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Republicans Put Conditions On Attending Health Care Summit

Republican leaders tell Obama they may not show up for health care summit. W. Post: "Leading House Republicans raised the prospect Monday night that they may decline to participate in President Obama's proposed health-care summit if the White House chooses not to scrap the existing reform bills and start over."

Democrats reject call to "start over." Politico: "Republicans say they’re open to compromise — as long as Obama tears up the House and Senate bills ... Democrats say, not a chance ... Obama hopes to walk into the Feb. 25 summit with an agreement in hand between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on a final Democratic bill, so they can move ahead with a reform package after the sit-down. ... 'This meeting should not be an excuse to start over,' [Sen. Mary] Landrieu said. 'It should help us pave a road to the finish line.'"

Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic says Republicans already have had every chance to present their ideas on health care reform: "Five separate congressional committees had hearings; each chamber had floor debates. That's hundreds of hours the GOP had to talk about health care, all of it in public view and televised on C-SPAN. And that's not even including all of the unofficial channels at the Republicans' disposal..."

Wonk Room's Igor Volsky criticizes GOP leaders for fresh attack on any use of simple majority vote in Senate budget rules to pass health care when they previously conceded the budget reconciliation process is "legal" and "ethical."

Democrats see opportunity to highlight what is actually in the bill. LAT: "...Obama's call for a meeting ... reflects the belief in Democratic circles that most provisions of the party's healthcare bill remain popular and will stand up well against GOP ideas ... more than 7 in 10 Americans would back a healthcare bill if it included tax credits for small businesses. And at least 6 in 10 would back legislation that expanded the Medicaid program for the poor, helped seniors on Medicare buy prescription drugs or guaranteed that all Americans could get insurance even if they were sick. But large segments of the public do not know that these provisions are in the House or Senate bills..."

Timothy Jost pens Politico oped noting charges of backroom dealing are overhyped: "...what is so wrong with a provision to provide $10 billion for community health centers throughout the country ... Why should Massachusetts and Vermont be excluded from sharing in federal funding for Medicaid expansions they had already undertaken at their own expense ... The Republicans were never shy about backroom deals when they controlled Congress ... The real problem of governance is the Republicans’ use of the filibuster to stop the most pedestrian legislation."

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates worries the summit is evidence of a lack of a game plan: "I like how Obama has come out over the past week. But I can't escape the feeling that there is no real plan. One day Rahm is telling us that health care is fifth on the list of priorities, the next day Obama is telling us that it's still at the top--or some such. ...If Democrats lose this, with the kind of majority they command right now, with a Democratic president, why should any voter trust them to do any of the heavy lifting that's needed in this country?"

Time's Kate Pickert takes the temperature of the room at the National Health Policy Conference: "Participants ... seem pretty depressed. ... It's obvious that the vast majority of policy experts at this conference think it will be a tragedy of epic proportions if major comprehensive health reform slips out of reach. There's no Obama cheerleading or Republican bashing — just a general, well-informed understanding that the status quo is a very, very bad thing."

Hospital costs will rise if action is stalled. NYT: "...the cost of doing nothing in Washington translates into tens of billions of dollars each year in medical bills that go unpaid by patients with little or no insurance."

Insurance industry still running wild. HHS attacks Wellpoint for 39% rate hike. GoozNews: "[Sec. Sebelius] could have also pointed out, as Matthew Holt did on the Health Care blog yesterday, that Wellpoint CEO Angela Braly earned nearly $10 million in salary, stock and stock options last year. That ought to get people fired up and ready to go."

Spotlight Turned On Half-Baked Conservative Health Care Ideas

WaPo's Ezra Klein notes major Republican ideas are already in the bill: "....look at the GOP's 'Solutions for America' homepage, which lays out its health-care plan in some detail. It has four planks. All of them -- yes, you read that right -- are in the Senate health-care bill."

NYT notes the conservative health care alternative wouldn't provide any more health care: "The Republicans rely more on the market and less on government. They would not require employers to provide insurance. They oppose the Democrats’ call for a big expansion of Medicaid ... While the Congressional Budget Office has not analyzed all the Republican proposals, it is clear that they would not provide coverage to anything like the number of people — more than 30 million — who would gain insurance under the Democrats’ proposals."

Reality-Based Community's Jonathan Zasloff rips NYT for failing to tell full story of conservative health care plans: "'The Republicans rely more on the market and less on government.' Unless, of course, you count things like tax sheltered health savings accounts, subsidies to Pharma under Medicare (dis)Advantage, federal pre-emption of state insurance regulations ... Can’t [NYT reporters] Pear and Herszenhorn be bothered to cite to the studies showing how inefficient it is?"

TPMCafe's Christina Bellantoni says House Democrats plan to force Republicans to vote on Rep. Paul Ryan's draconian budget plan cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits: "A Democratic leadership source told TPMDC they are considering options for putting the Ryan plan on the floor, forcing Republicans to vote for or against a plan they don't want to talk about."

