winning actress, Patricia Neal (84, lung cancer); Bobby Hebb, ‘Sunny’ singer-songwriter (72, lung cancer); “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” baseball player Bobby Thomson (86, long illness); jazz singer, civil rights activist, Abbey Lincoln (80, long illness); actor Paul Rudd (70, pancreatic cancer); film and TV producer, David Wolper (82, heart failure); former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (87, plane crash in the bad weather that they didn’t check for before taking off); celebrity plastic surgeon, Frank Ryan (50, texting while driving); writer, pundit, segregationist, James Kilpatrick (89, heart failure); Gap Band musician, Robert Wilson (53, heart attack); singer for the Diamonds, Ted Kowalski (79, heart disease); Pardon by Bill Clinton for accepting kickbacks, 18 term Congressman and former Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committe, Dan Rostenkowski (82, unspecified); bluegrass bassist, Mitch Jayne (82, cancer); guitarist, Catfish Collins (66, cancer); writer, philosopher, Mary Anne Warren (88, unknown); Georgia goobernatorial candidate, Karen Handel (48, failed to convince 1,244 more voters she was less evil than Nathan Deal); HP CEO, Mark Hurd (53, complications from greed and sex-related hubris); hate radio host, Dr. Laura Schlessinger (63, fatal hemmoraging of the N word on air); the last US combat troops in Iraq (7, campaign promise); unimaginable numbers of aquatic creatures and birds, plus 80% of the oil that leaked into the Gulf from BP’s Macondo well (3 months, greed, negligence, inadequate regulation and political bribery).

Update, August 21, 2010:

  • Blago: Jurors report that there was only one holdout juror unconvinced of Blago’s guilt on most of the other charges.
  • Hottest Summer: Now heavy rains have devastated China and North Korea leaving 4,000 dead or missing, more than 50,000 displaced and ‘extremely dangerous” cracks have been found in the Three Gorges dam threatening hundreds of thousands.
  • Republican Fundraising: Politico reports the RNC now has only $5.5 million on hand for the midterm elections and $2.2 million in debt.
  • Jobs: For the week ending Aug. 14, new unemployment filings exceeded 500,000 – the worst job report since Nov. 2009.
  • Hope in Haiti: The Haiti electoral commission ruled yesterday that Wyclef Jean is ineligible to run for president .

What would Pat Robertson say?

Goldman SucksLet’s take a quick look at recent legislative initiatives and the relationship of opposition-killing news events:

  • Health care reform – dead in the house and frozen in the senate until Anthem/Blue Cross announces billions in earnings along with huge policy price increases and the tea party takes the Kennedy senate seat.
  • Wall Street reform – seemingly dead in the Senate, then record-breaking Wall Street profits, revelations of sinister-sounding, but all too routine conflicts and manipulation, then Goldman Sachs was indicted.
  • Immigration reform – no one thought this could get a breath of political air during this partisan election season, then along comes Arizona’s xenophobic immigration law.
  • Energy bill – not a hope in hell for Senate action this year and, boom, BP/Transocean’s Gulf oil platform explodes, drill-baby-drill turns to spill-baby-spill and the oil-version of Katrina makes landfall.

Acts of god? A conspiracy of the non-working liberal press? Greed and hubris metastasizing naturally? Or, is Rahm, just that good?

Health Care: When You'll Get Yours

Updated 3/19/201o to include the House Reconciliation Bill & CBO estimate.

The Democrats say it is going to pass – maybe this week. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to read all 2,009 pages (depending on which version you count) of the Senate’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (AKA: HR 3590) and or even the 74 page summary – and, the 153 page House Reconciliation Act of 2010 (AKA: HR 4872), I thought you might like to know what’s in it for you. And when.

There are some really important things in the combined bill including, according to the CBO, covering an estimated 95% of our citizens – 32 million more than have insurance right now. It corrects many wrongs too long overlooked. It is a good start. Better than nothing, but miles short of wonderful. It isn’t a pretty read. It is filled with technical issues. Way too much of it is really about Medicare, Medicaid, tax policy and deals struck with vested interests (private and public interests) to get the bill passed. Way too little of it is about making health care affordable and keeping it that way for people in the middle who trying to stay there.

It is an improvement on the status quo. It will lay important groundwork for modernizing our system and making it more fair. It will reduce the deficit (while CBO estimates it will cost $940B over 10 years, it would yield a net reduction of our deficit of $138B and reduce it $1.2T over 20 years). It will save lives. And it will take years, as is typical, for it to be interpreted by our bureaucracy into policy and then by lawyers and accountants into loopholes. It is not – not even close to a government takeover – if anything, it is just the opposite – giving private industry yet another shot to heal itself.

