As House and Senate leaders agreed on a compromise State Children's Health Insurance Program bill that would cover 10 million kids at a cost of $35 bln over five years, paid for by an increase in taxes on tobacco, President Bush claimed a "philosophical" opposition to the bipartisan legislation in his 9/22 radio address, which ironically accused lawmakers of putting SCHIP in jeopardy. Bush has threatened to veto the bill, claiming that it is too expensive and would cover too many children. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) noted that the cost of fully funding SCHIP is equivalent to that of only 41 days of fighting in Iraq. The Senate is likely to override Bush's veto, though it is less clear whether a veto-proof majority exists in the House. Asked if he would support a veto override, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) responded, "You bet your sweet bippy I will."
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities did some fact-checking on Bush's claims made in a Sept. 20 press conference and found the claim-to-lie ratio was pretty close to 1:1, ThinkProgress.org noted. When Bush said Congress made a decision to expand SCHIP eligibility up to $80,000, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), told the Des Moines Register that the president was "incorrect" to claim that the emerging agreement would include coverage up to that income level.
Instead. the overwhelming majority of children who would gain health coverage under the emerging agreement are precisely the low-income children Bush says he wants to focus on. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of the SCHIP bill passed by the Senate in August -- which the emerging agreement will closely resemble -- found that at least 85% of the otherwise-uninsured children who would gain coverage under the bill have incomes below states' current SCHIP eligibility limits.
CBO found that two-thirds of those who would gain SCHIP coverage under the Senate bill would otherwise be uninsured. That makes the congressional approach considerably more efficient than the administration's 2006 proposal to provide tax breaks for the purchase of private health insurance. Less than one-quarter of those tax breaks would go to people who would otherwise be uninsured, according to MIT economist Jonathan Gruber.
Bush's statement that Congress should "focus on making sure poor children get the health insurance they were promised" is particularly ironic given that on 8/31, the administration announced that it would completely eliminate federal matching funds for Medicaid outreach and enrollment activities undertaken by school personnel, even though this is widely recognized as one of the best ways to reach poor children who are eligible for publicly funded coverage but are unenrolled and uninsured.
Bush also claimed that the emerging congressional SCHIP agreement is "an incremental step toward the goal of government-run health care for every American." This, too, is incorrect. Most SCHIP beneficiaries receive coverage through private managed-care plans that contract with their state, not through government doctors. The American Medical Association and the trade associations for the private insurance companies and the drug companies -- hardly supporters of "government-run" health care -- support expanding SCHIP to cover more uninsured low-income children.
DEMS EYE MAGIC '60'. A chronic complaint about the 110th Congress, where Democrats hold a bare 51-49 majority -- and that majority depends on the support of two independents -- is that 41 Republicans can stop any bill from advancing in the Senate under debate rules. With 49 Republicans in the Senate, usually in lockstep, that left little chance for progressive initiatives as the GOP is on pace to filibuster legislation at three times the usual rate. But with increasing public disenchantment with President Bush and the neocon agenda, September left Dems eyeing the possibility of gaining 60 votes in the Senate -- the magic number to overcome GOP filibusters.
Announced retirements of Republican Sens. John Warner (Va.) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.), in addition to the earlier announcement of Sen. Wayne Allard (Colo.) opened those seats up for grabs. Popular former Gov. Mark Warner (D-Va.) made himself the favorite to replace John Warner (no relation), while former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) announced she would seek to unseat Sen. John Sununu in a repeat of a closely-fought 2002 race that was marred by GOP dirty tricks. Colorado also is a likely pickup, as Rep. Mark Udall (D) faces former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) in a state that is trending blue. In Nebraska, the best hope for Dems is if former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) decides to return to Nebraska from New York, where he is president of New School university, but former Gov. Mike Johanns (R) recently quit his job as US ag secretary to make the race. Other reputable potential contenders include Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey (D). In Oregon, Sen. Gordon Smith (R), who is saddled by public dissatisfaction with President Bush as well as reports that Smith's frozen food company was fined for the third time since the 1990s for polluting a creek, likely will face the winner of a Dem primary between State Rep. Jeff Merkley, who has the backing of the party establishment, and Steve Novick, a more progressive candidate. An independent poll in August showed Smith at 38%, double Merkley's 19%, while independent candidate John Frohmayer took 7%. But the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza noted that's a whole lot of undecideds -- never a good thing for a two-term incumbent.
