Friday, March 27, 2015

180 House Democrats Just Voted to Cut Medicare Benefits, Paving Road for Future "Entitlement Reform"

The House passed its "doc fix" deal yesterday 392 to 37.

Party leaders were glowing in self-congratulation:
Pelosi praised the deal, saying it had been a “privilege” to work with Boehner “in a bipartisan way on this legislation.
"I hope it will be a model of things to come," she said.
Boehner likewise touted the bipartisanship, and argued pass of the bill was a step toward broader entitlement reform.
"This is what we can accomplish when we focus on finding common ground," he said.
Ah, "entitlement reform." Sound familiar? 
 
The deal was opposed by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
Here is NCPSSM explaining their opposition:
While the National Committee supports the payment system reforms in the House leadership package, we oppose plans to pay for nearly half of the offsets in the bill by increasing costs for Medicare beneficiaries. Most of this offset would come from further means testing Medicare Part B and D premiums. Higher-income Medicare beneficiaries are already paying more and expanding Medicare means testing of premiums further erodes the social insurance nature of the program. It also reaffirms our concern that interest in using means testing as an offset for various pieces of legislation is ongoing and will result in more middle-class seniors shouldering the cost of higher and higher premiums.
Cost savings would also be achieved by requiring Medigap plans to have a deductible. These policies are purchased primarily by middle and lower-income beneficiaries to ensure their health care costs are affordable and predictable. Making Medigap coverage less comprehensive could cause some people to forgo necessary care, which could lead to higher health costs. Even without the offsets paid by beneficiaries, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that Medicare beneficiaries would automatically contribute $58 billion over the next ten years in Part B premiums to replace the SGR.
In addition, our support for SGR legislation has been contingent on including provisions to make the Qualified Individual (QI) program and the therapy cap exceptions process permanent. The “Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act” would make the QI program permanent, but not the therapy cap exceptions process.
We regret that House leaders did not improve the SGR package by dropping plans to require seniors and people with disabilities to pay more for Medicare and by including other offsets we support, such as restoring rebates from drug manufacturers for the drugs used by individuals who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid and for people receiving the Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy (LIS). Additional offset proposals we support include increasing manufacturer discounts for brand name drugs in Medicare Part D to 75 percent, effectively closing the coverage gap “donut hole” for brand name drugs in 2017, three years sooner than  under current law; promoting lower pharmaceutical costs by providing for faster development of  generic versions of biologic drugs; and prohibiting "pay-for-delay" agreements between brand  name and generic pharmaceutical companies that delay entry of generic drugs into the market which would provide prescription drug savings and would lower costs for beneficiaries.
The US needs to have genuinely universal health care, and increasing out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare takes us in exactly the opposite direction. 
 
33 Republicans and 4 Democrats voted against the bill.

The Republicans opposed it because the cost of the bill was not fully offset.

The only 4 Democrats to oppose the bill were Jim Cooper (TN-05), Jerry Nadler (NY-10), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), and Pete Visclosky (IN-01).

I can't vouch for the rationales for Coooper and Visclosky, but Nadler and Schakowsky have traditionally been strong supporters of Social Security and Medicare.

In the deal, Democrats got a two-year extension of the authorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), although Senate Democrats have been pushing for a four-year extension instead. Moreover, it is simply wrong to treat the welfare of seniors and the welfare of children as a zero-sum game in policy making, as the bill negotiated by Boehner and Pelosi does.

Congressional Budget Week Roundup

I've written a number of pieces on the budget voting that's been happening this week, so I thought I'd combine them into one post.


These Democrats Just Voted for a Weaselly Republican Budget Amendment on Social Security

Democrats Split on Progressive Caucus Budget 96 to 86. How Did Your Rep Vote?

Which 22 Democrats Voted Against Their Own Party's Budget?

The Senate Voted on 7 Budget Amendments Yesterday. How Did Your Senator Vote?

The Perils of Poorly Drafted Amendments: Min Wage and Paid Sick Leave Edition

All 43 Roll Call Votes from the Senate Vote-A-Rama...In One Diary

The House Voted on Three Democratic Budgets Yesterday. How Did the MA Delegation Vote?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Deval Patrick's Latest Gig? Lobbying for the TPP

Recently, our former governor here in Massachusetts took a job as a "global ambassador" for the Boston 2024 Partnership, the private, unelected group of lobbyists and CEOs behind the city's 2024 Summer Olympics bid. Although he's now "volunteering" and not taking the $7,500 a day compensation package, I'm sure he'll get a very generous expense account to use for his wining and dining of IOC commissioners.

However, lobbying the IOC isn't his own gig now. He's also lobbying for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal written by and for large corporations which the Obama administration has been aggressively pushing.

