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Senate Health Care Bill Cuts Deficit

Senate bill will cut the deficit in each of the next two decades projects CBO. Bloomberg: “[The bill] cleared a major hurdle when the Congressional Budget Office said it would cut the federal budget deficit by $127 billion in the first decade [and] by $650 billion in the second decade…”

W. Post on Senate Dem reaction: “The legislation received a positive response from across the Democratic spectrum. ‘This is the bill that we’ve been fighting for,’ said Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), a liberal who pressed Reid to revive the public option. Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.), the budget chairman and a leading Democratic fiscal hawk, said after a briefing on the bill, ‘I was very impressed by what Senator Reid has done.'”

Reid making inroads with Dem holdouts. CQ: “Landrieu and Nelson signaled they were warming to Reid’s proposal after he huddled earlier with them and Lincoln … ‘I would say I’m at neutral’ on the [first] critical procedural vote, [Landrieu] said after her meeting with Reid. A day earlier, she said she was ‘leaning no’ … [Nelson said] he still needed to study the proposal before he deciding whether to vote to limit debate on a motion to proceed … Lincoln said after her meeting in Reid’s office that she remained undecided about her vote on proceeding to the bill.”

Reid told holdouts he is keeping simple majority vote on the table, reports TPMDC: “Reid let three of his party’s key skeptics know that if they join Republicans at any stage of the process to block the bill, he still retains the option of passing major parts of it through the filibuster proof budget reconciliation process … Nelson said, ‘he’s not threatening that, but anybody can conclude that if you don’t move something on to the floor, that is one of the possibilities.'”

W. Post on House-Senate differences: “The House version would require all but the smallest businesses to offer insurance, while the Senate measure would merely fine companies for not offering affordable coverage … while the House would impose a 5.4 percent surtax on income over $500,000 for individuals and $1 million for families, the Senate would rely primarily on a new tax on high-cost insurance policies that has been hugely unpopular among House members … Reid would impose the 40 percent tax on fewer policies [then the Senate Finance cmte version], raising the threshold to $8,500 for individuals and $23,000 for family coverage. That change required him to come up with about $60 billion in additional revenue, most of which would come from raising the Medicare payroll tax from 1.45 percent to 1.95 percent on individual income over $200,000 and household income over $250,000. Reid is also proposing a new 5 percent tax on elective cosmetic surgery.”

Wonk Room’s Igor Volsky explains Reid’s moderate abortion compromise: “Federal dollars can only be used to pay for abortions when the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother or results from rape or incest; private premiums must be used to pay for any other type of abortion, including those for health reasons. Each plan in Exchange will decide whether to cover additional abortion services and at least one plan in each market must offer abortion services and one plan must not. In the public option, the Secretary can cover abortion only if the procedure is financed with private funds.”

Politico on what reforms come early, and late: “The Senate bill pushes back implementation of major parts of the reform to 2014 — a change from 2013 under the Finance Committee bill. This is bad news for lawmakers who will need to explain to constituents why the elements that have attracted the most attention — the public plan, the Medicaid expansion and the insurance exchanges — won’t be available for four years … Aware of the political pitfalls, the Senate Democratic leadership compiled a list of early ‘deliverables’ [including] ‘$5 billion in immediate federal support for a new program to provide affordable coverage to uninsured Americans with pre-existing conditions … ‘reduce the size of the “donut hole” by raising the ceiling on the initial coverage period by $500 in 2010.'”

W. Post’s Ezra Klein worries about the level of subsidies but Change.org’s Tim Foley is impressed: “…the tax credits to help subsidize the cost of their premiums [are] much more generous than the previous Senate Finance bill, more generous than the previous Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions bill and yes, even more generous than the House bill! The credits are offered on a sliding scale based on income, and go all the way up to 400% of the poverty line (about $88,000 for a family of 4) — much better than the Finance bill and equivalent to the HELP and House bills. On the low end, individuals and families will only need to pay 2.8% of their income on premiums for a comprehensive plan. On the high end, it’s 9.8% — an improvement over the 12% maximum in the House bill … Who saw that coming? I’ll tell you who — Olympia Snowe. One of her main critiques of the Finance bill she helped put together was that it wasn’t doing enough for families above $66,000, who received no subsidy at all. I think Harry Reid got her attention!”

TPMDC on the next procedural steps: “[Today], Reid will file for cloture on the motion to proceed, which will set off 30 hours of debate before the cloture vote itself is held, likely on Saturday. That could set off yet another delay before the motion to proceed is actually passed, which could take until Monday. If that happens, the debate on the bill–including a reading of its 2000+ pages, won’t likely begin in earnest until after Thanksgiving. Got that all? Good.”

House to investigate Big Pharma price gouging. CQ: “House Democrats have ordered an investigation into recent price increases by drug manufacturers, out of suspicion that the increases are an attempt to maximize profits ahead of potential price controls included in a health care overhaul.”