While Dems hope for takeovers in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon and Virginia, longer shots include Alaska, where a businessman testified that he had several of his employees work on the remodeling of Sen. Ted Stevens (R)'s home and the FBI reportedly got the businessman to tape conversations with Stevens; Idaho, where the scandal over Sen. Larry Craig (R)'s arrest and misdemeanor guilty plea may shake things up; Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) is stuck with sub-50% approval ratings and is tied to Bush's 37% approval rating; New Mexico, where Sen. Pete Domenici is under investigation for his interference in a public corruption probe; North Carolina, where Sen. Elizabeth Dole is underperforming in surveys against possible Democratic rivals; and even in Texas, where a Rasmussen poll showed Sen. John Cornyn leading state Rep. Rick Noriega (D) 53-30 and attorney Mikal Watts 52-28, which is a relatively weak position for a veteran officeholder against two unknowns.
Vulnerable Dems include Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.) many of whose New Orleans constituents were relocated out of state after Katrina, and Sen. Tim Johnson (S.D.), who was sidelined for most of the year after emergency brain surgery but returned to the Senate in September.
CORRUPT CONGRESS. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (citizensforethics.org) released its list of "The 22 Most Corrupt Members of Congress." Of the 22, 18 are Republicans and four are Democrats: Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-NM); Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY); Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK); Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK); Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA); Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-CA); Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL); Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA); Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA); Rep. William J. Jefferson (D-LA); Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA); Rep. Gary G. Miller (R-CA); Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV); Rep. Timothy F. Murphy (R-PA); Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA); Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM); Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ); Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY); Rep. David Scott (D-GA); Rep. Jerry Weller (R-IL); Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R-NM); and Rep. Don Young (R-AK). Marked "two to watch" are Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-ID) and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA). See summaries of each member's transgressions as well as full-length profiles and accompanying exhibits at www.beyonddelay.org.
LABOR PREPARES FOR ELECTION. The AFL-CIO announced (9/21) that the labor federation plans to spend an estimated $200 mln on the 2008 elections, with $53 mln going to grass-roots mobilization. The AFL-CIO will deploy more than 200,000 volunteers leading up to the election, with special focus on battleground states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, as labor hopes to put a Democrat in the White House and pick up as many as six seats in the Senate and five in the House, the Associated Press reported (9/21). Unions spent $150 mln in 2004, including $50 mln for grassroots mobilization for John Kerry's losing campaign. The federation spent $40 mln on the 2006 elections in which Dems regained control of the House and the Senate.
DEMS BITE PROGS. Progressive organizations learned that Senate Democrats will sell them out rather than stand up to whining right-wingers, as 22 Dems joined the GOP to condemn MoveOn for showing the temerity to buy a newspaper ad that criticized Gen. Petraeus. The Dems buckled after the GOP presented a united front to stop Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)'s attempt at compromise, which condemned the MoveOn language but also condemned Republican slanders of Democratic veterans such as Sen. Max Cleland and John Kerry. MoveOn executive director Eli Pariser said the group will put pressure on the Dems who voted against it, but he noted that the anti-MoveOn resolution -- and support for the war -- is engineered by the GOP, which is coming after the organization because it and its 3.3 mln members are making an impact on the war debate. MoveOn also announced that the controversy had helped the group raise more than $1.5 mln, causing Philadelphia blogger Atrios to write, "Maybe I can convince (Sen.) Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to sponsor an amendment condemning me."
Other groups expressing support for MoveOn and free speech (and perhaps hoping for their own Senate resolution of condemnation), include USAction, Campaign for America's Future, Americans United for Change, Progressive States Network, TrueMajority.org, American Family Voices, Win Without War and Catholics United. (Also eminently condemnable, of course, is The Progressive Populist.)