Deval Patrick was announced today as a member of the advisory board of the so-called Progressive Coalition for American Jobs, a front group run by former Obama aides. Here's the Associated Press on the announcement:
President Obama’s allies are recruiting high-profile Democrats to help combat liberal resistance to his bid for new trade agreements in Asia and elsewhere.
The effort will sharpen differences between the Democratic Party’s liberal and pro-business wings, especially in New England. And it could accelerate the effort to woo black lawmakers, a key target in the House.
Heading a pro-trade advisory board being announced Tuesday are former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and former US. Trade Representative and Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk.
Kirk’s and Gregoire’s roles are not surprising. But Patrick’s might add some sizzle to the trade debate heating up in Congress. Among the Obama trade agenda’s strongest critics is another Massachusetts Democrat, Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Patrick and Kirk are two of the nation’s most prominent African-American politicians. Obama has openly wooed the Congressional Black Caucus in hopes of securing some of the House Democratic votes he will need to pass his trade plans.
I wrote about the "Progressive Coalition for American Jobs" two weeks ago here. It's the Democratic-aligned PR firm behind Democrat-in-name-only Ro Khanna's congressional campaign against Mike Honda (CA-17) and Educators for Excellence, a Gates-funded front group that advocates against teacher tenure and for teacher evaluation systems that rely on the use of standardized test scores. 
Elizabeth Warren has spoken eloquently and forcefully against the lack of transparency around the TPP text and the particularly pernicious investor-state dispute settlement provision, which would further entrench corporate power. Here's Warren last month in an op-ed in the Washington Post:
ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages.
Beyond that entrenchment of corporate power, the Trans-Pacific Partnership would further the trend toward monopolization, as Paul Krugman explained a few weeks ago:
What the T.P.P. would do, however, is increase the ability of certain corporations to assert control over intellectual property. Again, think drug patents and movie rights.
Is this a good thing from a global point of view? Doubtful. The kind of property rights we’re talking about here can alternatively be described as legal monopolies. True, temporary monopolies are, in fact, how we reward new ideas; but arguing that we need even more monopolization is very dubious — and has nothing at all to do with classical arguments for free trade.

Now, the corporations benefiting from enhanced control over intellectual property would often be American. But this doesn’t mean that the T.P.P. is in our national interest. What’s good for Big Pharma is by no means always good for America.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Trade Promotion Authority (commonly called "fast track") that Obama wants for it, has faced heavy criticism from environmental and labor groups. 
You can read a letter from environmental groups like 350.org, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Greenpeace USA, and Clean Water Action (among many others) here.

You can read the letter from a large group of labor organizations against fast-track authority here.

You can read the letter that the AFL-CIO, Citizens Trade Campaign, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the National Farmers Union, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters just sent to Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, here.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Congress Gets Tired of Warmongering Toward Iran, Votes 348-48 to Trigger War with Russia

Congress is tired of all this talk of war with Iran and has a new target: war with Russia.
Earlier today, Congress passed a resolution calling on Obama to provide Ukraine with military assistance.

Last month, the editorial board of The Nation had a sharp editorial on why this would be a disastrous idea:
Arming the Ukrainian military is not in the best interest of either the United States or Ukraine. It will only worsen a bloody crisis that has already killed more than 5,000, with more than 1.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons. There is no military solution to this conflict, only a political one. Supplying US arms to Kiev will only provide ammunition for Russian leaders who believe, fairly or not, that the United States is attempting to turn Ukraine into a Western military base near Russia’s borders. Indeed, as Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institution writes, “If U.S.-provided weapons fail to induce a Russian retreat in Ukraine and instead cause an escalation of the war, the net result will not be peace and compromise.” Arms transfers to Kiev are not likely to induce Russian retreat; for both historical and geographical reasons, Ukraine will always be a vital strategic interest for Russia in ways that it cannot be for the United States. Military brinkmanship on Washington’s part is thus doomed to fail; Russia will always hold the stronger military hand on this issue.


The likely result of arming Kiev will be not only more lives lost but the very real possibility of another arms race between the United States and Russia. It could also end the last remnants of cooperation between the two on containing the spread of nuclear weapons. That’s why some of those most familiar with this threat are sounding the alarm….


At nearly every critical juncture over the past year, military escalation, by both Russia and the West, has inflicted immense trauma on the Ukrainian people and threatened its government’s survival. Ukraine is now on the verge of financial and military collapse, with the currency falling by more than a third in just one week and with foreign exchange reserves almost tapped out. (It is estimated that in order to survive, Ukraine needs more than $50 billion, which it will be largely up to Europe to provide.) Kiev knows the only way it can win is by drawing NATO into the fight—with the likely result being a long, bloody civil war.
You can read the Brookings post cited here
 
The resolution passed 348 to 48. 214 Republicans an 134 Democrats voted for it. 38 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted against it.

