Bill Scher

Health Care Looms Large in Prez Primaries

The growing grassroots demand for affordable, accessible health care is sure to drive the presidential primaries. But it remains to be seen if candidates will respond with workable, comprehensive plans to match their urgent rhetoric. Rep. Dennis Kucinich is the only candidate so far with an announced plan: “Enhanced Medicare For Everyone.” But he will joined by others. Earlier this month, John Edwards said achieving universal coverage was a higher short-term priority for him than balancing the budget. But no specific plan as of yet. Last night, Sen. Hillary Clinton told the NY Times she’ll announce a plan shortly. And today, Sen. Barack Obama gave his first health care address since announcing his intention to be a candidate. No plan yet, but a demand that universal health care be achieved by the end of the next president’s term in 2012.

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Bill Scher

Show Them The Way

Yesterday, 43 Senate conservatives did the bidding of the business lobby and filibustered the House minimum wage bill. Why? Because they want to attach irresponsible business tax breaks to the bill. They want to further the phony notion that even the tiniest raise in the minimum wage is a job killer that must be offset by special interest handouts — never mind the hundreds of billions of tax breaks business owners have already received while inflation has degraded the value of the minimum wage. So, what should the response to the right-wing be? Stand on principle, face down conservatives, and insist on a “clean” bill free of business giveaways? Or accommodate, and compromise on a “dirty” bill? As of now, the Senate leadership plans to accommodate. Last week, the Senate Finance committee approved a bill loaded with tax breaks.

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Robert Borosage

The President’s Delusions

Last night’s State of the Union address revealed that the state of this president is still delusional. He can’t level with the American people because he can’t or won’t recognize the reality that we face. The best part of the speech wasn’t anything the president said. It was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sitting over his shoulder, signaling the change that Americans voted for. The president also got a lift from the “ordinary heroes” that he recognized at the end of the speech. But when it got to substance, the president seemed bored with his own words as he trotted out his pledge for more of the same. For this president, the economy is great and we need to stay the course.

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Bill Scher

Cheaper Health Care! Cleaner Energy! Just Another Bush SOTU

The White House has been previewing tonight’s State of the Union address, leaking that Bush will offer plans for affordable health care and energy independence. Are these bold new initiatives? A change in policy course? A response to the public will? Not exactly. This is literally old news. In the last four State of the Union addresses, Bush has promised affordable health care for all Americans.

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Robert Borosage

State Of The Union: Deteriorating

Tomorrow night, President Bush will tell Americans that the state of our union is strong. He’ll celebrate a growing economy, enjoying rising productivity, rising profits, more jobs and record home ownership. He’ll stand as commander in chief of the most powerful military ever. He’ll lay out areas–energy, immigration, health care–where he envisions progress through bipartisan cooperation. What he won’t do is level with Americans. In reality, America’s condition is deteriorating rapidly. We’re like a world-class athlete who has let himself go in middle age. Muscle is turning to flab; arteries are clogged, reflexes slowed. The body is not only more vulnerable to garden-variety ailments, it is susceptible to what might be crippling strokes.

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Bill Scher

First 100 Hours Finishes 58 Hours Early

Today, the House passed the CLEAN Energy Act, 264-163, with 36 Republicans crossing party lines to support the bill, and only 4 Dems voting against. And yesterday, the College Student Relief Act passed 356-71, with 124 Republicans crossing over. That completes the House Dems’ First 100 Hours agenda, with 58 legislative working hours left to spare. More work has been done for people in 100 hours than the previous conservative Congress did in two years. However, as has become obvious, the Republican minority has the numbers to kill popular legislation in the Senate, and Democrats may respond to that by cutting weak deals. But Dem Senators should take heed of the House vote totals. Every bill commands wide public support, and attracted significant GOP votes. Senate Dems have the clear upper hand, and should stand firm with the House and the people.

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Bill Scher

Both Parties Feeling The Fair Trade Mandate

David Sirota flags this Miami Herald story: …the Bush administration has told Peru and Colombia that their free-trade agreements with the United States will need ”substantive adjustments” to secure Congressional approval. Deputy U.S. Trade Representative John K. Veroneau told reporters Wednesday that the concessions were needed to assuage Democratic objections over labor rights.

