Getting It: Doctors, seniors, Wall Street lose; do taxpayers win?

By Britt

Oct 22, 2009 8:14am

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Talk about change. The doctors and the seniors don’t get their way — and neither does Wall Street. Don’t look now — but did taxpayers (or at least the ones telling pollsters they care deeply about government spending, deficits, and debt) win a couple rounds? On a tactical level, it’s not a good thing to start losing votes right before the big ones roll in. It’s hard to envision the American Medical Association — still holding plenty of cards, as one of the last big allies Democrats may have left in the health care fight — supporting health care reform unless its doctors are taken care of. But could these be some early signs that Washington is getting the message when it comes to public anger over runaway spending? Bills rarely go down simply because they’re not paid for — but that’s exactly why doctors are left still fighting for their Medicare payments. The move by the pay czar cuts in a roughly similar direction: Economists can debate it, and pure free-marketers can loathe it, but imagine the public outrage if the Obama administration essentially co-signed for billions in bonuses to firms that are still on the public dole? Consider as well how “stimulus” has become a dirty word… There’s an “unusual political and policy tension in the White House and Congress these days as the politicians deal with an economy that has begun a slow but jobless recovery and a public that is increasingly fretful about the accumulating debt,” The New York Times’ Jackie Calmes writes. “Not since the early 1990s have Washington’s policy makers faced this balancing act between demands for immediate economic stimulus and pressure for longer-term plans to restore fiscal stability. But this time is a lot worse, both in the severity of the economic downturn and the size of the deficit.” For the administration, not a bad side to be on: “The Obama administration’s pay czar, Kenneth Feinberg, will demand that seven companies receiving ‘exceptional’ amounts of taxpayer aid cut the annual salaries for their 25 top executives by an average of around 90 percent from 2008′s levels,” per ABC’s Matthew Jaffe.  “The seven companies in question received more money from the US taxpayer than the entire Gross Domestic Product of Portugal,” ABC’s Jake Tapper said on “Good Morning America” Thursday. “Responding to the furor over executive pay at companies bailed out with taxpayer money, the Obama administration will order the firms that received the most aid to slash compensation to their highest-paid employees,” Stephen Labaton reports in The New York Times. “The pay restrictions illustrate the humbling downfall of the once-proud giants, now wards of the state whose leaders’ compensation is being set by a Washington paymaster. They also show how Washington in the last year has become increasingly powerful in setting corporate policies as more companies turned to the government for money to survive.” “Mr. Feinberg’s ruling, expected in coming days, will provide fodder for the long-running debate about whether the Obama administration is being overly tough or overly lenient on Wall Street,” The Wall Street Journal’s Deborah Solomon and Dan Fitzpatrick write. “An executive at one of the seven companies under Mr. Feinberg’s authority said the terms came as a shock, especially because they changed so suddenly. The compensation restrictions ‘were clearly much worse than what had been anticipated.’ ” Not the president’s call, but the president’s policy: “It will go down in history as one of Barack Obama’s signature decisions on the economy, a dramatic move to slash corporate pay at bailed out banks and automakers. But on Wednesday night, administration officials said that the president of the United States didn’t have all that much to do with a decision that will, in many ways, come to define his relationship with Wall Street,” Politico’s Eamon Javers writes. Not much outrage from the other side: “I opposed [TARP]. But now I want to protect the taxpayers. That is not a contradiction,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports. On health care — the fix wasn’t in, after all, for the “doc fix.” “With budget anxieties pervading the congressional healthcare debate, the Senate on Wednesday sidetracked popular legislation that would have increased Medicare payments to doctors by nearly $250 billion over the next decade,” Janet Hook and Noam N. Levey write for the Los Angeles Times. “Even as the Senate voted on a simple and popular bill to help doctors, Democratic Party unity frayed; the once powerful American Medical Assn. did not get its way; and fiscal conservatism scored a rare triumph.”  The New York Times casts it as a “test vote” for broader health care reform: “The Medicare bill has become a proxy for larger issues in the debate over legislation to overhaul the health care system,” Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn report. “Mr. Reid said the bill, by averting big cuts in physician fees, guaranteed that doctors would continue accepting Medicare patients. But since none of the costs were offset or paid for, Republicans said it was fiscally irresponsible, and some Democrats said they shared that concern.” Bipartisanship, at last: “Although sympathetic to fixing the root problem, lawmakers concluded that the legislation’s $247 billion 10-year price tag was too steep in an era of record deficits,” Shailagh Murray reports in The Washington Post.  “Without proposing a way to pay for it, they lost support from moderate Democrats, signaling that cost could become a significant hurdle to a reform bill,” Jennifer Haberkorn and Kara Rowland report for the Washington Times. Statement from the AMA: “Permanent repeal of the Medicare physician payment formula is essential to comprehensive health system reform.” (Yes, “essential.”)  