Remember the “Cornhusker Kickback“? That was the $45 million in expanded Medicaid funding Ben Nelson demanded from the Obama Administration before he’d support Health Insurance Reform. The special treatment for Nebraska gave the reform effort a tawdry feel.
And just as importantly, it did nothing to improve Nelson’s popularity in his own state. When he announced he would not run for reelection in December, reporters pointed to the Cornhusker Kickback as one issue that was making his reelection increasingly unlikely.
Nelson obtained a huge controversial provision in that legislation — derisively called the “Cornhusker Kickback” by GOP opponents — that called for the federal government to pay Nebraska’s costs for Medicaid expansion, potentially saving the state tens of millions of dollars annually. The provision was ultimately killed, but Nelson still paid a political price. Nelson adamantly denied that he traded his support for the Democratic health plan in exchange for the special provision, yet his standing back home took a big hit. Nelson proved to be the 60th and deciding vote for the Democratic health-care package.
Yet it seems like Obama’s trying something similar in his effort to get CA’s Kamala Harris to join in his foreclosure settlement, with $10 billion in aid slated for CA’s struggling homeowners.
Banks and government negotiators have cleared a big hurdle in efforts to resolve allegations of widespread mortgage-related misdeeds, agreeing on terms for a settlement that are being circulated to the 50 US states for approval, state officials and a bank representative say.
The proposed pact would potentially reduce mortgage balances and monthly payments by more than $25bn for distressed US homeowners, these five people said.
The tentative agreement still must be approved by all 50 state attorneys-general, and negotiators have previously missed proposed deadlines. Participants described the proposal terms as set, meaning the states will be asked either to agree to them or decline to participate.
The amount of potential aid is contingent on state participation and would decrease significantly if big states do not sign the agreement. New York and California are among several states that have voiced concerns about the terms of the proposed deal with Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial. New York and California are particularly concerned with the part of the deal that would absolve the banks of civil liability for allegedly illegal mortgage-related conduct.
California borrowers would be eligible to receive more than $10bn in aid if the state were to agree to the terms, according to several people involved in the talks.
Don’t get me wrong. In this case, there’s good reason to give CA a disproportionate part of the settlement funds. Continue reading
As of his last calculation, Nate Silver gives the Democrats an 84% chance of keeping the Senate. But they’ll keep it without Blanche Lincoln, whom Nate gives a 100% chance of losing to John Boozman. And that’ll open up the Chairmanship on Ag.
The Politico reports that, in spite of the fact that four people have more seniority on the committee, Stabenow stands a decent chance of getting the post, though Bad Nelson might demand it as his reward for staying in the caucus.
Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow is seen as the front-runner to replace Lincoln, but that’s not a given. Nebraska moderate Ben Nelson might win the post as a consolation prize for staying in the Democratic Party, or Kent Conrad of North Dakota could abandon his budget chairmanship to take the helm.
“Everybody in town seems to think that she is most likely going to be the next chairman,” said one lobbyist who tracks the committee.
Sources close to the panel say the Michigan Democrat is well-liked by her colleagues and earned their respect during the last round of farm bill negotiations by bridging the interests of states with commodity crops and those with specialty fruit and vegetables.
But because Michigan isn’t your typical Big Ag state, some observers say Stabenow might face opposition from powerful industry lobbies. “There would probably be fear among some of the industry leaders of the cotton people and the wheat people and the barley people if they saw Stabenow take the helm,” said an industry source close to the committee.
Now, Stabenow isn’t always the most hardnosed leader. And on occasions (notably, the bankruptcy bill) she has put corporate interests ahead of her constituents.
But as the Politico article suggests, she would make a very interesting Ag Chair because of the nature of our Ag industry in MI. That’s because MI’s Ag industry has a diversity second only to CA, but (because of the scale) much less dominated by big players. Here’s a snapshot:
nation in terms of inventory.
(Somehow, that list neglected to mention blueberries, where we also lead the nation). MI farms are, on average, smaller than the national average, though they are more profitable per acre. There’s a very healthy farmers market culture here, and also some proactive efforts to develop locally-branded processed food from our harvest, such as the soy processing plant 10 miles from here that offers a non-GMO soy oil. Our local big grocery chains do a pretty good job of promoting locally produced products.