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Bill Scher

Take Big Oil Off The Public Dole

Jerome Ringo, president of the Apollo Alliance, sent the following to supporters today: Tomorrow, the new House leaders will take on our Big Oil energy policy. They will take a long overdue first step toward real, sustainable energy independence. And the best part: it won’t cost us a dime. Instead, the House plans to pay for it by reversing the $14 billion handout that previous Congresses lavished on Big Oil. But taking on Big Oil won’t be easy. We need a massive vote in the House tomorrow to gain momentum going into the Senate. For that we need your help.

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Bill Scher

Dirty Wage Bill Gets A Little Cleaner

Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus is still refusing to pass a “clean” minimum wage bill without business tax giveaways. But now he’s looking to make a slight improvement to his dirty bill: paying for the revenue loss of wider business loopholes, by closing different business loopholes. The Washington Post reports that the committee will “consider[] a proposal to sharply limit the earnings corporate executives and other highly paid employees can place tax-free into deferred compensation plans, one of the most popular executive benefits in corporate America.” According to CQ.com, that means executive pay over $1 million would be subject to the 35% income tax rate. CongressDaily says that’s the “most controversial” piece in Baucus’ new package.

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Bill Scher

Dubya Doublespeak on Halving Student Loan Rates

The House is expected to pass legislation today that will cut some student loan rates in half, saving the average student $4,420 without costing taxpayers a dime. This is a critical first step in making college affordable for all students and working families. As the Wall Street Journal reported on October 25th, paying for college has gotten harder under the Bush Administration: The College Board’s latest annual reports … find that over the past five years tuition at public four-year universities has soared by a record-breaking 35% when adjusted for inflation. Meanwhile, spending on Pell Grants — the biggest source of federal aid for low-income students — fell for the first time in six years.

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Robert Borosage

Passion or Positioning

Robin Toner has front page analysis in the New York Times today on how Dems are seeking the “middle on social issues.” Most of this is common sense. Dems will control agenda in House and use that to block votes on issues like gay marriage or partial birth abortion that force a conflict between their principles and the majority of Americans. They’ll focus – if they have any sense at all – on bread and butter, kitchen table issues, and take on entrenched corporate interests like Big Pharma for Americans. They’ll put their faith and values on display. Toner suggests that Democrats will try to avoid what they say was the downfall of Republicans – allowing their right-wing base to isolate them from majority opinion. There’s the rub. Politics is driven by passion – by people passionate about causes.

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Bill Scher

Health Care For America: Blog Roundup

Lots of blog discussion about the new Health Care for America plan announced last week by Jacob Hacker and the Economic Policy Institute. (Roger Hickey’s post summing up the plan is here.) Tapped’s Ezra Klein praises the simplicity: “…unlike the other [new] plans, Hacker’s took four sentences to explain. It’s a simple, elegant mechanism for coverage, requiring none of the complex market restructuring and odd coverage schemes of the plans that seek to preserve the private insurance market as a protected whole.” Matthew Yglesias is impressed with the political approach: “This, to me, is good. It compromises away from the ideal end-state, but does so in a smart way.

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Bill Scher

W. Post Crusade Against Fair Drug Prices Continues

Last Thursday, when the Washington Post ran two pieces attacking the Democratic plan to empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices, I asked, "Is the Washington Post actively trying to thwart the First 100 Hours goal to empower Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices?"  On Saturday, the Post editorial board helped answer that question, formally coming out against the plan in an editorial.  To recap: that's one slanted news piece against the Dem plan, one oped from a Bush cabinet head against the plan, and one Post editorial against the plan.  Of note, GoozNews takes on the W. Post editorial here.