Here are the 38 Democrats:

Don Beyer (VA-08)
Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01)
Mike Capuano (MA-07)
Judy Chu (CA-32)
Katherine Clark (MA-05)
Yvette Clarke (NY-09)
John Conyers (MI-13)
Donna Edwards (MD-04)
Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Sam Farr (CA-20)
Lois Frankel (FL-22)
Marcia Fudge (OH-11)
Raul Grijalva (AZ-03)
Janice Hahn (CA-44)
Mike Honda (CA-17)
Jared Huffman (CA-02)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Eddie B. Johnson (TX-30)
Brenda Lawrence (MI-14)
Barbara Lee (CA-13)
John Lewis (GA-05)
David Loebsack (IA-02)
Alan Lowenthal (CA-47)
Jim McGovern (MA-02)
Gregory Meeks (NY-05)
Gwen Moore (WI-04)
Jerry Nadler (NY-10)
Rick Nolan (MN-08)
Beto O’Rourke (TX-16)
Mark Pocan (WI-02)
Jan Schakowsky (IL-09)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
Jackie Speier (CA-14)
Mark Takano (CA-41)
Niki Tsongas (MA-03)
Maxine Waters (CA-43)
Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12)
Pete Welch (VT-AL)

Here are the 10 Republicans who voted against it:

Justin Amash (MI-03)
Curt Clawson (FL-19)
Scott DesJarlais (TN-04)
John Duncan (TN-02)
Tim Huelskamp (KS-01)
Walter Jones (NC-03)
Tom Massie (KY-04)
Mick Mulvaney (SC-05)
Bill Posey (FL-08)
Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48)

36 members of Congress simply were not in attendance. I thought I would highlight the 16 Democrats who were not in attendance (and thus voted neither for nor against the resolution):

Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
Brendan Boyle (PA-13)
Corinne Brown (FL-05)
Steve Cohen (TN-09)
Danny Davis (IL-07)
Mike Doyle (PA-14)
John Garamendi (CA-03)
Luis Gutierrez (IL-04)
Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15)
Dan Lipinski (IL-3)
Donald Payne (NJ-10)
Cedric Richmond (LA-02)
Raul Ruiz (CA-36)
Bobby Rush (IL-01)
Tim Ryan (OH-13)
Adam Smith (WA-09)

Whenever I see warmongering around Russia, I always think of how so many of these people grew up during the Cold War and how the Cold War was a dominant geopolitical reality during much of their professional life. And, as the saying goes, there's no war like the first.....

Thursday, March 19, 2015

House GOP Votes Again to Hamstring the EPA with "Secret Science" Bill. Which Democrats Went Along?

Following their attack on the EPA on Tuesday, House Republicans voted to further hamstring the EPA with the so-called Secret Science Reform Act of 2015.

What would the bill do?
This bill would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from proposing, finalizing or disseminating any rule, regulation or other "covered action" unless all scientific and technical information relied upon to support that decision is made available to the public in a manner where the research can be independently analyzed and substantially reproduced. While this appears to be a reform that provides greater public transparency in agency rulemaking, these new requirements would force the EPA to ignore any scientific information related to personal health and other confidential data legally protected from disclosure – jeopardizing the agency’s ability to use best-available scientific data and weakening its scientific integrity....

Further, by requiring EPA to maintain detailed descriptions of all materials, data, codes and models used to create rules, as well as instructions on how to access and use them, the agency would be forced to waste limited funds working through burdensome reporting requirements instead of important public health protections.
50 scientific societies and universities recently wrote to Congress to urge members to oppose the bill because it would prohibit the use of large-scale public health studies because their data cannot "realistically be reproduced." Similarly, public health studies often use private medical data, trade secrets, and industry data that cannot legally be made public.

The bill passed 241 to 175.

One Republican--Chris Gibson (NY-19)--voted against it.

Four Democrats voted for it:
Brad Ashford (NE-02)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28).
Collin Peterson (MN-07)

Two Democratic amendments received votes.

The first, from Donna Edwards (MD-04), would authorize $250 million in EPA appropriations for each of fiscal years 2016 through 2019.

It failed 164 to 254.

17 Democrats joined Republicans to vote it down:

Pete Aguilar (CA-31)
Brad Ashford (NE-02)
Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
Gerry Connolly (VA-11)
Jim Cooper (TN-05)
Tammy Duckworth (IL-08)
Gwen Graham (FL-02)
Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)
Anne McLane Kuster (NH-02)
Patrick Murphy (FL-18)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Mike Quigley (IL-05)
Raul Ruiz (CA-36)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)
Tim Walz (MN-01)

The second amendment, offered by Joe Kennedy (MA-04), would allow the EPA to use all peer-reviewed scientific publications.

It failed 184 to 231.

