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Not Much of a Mandate

March 25, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Ezra Klein reminds us of a provision in the health care bill dating back to the Senate Finance Committee's work in October that is important, but largely forgotten. If you don't abide with the bill's requirement starting in 2014 that you have acceptable health coverage, you are supposed to pay a fine to the government. But, under the new bill, those who fail to get insurance and fail to pay the fine will pretty much get off scott free.

And what happens if you don't buy insurance and you don't pay the penalty? Well, not much. The law specifically says that no criminal action or liens can be imposed on people who don't pay the fine. If this actually leads to a world in which large numbers of people don't buy insurance and tell the IRS to stuff it, you could see that change. But for now, the penalties are low and the enforcement is non-existent.

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Public Option Still Dead... At Least For Now

March 25, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Some liberals have been pushing Democrats to include a public option in the reconciliation bill for health care (H.R.4872). The party's response: a public option can't be included because doing so would complicate things by forcing the House to re-vote on the updated version of the bill. So what's going to happen now that the House has to re-vote on the bill anyway?

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The Senate stayed in session late into the night on Wednesday, voting over and over to reject dilatory Republican amendments to the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act and moving closer to a final vote on passage. The bill proposes a number of "fixes" to the new health care law, like increasing subsidies for helping people buy insurance and lowering tax penalties on those who don't, and includes unrelated legislation to reform the student loan industry. A full summary of the reconciliation bill can be read here.

By the time the Senate adjourned at 2:50 a.m. ET on Thursday morning, they had rejected 29 Republican amendments to the bill on everything from repealing the new health care bill to undoing Washington D.C.'s gay marriage law. But as it turns out, the situation the Democrats were working all night on Wednesday to avoid, having to send the bill back to the House for another vote, is unavoidable. This AP is reporting that the GOP has succesfully altered the bill by finding violations in the bill under the Byrd Rule.

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What Happened to the Senate?

March 24, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The U.S. Senate prides itself on being the world's greatest deliberative body. But if you turn on C-SPAN 2 right now, you'll see a Senate devolved into thoughtless obstruction and petty politicking. For the Senate as an institution, there is nothing "great" about what they are going to spend the rest of the night doing.

Since Monday, the Senate has been trying to get to an up-or-down vote on the Reconciliation Act of 2010, which makes a series of "fixes" to the new health care reform law and reforms the student loan industry. It's being considered under budget reconciliation rules, which limits debate time to 20 hours and denies the minority the ability to filibuster.

But, even though they can't filibuster, Senate Republicans are blocking the vote by forcing the Senate into an absurd process known as a "vote-a-rama." It's what happens when the time that is set aside for debate on a bill has ended, but there are still amendments pending that need to be voted on. The remaining amendments are brought up one by one and, without debate, voted on quickly and either adopted or rejected. No deliberation.

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Not Quite as Advertised

March 24, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

As Democrats ramped up their push to sell health care reform, one of the benefits they said would come right away was a ban on denying coverage for kids who have pre-existing conditions."This year ... parents who are worried about getting coverage for their children with pre-existing conditions now are assured that insurance companies have to give them coverage — this year," President Obama said on Saturday in a televised meeting with House Democrats.

But, as the AP reports this morning, it doesn't actually work that way.

Under the new law, insurance companies still would be able to refuse new coverage to children because of a pre-existing medical problem, said Karen Lightfoot, spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the main congressional panels that wrote the bill Obama signed into law Tuesday.

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GOP Takes Out Their HCR Frustration on Open Gov

March 23, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

We already know that the Republicans have vowed to be as uncooperative as possible during consideration of the budget reconciliation bill to amend the health care bill. This afternoon, while Sunlight Foundation's Ellen Miller was testifying at a Senate subcommittee hearing on "removing the shroud of secrecy: making government more transparent and accountable," Sen. Thomas Carper [D, DE] interrupted to say that the Republicans had put a hold on the hearing. Click through for the video, the testimony, and news coverage ::

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President Obama will hold a signing ceremony for the Senate health care bill (H.R.3590) today in the east room of the White House at 11:15 am. Watch it live here.

