2010 - %3, February

Decision "Next Week" On Health Care Strategy

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 2:39 PM EST

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last night that he hopes Democrats will settle on a strategy for moving forward on health care reform by sometime next week. That's good news of a sort, but take it with a few grains of salt. 

The way forward is already pretty clear. If the Democrats are going to do this, the Senate needs to use the filibuster-proof reconciliation process to pass some fixes to its health care reform bill. Then the House needs to pass the "fixed" Senate bill. That's the only remotely realistic path that anyone has suggested that gets to comprehensive reform. Every other plan is either politically unworkable (e.g., having the House pass the Senate bill unchanged) or doesn't lead to comprehensive reform (e.g., breaking the bill up). If the Democrats want to pass reform, the path is obvious. Reid is sort of beating around the bush here. When he talks about settling on a strategy, what he means is agreeing on potential "fixes," figuring out workarounds to potential procedural roadblocks, and, most important, figuring out whether he and Pelosi have the votes to proceed.

It's worth remembering that some Democrats, including Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader, said last week that this week would be the week that Dems would settle on a strategy for getting health care reform done. When confronted with that fact at his weekly press briefing on Tuesday, Hoyer said, "Did I say that? I was in error." He added that he anticipates making a decision "just as soon as the way forward is clear."

Democrats would also do well to think about another thing Hoyer said on Tuesday. He told the story of a woman with an "orange-sized tumor" and no insurance who called his home, explaining that she didn't know what she was going to do. She couldn't go to the emergency room, because she wasn't gushing blood, she wasn't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, and she wasn't old enough to qualify for Medicare. But she didn't have the $12,500 she needed to have the tumor removed. "That's what this health care debate is about," Hoyer said. "We talk a lot about this complication, that complication, this that and the other thing. But what this debate is about is really that woman who called and left me a message and said 'what do I do?'"

Kevin is traveling today and tomorrow.

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Obama and Graham Call for a Full-Assed Senate Climate Bill

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 2:17 PM EST

Over on Blue Marble, you can find the latest on environmental politics. The highlights:

Obama, Graham Warn Dems Not to Settle For "Half-Assed" Climate Bill

After seeming to make room for Democrats who want to drop cap-and-trade in remarks at a town hall in New Hampshire, Barack Obama on Wednesday called on his party not to take "the easy way out" on legislation. Republican Lindsey Graham seconded the call to not settle for a "half-assed" climate bill.

Nuclear's Slice of the Climate Pie

A leaked draft of the Senate bill's nuclear title includes basically everything the nuclear industry has asked for: additional federal loan guarantees to spur the construction of new plants, tax breaks and a streamlined approval process for new plants.

House Trio Moves to Block EPA

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Missouri Reps. Ike Skelton (D) and Jo Ann Emerson (R) announced yesterday that they are sponsoring a bill to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, arguing that regulations should be left up to Congress. Peterson did vote for the House climate and energy bill last year, but only after holding the bill hostage until he could wring as much out of it for Big Ag. And after getting what he wanted, he now says he would vote against the bill if it came back to the House, which casts doubt about his seriousness about regulating greenhouse-gases.

Big Oil's Big Year

The oil industry spent $154 million on lobbying last year. That's more than any previous year, and more than any other energy interest looking to shape the debate on Capitol Hill.

Chris Dodd vs. the Volcker Rule

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 1:53 PM EST

Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who has apparently been possessed by the spirit of his colleague Max Baucus (of "gang of six" fame), is desperate to get bipartisan financial regulatory reform. Unfortunately, that probably means not actually reforming the financial sector. Here's the Times:

Mr. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, added that the administration was "getting precariously close" to excessive ambition for the legislation. "I don’t want to be in a position where we end up doing nothing because we tried to do too much," he said.