Three Republicans joined Democrats in voting for it:

Bob Dold (IL-10)
Chris Gibson (NY-19)
Richard Hanna (NY-22)

Which House Democrats Joined the GOP's Latest Attack on the EPA?

Tuesday, the House passed the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2015, a bill to increase industry power over the EPA:
Under this bill, the EPA would be required to select members for the SAB that represent a “balanced” view of scientific issues, regardless of the legitimacy of those views – exposing the Board to potentially politically motivated beliefs not grounded in actual science. Additionally, the bill would allow up to 90% of SAB members to be private-sector scientists with direct ties to the industries – opening the door for corporations to hold powerful influence over its decisions and recommendations to the EPA.

The bill would also require a number of changes to the SAB’s operation. The Board would be required to release to the public all scientific information used in determining its advisories to EPA, indicating any and all "uncertainties" associated with the scientific advice it does provide, and it must ensure that the advice it provides to EPA reflect the views of all Board members.  It also would allow the public to file public comments on those advisories and require the Board to respond to all public comments – forcing the SAB to waste time and limited funds on burdensome administrative requirements instead of actually advising the EPA on science. These additional requirements that the bill demands of the SAB are essentially designed to keep it from getting anything accomplished, especially since the bill contains no additional resources for the board to function.
The bill passed 236 to 181

It was a mostly party line vote. One Republican--Chris Gibson (NY-19)--broke party lines to vote against it. Two Democrats--Brad Ashford (NE-02) and Collin Peterson (MN-07)--broke party lines to vote for it.

The Housed voted on one amendment to the bill, from Republican David McKinley (WV-01). It would block individuals from sitting on the Science Advisory Board if they are currently receiving EPA contracts or grants, and it would prohibit SAB members from applying for EPA contracts or grants in the three years following the end of their service.

This passed 242 to 175.

Four Republicans voted against it:

Bob Dold (IL-10)
Chris Gibson (NY-19)
Kay Granger (TX-12)
Michael Rogers (AL-03)

10 Democrats voted for it:

Brad Ashford (NE-02)
Gwen Graham (FL-02)
Alan Grayson (FL-09)
Gene Green (TX-29)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Stephen Lynch (MA-08)
Gwen Moore (WI-04)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Kathleen Rice (NY-04)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Obama Campaign Alumni Form New Astroturf Group to Promote TPP

Obama campaign alumni Mitch Stewart, the Battleground States Director for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, and Lydia Tran, the former National Press Secretary for Organizing for America, just launched a new astroturf campaign to promote the fast-track authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Their efforts will focus on Oregon and Washington at first because they are both export-heavy states--and because Ron Wyden (D-OR) is the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

Their firm, 270 Strategies, is the Democratic-aligned PR firm behind Democrat-in-name-only Ro Khanna's congressional campaign against Mike Honda (CA-17) and Educators for Excellence, a Gates-funded front group that advocates against teacher tenure and for teacher evaluation systems that rely on the use of standardized test scores.

Here is their press release, written in Newspeak:
Congress set to debate concrete measures for strengthening the American economy this year, the Progressive Coalition for American Jobs (PCAJ) is launching today to pave the way to trade promotion authority for President Obama and to help pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership. PCAJ is kicking things off with a significant digital advertising effort in Oregon and Washington State and will expand to other key states in weeks to come.
PCAJ will bring together progressive voices across the activist, advocacy, and business communities to share information about the benefits of this groundbreaking trade agreement—which is expected to support hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the United States.

Mitch Stewart, Battleground States Director for the 2012 Obama for America Campaign, and his fellow partner at 270 Strategies Lydia Tran, are coordinating the public launch and will provide strategic counsel for the coalition.

“Put simply, this is about ensuring America is competitive in the global economy, about expanding the market for ‘Made in America’ goods, about leveling the playing field to protect American workers and jobs,’ said Stewart. “We know that 95 percent of the world’s markets are beyond our borders—and that every $1 billion in exports supports between 5,200 and 7,000 jobs here at home. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will strengthen our economy while allowing us to determine the rules for engagement, instead of letting China and others set weaker policies in the fastest-growing markets in the world.”  

“It’s time for a modern take on the global economy—we absolutely can have trade that is both free and fair,” said Tran. Giving trade promotion authority to the President and enacting the Trans-Pacific Partnership has the potential to do more to advance progressive ideals and values around the world than any other trade agreement in history. The TPP will move us forward while setting incredibly tough rules on wages, workplace safety, and the environment.”

PCAJ is the first major effort by Democrats to shore up support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and will employ digital, grassroots, and grasstops organizing—as well as comprehensive communications strategies—to make the progressive case for free and fair trade.

The Progressive Coalition for American Jobs wants to progressively outsource American jobs.