DOUBLE DAMNED. Also scoring the Senate condemnation was Charles Pierce, who wrote to Eric Alterman at MediaMatters.org (9/21): "If you're keeping score at home, the Democratic majority of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body this week failed to get the WGDB to pass a bill to give overstretched soldiers what amounts to their statutorily required stateside respite. It also found itself unable to endorse the general concept of habeas corpus, thereby putting the WGDB somewhere up the track behind John Lackland of England on the subject of civil liberties. It also then -- with six more votes than it was able to muster for soldier's relief, and with 22 Democratic senators forming a eunuch chorus -- resolutely got pissed off at a newspaper ad. This last, while infinitely more trivial, will be infinitely more significant, for a number of reasons:
"1) It manages to put the Democratic majority in the Senate on record as whacking around some of the party's most dedicated activists and most enthusiastic donors.
"2) It gives a win to a rodeo clown like John (Box Turtle) Cornyn.
"3) It gives the elite political press another chapter in the story it's been chewing on for the past 20 years -- that the Democrats are nervous about their left-wing base, which will enable the cats 'n kittens to ignore the fact that the Republican base, which has been driving the crazy train since the turn of the century, holds positions embraced in many cases by a whopping one-third of the population. (Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani were down in Florida this week, for pity's sake, proudly pandering to the lunatic dead-enders in the Terri Schiavo case as though that wasn't one of the biggest political fiascos of the past 20 years.) It prevents them from being forced to write about gutted civil liberties and exhausted soldiers, neither of which most of the elite political press give a rat's ass about.
"4) It was utterly unnecessary. First of all, it's pointless to respond every time someone flings poo out of the conservative monkeyhouse. It's what happens in a monkeyhouse. You duck and walk away to go watch the penguins. Secondly, it has been argued that the MoveOn ad was a 'tactical' mistake. In what way? What tactical advantage did the Republicans gain from it? Every damn poll since Gen. Petraeus set all the dogs and ponies to dancing shows that nothing he said moved the needle an inch in terms of support for the war. The country, you should pardon the expression, had MOVED ON. Certainly, Republican poo-flinging wasn't going to change that. The country hates the war, hates this president, and isn't particularly fond of his party. It hates the Democratic Congress because that Congress doesn't hate the war, the president, and his party enough. The 'controversy' existed only in the minds of useless political hucksters. Now, though, with the assistance of damned near half their caucus, the Democrats have managed to make a tactical blunder out of this affair a week later, cheesing off valuable friends, being laughed at by what is a despised minority party everywhere except Washington, D.C., and currying favor with a political elite that will never, EVER, give it any kind of credit for its abject self-abasement. It is an altogether remarkable feat."
MISS. SHAFTS POOR KATRINA VICS. Tim Shorrock updated some figures from his article, "Hurricane Recovery for the Rich," in the 10/1/07 TPP. According to Reilly Morse, the civil rights lawyer Shorrock interviewed for the article, the total of the Community Development Block Grants allocated to Mississippi for Katrina recovery is $5.4 bln (instead of $4 bln cited in the story). And while 70% of the funds are supposed to be allocated to low- and moderate-income people under federal rules, Gov. Haley Barbour (R) got that requirement waived, so that only about 20% has been targeted to poorer segments of population. (That's $1.1 bln out of $5.4 bln.) And so far, only $55 mln out of that $1.1 bln (about 5%) has been paid out under those programs. "In other words, they TARGETED $1.1 bln for the poor, out of a total of $5.4 bln, but only $55 mln was actually spent. Even more pathetic than I described."
BUSH: 'WE CAN'T SPEND $22B EXTRA.' The Democratic Congress is set to pass domestic funding bills that would exceed Bush's request by $22 bln. The extra funding would help go towards veterans health care, infrastructure improvements, education, and other domestic priorities, ThinkProgress.org noted (9/24). But Bush railed against the $22 bln increase as "a lot of money." Meanwhile, Bush planned to ask lawmakers to approve another $200 bln to fund the war in Iraq through next year, Pentagon officials said.