And then there’s Tony the Tiger, which is about as Big Ag culture as we get.
In other words, if Stabenow gets the Chair it’ll put someone who is not beholden to Big Ag the way the Ag Chairmen typically are. At a time when the local Ag movement is picking up steam, we might have someone whose constituency would support such an effort.
Compare that with the most likely alternative: Ben Nelson. Who represents, among other corporations, Con Agra. As big as Big Ag gets.
Mind you, the decision may be made by the margin with which the Democrats keep the Senate. If we keep it by just two votes, I imagine we’ll see Con Agra continue to rule. But if we can eke out a few more seats, it’ll give Bad Nelson much less leverage to demand this Chairmanship.
(Cherry Orchard image by jsorbieus)
It strikes me as necessary to follow up a bit on the death of the Dawn Johnsen nomination to lead the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. Specifically, it needs to be clear the conventional wisdom of the main media, and even a surprising number of normally more clear headed progressive bloggers, that the nomination failed because of opposition from Republican obstruction coupled with opposition by Ben Nelson, is completely and patently false.
The false meme was already in play with the first substantive reporting by Sam Stein at Huffington Post as I noted yesterday. It is being propagated by the Washington Post (Republicans and “moderate lawmakers”), the New York Times (conservatives and two Democrats), even progressive stalwarts like Glenn Greenwald and McJoan at DKos have discussed the effects of the Republicans and Ben Nelson on the torpedoed nomination (although, to be fair, neither ascribes full blame on the GOP and Nelson).
Perhaps the best example of purveying the false wisdom comes from Jake Tapper at ABC. Tapper, in an article supposedly about the Obama White House not having the stomach for a fight on Johnsen, nevertheless proceeds to regurgitate the usual suspects:
Senate Republicans opposed her nomination overwhelmingly, meaning Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., needed 60 votes to bring her nomination to the floor of the Senate for a vote.
The White House put all the blame on the Republican minority — White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said, “Senate Republicans will not allow her to be confirmed” — but it was a bit more complicated than that.
A Senate Democratic leadership source said that throughout 2009 two Democrats said they would vote against her — Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa. The only Republican of the 40-member GOP caucus who said he would vote for her was her fellow Hoosier, Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind.
Specter remained opposed to Johnsen’s nomination even after he switched parties in April 2009, but his primary opponent Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., began to attack Specter for his opposition to her nomination.
Johnsen’s nomination expired at the end of 2009, but in January 2010 Specter said he’d vote for her.
This is a bunch of bunk. I have previously written extensively on why there were at least 60 votes for Johnson’s confirmation for the entire second half of last year after Al Franken was sworn in, and why there still were 60 votes for her confirmation this year upon Obama’s renomination, even after the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts. If you have any question, please click through and refer to those articles; for now though, I want to revisit the false light being painted on Ben Nelson and Arlen Specter on the nomination’s failure. Continue reading
John Dingell says he is going to try to persuade Stupak to drop his efforts to sink healthcare with his anti-choice efforts.
The Congress is a place where we represent our people and where we serve our conscience. I strongly disagree with Bart, I think he’s wrong. But he was my friend. He is my friend. We hunt, we have campaigned together, and I’m going to try and show him the error of his ways. And I’m also going to try and see to it that we beat him on this because this is a matter of the utmost humanitarian and economic concern to this nation.
As of right now, the deal that Stupak made with Pelosi is off–he has postponed his press conference and Henry Waxman and Lynn Woolsey have said there is no deal on abortion.
But that leaves the problem of whip count. If Democrats lose all the people who had signed onto the Stupak deal, then they will have to get the vote of every single remaining fence-sitter to be able to pass the bill.
Which probably means it’s not going to pass unless some of those anti-choice Stupak supporters will flip and vote for health care anyway.
I’ve long said that Dingell would be the most likely person to persuade Stupak to let this pass. Not only is Dingell the living history of efforts to pass health care, he has been a mentor to Stupak over his career. So the man who most wants to pass this bill (from a sense of personal destiny) also has a bit of leverage to persuade Stupak.
What I’d like to see Dingell do–aside from talking to Stupak personally–is call Stupak out on his lies, his utterly false claim that the Nelson language doesn’t already restrict access to choice more than it is restricted now, and that only his language would preserve the intent of the Hyde Amendment.
