Posts Tagged ‘Senator Mitch McConnell’

Supreme Court to Decide Healthcare Reform

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

The Supreme Court has agreed to rule on the fate of President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) healthcare law, with an election-year ruling due by July on the most comprehensive overhaul in nearly a half century.  The decision had been widely expected because the Obama administration asked the nation’s highest court to uphold the landmark legislation and 26 states asked that the law be ruled unconstitutional.

President Obama expressed confidence that the court would uphold the law when the decision is handed down, just four months prior to the 2012 election.  “Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, one million more young Americans have health insurance, women are getting mammograms and preventive services without paying an extra penny out of their own pocket and insurance companies have to spend more of your premiums on healthcare instead of advertising and bonuses,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director.  “We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree,” Pfeiffer said.  The administration pointed out that other landmark legislation, such as the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, all faced similar legal challenges that failed.

Republicans have vowed to repeal “Obamacare,” but that promise will have to be modified if the high court undercuts the law as written.  A Supreme Court victory would make President Obama even more confident that the law is the major accomplishment of his first term.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-KY) said “this misguided law represents an unprecedented and unconstitutional expansion of the federal government into the daily lives of every American.”  The majority of Americans agree,” McConnell said.  “In both public surveys and at the ballot box, Americans have rejected the law’s mandate that they must buy government-approved health insurance, and I hope the Supreme Court will do the same.”

Despite Republicans’ insistence that the ACA is unconstitutional, only one of the four federal appeals courts that have heard cases on healthcare reform has struck down even a part of the law.

One of the ACA’s most vocal opponents is Karen Harned of the National Federation of Independent Business, who said: “We are confident in the strength of our case and hopeful that we will ultimately prevail.  Our nation’s job-creators depend on a decision being reached before the harmful effects of this new law become irreversible.”

Legal experts believe that the healthcare vote will be close on the nine-member court, which is comprised of five conservatives and four liberals.  Moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, who often is the swing vote, and could well cast the decisive vote.  Paul Heldman, senior analyst at Potomac Research Group, which provides Washington policy research for the investment community, said he still leaned toward the view that the law’s requirement that individuals buy insurance will be upheld.  “We continue to have a high level of conviction that the Supreme Court will leave much of the health reform law standing, even if finds unconstitutional the requirement that individuals buy coverage,” he wrote.

An impressive 5 ½ hours of oral arguments will be held in late February or March. The primary issue is whether the “individual mandate” section – which requires virtually all Americans to buy health insurance by 2014 or face fines — is an improper exercise of federal authority.  According to the states, if that linchpin provision is unconstitutional, the entire law must be also be overturned.  Joining Florida in the challenge are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.  Virginia and Oklahoma have filed their own challenges, along with other groups and individuals opposed to the law.

According to USA Today’s Joan Biskupic, “The leading question before the justices is whether in requiring most Americans to buy insurance, Congress exceeded its power to regulate interstate commerce.  The case is on track to be heard by March, and a ruling would come by the end of June, just before the Republican and Democratic conventions for the 2012 presidential election. The law known as the Affordable Care Act, intended to extend medical care nationwide, is the centerpiece of the Obama domestic agenda, and all major GOP presidential candidates oppose it.  The legal challengers, including a group of 26 states, say the law went beyond federal power and, if allowed to stand, would hurt small businesses and compromise individual choices on medical care.”

Writing in The Hill, Sam Baker says that “As they weigh the mandate, the justices will have to consider how it affects other parts of the law.  If they find the coverage requirement unconstitutional, they will have to decide whether to strike it down on its own or instead strike down the entire law.  The justices also will determine whether a separate federal law bars them from reaching a decision on the mandate before it takes effect.  People can’t challenge a tax before they have to pay it, and the Obama administration has defended the mandate by invoking Congress’s taxing power.  But it has also said the court should bypass procedural issues and rule directly on the mandate.”

Capitol Hill Kabuki

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Five Senators want to take the House-passed Medicare plan off the table in bipartisan deficit reduction talks, claiming that the plan effectively dismantles the program.  According to the Senators, the Medicare plan, which passed as part of a budget proposal in April, would jeopardize senior citizens’ current benefits and double out-of-pocket costs.  The five are Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD); Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH); Senator Bill Nelson, (D-FL); Senator Claire McCaskill, (D-MO); and Senator Jon Tester, (D-MT).

In a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, the senators wrote:  “We are aware the administration has rejected this proposal since its passage by the House, and we applaud your efforts to educate the American people about its serious implications.  We encourage you to remain unwavering in opposition to this scheme.  For the good of the nation’s seniors, it must remain off the table.”

According to the letter,“This proposal would never pass Congress on its own, and it does not belong in a larger deal either.  It would be devastating for America’s seniors, who would see their out-of-pocket costs for healthcare double and the benefits they currently enjoy jeopardized.  Under this risky proposal, insurance company bureaucrats would decide what seniors get.”  Biden is leading talks to raise the debt ceiling and negotiating with lawmakers regarding ways to reduce the deficit as a trade-off to raise the debt ceiling.