What it may do best will also cause the most political damage to the courageous men and women who worked and vote for it: most of the bill is phased in over four years to minimize cost, allow for industry to prepare, and should it be necessary, to provide time for our politicians to fix obvious problems – but it will probably be too late to save those who will have to fall on the sword during the next election cycle for our future.

The clear winners include: seniors (prescription donut hole and no cost preventative care – note: more is expected to come from reconciliation); those over 55 being forced to accept early retirement; those disabled who need care and their families; the working poor and uninsured; all those under 26, students and especially children (OK, and their parents); small business (insurance choices and tax credits); the health insurance industry and providers (30+ million new paying customers – note: physicians and hospitals did not do as well as insurance and pharma, but I suspect, most will be relieved/happy for their patients); software developers, tech support, data managers, etc.; state governments (healthier citizens, few unfunded mandates and a dramatic reshaping of indigent care – note: reconciliation is expected to provide more help to the states on mandated Medicare changes); deficit hawks (saves taxpayer money and sets framework for future changes); and millions of patient advocates, volunteers, social workers, community health clinics and civic organizations who tirelessly help those less fortunate.

The losers: those making over $250,000 a year (.09% wage tax and 3.8% investment income tax, plus some minor changes in deductions) and especially senior health insurance executives or those with exotic medical and compensation plans; lawyers (fewer bankruptcies); and copier companies, copy paper producers and related products. Mostly the losers are those who can’t wait until 2014 – and probably the Democrats.

Was Going To Happen This Year No Matter What

  • Private health care insurance companies will immediately raise rates as high as possible – they would have whether the bill passed or not. Witness: Anthem of California’s rate hike of up to 39%. Get ready, if being ready helps. It will be ugly. There is almost nothing stopping them now or ever. They are bulletproof. A win-win-win. Without competition the market just can’t correct it, and what competition there will be, is years away.
  • Tens of thousands of employers will react to these rate hikes by either raising employee health care costs or quit providing coverage – they would have whether the bill passed or not. Good luck.
  • Millions of individuals will drop their coverage because they can’t afford it (the Robert Wood Johnson research puts the number expected to join the uninsured in the next 10 years at 18.2 million, bringing the total to 67.6 million without insurance) and play the American version of Russian Roulette betting they will survive long enough for the bill to phase in subsidies and benefits. Most would have dropped their coverage anyway. They will blame it on the economy, the private insurance companies and Washington. They should.
  • States, faced with insurmountable budget shortfalls, will cut reimbursement rates to doctors and hospitals, which will cause thousands of providers to drop Medicaid resulting in hundreds of thousands of people going without any health care (your neighbors will be among them), many of whom will die.
  • The midterm elections will be held before almost anything tangibly good in the bill changes anything. There may be hell to pay.
  • The next presidential election will be held before almost anything tangibly good in the bill changes anything, but after the taxes, fees and requirements go into effect. There may be hell to pay.

Immediate (within 90 days)