But that’s simply an out-and-out lie.
In view of how the health benefit services industry operates and how insurance product design responds to broad regulatory intervention aimed at reshaping product content, we conclude that the treatment exclusions required under the Stupak/Pitts Amendment will have an industry-wide effect, eliminating coverage of medically indicated abortions over time for all women, not only those whose coverage is derived through a health insurance exchange. As a result, Stupak/Pitts can be expected to move the industry away from current norms of coverage for medically indicated abortions. In combination with the Hyde Amendment, Stupak/Pitts will impose a coverage exclusion for medically indicated abortions on such a widespread basis that the health benefit services industry can be expected to recalibrate product design downward across the board in order to accommodate the exclusion in selected markets.
Now, Stupak can claim he’s simply making a principled stand so long as the media refuses to call him on his lies. But if Dingell called him on it–if Dingell pointed out that this is not a principled stand, but rather an opportunistic effort to exploit a historic moment to attack women’s reproductive rights–then he will not have cover for his actions.
Bart Stupak is not only threatening to kill health insurance reform out of desire to impose his beliefs on women around the country. But he’s doing so using out and out lies.
And it’s time somebody called him on those lies.
ThinkProgress has an absolutely devastating report on 111 Republican members of Congress who have attacked last year’s stimulus bill, but who have since taken credit for it. Click through for details on Republican hypocrisy close to you, but for a taste, here are the MI GOP stimulus hypocrites.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) Signed A Letter Hailing Stimulus Funds As An ‘Important First Steps For Individuals And Their Families.’ The letter, signed by other members of the Michigan congressional delegation, was sent to the Director of Recovery Auto Workers and Communities. [Letter from Michigan Delegation to Ed Montgomery, 5/6/09]
Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) Signed A Letter Hailing Stimulus Funds As An ‘Important First Steps For Individuals And Their Families.’ The letter, signed by other members of the Michigan congressional delegation, was sent to the Director of Recovery Auto Workers and Communities. [Letter from Michigan Delegation to Ed Montgomery, 5/6/09]
Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) Signed A Letter Hailing Stimulus Funds As An ‘Important First Steps For Individuals And Their Families.’ The letter, signed by other members of the Michigan congressional delegation, was sent to the Director of Recovery Auto Workers and Communities. [Letter from Michigan Delegation to Ed Montgomery, 5/6/09]
Rep. Thad McCotter (R-MI) Signed A Letter Hailing Stimulus Funds As An ‘Important First Steps For Individuals And Their Families.’ The letter, signed by other members of the Michigan congressional delegation, was sent to the Director of Recovery Auto Workers and Communities. [Letter from Michigan Delegation to Ed Montgomery, 5/6/09]
Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) Signed A Letter Hailing Stimulus Funds As An ‘Important First Steps For Individuals And Their Families.’ The letter, signed by other members of the Michigan congressional delegation, was sent to the Director of Recovery Auto Workers and Communities. [Letter from Michigan Delegation to Ed Montgomery, 5/6/09]
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) Signed A Letter Hailing Stimulus Funds As An ‘Important First Steps For Individuals And Their Families.’ The letter, signed by other members of the Michigan congressional delegation, was sent to the Director of Recovery Auto Workers and Communities. [Letter from Michigan Delegation to Ed Montgomery, 5/6/09]
But I think another Republican–along with her “moderate” buddies, Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson, Arlen Specter, and Claire McCaskill–who deserve some scorn today. Among the $100 billion they demanded be stripped from the stimulus package before they’d support it was money for school modernization and state fiscal stabilization funds.
We now know that–as predicted–states are reeling with budgetary problems to an extent that may cause 900,000 further job losses.
States are looking at a total budget gap of $180 billion for fiscal 2011, which for most of them begins July 1. These cuts could lead to a loss of 900,000 jobs, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Economy.com.
Granted, the money that Collins took out of education stimulus last year would not have made up the difference in the cuts we’ll see from states in the upcoming fiscal year. But Collins and her buddies do deserve a reminder that their so-called fiscal moderation last year has lasting effects on the Americans losing their jobs.