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GOP Reconciliation Objection Thrown Out

March 23, 2010 - by Eric Naing

The GOP yesterday was handed the first defeat in what is likely to be a series of battles over the reconciliation health care bill (H.R.4872) when the Senate parliamentarian threw out a Republican challenge to the bill.

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The budget reconciliation circus we've been blogging about for months begins in earnest today.

According to the Democrats' calendar, the Senate convenes at 2:15 p.m. ET and will immediately start debating the Reconciliation Act of 2010. The bill contains about 120 pages of fixes to the health care bill -- reconciling differences between the versions of health acre passed by the Senate and House -- plus some unrelated legislation to end a program that subsidizes student loan companies.  This is the bill that was passed by the House on Sunday night right after they passed health care reform.

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Obama's Health Care

March 22, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The health care bill that is going to be signed into law tomorrow requires all Members of Congress and congressional staffers to ditch their cushy Federal Employee Health Benefits insurance plans and buy insurance on the new health care exchanges. They would have the same insurance options available to them as everyone else in the individual insurance market. Sen. Charles Grassley [R, IA] wants to add a similar requirement for President Obama, Vice President Biden, the cabinet and top White House staff.

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How They Voted on Health Care Reform

March 22, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

As I reported last night, the House of Representative passed the final vote needed to send health care reform to President Obama to be signed into law. The bill was approved with a handful of votes to spare, even though no Republicans ended up voting in favor. Here's a more detailed look at how lawmakers of the House voted.

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On a party-line vote of 219-212, the House of Representatives has passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that fulfills President Obama's goals of reducing health care costs, increasing choices for consumers and guaranteeing access to quality, affordable insurance for all Americans. The bill has already passed the Senate and will be sent to President Obama immediately to be signed into law.

"At a time when pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics," President Obama said after the vote. "This is what change looks like."

The bill is widely considered the biggest domestic policy achievement by any President or session of Congress since Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Social Security Act of 1965 into law 45 years ago, creating Medicare.

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The Stupak Deal

March 21, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Rep. Bart Stupak [D, MI-1], the pro-life Democrat who has elevated himself to the level of health care reform gatekeeper by withholding his vote and those of his acolytes over concerns with the bill's abortion language, has struck a deal with the Democrats and will now vote "yes." Stupak's vote basically assures that the bill will pass today.

The deal is that President Obama has promised to issue an executive order stating that the law's current restriction on federal funds being used for elective abortions will be upheld as the health care bill is implemented. The full executive order that Obama will issue can be read at TPM.

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Your Guide to the House Health Care Vote

March 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

After more than 13 hours and 80 amendments later, the Rules Committee adjourned on Saturday night with a rule in place to allow the House of Representatives to debate and vote Sunday on the health care bill and the package of fixes in the reconciliation bill. As announced earlier in the day, there will be no "deem and pass" straegy employed. The health care bill and the reconciliation bill conatining the "fixes" will get straight up-or-down votes.

In total, it's expected that there will be seven votes held throughout the day. Two on the rule, two on budget points of order, one on a Republican motion to recommit, and one each on the two bills that will be voted on. All of the votes will require a simple majority of 216 "ayes" to pass. All the action is expected to start at about 1 p.m. ET. Here's your guide to Sunday's floor debate as the Democrats take this monumental step towards finalizing Congress and President Obama's health care reform effort.

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VIDEO: Obama's FInal HCR Speech to Wavering Dems

March 20, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

With the Rules Committee in session and the health care rallies and protests outside the Capitol today, President Obama went to Congress and gave House Democrats an off-the-cuff pep talk on tomorrow's big vote. Thanks to C-SPAN's awesome new video library, you can watch the whole thing here:

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