  • Those uninsured who have pre-existing conditions, will have access to a national high risk insurance pool (using private providers or via state high risk pools) with financial assistance (limits out-of-pocket costs for coverage through the pool to $5,950 for individuals and $11,900 for families annually – up to $5B in total subsidies). This is temporary and will be transitioned to exchanges in 2014.
  • Will bar preexisiting conditions on children’s coverage.
  • Will create a new reinsurance program to make coverage more affordable for early retirees (55+) – basically, a subsidy for employee-based plans to continue coverage by paying up to 80% of the cost until Medicare.
  • Gradually closes the Medicare prescription drug gap (Part D “Donut Hole”) until it is eliminated in 2020. Effected seniors will receive a $250 rebate in 2010.
  • Increases the adoption tax credit by $1,000 (begins in 2009) and extends them through 2011 (one of those unrelated to health care bones tossed to the anti-women’s right to choose lobby, before the Senate caved totally).
  • Small business (up to 35%) and small nonprofit tax credit (up to 25%) on employer’s contribution to health insurance for employees.
  • A two-year tax credit (2009 & 2010 – capped at $1B) to encourage investment in therapies that prevent, diagnose and treat acute and chronic diseases. This was an attempt to win support of doctors, hospitals and equipment manufacturers.
  • Tax relief for health professionals with state loan repayments – doesn’t affect you and me, but will give tax help to some physicians in underserved areas.
  • Provides funds to build new and expand existing community health centers, and expands funding for scholarships and loan repayments for primary care practitioners working in underserved areas – some of this is new money, most is refunding existing programs.
  • Expands low-interest student loan programs and scholarships for health students and professionals.
  • Excludes the value Indian tribal health benefits from gross income.
  • Requires creation of a web site that will identify affordable coverage by state, tax credits, and other information of interest to small business.
  • Requires another crackdown and more screening on fraud and waste.
  • Creates another council to promote health policies.
  • Provides money to Health & Human Services (HHS) to figure out and quantitatively measure just how wonderful this program is. Or isn’t.
  • Extends payment protections for rural providers who don’t do enough business to make it on their own, but help a lot of people who couldn’t get help otherwise.
  • Creates a private, non-profit institute to identify “national priorities” and compare the effectiveness of health treatments, which is an attempt to create political cover when facing lobbyists who don’t want their pet projects cut.
  • Finally allows states the option of covering parents and childless adults up to 133% of the poverty level (in some states, not typically Southern, it is felt that the poverty level is too low and their least fortunate citizens a more humane program).
  • Establishes standards and community assessments for new nonprofit hospitals which should give some political cover for local government when facing neighborhood activists in cahoots with real estate developers, bond companies, etc.
  • Gives Blue Cross a special tax deduction as long as this non-profit don’t profit by more than 15%, which was designed to get a couple of votes in the Senate. (Note: this will likely be removed in the reconciliation bill.)
  • Imposes a 10% tax on indoor tanning services because their lobby was not as effective as the cosmetic surgery lobby.
  • Codifies and clarifies economic substance doctrine and penalities (again, not health care, allowable, important).
  • Appropriates $500M a year (2010-2014) for the Community College and Career Training Grant program; creates mandatory funding of Pell Grants, funds College Access Challenge Grants and funding for Historically Black Colleges & Universities; and reforms student loans, limits interest rates and reduces income-based repayment amounts (again, not health care, allowable, important).

Six Months After Enactment (and Beginning with Your Insurance Plan Year)

  • Prohibits rescissions (practice of rescinding coverage when a person gets sick as a way to avoid covering costs) – we all should count down the days and hope we aren’t on the rescind list.
  • Eliminates lifetime and restricts “unreasonable” annual limits.
  • Requires first dollar coverage (generally, no deductible) for preventative care.
  • Allows dependent coverage until age 26.
  • Requires creation of an “effective” appeals process for coverage determination and claims and awards grants to states in order to establish consumer assistance programs in response to complaints (boy, that’s going to work in Georgia).

2011 (lower your expectations)

  • Provides a free, annual wellness visit and no-cost sharing preventive services for Medicare beneficiaries.
  • Begins a 50% discount on brand name drugs for seniors in the Medicare prescription drug gap (Part D “Donut Hole”).
  • Creates incentives for states to cover evidence-based preventative services without cost-sharing for Medicare beneficiaries.
  • Requires Medicare coverage of tobacco cessation services for pregnant women (I’m guessing that this isn’t limited to pregnant women over 65).
  • All health plans must file annual reports showing share of premiums going for care and, should their accountants really screw up, they must provide consumer rebates for excessive medical loss ratios.
  • Provides a 10% Medicare bonus payment to primary care physicians and general surgeons (which they would have done anyway so that they don’t have to actually raise reimbursement rates – permanently raising would make it look as if Medicare was in trouble).
  • Establishes a “Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation,” which will attempt to create methods to reduce costs while enhancing care and which sounds like such a great idea, but makes every cynic snicker.
  • Provide several important policy changes related to education slots to increase doctors, nurses and care providers, but they are so tediously complicated I suggest you Bing or Google for the details).
  • Ditto on tax code changes related to standard language, small business cafeteria plans and other technical issues which would only pain you to know at this point, unless you are planning to raid your HSA, which you’d better do before the end of 2010. Oh yeah, your W-2’s will now show the value of your health benefit.
  • Begins the transition away from Medicare Advantage – that famously popular program where we, the taxpayers, give insurance companies 15% more to privately manage Medicare which they used to expand benefits by charging recipients even more. Wonderfully conceived experiment.
  • Imposes a non-deductible $2.3B fee (split based on market share) on big pharma in return for “supporting” this bill and our government agreeing not to negotiate prices or re-import drugs for Medicare or Medicaid which would, of course, bring prices way down for individuals who will have to wait four years to see benefit.

October 1, 2011

  • Allows states to offer home and community based services rather than institutional care to disabled individuals through Medicaid.

2012 (lower your expectations even more)

  • Implement payment reforms to gain efficiencies and improve quality.
  • Incentivize quality hospital outcomes and penalize hospitals with the highest readmission rates.

