Political Diagnosis: Obama Goes on Offensive for Health Reform; Abortion Debate Heats Up; Desperate for "Friends with Benefits" ...

By Christine Cupaiuolo — July 20, 2009

No super fun healthcare graphic this week. Instead, we present a tongue-in-cheek video that gives new meaning to “friends with benefits.”

Full Court Press: “With skepticism about the president’s health-care reform effort mounting on Capitol Hill — even within his own party — the White House has launched a new phase of its strategy designed to dramatically increase public pressure on Congress: all Obama, all the time,” reports the Washington Post.

That includes a primetime news conference on Wednesday, internet video and direct appeals to supporters.

Moving Along, Alone: The Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee speeded up health reform last week with the passage of the Affordable Health Choices Act, which aims to make health insurance available to all Americans.

Though approved without any Republican votes, Democrats were quick to point out that the bill includes more than 160 Republican amendments; it’s therefore legit to call it “bipartisan.”

Ellen Shaffer, co-director of the Center for Policy Analysis, blogs about the Senate developments in “The Good, the Bad and the Murky.” On discussion of a single-payer amendment to the Senate bill:

Bernie Sanders’ state single payer amendment elicits shining and shameful moments: Strong statements of support from Senators Tom Harkin (“We have a dysfunctional system”), Jeff Merkley, and Sherrod Brown. Listen To Your Staff Demerit for Barbara Mikulski (“Can’t states enact single payer anyway?” [She is reminded that states need waivers for ERISA, and transfers of federal funds.] “Oh.” She still voted No.

On Friday, two House committees — Ways & Means, and Education & Labor — approved the reform legislation (HR 3200). The Education & Labor panel rejected two amendments offered by Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) “that would have precluded plans participating in the health insurance exchange — including the proposed public insurance plan — from covering abortion services,” according to Daily Women’s Health Policy Report.

By a 25-19 vote, the Education & Labor committee did approve an amendment allowing states to create single-payer health care systems if they so choose. Calling it a victory for single-payer advocates, John Nichols of The Nation writes about the importance of regional initiatives.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee continues its deliberation. All eyes are on “tenacious dealmaker” Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.).

On the Senate side, everyone’s waiting for the Finance Committee to release details of its proposal. Considering the importance of Finance Chair Sen. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the Sunlight Foundation thoughtfully decided to take a look at the circle of lobbyists surrounding both Baucus and other committee members.

Abortion Debate Heats Up: Appearing on Fox News on Sunday, Peter R. Orszag, the White House budget director, was asked whether he was prepared to say that “no taxpayer money will go to pay for abortions.” His response: “I am not prepared to say explicitly that right now. It’s obviously a controversial issue, and it’s one of the questions that is playing out in this debate.”

Here’s the full transcript. Dana Goldstein has more.

In a New York Times story on the role of abortion in the healthcare debate, Robert Pear and Adam Liptak write:

Abortion has been simmering behind the scenes as an issue in legislation to guarantee access to health insurance for all Americans. The debate affects not only the public health insurance plan that Democrats want to create, but also private insurers, who would receive tens of billions of dollars of federal subsidies to cover people with low and moderate incomes.

Under the House bill, for example, most insurers would have to provide an “essential benefits package” specified by the health and human services secretary, who would receive recommendations from a federal advisory committee. Opponents of abortion want Congress to prohibit inclusion of abortion in that benefits package, while advocates of abortion rights say the package should be left to medical professionals to determine.

Budget Bummer: The Congressional Budget Office concluded that the bills under consideration do not accomplish Obama’s goal of slowing long term the rate of growth in health care. Is it accurate/relevant? Experts weigh in. Other experts weigh in.

Orszag on Sunday called the House bill “deficit neutral.” One undisputed outcome: the CBO assessment won’t make negotiations easy this week.

Missing Kennedy: “As a divided Senate tangles over health care legislation, there is bipartisan consensus on one point: Ted Kennedy could make a big difference, if only he were here,” writes Mark Leibovich.

Kennedy is battling brain cancer, and his presence on Capitol Hill has been missed. In an essay published in Newsweek last week, Kennedy wrote that universal, affordable health care is the “cause of my life.”

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