The Treatment's Cohn explains the havoc the Ryan plan would wreak: "Republicans have been scaring the bejeezus out of seniors by telling them that Democrats were out to destroy Medicare. But the Roadmap makes clear that it’s not Democrats who seek massive, disruptive changes to the program. It’s the Republicans."

Speaking of Bad Ideas: At Salon, Michael Lind finds only disturbing ideas at the Tea Party: "Bomb Iran and privatize Social Security now! There's a chant for the tea partiers. These ideas are not going to bring the Republican Party back to power in Congress in 2011 or into the White House in 2013."

Jobs Bill Talks Slog Through Second DC Snowstorm

"Obama to meet with bipartisan House, Senate leaders Tuesday" to discuss jobs reports The Page.

Votes delayed again. Politico: "The House canceled votes for Tuesday. And even though the Senate, as of late Monday, planned to hold votes Tuesday, only three of the Senate’s 100 lawmakers showed up at a brief session Monday after the weekend’s 2-foot snowstorm forced lawmakers to scrap Monday votes. Among the votes that were canceled: a closely watched jobs bill."

Uncertainty about long-term unemployment insurance extension. W. Post: "The Senate approved a measure that extended benefits from 79 to 99 weeks in a unanimous vote last year, but GOP lawmakers have not yet said whether they will continue to support the benefits, particularly if they are included in a larger jobs package. And some Democrats favor extending the benefits only temporarily, while another bloc wants an extension that would last the rest of the year ... given how long it is taking for the economy to turn around and for employers to start hiring again, few lawmakers in either party have expressed much reluctance to extend the benefits."

Lack of leadership in the Senate for a real jobs bill. In These Times' Art Levine: "The current Democratic legislative approach, Hill observers say, is to divide job creation into a few smaller bills, but none, in total, will have the scope that progressive economists at the Economic Policy Institute and others say is needed ... [Says CAF's Roger Hickey,] '...there's an assumption that the economy is on the mend -- an assumption most unemployed Americans don't share.' Equally troubling, Hickey and others note, the usual liberal champions in the Senate of reform and pro-worker policies haven't stood up and called for large-scale programs."

NYT's Bob Herbert puts spotlight on employment crisis in low-income communities: "What you’re not hearing from the politicians and the talking heads is that the joblessness and underemployment in America’s low-income households rival their heights in the Great Depression of the 1930s — and in some instances are worse. The same holds true for some categories of blue-collar workers. Anyone who thinks this devastating problem is going away soon, or that the economy can be put back on track without addressing it, is deluded."

USA Today's DeWayne Wickham reminds that while unemployment ticked down, it went up for blacks: "Even more worrisome, the jobless rate for black men 20 and older rose a full percentage point to 17.6%."

WH econ aide Jared Bernstein defends record in HuffPost, advocates for jobs bill: "Here's what comes out of all this: our policies, most notably the Recovery Act, have helped move us from a situation where we were losing a nightmarish 750,000 jobs per month to one in which we've pulled back from the economic abyss and are moving a lot closer to adding jobs, on net, on a regular basis. But we can't kick back and wait for that moment ... we have to hasten the arrival of more robust job growth with a set of initiatives targeted at the factors holding back job creation."

Dem Rep. Mike McMahon parrots conservative tax talking point. Wonk Room: " of the House Democrats joining the charge to extend all of the Bush cuts, had this to say ... 'A working couple making $250,000 is barely making ends meet'"'s Dave Johnson warns small business that tax cuts will hurt them: "... the giant monopolistic corporations that are chewing up small businesses, destroying local and regional retailers, take those tax cuts and use them to turn themselves into even better small-business-destroying machines."

Blue Dogs to push more severe public spending freeze. The Hill: "The group of House centrists will soon introduce a bill capping discretionary spending at specific levels. The move would challenge their leadership and the president ... The group has yet to hash out the details on the spending caps bill, but it has near-unanimous support among its members, a Blue Dog aide said ..."

CEPR's Dean Baker counters deficit hysteria: "In spite of the deficit hawks’ whining, history and financial markets tell us that the deficit and debt levels that we are currently seeing are not a serious problem. ... The story is that we are forcing people to be out of work – unable to properly care for their children – because people like billionaire investment banker Peter Peterson and his followers are able to buy their way into and dominate the public debate. The reality is that we have an unemployment crisis today, not a deficit crisis."

Sen. Ben Nelson Backs Becker Filibuster, As WH Amps Up Filibuster Attack

HuffPost reports Sen. Nelson will block Craig Becker nomination: "In a move that will further irritate his Democratic critics, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) announced on Monday evening that he would not just oppose but also help filibuster President Barack Obama's nominee to a key labor relations agency ... Becker has been an associate general counsel for the Service Employees International Union since 1990 and was previously counsel for the AFL-CIO. His nomination to the NLRB already appeared in peril after the victory of Scott Brown."