Next spending item up (with prospects darkened, in the wake of the doc fix): “President Barack Obama’s plan to give $250 checks to Social Security recipients next year is being criticized by some congressional Democrats worried that it could swell the deficit,” Elizabeth Williamson and Henry J. Pulizzi write in The Wall Street Journal. And then: “Within the next few weeks, probably as soon as the votes on health-care reform have been taken, the Senate faces the painful duty of once again raising the statutory limit on the national debt, as the House already has done,” David S. Broder writes in his Washington Post column. “It is never fun for the party in power, but this year will be harder than ever on the Democrats. The final accounting on the just-ended fiscal year, delivered last week, showed a record deficit of $1.4 trillion, a gap that is the largest since the end of World War II when measured against the size of the overall economy. The Republicans are poised to pounce.” Where else the deficit may matter: “The reservoir of Democratic support for legislation to stimulate the economy — while adding to the deficit — is drying up,” The Hill’s Jared Allen reports. The president’s day, per ABC’s Sunlen Miller: a videoconference meeting with Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, plus meetings with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Ron Brownstein unearths a fascinating insight: Those who vote against health care reform are most likely to see their constituents benefit from it. “Yet many House members from both groups [Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats] represent districts with an elevated number of people who lack health insurance,” Brownstein writes in the new National Journal. “That dynamic creates the likelihood of a deeply ironic result: If health care reform passes, many of the districts that benefit most from the federal subsidies to expand access to coverage will be those represented by members who voted against the bill.” Check out the map HERE. Those you probably can’t win over — from Gallup’s latest poll: “In general, Americans who are undecided on healthcare legislation predict it is more likely to make their own situations worse rather than better — especially in terms of cost (45% worse to 22% better), but in the three other areas as well.” In the Senate, tough cats to herd: “Obama and Democratic leaders have modest leverage over several pivotal Senate Democrats who are more concerned about their next election or feel they have little to lose by opposing their party’s hierarchy,” the AP’s Charles Babington writes. “One is still smarting from being forced to abandon next year’s election. Another had to leave the Democratic Party to stay in office. And some are from states that Obama lost badly last year.”  But did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., really lose one he thought he’d win? “Reid is hyper-skilled at knowing almost precisely how each member of his Democratic caucus will vote on an issue,” Lisa Mascaro writes in the Las Vegas Sun. “That is why it left Washington shaking its head Wednesday afternoon when the so-called doctors’ fix bill went down in defeat.” New, new pressure on Reid, coming Thursday, from the left: “Today the FDL Action PAC launches an online phone bank effort to call 40,000 of the most progressive Democrats in Nevada, asking them to contact Harry Reid and let him know they support a public option.” Said firedoglake founder Jane Hamsher: “He’s the only one who gets to make that decision. And if he decides to kowtow to powerful DC lobbying interests and hike up health care costs for individuals $2000 a year by jettisoning the public option, he’s the one who will have to shoulder the blame.” Just because Vice President Dick Cheney hasn’t spoken publicly for a while doesn’t mean… well, see for yourself: “President Obama now seems afraid to make a decision, and unable to provide his commander on the ground with the troops he needs to complete his mission,” Cheney said in accepting an award Wednesday night from the Center for Security Policy, ABC’s Jake Tapper and Ely Brown report.  And: “I consider the abandonment of missile defense in Eastern Europe to be a strategic blunder and a breach of good faith,” the former vice president said. Plus: “The White House must stop dithering while America’s armed forces are in danger.” Cheney should totally meet this guy: “Mr. Obama is right to ask tough questions about Afghanistan. But he needs to act soon to defend vital American interests in a troubled region that gave safe haven to our enemies before 9/11. Decisive support of his previously announced strategy in Afghanistan is what is required,” Karl Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. Gotta love a Nixon reference: “I’m seeing the same seeds now that I saw then,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former Nixon White House aide, said Wednesday on ABCNews.com’s “Top Line.” “My suggestion — friendly suggestion — to the Obama administration is, don’t create an enemies list.”  More on a theme being pressed by the right: “When you’re on their side, it’s all OK, but if you’re not, they rain hell down on you,” R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tells the Washington Times’ Jon Ward. Now Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., is ready to name names. Of dead people. The new project from the lawmaker of “die quickly” fame: www.namesofthedead.com. Beating Sarah Palin’s memoir to bookshelves: “Going Rouge: An American Nightmare.” “It includes work by regular Nation contributors, including Katha Pollitt, Katrina vanden Heuvel and Naomi Klein,” the New York Daily News’ Olivia Smith reports.  And help NBC’s Chuck Todd out, now that his Dodgers went down to the Phillies. “So maybe I need a professional. Old school barber? Ideas?” Mr. Todd Tweets, as he prepares to make good (we presume) on his “goatee gamble” bet with ABC’s Jake Tapper. 
The Kicker: “I take it the senator from Tennessee is suggesting that this administration is Nixon-fying the White House? Is that correct?” — Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., President Obama’s almost-Cabinet member, picking up on Sen. Alexander’s theme. “We’ll have to leave it there — at the urinal.” — The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, concluding a panel discussion sponsored by Third Way on after a screening of “HouseQuake.” Former DCCC executive director John Lapp, a panel participant, had just discussed Rahm Emanuel’s pestering him about PA-08 while he was in the restroom.
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