2010 - %3, February

Healthcare Summit: The Takeaway

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 12:04 PM EST

Here's the lead story in the print edition of the LA Times this morning:

Democrats' next option: Go it alone

Facing unbending Republican opposition to a healthcare overhaul, President Obama confronted a stark reality Thursday as his televised summit ended: If he and his Democratic allies in Congress want to reshape the nation's healthcare system, they will have to do it by themselves.

I'm not sure how the summit is playing on TV, but this is, I think, about the best possible spin for Obama. If, over the next few days, the takeaway from the summit is that Republicans are just dead set against doing anything — whether due to principle or just political bloodymindedness, it doesn't matter — that helps his cause with both the public and his own caucus.

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A Health Care Challenge of Olympic Proportions

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 11:33 AM EST

Even if you couldn't tear yourself away from the Olympics yesterday to watch the equally combative, marathon-like health care summit, you can be assured that the someone from the US Olympic Committee was keeping tabs on the debate. Unlike 46 million of their fellow countrymen, the Americans competing at the Olympics up in Vancouver have health care. But the committee still has some skin in the game when it comes to reforming our health care system.

The Center for Public Integrity reports that the committee has hired lobbyists to follow the progress of negotiations:

Like other small organizations that don’t have a lot of employees to spread out the insurance risk, the United States Olympic Committee is finding that covering figure skaters and bobsledders is getting seriously expensive, says Desiree Filippone, the USOC’s director of government relations. That’s why the committee paid $40,000 to the Washington, D.C., lobby firm Monument Policy Group to keep tabs on Congressional health reform efforts and other issues in 2009.
Filippone did not say how much it costs to insure an Olympic star like Lindsey Vonn, who took a spill in the giant slalom Wednesday that required X-rays. American athletes are actually covered through the 46 individual governing bodies for various sports, she said. U.S. Figure Skating covers figure skaters. U.S.A. Curling covers the rock throwers.
"That’s not very cost effective in a lot of ways," Filippone said, because it means higher premiums than if the groups joined together. "We are trying to figure out if there is a better way to do it. We haven’t found it."

The National Football League Players Association and the Professional Golfers Association of America have also hired lobbyists on health care this year, CPI notes.

Fed Fighting Senate Power Grab

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 11:12 AM EST

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke went on the offensive yesterday before the Senate committee in charge of crafting comprehensive financial reform, fighting criticisms of the Fed and telling senators they'd be making a "grave mistake" if they neutered the Fed by taking away its bank oversight powers. Bernanke, who's gone from Time Man of the Year to clawing together enough support to win renomination, made his latest comments to Congress come amidst a renewed push by the Fed to save some of its regulatory muscle, which now includes oversight of both smaller banks and larger, too-big-to-fail institutions; another powerful Fed chief, Thomas Hoenig of the Kansas City Fed, also met with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bloomberg reported, to lobby for the Fed retaining its existing powers. "The Fed comes to this with an imperfect track record, which I think is widely acknowledged," Bennet told Bloomberg. "The more important question for me is, what are we going to do to make sure we’re never in a position again."

The Fed's regulatory gaffes and disregard for consumer protection in the run-up to the crisis has been well documented. For instance, the Fed ignored years' worth of pleading by Midwestern advocacy groups about the growing waves of subprime lending in low-income communities; the Fed also waited years to enact new rules on predatory practices by credit card companies like excessive overdraft charges and "hair-trigger" interest rate increases. (The recent Credit CARD Act, however, has clamped down on the practices.) Still, the Fed has fielded widespread criticism inside and outside Washington for its laissez faire attitude to regulation in the past decade and in the run-up to the financial crisis. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the banking committee, has long called for stripping the Fed of its bank oversight powers, leaving to deal mostly with monetary policy.

One way of doing that would be the creating of an independent, standalone Consumer Financial Protection Agency, a organization to monitor dangerous financial products and practices like the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates dangerous kids toys. However, the fate of an independent CFPA remains up in the air, and the Fed, it seems, could still retain some of its powers when the dust settles around a new financial reform bill. For one, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), who's set to retire this fall, remarked yesterday, "The Fed should retain a robust role in the supervisory area. My strong impression is that you and your team have learned from the recent past." I guess we'll have to wait and see if that's true or not.

More Dems Join EPA Block

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 11:07 AM EST

Two House Democrats are joining the assault on the coming greenhouse gas regulations from the EPA. On Thursday, Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Armed Services Chair Ike Skelton (D) introduced a resolution to overturn the agency’s finding that emissions threaten human health. Missouri Republican Jo Ann Emerson is cosponsoring the legislation.

Their measure mirrors the Senate attack on EPA regulations from Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is using a resolution of disapproval--an obscure procedural maneuver to overturn agency regulations--to block the agency’s scientific conclusion that planet-warming gases endanger humans. The House trio introduced a separate piece of legislation earlier this month to amend the Clean Air Act, but has now synched its efforts with those in the Senate. Murkowski’s measure has 40 cosponsors, including Democrats Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mary Landrieu (La.).