2013 (chances are, this won’t be your year either)

  • Begin paying Medicare physicians based on value instead of volume to promote quality of care.
  • Requires that Medicaid payment rates for primary care services be no less than 100% of the Medicare rates.
  • Mandatory adoption of electronic filing and information exchange (expect everyone to miss that deadline) and establish a pilot program of payment bundling and provider cooperation/coordination designed to save money, and, of course, improve care.
  • Increase the itemize deduction threshold for medical expenses from 7.5% to 10% of adjusted gross income for eligibility.
  • Add a .09% hospital insurance wage tax and a 3.8% investment tax on people making more than $200,000 individuals/$250,000 family.
  • Limits the deductibility of executive (all officers, employees, board members and contract workers) compensation of insurance companies to $500,000 each per year.
  • Sets $2,500 cap on over-the-counter medications for flexible spending accounts (FSAs).
  • Creates excise tax on medical device manufacturers of 2.9% (exempts Class I medical devices, eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, and any device of a type that is generally purchased by the public at retail for individual use) to raise $2B ($3B in 2012 and beyond).

2014 (finally and outrageous to believe that some of these weren’t done in year one)

  • Insurance companies are prohibited from discriminating based on health status, preexisting conditions, and gender. They still will be able to discriminate based on age, geography, family size and tobacco use, but they are limited to discriminating on rates of no more than three times their lowest rate.
  • Annual limits are eliminated.
  • Insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping coverage of those participating in a clinical trial or denying coverage for routine care.
  • Health exchanges are established in each state (yes, state) to enable people to comparison shop, enroll and determine if tax credits for financial assistance will be available.
  • A multi-state option (really national) will be available offered by private insurance companies and, at least one non-profit.
  • Health care premium tax credits will be available for those above Medicaid eligibility and below 400% of the poverty line (currently $43,320 for individual; $88,200 for a family of four – Alaska and Hawaii are higher). These credits will be for premium and cost sharing expenses and is what will enable most of the uninsured to afford coverage. What does all of this mean? If your income is above the poverty line, but less than 133%, you’ll have to pay 2% of the cost and the tax credit will pay 98%. The scale slides up to 400% of the poverty line and indexed year to year, but basically your share would be: 133% up to 150% – 3.0%; 150% up to 200% – 4.0%; 200% up to 250% – 6.3%; 250% up to 300% – 8.05%; 300% up to 400% – 9.5%.
  • Almost everyone is required to have health insurance or pay a penalty (2014: $95; 2015: $325; 2016: $695 or 2% (increasing to 2.5% in 2016) of income up to national average cap). Families will pay half the amount for children. The only exception is if affordable insurance is not available. Sounds onerous, but they are doing this because it wouldn’t be fair to the insurance companies for an individual to purposely not have insurance, get sick knowing they can get coverage by buying a policy only when they need it – plus, they made a deal with the insurance companies to do this in return for insurance companies agreeing to pay a fee to help offset the costs of the bills.
  • No one receiving a tax credit to buy insurance would be allowed to use it for a policy with abortion coverage. States can ban abortion coverage in plans offered through the exchange. Exceptions would be made cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother.
  • Employers are not required to provide coverage. However, employers with 50+ employees (companies with fewer than 50 employees are except), who do not offer coverage, and have workers who are subsidized by the government, must pay a fee to subsidize those workers – $2,000 annually for each full-time employee (there is no penalty for the first 30 employees, plus, there are a few other caveats based on waiting periods, etc. Bing it). Part-time workers are included in the calculations (two part-time workers equals one full-time worker).
  • The small business tax credit will continue.
  • Workers who qualify for an affordability exemption to the requirement to have coverage, but not for tax credits, can take their employer contribution and join an exchange plan.
  • Medicaid eligibility will increase to 133% of poverty. Childless adults will be included for the first time. For new enrollees, the federal government share will be 100% in 2014, 2015, and 2016; 95% in 2017; 94% in 2018; 93% in 2019; and 90% thereafter (funding the state mandate).
  • Medicare advantage will be eliminated by competitive bidding.
  • Impose fees providers (health insurance companies): $2B ($8B in 2014; $11.3B in 2015 & 2016; $13.9B 2017 and $14.3B after that).
  • There will be more reporting requirements for many providers to measure quality of care as a pathway toward value-based purchasing.

2018

  • Impose the Cadillac excise tax of 40% on employee plans costing more than $10,200 for individuals and $29,327 for families of four (indexed for high cost states, high risk professions and for the elderly).

2020

  • Medicare Part D (prescription drug plan) increases to a 75% discount on brand name drugs for seniors and completely eliminates the “Donut Hole.”

