United States News Digest
Obama Gets His Medicare Cuts: 43 Million Americans on the Block
Feb. 28 (EIRNS)Some 43 million Americans depend on Medicare to help provide their health care. As of March 1, 2010, the doctors they rely on are to take a 21.2% cut in payments for their services. This will obviously force many doctors to cut back on the number of Medicare patients they see, or eliminate them all together.
In a release issued Feb. 26, the American Medical Association stated bluntly: "A Medicare meltdown now seems certain, as the U.S. Senate has left early for the weekend, abandoning seniors, military families and baby boomers. The Senate failed to repeal the Medicare physician payment formula that will cause a drastic 21% payment cut to physicians who care for Medicare and TRICARE patients. The 21% cut goes into effect March 1, forcing many physicians to limit the number of Medicare and TRICARE patients they see in order to keep their practice doors open.
" 'Our message to the U.S. Senate is stop playing games with Medicare patients and the physicians who care for them,' said AMA President J. James Rohack, M.D. 'It is shocking that the Senate would abandon our most vulnerable patients, making them the collateral damage of their procedural games.' "
Unemployment Benefits Extension Bill Blocked in Senate
Feb. 27 (EIRNS)A bill to extend numerous expiring programs, including unemployment benefits (1.2 million people were to lose their unemployment benefits at midnight Feb. 28), COBRA health insurance benefits, surface transportation programs, and numerous others, by a mere one month is blocked in the Senate because of President Obama's pay-as-you-go law, which he signed only last week. The bill passed the House on Feb. 25 under suspension of the rules, but when Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) tried to take it up in the Senate under a unanimous consent request, it was blocked by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), who noted that, despite the pay-go requirement having been signed into law only a week earlier, the Democrats were already trying to bypass it by designating all of the spending as "emergencies."
Durbin indicated that he would overcome Bunning's objection by bringing the bill up under regular order on March 2, where the votes are likely there to pass it; but that means that Bunning will be able to force a debate on his amendment to subtract the $10 billion cost of the bill from some other part of the budget. Were it not for the pay-go law, this wouldn't be happening.
Democrats Still Don't Know Which Way To Go on Health Reform
Feb. 27 (EIRNS)In the aftermath of the so-called bipartisan health-care summit on Feb. 25, Democrats are promising to move forward on the bill, with or without the Republicans. The problem is, they still don't know how they're going to do it. The White House said, on Feb. 26, that President Obama would be announcing a "way forward" by the middle of next week, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) later told reporters that House Democrats will move quickly when a bill is available, which will be "in a matter of days."
But who's going to move first, the House or the Senate? Pelosi indicated that she wanted the Senate to move on the bill, first, but Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mt.) said he believes that the House would need to pass the Senate bill first so that it could then be amended under reconciliation. "We are in uncharted water here," he told Politico. "This is fraught with complications."
And then there's the matter of votes. According to Politico, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) needs to convince party moderates to back a highly partisan reconciliation fight, and Pelosi has been watching support for the bill in the House erode. Rep. Jason Altmire, a Pennsylvania Democrat, told Politico that he doesn't think the votes are there. "It's a huge challenge because the people who voted 'yes' would love a second bite at the apple to vote 'no' this time because they went home and had an unpleasant experience as a result of their 'yes' vote," he said. "I don't know if there is anybody who voted 'no' that regrets it."
Then there's the matter of Obama's four-to-six week timeline. This guarantees that the Congress will be paralyzed for at least another month to month-and-a-half, while conditions in the country, and the world, continue to worsen. But the four to six weeks is only to give the Republicans one more chance to get on board before the Democrats move forward on reconciliation. What has not been reported in the press is that the reconciliation rules require a budget resolution covering the current fiscal year to be passed first, under regular order, before the reconciliation procedure can be invoked. However, passing a budget resolution, itself, has become more difficult in recent years. So, before Obama can get his 51 votes in the Senate, he has to get there, first, and there's no guarantee of that happening.
GOP Cites Threat to the Constitution from Reconciliation Strategy
Feb. 25 (EIRNS)The Republican Party moved preemptively at the beginning of the Obamacare summit on health-care reform today to confront the fact that President Obama is committed to using the reconciliation procedure to force his legislation down the throats of the American people, in violation of the Constitutional principle of "government by the consent of the governed." Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) began by citing the mass strike opposition to Obamacare: "We believe that our views represent the views of a great number of the American people who have tried to say in every way they know how, through town meetings, through surveys, through elections in Virginia and New Jersey and Massachusetts, that they oppose the health care bill that passed the Senate on Christmas Eve."
He then demanded that Obama renounce reconciliation: "My request is [that] ... before we go further today that the Democratic congressional leaders and you, Mr. President, renounce this idea of going back to the Congress and jamming through on a partisan vote, through a little-used process we call reconciliation, your version of the bill. Senator Byrd, who is the constitutional historian of the Senate, has said that it would be an outrage to run the health care bill through the Senate like a freight train with this process. So this is the only place, the Senate, where the rights of the minority are protected."
Alexander quoted then-Senator Obama, when the Bush-Cheney Republicans were trying to change the rules of the Senate in order to ram through judicial nominations. At the time, Alexander reported, Obama said that " 'What we worry about is essentially having two chambers, the House and the Senate, who are simply majoritarian. Absolute power on either side. That's just not what the founders intended.' "
Inhofe Calls for DOJ Probe of Climate Change Fraud
Feb. 23 (EIRNS)At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works today, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican, initiated two major actions against Al Gore and his fellow climate change kooks. Inhofe called for a Justice Department investigation of the fraud, and also released an 84-page minority staff report, entitled "United States Senate Report Consensus? Exposed: The CRU Controversy." (CRU refers to East Anglia University's Climate Research Institute, which was at the center of the Climategate scandal at the end of last year.) The report is posted prominently on Inhofe's webpage.
Inhofe said that he wants a Justice Department investigation to determine whether those involved in the climate-change fraud, such as Dr. Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, and Dr. James Hansen of NASA and Columbia University, committed illegal acts in falsifying data and misleading the public. He also went directly after Gore, demanding that he return to testify before the Senate. Inhofe said, "In [Gore's] science fiction movie, every assertion has been rebutted," and demanded that Gore be called to account for that.