The EPA's finding has triggered the regulation of gases, with rule for automobiles expected next month and major stationary sources like power plants coming in April. With Senate debate on a carbon cap stalled out, the EPA rules are seen as the last hope for regulating emissions this year.

In announcing the House resolution, Skelton challenged whether the EPA has the authority to regulate emissions, and the Supreme Court’s decision that yes, they in fact do have that authority. He also argues that the House should drop it’s own plan to regulate emissions, which he voted for last June. He said that he hopes the House "will set aside cap and trade in favor of a more scaled back bipartisan bill." In the meantime, said Skelton, the disapproval resolution will "keep EPA from threatening Congress with its own greenhouse gas policy as we write legislation."

Peterson, who has also reversed his position on the House bill after wringing a litany of incentives for Big Ag out of the measure last summer, said the disapproval resolution will prevent the EPA from imposing "unwarranted regulations on all of us."

Murkowski cheered the House resolution in a statement on Friday, calling it evidence of the bipartisanship. "The Administration has urged members of Congress to work together and across party lines," she said. "This action adds to the evidence that we are doing just that, and we do not want EPA imposing economically-harmful climate regulations."

Somehow, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the kind of bipartisan action the Obama team has in mind.

Dems Join Attack on EPA Climate Regs

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 10:59 AM EST

Two House Democrats are joining the assault on the coming greenhouse gas regulations from the EPA. On Thursday, Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Armed Services Chair Ike Skelton (D) introduced a resolution to overturn the agency’s finding that emissions threaten human health. Missouri Republican Jo Ann Emerson is cosponsoring the legislation.

Their measure mirrors the Senate attack on EPA regulations from Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is using a resolution of disapproval--an obscure procedural maneuver to overturn agency regulations--to block the agency’s scientific conclusion that planet-warming gases endanger humans. The House trio introduced a separate piece of legislation earlier this month to amend the Clean Air Act, but has now synched its efforts with those in the Senate. Murkowski’s measure has 40 cosponsors, including Democrats Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mary Landrieu (La.).

The EPA's finding has triggered the regulation of gases, with rule for automobiles expected next month and major stationary sources like power plants coming in April. With Senate debate on a carbon cap stalled out, the EPA rules are seen as the last hope for regulating emissions this year.

In announcing the House resolution, Skelton challenged whether the EPA has the authority to regulate emissions, and the Supreme Court’s decision that yes, they in fact do have that authority. He also argues that the House should drop it’s own plan to regulate emissions, which he voted for last June. He said that he hopes the House "will set aside cap and trade in favor of a more scaled back bipartisan bill." In the meantime, said Skelton, the disapproval resolution will "keep EPA from threatening Congress with its own greenhouse gas policy as we write legislation."

Peterson, who has also reversed his position on the House bill after wringing a litany of incentives for Big Ag out of the measure last summer, said the disapproval resolution will prevent the EPA from imposing "unwarranted regulations on all of us."

Murkowski cheered the House resolution in a statement on Friday, calling it evidence of the bipartisanship. "The Administration has urged members of Congress to work together and across party lines," she said. "This action adds to the evidence that we are doing just that, and we do not want EPA imposing economically-harmful climate regulations."

Somehow, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the kind of bipartisan action the Obama team has in mind.

The Health Care Summit Was Fine. Question Time Would Be Better.

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 10:22 AM EST

The health care summit hosted by President Barack Obama on Thursday predictably did not yield any bipartisan breakthrough. But as I explained in my PoliticsDaily.com column, it was quite valuable:

It clarified the situation. Though much of the conversation consisted of participants pushing pre-existing talking points, the debate made the obvious really obvious: Obama and his Republican foes are miles apart in ideological and policy terms. As the hours went by, Obama engaged in wonky exchanges with the Rs—sometime calling them out on key factual disputes, such as whether the Congressional Budget Office said his overhaul would lead to higher premiums. (Obama got the better of that argument.) But all this back and forth kept illustrating the basic divide. The Republicans do not believe it is Washington's mission to take major action to challenge the insurance industry and extend coverage to most of the nation's citizens without health insurance. Instead, they want to move, as they repeatedly said, "step by step." But the Democrats believe that the only way to cure the health system of its ills is to adopt comprehensive change.

This gabfest highlighted the irreconcilable differences. The Rs don't think the Ds and government can handle such a big and expensive job. The Ds don't think the Rs and the insurance industry can remedy the problems with small measures. And the meaning of all this unavoidable: if the president and the congressional Democrats want to pass any version of comprehensive health care reform, they will have to do it by themselves, using whatever legitimate legislative procedures are available. The summit clarified the situation.

The health care summit also showed the value of direct engagement between the president and the opposition—and the need for establishing the practice of Question Time. After Obama and House GOPers last month held a gripping Q&A at a Republican retreat, a cross-partisan group of bloggers, techies, and political consultants (myself included) initiated the Demand Question Time campaign, calling on Obama and the Republicans to hold such public and televised sessions on a regular basis. Neither the White House nor the House Republican leaders have yet signed on. But the health care summit has been cited by political observers as a sequel to that earlier face-off.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 26, 2010

Fri Feb. 26, 2010 9:47 AM EST

war photo 022610

US Soldiers from 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division and Iraqi Security Forces interact with children in Babil Province, Feb. 15. Photo via the US Army.