It's hard to see how anything that the administration has proposed to rein in the financial sector amounts to "excessive ambition," if by "excessive ambition" you mean something like "overregulation." But if "excessive ambition" means "too hard on the banks to actually pass," well, that's just sad. Digby says "One hates to be cynical about this, but Dodd is leaving.  And he's going to need a job." That could be right. But the other prospect, just as frightening, is that Dodd has accurately assessed the situation and realized that real financial reform can't get through Congress because the banks own the place. (That is basically what Kevin thinks, after all.) Either way, the Volcker rule is looking increasingly like a good proposal that will remain just that—a proposal.

Kevin is traveling today and tomorrow.

Nuclear's Slice of the Climate Pie

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 1:35 PM EST

Senators hoping to pass a climate and energy bill this year have listed increased support for nuclear power as one of the major enticements for Republicans and apprehensive Democrats to back the legislation. Barack Obama gave nuclear power a shout-out in his State of the Union address last week, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the lone Republican collaborating on a bill, has made it clear that nuclear incentives are among his top priorities, which he believes could help garner wider support.

Yesterday, The Hill obtained a draft of the nuclear title that is expected to be included in the Senate bill, which includes basically everything the nuclear industry has asked for: additional federal loan guarantees to spur the construction of new plants, tax breaks and a streamlined approval process for new plants.

Most notably, it calls for, "A doubling the authorization for loan guarantees from $48.5 billion to $100 billion, of which $38 billion will be available for nuclear plants." (The Department of Energy announced on Monday that it plans to triple loan guarantees, to $54.5 billion, so it's been a good week for the industry.) The draft of the Senate language would also give nuclear power the same investment tax credits that wind and solar power currently receive.

The office of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) says this is not the most current draft, but the senator confirmed to The Hill that the incentive and guarantees are part of their plan. He also said that they are making progress on titles dealing with renewables, natural gas, and offsets, but haven't reached a decision on the mechanism to cap and price carbon dioxide. Kerry, Graham and co-sponsor Joe Lieberman have made it clear that they don't intend to release a final package, however, until they have the votes to pass it.

Obama, Graham Warn Dems Not to Settle For "Half-Assed" Climate Bill

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 12:30 PM EST

As I reported yesterday, some Senate Democrats are calling for leadership to abandon a cap on carbon dioxide pollution and instead move forward with a bill that focuses only on energy provisions. And President Barack Obama yesterday also acknowledged that this may well be what happens in the Senate. In remarks to Senate Democrats today, however, Obama called on his party not to take "the easy way out" by dropping a cap on emissions.

"One of the best ways to be on the forefront in energy is to incentivize clean energy and discourage the old sources or methods that aren't' going to work in the future," he said, noting that Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and John Kerry (D-Mass.) are working together to "find a workable, bipartisan structure" that includes both energy incentives and a cap on carbon.

"That's vital. Don't give up on that. I don't want us to just say the easy way out is for us to just give a bunch of tax credits to clean energy companies," he continued. "The market works best when it responds to price. And if they start seeing that, you know what, dirty energy is a little pricier, clean energy is a little cheaper, they will innovate."

Graham on Wednesday also rejected moving the Senate energy bill alone. "If the approach is to try to pass some half-assed energy bill, and say that moves the ball down the road, forget it with me," the South Carolina Republican told business leaders from the renewable energy industry on Wednesday.

It should be noted that Graham opposes this option both because it lacks carbon curbs, but also because he doesn't think the energy bill approved last June by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee does enough to expand development of nuclear power or offshore oil and gas drilling. But his support for a bill that includes both the desired incentives for fossil fuels and nuclear power and a cap on carbon sets him apart from a number of conservative Democrats, who would prefer to scrap carbon restrictions altogether.

Health Care Questions

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 11:54 AM EST

Nancy Pelosi says "we are very close," to passing health care reform. She's in a position to know, but from the outside, Democrats don't look very "close" at all. That's because Pelosi has said that there is zero chance that the House will pass the Senate health care bill unchanged. ("Our members will not support the Senate bill. Take that as a fact.") And according to Pelosi, just having the Senate "fix" its bill at some point in the future won't cut it—changes have to pass before the House votes on the Senate bill. So there's still a lot to be done if the bill is going to pass. The Senate and the House will have to agree on a package of changes to the Senate bill. Harry Reid will have to find the votes to pass those changes through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process in the Senate. And then Nancy Pelosi will have to assemble the votes she needs to pass the modified Senate bill through the House.