ARNOLD DRIVES CAL HEALTH REFORM. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called state lawmakers back to Sacramento for a special session in hopes of hammering out a deal on a $12 bln universal health care plan for California, Truthout reported 9/20. Schwarzenegger has been lobbying the state's business leaders to back his health care initiative that would cover roughly 6.5 mln uninsured residents. GOP lawmakers oppose raising taxes or forcing hospitals to pay a surcharge to finance the deal, but the governor has reached an agreement in principle with the Democratic majority leadership in the legislature to approve some of the proposals during the special session. Other measures would be placed on a ballot initiative next year. Voters would be asked to support new taxes to pay for the health plan.
Schwarzenegger's plan calls for all Californians, including children, to have at least minimum health care coverage -- a $5,000 deductible plan with a maximum of $7,500 out-of-pocket limits for one person and $10,000 for a family. Businesses with 10 or more employees would be required to spend at least 4% of payroll for health insurance or pay an equivalent amount into a state purchasing pool. Doctors would pay 2% of revenues and hospitals would pay 4% of revenues to the state.
LOOK WHO'S TALKING. A senior White House official offered this critique of Sen. Barack Obama, according to Bill Sammon of Examiner.com: "[A] senior White House official said the freshman senator from Illinois was 'capable' of the intellectual rigor needed to win the presidency but instead relies too heavily on his easy charm. 'It's sort of like, "that's all I need to get by," which bespeaks sort of a condescending attitude towards the voters,' said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'And a laziness, an intellectual laziness.'"
BIOFUELS DON'T LEAD TO HUNGER. US ethanol production likely will not cause people to go hungry in other countries, but structural changes in global agriculture and trade systems are badly needed, according to a new paper by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). Only a small amount of US corn, the primary feedstock for US ethanol production, is exported to undernourished countries. And while a global rise in the price of corn and other farm commodities related to biofuel production may affect food prices, it also provides a better chance for subsistence farmers around the world who have been devastated by depressed global commodity prices to make a living.
The paper concludes, however, that to ensure the US-based biofuel sector does not aggravate hunger in the future, several steps need to be taken, including the following: 1) the US must shift production away from an almost exclusively corn-based ethanol system, toward more sustainable, perennial energy crops that enhance the health of soil and water resources for future agricultural production; 2) the emerging global trading system for biofuels must support local economies and local food sovereignty &endash; the ability of countries to feed themselves. See "Food versus Fuel in the United States: Can Both Win in the Era of Ethanol?" by IATP's Mark Muller, Tammy Yelden and Heather Schoonover at www.iatp.org.
WHITE SUPREMACIST BACKLASH OVER JENA CASE. No sooner did tens of thousands of African-American demonstrators depart the racially tense town of Jena, La., after protesting perceived injustices than white supremacists flooded in behind them, Howard Witt reported in the 9/24 Chicago Tribune. "First a neo-Nazi Web site posted the names, addresses and phone numbers of some of the six black teenagers and their families at the center of the Jena 6 case and urged followers to find them and 'drag them out of the house,' prompting an investigation by the FBI," Witt wrote. "Then the leader of a white supremacist group in Mississippi published interviews that he conducted with the mayor of Jena and the white teenager who was attacked and beaten, allegedly by the six black youths. In those interviews, the mayor, Murphy McMillin, praised efforts by pro-white groups to organize counterdemonstrations; the teenager, Justin Barker, urged white readers to 'realize what is going on, speak up and speak their mind.'"
E-VOTE PAPER TRAIL BILL DRAWS OPPOSITION. A bill to require a paper record of votes cast on electronic machines beginning in 2008 has drawn significant opposition, CQ Today reported 9/17. HR 811 by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) is designed to correct ballot-counting issues that may have contributed to Democratic presidential losses in 2000 and 2004. But local and state governments are resisting the requirement that they buy printers that will work on their new electronic voting equipment, with little money expected from Washington. Currently, 27 states have paper-trail requirements. Holt's bill also would require random audits of close races and would make voting-machine software available for inspection.
Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.), a leader of the conservative Blue Dog Collation, has suggested that deadlines in the bill should be postponed if funds are not appropriated to help the states pay for the new requirements. Moore would have an easier time lining up support for that idea if the Congressional Budget Office could estimate the size of the mandate in question. But so far, it hasn't been able to quantify all the costs that would be passed along to state and local governments.