Eco-News Roundup: Friday February 26

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 7:39 AM EST

Waste of Time? That's the takeaway of one blogger on healthcare summit so far.

Pre-existing Debate: If Obama can get GOP to admit pre-existing conditions are unfair, it'll go a long way.

Movers and Swimmers: Galapagos seals exploit warmer waters and move. [MongaBay]

Bloom Box: A new, supposedly green energy device is confusingly vague.

Non-Story: Reconciliation isn't some controversial new technique to get bills passed.

Ho Hum: GM considers new buyers for CO2-spewing Hummer brand. [Bloomberg]

Zombie Bill: An explanation of why the public option will stay dead.

Hill Scrum: Due to healthcare reform, there are now 8 health lobbyists per lawmaker.

New Ban in Town: Nebraska tries to ban late-term abortions on basis of fetal pain. [LA Times]

Fed Shocker: Federal government is investigating a school that disciplines with electric shocks.

Green Closet: Glenn Beck is surpisingly green, at least in private.

Pre-Storm Sham: Why the healthcare summit isn't really an effort at bipartisanship.

 

Most Credible Climate Skeptic Not So Credible After All

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 6:00 AM EST

Patrick Michaels has more credibility than your average climate skeptic. Unlike some of the kookier characters that populate the small world of climate denialists—like Lord Christopher Monckton, a sometime adviser to Margaret Thatcher who claims that "We are a carbon-starved planet," or H. Leighton Steward, a retired oil executive and author of a best-selling diet book who argues that carbon dioxide is "green"—Michaels is actually a bona fide climate scientist. As such, he's often quoted by reporters as a reasonable expert who argues that global warming has been overhyped. But what Michaels doesn't mention in his frequent media appearances is his history of receiving money from big polluters.

Michaels, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, has some impressive-sounding credentials. He has a PhD in ecological climatology and is a senior fellow in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University. He's a past president of the American Association of State Climatologists and a former program chair for the Committee on Applied Climatology of the American Meteorological Society. He regularly touts his work as a contributing author and reviewer of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. (Almost every climate scientist in the world has at some point contributed to or reviewed an IPCC study.) Unlike climate skeptics who implausibly claim that there's no such thing as global warming, Michaels accepts that it's happening, but downplays the severity of the problem and the role that human activity plays in the phenomenon.

With climate science increasingly under siege, Michaels has been getting plenty of airtime lately. Following reports of errors and sloppy research procedures with the reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Michaels featured prominently in a CBS News report last month, claiming that there is "no doubt the trust in the UN panel has been undermined." And after hacked emails revealed that a group of climate scientists had tried to block skeptical views from academic papers and journals, Michaels appeared on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 to debate Bill Nye (the "Science Guy"). Michaels said he was "troubled" that scientists at the heart of the controversy might have tried "to hide things" from Freedom of Information Act requests. He was also featured prominently in a New York Times piece calling the controversy "a mushroom cloud" for climate science, and appeared several times in the Wall Street Journal complaining that scientists said mean things about him in the emails. (It's worth emphasizing that while the incident revealed scientists behaving unprofessionally, nothing in the emails undermined the underlying science of climate change.)

But Michaels' credibility on climate is called into question by a trove of documents from a 2007 court case that attracted almost no scrutiny at the time. Those documents show that Michaels has financial ties to big energy interests—ties that he's worked hard to keep secret. Here's the back story:

Healthcare Summit Wrapup III

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 1:02 AM EST

A sampling of bigfoot liberal pundit reaction to the summit. Steven Pearlstein:

The most important thing Republicans think is that if there are Americans who can't afford the insurance policies that private insurers are willing to offer, then that's their problem — there's nothing the government or the rest of us should do about it....That was their clear message Thursday. It was their message during all those years when their party controlled Congress and the White House and they did nothing and said nothing about the plight of the uninsured. And it is clear that they would continue to do nothing if, by some miracle, Democrats were to drop their plan or embark on a more modest approach. For Republicans, the uninsured remain invisible Americans, out of sight and out of mind.

E.J. Dionne:

The Republicans simply don’t want to pass comprehensive health-care reform. That is the main lesson of today’s health-care summit.

Paul Krugman:

So what did we learn from the summit? What I took away was the arrogance that the success of things like the death-panel smear has obviously engendered in Republican politicians. At this point they obviously believe that they can blandly make utterly misleading assertions, saying things that can be easily refuted, and pay no price. And they may well be right.

Can't disagree with any of that! Still, my take is that the summit was basically a draw, but with a slight edge to the Republicans. They didn't have to win, after all. They just had to seem non-insane, and for the most part they did. What's more, Obama missed a chance to provide a punchy, 60-second sales pitch for the Democratic plan. A recent Kaiser poll that's been making the rounds shows that Americans don't like the Democratic plan but they do like the features of the plan. They just don't know they're there. So Obama should have outlined those features in quick, soundbite format. He missed a bet by not doing that.