The deficit and debt limit – whose ceiling the nation is rapidly approaching – are part of the conversation on Capitol Hill.  “I’m willing.  I’m ready. It is time to have the conversation” about deficit cuts and the debt limit, said House Speaker John Boehner

(R-OH), urging President Barack Obama to involve himself personally.  “It is time to play large ball, not small ball.”  House Democratic leader Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “I could never support any arrangement that reduced benefits for Medicare.  Absolutely not,” she said,” emphasizing a position she and other Democrats had laid out at their own meeting with the president.   Given Medicare’s size — nearly $500 billion a year — any deal on cutting future deficits is likely to include savings from the program, and may include the benefit cuts that most Democrats oppose.

The Obama administration has come out against the Medicare reforms in the House plan –  authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI).  The Senators insist that this is a non starter, and stressed that they must not be a point of negotiation during the ongoing debt ceiling talks.  Despite the Democrats’ opposition, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) insists that the Medicare reform plan will be “on the table” in negotiations.  “We are going to discuss what ought to be done,” McConnell said.  “I can assure you that to get my vote to raise the debt ceiling, for whatever that is worth…Medicare will be a part of it.”

Some Republicans are backing away from Ryan’s proposal.  For example, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich had egg on his face after suggesting that the plan is “radical… right-wing social engineering,” Gingrich’s explanations proved too little, too late for many conservatives, who continue to hammer the former House speaker for his gaffe.

In an op-ed piece for the San Francisco Sentinel,  Chrystia Freeland writes that “The political theater in the United States this week has been all about the ‘debt ceiling’:  Congress voting not to increase it; President Barack Obama and the House Republicans are meeting to discuss it; and the Treasury warning that failure to raise it will bring economic apocalypse for the United States and the world.  Elites like to accuse ordinary Americans of a lack of political sophistication, but everyone from Main Street to Wall Street is savvy enough to understand that so far, the fighting over the ceiling is pure Kabuki.  As with the budget deal earlier this year, the real negotiating is unlikely to happen until the very last minute.  But everyone also understands that this summer game of brinkmanship matters because it is a proxy war being fought over a very real problem:  the growing national debt and deficit.  At just under 60 percent of gross domestic product, the U.S. national debt is lower than that of France, Germany and Britain.  And the rest of the world still seems delighted to lend the United States money on historically generous terms.”

Healthcare Law Repeal DOA in Senate; Likely Headed to the Supreme Court

Monday, February 14th, 2011

The Republican House of Representatives’ attempt to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was DOA — as expected — in the Democratic-controlled Senate.  Voting along strict party lines, all 50 Democratic Senators who were present and one Independent gave the repeal a thumbs down.  All 47 Republican Senators voted in favor of repeal.  Two Senators – one a Democrat and the other an Independent – were not present to vote.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) delivered a scornful speech during the heated debate, saying the Republicans are offering “one more hollow, symbolic pander-to-the-masses amendment.  If you want to rewrite the bill, keep your promise, Republican Party, that if you want to repeal, then let’s go replace.  I want to hear their ideas for replacement.  I challenge them right here, right now, today on this amendment.”  Not surprisingly, Republican Senate leaders disagree with Senator Mikulski’s stance. “We think it is just the beginning,” Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KR-KY) said Wednesday after the Senate voted to reject an amendment he offered to repeal the law.  “This issue is still ahead of us and we will be going back at it in a variety of ways,” McConnell noted.  “We’ll be looking at it in every different way to revisit it.”

The Republicans can claim a small victory as the Senate voted to repeal the 1099 requirement that was a highly unpopular inclusion in the healthcare reform law. Many perceived this as a tax on healthcare consumers and small businesses because it required anyone performing a transaction equaling $600 or more to file a 1099 form with the IRS.  The cost of the requirement had the potential to add up to 40 percent for some small businesses, which could have resulted in closures or layoffs.  The amendment passed the Senate by an 81 – 19 vote and has President Barack Obama’s support. Opponents of the amendment, such as Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), said that Congress, not the White House, should wield the budget-cutting ax.

The Senate’s actions come on the heels of a decision by Florida Federal District Court Judge Roger Vinson that it is unconstitutional for Congress to pass a healthcare law that requires Americans to obtain insurance coverage.  Judge Vinson’s decision created a 2 – 2 tie in lower courts. According to Judge Vinson’s decision, “The act, like a defectively designed watch, needs to be redesigned and reconstructed by the watchmaker.”

Judge Vinson’s decision increases the likelihood that the Affordable Care Act will end up in front of a Republican-dominated Supreme Court. “A year ago, it was a long shot,” said Randy Barnett, a law professor at Georgetown University.  “Now, it’s seen as a 5 to 4 case.  And nobody’s sure which way the 5 – 4 will come down.”  The stakes are enormous for the defining achievement of the Obama presidency.  The decision also has the potential to define the limits of federal power for generations.  “This case could define federalism for the next 100 years,” said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University constitutional law professor.  “This is a very difficult case for the Supreme Court as an institution.  You have a slight majority of the states opposing it.  You have a national law that’s affecting hundreds of billions of dollars and services.  This is the type of case the justices do not relish.”

Additionally, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has asked the Supreme Court to fast track his state’s challenge to the healthcare law, saying he thinks the legal dispute has become so important that the nation’s highest court should take it up immediately. “We want to eliminate the uncertainty in both our governmental budgets and in the private sector,” he said.  “We want to eliminate at least the uncertainty associated with health care.” The Obama administration opposed the move, saying the case should follow the regular process.  This would put off until 2012 a Supreme Court ruling on the law that aims to provide more than 30 million uninsured Americans with medical coverage and cracks down on unpopular insurance industry practices.