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Bill Scher

The Real Middle Ground

Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus is firmly establishing himself as the buzzkill of The First 100 Hours. After dirtying up a minimum wage bill with special interest tax breaks, now he’s undermining Dem efforts to pass a bill requiring Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. Instead, he wants a bill that merely allows it, but does not require it. This wouldn’t be that big a deal, if we could trust the Bush Administration to act in the best interest of the public. But Bush’s Health and Human Services secretary has made it clear he doesn’t believe in negotiation. If he isn’t required to negotiate, he won’t.

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Bill Scher

Maximizing The Minimum

Bill Scher blogs for Campaign for America’s Future. This blog originally appeared in The Huffington Post. Yesterday was a great day for the American worker and the American economy, as the House passed a long overdue raise in the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. The bill is particularly strong because it’s “clean.” It rejects the notion that a wage hike automatically leads to job losses, and needs to be “offset” by tacking on special interest tax giveaways for business. But while Democrats are united on principle for a pay raise, they are tactically divided whether the bill should stay clean. Since several in the leadership are OK with dirtying it up, it will take a big grassroots push to keep it pristine.

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Roger Hickey

Health Care For America

The great debate over how to fundamentally fix our broken health care system just got a lot more interesting. Today, the Economic Policy Institute released the Health Care for America plan – a simple yet sophisticated approach crafted by Jacob Hacker, author of “The Great Risk Shift.” Health Care for America, which you can find at www.sharedprosperity.org, comprehensively tackles the major health care problems holding back our society and economy: the 46 million uninsured, the skyrocketing costs and the uneven quality. My organization, Campaign for America’s Future, will be launching a nationwide effort to discuss and debate how to get good healthcare coverage for all Americans while controlling spiraling health care costs. The best way to start that debate is to put a simple, clear and progressive health care plan on the table.

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Bill Scher

Media Bias Against Dem Drug Plan Continues

Is the Washington Post actively trying to thwart the First 100 Hours goal to empower Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices? Today, the Post prints a one-two punch of misleading information. On the “news” side, we have particularly egregious piece broadly claiming that “experts” don’t believe the Democratic Medicare proposal will work like the Veterans Administration drug plan, because it does not create the kind of restrictive list of covered drugs that the VA does. And over on the oped page, the Post gives free ink to Bush’s Health and Human Services Secretary so he can make the same claims. But nowhere in the Post does it mention what the experts at Families USA say to debunk that claim: the VA list is not that restrictive, as vets can get drugs not on the list.

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Bill Scher

America Says No!

In response to President Bush’s stunning rejection of the people’s will, Campaign for America’s Future is joining our progressive allies today to form Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. Rallies are being held across the country today to oppose the continuation of Bush’s failed Iraq strategy, and you can find one near you at AmericaSaysNo.org. More about Bush’s address on TomPaine.com.

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Bill Scher

House Dems Split on Min Wage Next Steps

With the likelihood of competing minimum wage bills from the House and Senate, House Dems appear divided on how to proceed. CongressDaily AM reports: “…House Majority Leader [Steny] Hoyer said he would consider going with the Senate bill to avoid a conference committee. A senior aide to House Democrats said the increase could be enacted ‘fairly quickly’ after the Senate passes a bill. “But House Ways and Means Chairman [Charlie] Rangel said Wednesday that he opposes adding tax provisions and hinted he might put up barriers to House consideration of a Senate bill including them. ‘Last I heard, they couldn’t initiate taxes in the Senate,’ he said.” House members need to hear from you that the mandate for the First 100 Hours agenda did not include CEO giveaways.

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Bill Scher

Wage Update: House Approves, Senate Moves In Wrong Direction

Minutes ago, the House approved increasing the hourly minimum wage to $7.25, over two years. The vote was strong, 315 to 116. Democratic support was unanimous. The GOP caucus was split, with 82 supporting and 116 opposing. Over in the Senate, CQ reports that Sen. Max Baucus “unveiled four proposed breaks” for business to be added to a minimum wage bill. Further, Dem Sens. Maria Cantwell, Kent Conrad, John Kerry, Blanche Lincoln and Ken Salazar all signaled support for the tax breaks. This is not sitting well over at MyDD. Jonathan Singer writes: “There is no reason whatsoever for the Democrats to give in to the demands of the business lobby at this point.

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