This story is several days old. But I wanted to go back and show how, after a pack of lobbyists killed one attempt to get government to use its power to save money and improve health care, another pack of lobbyists are trying to do the same with higher education.
Eric Lichtblau (who, IMO, does much better at digging out DOJ scandals than reporting legislative battles) describes how the plan to replace privatized student loans–in which the government guarantees student loans that lenders then repackage and profit off of–with direct loans form the government is in political trouble.
But an aggressive lobbying campaign by the nation’s biggest student lenders has now put one of the White House’s signature plans in peril, with lenders using sit-downs with lawmakers, town-hall-style meetings and petition drives to plead their case and stay in business.
House and Senate aides say that the administration’s plan faces a far tougher fight than it did last fall, when the House passed its version. The fierce attacks from the lending industry, the Massachusetts election that cost the Democrats their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and the fight over a health care bill have all damaged the chances for the student loan measure, said the aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The effort to return to using direct loans to students rather than using government guarantees to support student loans stems from a series of scandals under the Bush Administration. Loan companies gave school administrators kick-backs to make their loans preferred at the schools, regardless of whether those loans made sense for the students. Lenders manipulated a subsidy (and churned some loans) to take advantage of a 9.5% profit guarantee that they weren’t otherwise entitled to. And, given a revolving door between the industry and DOE, students had little protection against fraud. As a result, students were paying far more than they should have for loans, and when they ultimately faced default, they had far fewer options for getting out of that debt assumed under what were basically fraudulent conditions.
By passing government-backed loans through private companies rather than lending money directly, students became captive consumers to an industry with little real competition and even less protection against fraud. The whole scheme turned college education from a necessary step to achieve a middle class lifestyle (and more broadly, to keep America competitive internationally) into a mere profit center for the finance industry.
The legislation before the Senate would curtail that system, replace a corporate welfare program, and use the savings to support the same number of loans plus many more education programs.
The money that would be saved by cutting out the private-industry middlemen — about $80 billion over the next decade, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis — could instead go toward expanding direct Pell Grants to students, establishing $10,000 tax credits for families with loans, and forgiving debts eventually for students who go into public service, administration officials say.
The bill would also shift tens of billions of dollars in expected savings to early learning programs, community colleges and the modernization of public school facilities.
So back to my parallel with the battle over the public option.
The choices now being made in health care risk making the same mistake we’ve made in the student loan industry. Captive consumers will be asked to support higher overhead (20% or more, in the case of the Senate bill) without adequate regulatory controls to make sure those consumers get the health care they’re paying for in return. A public option would have served as one check on this system by offering consumers one option that didn’t include that 20% overhead that also benefited from more direct government oversight. It would have saved $100 billion–in the same neighborhood of savings we’ll get by reverting the student loans to direct government assistance. But corporatist Senators like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman killed that plan, and as a result, we have to hope (assuming a bill passes at all) the HHS Secretary proves better at regulating a powerful industry than the Secretary of Education under Bush.
And now, having seen how easy it was to kill the public option, a solution that would save the government money and better achieve the underlying goal–health care (as distinct from insurance)–some of the very same corporatist Senators are turning their sights on direct student loans.
Thus far today, Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, and Blache Lincoln have come out against passing health care reform through sidecar reconciliation.
Of course that means they’re defending all the corrupt aspects of the Senate bill that proved to be so unpopular in MA, starting with the Cornhusker Kickback (and including the Louisiana Purchase that similarly bought off Mary Landrieu). And they’ve flip-flopped on their earlier demands that such corrupt deals be removed from the bill.
Mind you, I can’t say I’m surprised that Bad Nelson and Blanche and Bayh can’t decide whether they want to keep or lose their personal bribes. Just that if anyone should be labeled a monster, it’s probably the folks so diligently protecting the stuff that voters say, overwhelmingly, they despise.
The press, other members of Congress, everyone have to stop reporting over and over again that the Bad Nelson and Holy Joe “oppose” some aspect of health care reform.
Two key senators criticized the most recent healthcare compromise Sunday, saying the policies replacing the public option are still unacceptable.
Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) both said a Medicare “buy-in” option for those aged 55-64 was a deal breaker.
“I’m concerned that it’s the forerunner of single payer, the ultimate single-payer plan, maybe even more directly than the public option,” Nelson said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Rather, Bad Nelson and Holy Joe have simply “thought up a new excuse” to oppose real health care reform.