Senate Conservatives Protect Credit Card Rate Gouging

FDL’s David Dayen on procedural move blocking bill to stop dramatic rate hike before previously passed reforms are implemented. “…Republicans objected to a motion by Chris Dodd (D-CT) to immediately take up a bill to move up the effective date on the CARD Act … the banksters have been gouging their customers one last time, Sen. Dodd wanted to stop them from doing that, and Republicans objected. The bill, which has already passed the House, could come up under regular order in the future, but Republicans basically engaged in a needless delay so credit card companies could wring some more profits from their customers.”

Digby sees a political opening: “If Democrats can’t make something out of this they deserve to lose their majority and be sued for political malpractice … These people are sticking up for credit card companies who are gouging their customers during the holidays in the middle of a recession! What do they have to do to provoke some outrage from the Democrats, gun down Tiny Tim?”

Too-Big-To Fail Reform Passes Key Vote, Fed Audit Plan Up Today

The Hill on committee approval of new power to break up big banks. “A key House panel voted on Wednesday to give the federal government broad new powers that could be used to break up large financial firms before they fail. The House Financial Services Committee voted 38-29 to support an amendment sponsored by Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) that drew strong objections from Republicans and wariness from some centrist Democrats … The Kanjorski measure requires federal regulators to look closely at the 50 largest financial firms by assets and determine whether their size, scope, interconnectedness and other factors need additional regulation. Regulators would then be able to impose stricter regulations, limit a firm’s ability to merge and also possibly sell or divest parts of the firm … it faces an uncertain future with the full House and Senate.”

Bloomberg reports: “[House Financial Services Committee] members will vote on a Democratic proposal to retain a ban on audits of Fed interest-rate decisions. Approval would deal a blow to Representative Ron Paul, the Texas Republican who introduced a bill with 300 cosponsors that would allow audits of interest-rate decisions, a step Bernanke opposes … The amendment to be offered by Watt … would limit Government Accountability Office audits of Fed emergency-loan programs to their operations, excluding decisions and internal talks about the facilities. Identities of borrowers may be released a year after the programs end. Watt’s plan has more limits than a proposal unveiled last week by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd. Paul and Representative Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, have drafted a competing measure for broader Fed audits, which would exclude only any unreleased transcripts or minutes of Fed policy meetings.”

Frank to close foreign currency derivatives loophole reports HuffPost.

Four bankrupted companies slashed employee retirement benefits, granted nearly $50M in retirement benefits to executives. USA Today: “Top executives at four companies that jettisoned their employee pension plans received $49.5 million in retirement and severance benefits in the years before the companies filed for bankruptcy, while retirees saw their benefits cut by as much as two thirds, congressional investigators conclude in a report to be released today. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that pensions at the companies, United Airlines, US Airways, Polaroid and Reliance Insurance, were underfunded by more than $11 billion when the companies turned them over to a government-backed insurance fund. The report says executives at those four companies and six others that abandoned their pension plans took in a total of $350 million in pay and perks in the years leading up to the bankruptcies.”

Jobs Bill Deliberations

CQ reports on Senate Dem brainstorming on possible jobs bill: “Senators at a Wednesday meeting attended by about 20 members said the ideas mentioned most often were funding infrastructure projects, boosting small-business lending using money remaining in the Troubled Asset Relief Program and funding energy efficiency programs.”

Gas tax dispute behind transportation bill standoff. GreenWire: “[Sen. Boxer] and six other committee leaders and ranking members — including EPW Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) — relented on their ongoing effort to punt the next multiyear highway and transit bill into 2011 and instead called for a shorter, six-month extension that would continue current federal spending until June 2010 … For most of the summer, [Rep. James] Oberstar had threatened to block any stopgap transportation measure as a way to pressure lawmakers to focus on his six-year, $500 billion proposal. However, when it became apparent that his bill would not see floor time before the end of September he backed down and instead pushed a three-month extension of the law through the House. But the Senate never signed off on the plan, and Oberstar has since refused to give any additional ground in the extension debate … [Boxer described] the House philosophy as: ‘Let’s just bring it to a crisis point, then we’ll go double the gas tax and solve the whole problem.’ Boxer, who also opposes a near-term gas tax hike, said imposing one would be nearly impossible.”

Los Angeles seeking fed help on $20B transit initiative: “The mayor said he’ll seek a funding advance from the U.S. government against future local sales tax revenue, along with federal grant money … Work on the rail lines would create at least 210,000 jobs…”

Moderates Look To Restrict Scope of Carbon Cap

Some senators looking at severely narrow climate bill, but lead negotiator Kerry rejects. GreenWire: “…a small bipartisan faction of Senate moderates is examining the idea of passing a bill that deals only with the heat-trapping emissions from power plants … aimed at about a third of annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions … [Kerry said] he is not planning to write a bill that goes after only power plants. That, he said, would not be a political winner, anyway. ‘The problem is you lose countless numbers of entities … It becomes far more expensive, and they don’t get the help you get the other way. You get no transitional cost help that way, so it becomes more expensive. And in fact, you lose three-quarters of the support for the legislation.'”

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