Politico adds: "Republicans have tried to make Becker's nomination a referendum on the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier to unionize. In his statement, Nelson said Becker has made several statements that 'fly in the face of Nebraska’s Right to Work laws.'"

Sen. Shelby lifts most of his holds on nominations. Politico: "Shelby ... had been frustrated by the lack in movement on Alabama-based projects he deemed necessary to national security. A spokesman for the senator said Monday that with attention brought to these two concerns, the political maneuver had 'accomplished' its goal and was no longer necessary ... White House press secretary Robert Gibbs [had said] Shelby’s hold was a perfect example of 'what’s wrong' with Washington..."

W. Post on WH strategy to attack excessive filibustering: "...President Obama and his senior aides have repeatedly cited Republicans' filibuster threats as the primary reason for the lack of progress on big ticket legislative items, an early sign that Democrats will seek to use this bit of legislative arcana against the GOP in the coming midterm election ... the White House needs to win the battle over who is working to maintain the status quo on Capitol Hill since the default position will be that it is their fault that more change hasn't come."

Will Republicans Back Tax Increase To Fund Transportation?

One House Republican offers to get bipartisan support for tax increases to finance job-creating transportation bill. Streetsblog's Elana Schor: "...Congress has just two more weeks of work until time runs out on the latest short-term extension of the five-year-old law governing federal transport policy ... with congressional leaders unwilling to look at a gas tax increase -- and no certainty that such a hike would even get the job done as Americans drive less in more fuel-efficient cars -- lawmakers have little to lose by extending the highway-centric 2005 transportation bill again this month, effectively hitting the snooze button on infrastructure policy ... [But] not every Republican is opposed to making the hard choices necessary to raise revenue for a new transportation bill. That was the message that Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-OH) delivered to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood..."

HuffPost's James McCommons praises WH high-speed rail vision: "The USDOT has, for the first time, begun to develop a national rail plan--which is mostly visionary in nature, but represents serious thinking. The Federal Railroad Administration is moving beyond its traditional role of regulation and safety to become a promoter of rail transportation as part of a cleaner 21 century economy."

USA Today on the US can take advantage of China's rail technology: "'All of the innovation that is taking place globally can play to the U.S. advantage,' as U.S. firms cherry-pick the best capabilities and technologies. 'I think that the U.S. is going to benefit significantly from the work that is being done in China,' [says Keith Dierkx, director of the IBM Global Rail Innovation Center.]"

Elizabeth Warren Takes On Wall Street In Wall Street Journal

Banksters Must Earn Our Trust: Writing in the Wall Street Journal, bailout watchdog Elizabeth Warren writes: "Banks and brokers have sold deceptive mortgages for more than a decade. Financial wizards made billions by packaging and repackaging those loans into securities. And federal regulators played the role of lookout at a bank robbery, holding back anyone who tried to stop the massive looting from middle-class families. When they weren't selling deceptive mortgages, Wall Street invented new credit card tricks and clever overdraft fees."

Baseline Scenario's James Kwak sees Warren oped as way to help stoke grassroots pressure for reform: "A year ago, it might have been possible to twist the banks’ arms hard enough to get them to agree to new ways of doing business (such as a CFPA), because they needed government support so badly. Now it’s too late. So the solution has to come from the other kind of arm-twisting–pressure from the president, the administration (that means you, Tim Geithner), and ordinary voters. If people feel screwed by the financial sector–and many of them should after the past decade–then they should want the CFPA."'s Isaiah Poole has no choice but to call out conservative leaders as "whores," for begging for Wall Street cash so they can block reform.

Is Obama Failing or Succeeding?

Open Left's Chris Bowers says Obama's declining approval ratings come down to weak policy results: "Democrats and the Obama administration would only been in a significantly improved political position if they had implemented policies that would have resulted in a dramatically different employment picture. Is there a different set of advisors, a different organizing technique, or different messaging that would have resulted in economic policy that would have turned the employment picture around? That is the question that needs to be asked about current political and electoral difficulties for Democrats, not whether Obama's advisers are all from Chicago or not."

Not so fast, says Matthew Yglesias. Obama's agenda is succeeding: "If this agenda had simply been spaced out as one small-to-medium sized achievement per month, and Obama had never attempted systematic reform of the health care system, then his administration would look like a stunning series of policy successes. And with his job approval rating at 51 percent you'd say he was doing fine politically as well. The fact that he accomplished most of the small-to-medium sized stuff in a single giant leap doesn't mean it didn't happen nor does the fact that his ambitious health reform drive may not work invalidate everything else that's happened. In America, it's hard to pass laws. If you're passing some, and staying more popular than the other political party, then you're doing pretty well."

Rep. John Murtha Remembered

The passing of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) — the first Vietnam veteran in Congress, and a vocal critic of the Iraq war — sparked remembrances across the progressive blogosphere, including: John Nichols at The Nation, Harold Meyerson at TAPPED, Steve Benen at Washington Monthly, McJoan at Daily Kos.

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