There are a bunch of obstacles to this. As Greg Sargent has reported, Senate aides are balking at the prospect of passing the fixes first. David Waldman at DailyKos says it shouldn't be a problem to pass the fixes first using reconciliation. But even if Waldman's right, it hardly matters—what matters is that Senate aides think it'll be hard to pass the fixes first. That essentially means that the two houses of Congress are waiting on each other to act. The House wants the Senate to move first; the Senate says (anonymously, so far) it can't move first. That's a recipe for disaster. It's really important to find out whether what the Senate aide told Sargent is right. If the aide is right, Democrats are going to have to consider other ways to pass health care reform (or face the prospect of letting it die). And if the aide is wrong, well, what is the Senate waiting for? 

Update: In the comments, Donny Shaw points to a Politico article that has Reid saying that passing the fixes through reconciliation before the House votes on the Senate bill is a "strong possibility." That's not that different from what Senate folks have been saying openly since last week, but it does indicate that Reid may think that Sargent's aide is wrong about potential problems with passing the fixes before the actual bill. (Reid does say the House would have to start the reconciliation bill.)

Kevin is traveling today and tomorrow.

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House Trio Moves to Block EPA

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 10:28 AM EST

A bipartisan trio of House members announced yesterday that they are sponsoring a bill to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Missouri Reps. Ike Skelton (D) and Jo Ann Emerson (R) introduced the measure.

Efforts to bar the agency from following through on their determination that planet-warming emissions threaten human health are already underway in the Senate, as we've reported, and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) has also introduced legislation on the subject in the House.

"I have no confidence that the EPA can regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act without doing serious damage to our economy," Peterson said on Tuesday. "Americans know we’re way too dependent on foreign oil and fossil fuels in this country--and I’ve worked hard to develop practical solutions to that problem--but Congress should be making these types of decisions, not unelected bureaucrats at the EPA."

Now, Peterson, it should be noted, did vote for the House climate and energy bill last year, but only after holding the bill hostage until he could wring as much out of it for Big Ag. And after getting what he wanted, he now says he would vote against the bill if it came back to the House. So his seriousness about imposing greenhouse-gas regulations through Congress is questionable.

Skelton did vote for the House bill, while Emerson did not. But Skelton now seems to be backing off of a cap, telling ClimateWire that Congress should put aside the cap-and-trade measure and move an energy-only bill."Let us set that bill aside and pass this scaled-back energy legislation," he said.

Their bill would not only bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, but it would also restrict the agency from calculating land-use changes in other countries in biofuel policies and broaden the definition of renewable biomass.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 3, 2010

Wed Feb. 3, 2010 7:14 AM EST

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A US soldier warms his hands by a fire made by Afghan during Operation Wawraa Tufaan in Zanbar, Afghanistan, on Jan 31. Photo via the US Army by Sgt. Jeffrey Alexander.

 

Need to Read: February 3, 2010

Wed Feb. 3, 2010 7:09 AM EST

  The must-read stories from around the web and in today's papers:

 

The Garbage Patch Bird

| Wed Feb. 3, 2010 7:00 AM EST

The remains of an albatross chick lie on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand that is one of the world's most remote marine sanctuaries. Midway is more than 2,000 miles from the nearest continent—but it's also in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast oceanic swirl of plastic debris. Nesting chicks fill their bellies with plastic as their parents collect and feed them bits that look to them like food. As a result, tens of thousands of albatross chicks die from starvation, choking, internal bleeding, and poisoning each year. See more of Chris Jordan's Midway photos at chrisjordan.com and watch a slideshow of his project below.