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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Bill Scher

CQ: Senate Minimum Wage Bill to Include Small-Business Sweeteners

It’s more than just Sen. Max Baucus looking to add business lobby favors to a minimum wage hike. According to Congressional Quarterly, Senate Dem leaders Richard Durbin and Chuck Schumer are opting to try to placate conservatives instead of standing up to them: “The House bill … includes no sweeteners for small businesses, which many Republicans back, and no amendments will be allowed on the floor. “That strategy won’t work in the Senate, so Democratic leaders are working with key Republicans in efforts to get the necessary 60 votes to advance the legislation in that chamber. “‘It is a little different world,’ said Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., noting the 51-49 majority his party holds. ‘We anticipate that some proposal to help business is likely to pass.

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Bill Scher

Drug Battle Brewing in Senate

USA Today reports that the First 100 Hours battle for affordable prescription drugs may come down a few votes in the Senate: “While Democrats have the votes to pass the bill in the House, it faces a closer battle in the Senate. The Senate Finance Committee opens hearings on the issue Thursday. A weaker version that allowed but did not mandate government negotiations got 54 votes in the Senate last year, six short of the 60 required to overcome Republicans’ objections. Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., its sponsors, count 58 or 59 votes this year — still short of what’s needed.

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Bill Scher

Pearlstein: Business Complaints on Wage Hike “Nonsense”

Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein takes the business lobby, and new Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus, to task today, setting the record straight about a minimum wage hike’s impact on jobs. Pearlstein writes: …both economic theory and history suggest that small business will, in time, pass on its increased costs to its consumers … [It] will have a minimal impact on adult employment … But largely offsetting those effects will be the increased demand for goods and services by tens of millions of Americans who will finally be getting a raise. A higher minimum wage doesn’t lower economic activity so much as rearrange it slightly.

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Bill Scher

Blogger Call With Speaker Pelosi

Tuesday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a conference call with bloggers about Iraq and the First 100 Hours Agenda. I asked her if the final minimum wage bill would be “clean” without any special interest provisions tacked on, or would it include tax giveaways for the CEO lobby. As I blogged earlier, the House is expected to pass a clean bill on Wednesday, but what happens after that with the Senate and the eventual House-Senate conference is unclear. Speaker Pelosi’s comments were along the same lines: “We will bring to the table our clean bill, and our view that in order to give a 10-year overdue increase in the minimum wage to America’s workers that we shouldn’t have to [also] give a tax cut.

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Bill Scher

Good For Vets, Good For Medicare

We’re starting to see more slanted media coverage as the battle over prescription drugs heats up. Part of the First 100 Hours Agenda is to give our government the power to negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicare recipients, using the collective bargaining power to drive costs down. Proponents have noted that our Veterans Administration (VA) already has that negotiating power on behalf of vets, and it works. Why not do the same for Medicare? Big Pharma — the fat cat pharmaceutical industry — can’t easily oppose cheaper prices, so it’s using flimsy arguments claiming that empowering Medicare can’t work. Ominously, in recent days we’ve seen pieces in the NY Times, LA Times and Washington Post echoing Big Pharma’s arguments. In particular, they charge that the Democratic proposal for Medicare won’t work like the VA system.

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Bill Scher

A Clean Bill of Wage?

This Wednesday, the House is expected pass a key piece of the First 100 Hours agenda — a painfully overdue raise in the minimum hourly wage from $5.15 to $7.25. President Bush and the CEO lobby realize its political suicide to oppose the hike — it’s backed by 80% of Americans. Instead, they’re claiming to support it, while insisting that tax giveaways for business must be part of the deal. Bush said last month that a pay raise should be paired with “targeted tax and regulatory relief to help these small businesses stay competitive and to help keep our economy growing,” subtly making the usual disingenuous right-wing complaint that higher wages lead to fewer jobs. Econ blogger Angry Bear shredded that argument yesterday: under Bill Clinton and LBJ, both wages and jobs were up.

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Bill Scher

Making Ethics Reforms Matter

The first order of business in the House last week was to pass new House ethics rules, including new reporting requirements for congressional trips and earmarks. But these new reporting requirements will only be good tools to shine a spotlight on corruption if we know how to use them well. So what are they? Here’s a few quick wonky details. Regarding travel, when Members of Congress are about to take trips paid for by another party, they must get a certification from the sponsor that no lobbyist is involved. The Ethics Committee must review the certification and approve the trip in advance. Within 15 days after the trip, the certification and other materials related to the trip must be given to the Clerk, who then releases it to the public.

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Roger Hickey

Will Social Security Privatization Return? It Depends on the Outcome of the 2006 Elections.

In 2005, President Bush promoted the privatization of Social Security as his top domestic priority. However, once the American people understood what he was proposing, they overwhelmingly rejected the idea. While open to modest reforms that would strengthen its finances, most Americans opposed his proposal to divert Social Security taxes to create private retirement accounts invested in the stock market – effectively slowly phasing out a program that has been hugely successful in helping Americans retire with dignity for over 70 years. They realized that such a scheme would reduce benefits for retirees, increase our national debt, and put Americans’ retirement at risk by placing it at the mercy of a market that goes down as well as up. The Democrats united in opposition and many Republicans also ended up opposing the President’s privatization plan.

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