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Health Care Reform's Public Wellness Measures

April 6, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Outlets like the New York Times and Miller-McCune have done a good job of documenting the many easily overlooked policies aimed at improving public wellness embedded in the Affordable Care Act (H.R.3590). These policies range from mandatory calorie counts on chain restaurant menus to the infamous tax on indoor tanning. Are these measures a responsible move by the government to improve public health or another example of out-of-control nanny statism? Here is a closer look at some of these provisions. Take a look and I'll let you decide.

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Derivatives, those obscure financial products built off the value of other assets, have their historical roots in agriculture. Farmers and investors would place bets against the harvest as a way to hedge against the uncertainty involved in making your living off of raising food. The derivatives market is now a several hundred trillion dollar, highly complex financial market, but the congressional agricultural committees still hold legacy jurisdiction over regulating it.

TNR's Noam Scheiber has a great piece on the state of financial reform in the Senate, describing an emerging strategy to put some relatively strong consumer protections in the bill while giving Wall Street much of what they want in areas that the public isn't paying attention to. Derivatives reform -- or the lack therof -- is likely going to be the area where Wall Street gets their biggest win, and the Senate Agriculture Committee is set up to be the driving forces behind delivering it.

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Congress Links

April 5, 2010 - by Eric Naing

As Congress enters week two of its recess, campaign matters have largely overshadowed policy matters. But one issue in particular, unemployment benefits, continues to be a hot topic here at OpenCongress. While you lament the fact that you too can't enjoy a two-week recess right now, check out what else is going on in the world of politics with today's edition of Congress Links.

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One of the most important and most controversial parts of the new health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as amendment by the reconciliation bill, is that it requires all U.S. residents to have insurance or pay a tax penalty. This is known as the "individual mandate," and although it is a Republican idea that has a long history of bipartisanship, both conservatives and progressives have recently focused their criticisms of the law on it.

In reality, it's quite nuanced. The idea of the law is that it will control costs and provide enough government assistance that insurance will be affordable for everyone and that the individual mandate penalty will not have to be used. It will give out billions in "affordability credits" and it includes an economic hardship exemption so that people who can't reasonably afford insurance under the new law won't have to pay the tax. Here's a detailed rundown of how the affordability and individual mandate provisions would work, including, to the extent possible, how much money people will be expected to pay for insurance under the new law.

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Included in the various unemployment benefits that expired this week thanks to Congressional inaction is a 65 percent subsidy for COBRA health insurance. But even with this subsidy in place, there are still millions of Americans, both unmarried opposite-sex couples and unable-to-be-married same sex couples, that can't purchase COBRA insurance in the first place. A bill introduced last month by Sen. Barbara Boxer [D, CA] aims to change this.

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Because Congress failed to pass an extension before taking off for April recess, thousand of unemployed Americans will have their only source of income, unemployment insurance benefits, cut off starting today. That's a big deal when 15 million Americans are out of work and Tim Geithner is saying things like, "[the unemployment rate] is going to stay unacceptably high for a very long time."

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Lincoln, Chambliss Take Over Derivatives Reform

April 2, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Now that health care is done, the next big issue Congress will take up is reforming regulations of the financial market. Most of the attention paid to financial reform so far has been on two areas -- addressing the problem of too big to fail and consumer protections for financial products. Both important, but there's a lot more to the bill that people aren't talking about.

For example, the bill is expected to at least partially reverse the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 and restore some transparency to the over-the-counter derivatives market. Sounds arcane, but it's actually a really big deal and it goes to the heart of what turned a mortage crisis into a systemic financial crisis in 2008.

 

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The Week In Review

April 2, 2010 - by Eric Naing

The new jobs numbers provide plenty of opportunities for both Democrats and Republicans. If anything, they give lawmakers something to talk about at their Easter recess town halls besides health care and offshore drilling. While you eagerly wait in line to be the first person at the White House Easter egg roll, check out what we've been up to this week at OpenCongress.

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Another day, another battle over health care reform. A false claim made by Congressional Republicans that the Affordable Care Act (H.R.3590) will result in the hiring of 16,000-16,500 new IRS agents, who might possibly be armed, is receiving some high-profile and well-deserved pushback.

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Health Care Reform and OpenCongress

April 2, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

We built OpenCongress because the government source for congressional information was frustratingly unfriendly, and because we saw the potential for using emerging web tools to make congressional information as open, engaging and helpful as it ought to be. Since we launched more than 3 years ago, we've seen some big issues come and go -- immigration reform, the Iraq war, the financial bailout -- but nothing got people looking for factual information on what Congress was up to as much as health care reform. This past year has been a huge test of where we're at with improving access to Congress.

In the spirit of transparency, here's an overview of how OpenCongress was used during the health care debate.

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Congress Links

April 1, 2010 - by Eric Naing

It's another slow day with Congress on break. Lawmakers are still arguing over the politics of President Obama's offshore drilling announcement and the policy of climate change. Back home, many lawmakers are also struggling with the politics and policy of health care. Until they all get back, spend your time with today's edition of Congress Links

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Eliminated Tax Subsidy Painted As Obamacare Cost

April 1, 2010 - by Eric Naing

The price of Obamacare is apparently sky-high, according to several corporations. Construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar announced that the Affordable Care Act (H.R.3590) will cost the company $100 million. John Deere expects to lose $150 million and AT&T will take a $1 billion hit.

In context, however, there's less to these costs than meets the eye. Click through for the full story, or head straight to today's edition of Congress Links.

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McCain: We Will Defund Health Care Reform

March 31, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Sen. John McCain [R, AZ] describes an emerging Republican strategy for undoing the Democrats' new health care reform law.

"When I say repeal, people say you're not going to be able to do it," he said on KQTH FM Radio. "I am confident we will get majorities in both houses in the fall. And that means the power of the purse...If we cut off the money, it doesn't take an override to a veto."

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