Still, Holt said he bill has "no fundamental problems, just a lot of little things," to resolve. Holt said he also has been spending considerable time assuring colleagues that the bill would not throw elections in their districts into disarray. "There are 435 experts on elections here," he said.
DIRTY TRICKS IN COSTA RICA CAFTA VOTE. A memo written by two high-level government officials with close ties to Costa Rican President Oscar Arias outlining a campaign of dirty tricks intended to sway voters to approve the Central America Free Trade Agreement was leaked to the public, fueling outrage, the Los Angeles Times reported. The memo, dated 7/29, proposed smearing CAFTA opponents by linking them to leftist firebrands such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban President Fidel Castro. It called for a public relations campaign to "stimulate fear" among citizens about the alleged dangers of snubbing the deal. They also advocated punishing local officials -- by withholding funds for public programs in their regions -- if their constituents repudiated CAFTA. Costa Rica's powerful public-sector unions are opposed to CAFTA. So are rice and dairy farmers who produce mainly for the domestic market. They fear a flood of subsidized US agricultural commodities will wipe out their livelihoods. Costa Rica is the only member of the seven-nation deal that has yet to ratify the pact, which includes the US, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
BUSH DOESN'T HORSE AROUND. Despite President Bush's cowboy image, he is actually scared of horses, former Mexican President Vicente Fox says in his autobiography. When the two men met in Mexico in early 2001, Fox invited Bush to ride a large horse. Bush nervously backed away. "A horse lover can always tell when others don't share our passion," Fox wrote. Tpmelectioncentral.com noted 9/21 that Bush's Crawford "ranch," purchased in 1999 in order to help create a down-home image for his presidential campaign, does not have any horses.
FDA CRACKS DOWN ON HERBAL STEVIA: The FDA, under pressure from the powerful sugar and artificial sweetener lobby, has issued a warning letter to Celestial Seasonings for using a popular natural sweetener in some of its teas, the Organic Consumers Association reported 9/20. The letter indicates the FDA classifies the herb stevia as "unsafe", even though it is a main staple sweetener in countries like China and Japan and has been used without negative health effects by indigenous people for at least 400 years. The FDA condemns the use of the herb, noting that "enforcement action may include seizure of violative products." The FDA claims no evidence has been provided to the agency regarding the herb's safety, but OCA said the FDA has received over a thousand scientific studies regarding stevia, and all but one of them verify the safety of the herb. In sharp contrast, nearly half of the studies provided to the FDA regarding the artificial sweetener aspartame, previously owned by Monsanto, indicate serious health concerns, yet it is one of the most commonly used (and one of the most profitable) sweeteners in the US. The OCA has verified the FDA has strengthened enforcement of stevia imports at the borders. See organicconsumers.org.
CONS HYPED TERROR THREAT FOR FISA CHANGES. On 8/2, a breaking news report warned of a suspected terror threat against the US Capitol. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) ratcheted up the rhetoric, "ominously" advising that "Congress needed to pass changes to terrorist surveillance laws before leaving for the August recess and warned that otherwise 'the disaster could be on our doorstep.'" The Senate on 9/3 and the House on 9/4 approved the changes in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that the Bush administration demanded to enhance the government's ability to intercept the electronic communications of foreigners without a court order for at least six months. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), speaking at a FISA event 9/19 organized by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, stated that the terror claims were "part of a well-orchestrated campaign" by the administration to politicize the FISA debate. She referred to the efforts as part of the "Rovian strategy of using terrorism as a wedge political issue." Harman asserted that the intelligence agencies "knew" the terror claims propagated by conservative lawmakers were false: "That specific intelligence claim, it turned out, was bogus; the intelligence agencies knew that -- apparently had communicated to Congress or to relevant people that it was bogus, the source was unreliable. But that communication wasn't in any published form until the day that the Senate passed the amendments to FISA," said Harman, who chairs the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment.
PEACE RALLIES PLANNED. United For Peace and Justice (unitedforpeace.org) has designed 10/27 as International Day of Action for Peace. Regional demonstrations are planned for Boston, Chicago, Jonesborough, Tenn., Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Seattle.
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