That’s it. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Seemingly, our entire government has spent a year developing that? Every news channel, newspaper and most blogs have spent a year reporting and debating that? Republicans could spin endlessly for a year that this, often in the same sentence, would turn us into Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Russia? Hundreds of millions spent lobbying against that? Democrats could trade all the hope and power that comes once in a generation, for this? Yes.

If it weren’t passed now, we’d just have to go through this again some day not soon enough.

___________

Acknowledgements:
Information, reference and documents used in this story include those from:

And others too numerous to mention. Thank you.

It's the stupid jobs bill, stupid

It's jobs, stupid!Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. Washington’s focused on them like a laser. Yesterday, Harry Reid (soon to be former Democrat Senator from Nevada and current Majority Leader), announced the revised Senate bill designed for bi-partisan appeal and to help create the nine plus million jobs needed to offset just those that have been lost since the worst depression since the great one began.

The cost of the total package, according to estimates released by Reid, would be about $15 billion over 10 years. This is what he said was actually in the bill (I’m not making this stuff up):

  1. A payroll tax holiday that would waive the 6.2% Social Security tax for any employer who hires a worker who has been out of a job for at least 60 days. In addition, the bill would provide a $1,000 income tax credit for every new employee retained for at least 52 weeks.
  2. A tax break that would allow businesses to write off up to $250,000 in capital investments in 2010 rather than depreciating the costs over time.

Waiting for more? That’s it. Yeah, really. Nothing to help re-capitalize small businesses, which have historically pulled us out of economic doldrums and been the hiring engine that could. Nothing to spur consumption. Nothing for expansion. Nothing for training. Nothing to get the banks lending to business. Nothing to help with the crippling, double digit health insurance premium increases that have been announced. Nothing to help create jobs of those hardest hit groups or regions.

In fairness, there are other versions of the bill. One of those versions had bi-partisan support, an $85 billion price tag, extended unemployment benefits and would subsidize interest on bonds for local infrastructure products (a more expensive version of nothing). Reid pretty much squashed that.

They take this stuff really seriously up in Washington. This is their answer? Somebody get me a tea bag.

Buying Washington with our money

$3.8 billion. That’s how much the people you elected to Congress and the Senate took from finance, insurance and real estate lobbyists in the past 10 years. That’s right, billion.

What did they buy? Protection from regulation that would protect consumers and investors. Protection from laws that would stop the outrageous risks, self-dealing, market making, collusion and investor deception. Protection from paying ordinary taxes on their extraordinary incomes. And protection from failure to the tune of more taxpayer money than, according to The Intelligence Daily,

“… the cost of all US wars (including such events as the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the invasion of Panama, the Kosovo War and numerous other small conflicts), the Louisiana Purchase, the New Deal, the Marshall Plan and the NASA Space Program combined.”

With Congress safely in their vest pockets, the financial sector has thrived and is expected this week to announce record bonus payments – “… expected to be 30 to 40 percent higher than 2008’s.” Wall Street and the mega-banks profits have so bloated during this period that, according to Robert Creamer,

“of every 12.5 dollars earned in the United States, one goes to the financial sector, much of which, let us recall, produces nothing.”

What wait, you must be thinking, what about the regulation and reforms we were promised to keep from having to save all the firms too big to fail from failing again? Surely voters won’t stand for more of the same. The tough votes will have to be made, right? We’re going to re-regulate these companies, get transparency, watch them and enforce our laws, right?

Hate to get your hopes up. On December 11, 2009, the House passed H.R. 4173, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 – according to the DNC, the bill is the  “most sweeping financial regulation since the Great Depression.” DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse, said,

“One year after nearly the worst financial collapse in our nation’s history — a collapse brought on by the excessive greed and risk taking of Wall Street and by the anything goes regulatory environment put in place by Republicans — not one Republican in the House thinks that consumers deserve additional protections or that the practices of Wall Street should be curbed.”

The Dems writing the bill, apparently, don’t think so either. The fix was in. To get the 1,300 page bill to a vote, they caved on the enforcement provisions so that the bill falls somewhere between a tediously long suggestion and a PR stunt. Sound tough to voters, but make sure the market sees the secret wink and the nod. Sure, the bill would shuffle the regulators, asks the Treasury to report stuff to Congress, requires a lot more forms to be filled out, and adds some councils and boards. It prohibits a few new things, but also repeals some regulation on the books that could make things worse. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) voted against the bill, believing the legislation does not go far enough. On his website, Kucinich noted the loopholes in the bill “that sophisticated financial industry insiders will exploit with ease.”

But hey, the Senate just got a hold of it. Don’t expect it to be better, shorter, or even get to a vote until spring, if then.


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