Until we stop pretending these two men are brokering in good faith, we will never get to the point in the discussion of how we get the best health care reform without some industry mole spiking the reform. These men will not support anything less than an out and out bailout of the health care industry, and to hell with the federal budget, and pretending they will just poisons the efforts of those bargaining in good faith.
ProPublica has done a comparison of the House and Senate stimulus packages. It shows, in striking fashion, how much the Grassley-Isakson-Coburn-Collins-Bad Nelson bill skews spending away from the poor–the most stimulative kind of spending, since these people need this money badly and would spend it right away–to the upper middle class:
|Aid to Low-Income Families Total||$124,186,000,000||$97,230,900,000||▼$26,955,100,000|
|Health insurance aid||$2,272,000,000||▲$2,272,000,000|
|COBRA healthcare for unemployed||$30,300,000,000||$20,000,000,000||▼$10,300,000,000|
|Medicaid for unemployed||$8,600,000,000||▼$8,600,000,000|
|Job training and placement||$5,120,000,000||$4,300,000,000||▼$820,000,000|
|Disabled and elderly programs||$4,200,000,000||▼$4,200,000,000|
The Senate bill took out $27 billion in spending for the poor, ending with a total of $97 billion.
|Tax Cuts Total||$282,284,000,000||$358,162,000,000||▲$75,878,000,000|
|State and local governments||$42,957,000,000||$14,272,000,000||▼$28,685,000,000|
The Senate bill put in $117 billion in new tax cuts for individuals–more money than the entire $97 billion they give for those items ProPublica classifies as "Aid to Low-Income Families."
Those tax cuts consist primarily of two things: the AMT patch ($64 billion), which affects primarily upper middle class people in areas with high home prices, and the house flipping subsidy (up to $48 billion), the full credit of which is only available if inidviduals pay at least $7,.500 in taxes a year (there’s also $10-11 billion for auto sales incentives).
There are other reasons to oppose including these two tax cuts in the stimulus. The AMT patch, which isn’t really stimulative in the first place, would get passed and properly off-set in the budget appropriations process anyway. And the house flipping subsidy does little else than put money in realtor’s pockets.
But the biggest reason is this: we’re taking food, housing, and medical care away from those who desperately need it, to put more money in the pockets of the upper middle class.
The Senate "Moderates’" reverse Robin Hood: Steal from the poor and give to the affluent!
I explained yesterday how the people who crafted the crappy Senate compromise bill were, to a significant degree, Republicans. Republicans who won’t even vote for the bill.
But I forgot to credit the guy who really put the stupid in this bill: Johnny Isakson. Isakson is the former realtor who threw a huge sop to his realtor buddies into the bill, one that does little to actually stimulate the economy (aside from realtors, who after all got us into this mess), and which costs more than promised. The amendment, a $15,000 credit for those buying new or existing homes, will basically encourage more people to move houses–but will not necessarily incent new home building (because it applies to existing homes) nor will it encourage new buyers who would otherwise not have bought (because it’s for all buyers, not just first-time buyers).
Here’s Calculated Risk on how stupid this amendment is:
The sponsors and supporters of this tax credit believe this will support house prices – a mistake because this will mostly just shuffle homeowners between homes, and not reduce the excess supply.
If the incentive was for new homes only, the credit would probably help create some construction jobs. However, the job creation would be limited because of the competing oversupply of existing homes.
The tax credit for existing homes does almost nothing to help the economy. Some might argue that this is more work for agents and home inspectors, and might help with furniture sales, but the impact will be minor. Remember existing home sales are already at a normal level compared to the stock of owner occupied units, so agents are doing fine already (just not compared to the bubble years).
The key problem for housing is prices are too high. How does this tax credit help reduce prices? Why are we trying to artificially increase the turnover rate? And why are we targeting a tax credit at higher income individuals?
Dean Baker, more succinctly, simply calls it the House Flipping Subsidy. And oh, by the way, it costs $30 billion more than Isakson originally claimed it would cost. The amendment is still in the "compromise bill" (the cowardly Senate voted it through on a voice vote), and Isakson is not about to vote for the final bill.
So to recap, here’s how this crappy bill came about.