Today in Washington, the U.S. House of Representatives will begin
debating legislation that would repeal the new federal health care law.
The body could pass that bill as early as tomorrow. And while U.S. Rep.
Luis Gutierrez rightfully called the effort "political theater at its
worst" in a statement Friday, namely because any legislation that clears
the lower chamber will be blocked in the U.S. Senate or the White
House, advocates of health care reform are taking the Republicans'
offensive quite seriously.
On Friday, we showcased a new report
that analyzes the practical impact retracting the Affordable Care Act
would have on Illinois consumers. (Ezra Klein did the same thing
using national figures this morning.) And reverting to that status quo,
warns U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, is immoral and economically unsound. At
a press event sponsored by the Campaign for Better Health Care, the
North Side Democrat was joined in Chicago this morning by one of her
constituents, diabetic David Zoltan-Breiger, who recently enrolled in
Illinois' new federally funded high-risk insurance pool. "I don't need
to worry about what happens if I have an emergency," Zoltan-Brieger
says. "I'm covered ... for now." Watch portions of their comments below:
taking a full-out repeal vote, Republicans will quickly move to gut
central provisions in the new law. Already, the GOP leadership is preparing
to pass legislation that would "direct committees to craft new
legislation." That could mean initiatives to rescind the individual
mandate, which is unpopular but the lynchpin of the reform package.
(Without it, premiums will skyrocket for those who are not healthy
enough to forgo insurance.) "Let's not be defensive about this issue of a
mandate," Schakowsky says. "It is a necessity to make the system work.
We want everyone in the United States of America to have insurance."
Following the tragic shooting in Arizona this past weekend that left six dead and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition after surviving a gun shot to the head, local legislators are focusing their attention on beefing up security. The public is suddenly hyper-aware of threats to lawmakers, like the one received by U.S. Rep. Danny Davis; U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush is planning on moving his office to a safer location; and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is, in the midst of anger over the size of the federal government, calling on Congress to increase members' budgets to add to their security detail.
But the problem, of course, is deeper than simply money or even safety. Politicians are constantly toeing the line between their security and access to their consituents. U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley called any suggestion of 24-hour security for lawmakers "wildly expensive and impractical." Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel, who helped recruit Giffords to run for office when he was the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006, said security is something he worries about, but that he "would never want to remove [himself] from hearing directly from people."
Indeed, that is precisely what Giffords was doing when she was shot. Speaking about the importance of giving access to constituents, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky told WIND's Big John & Amy that the "ability to freely interact" with voters is "one of the most precious things about our democracy." Listen to her comments below (and hear the full interview here):
As some anticipated, U.S. House Democrats are balking at a proposed
tax cut deal negotiated by the White House and Republicans on the Hill.
This morning, some members of the Democratic caucus blocked a vote
on the package, which would extend temporarily emergency unemployment
insurance and the Bush-era tax cuts for all earners, among other
House Dems are frustrated with how well the nation's rich make out under the current accord. They are particularly angry
with changes to the estate tax law, which they consider far too
generous for the wealthiest households in America (and they are right).
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky is one progressive who is working hard to make
the deal better for average people. On PBS' Charlie Rose last night, she reminded viewers that income inequality is a "threat to our democracy" and that this deal exacerbates that problem. Watch it: (Here's the full appearance):
Still, there's a lot of urgency to get some type of deal passed. The tax cuts will expire on
December 31 for everyone along the income scale unless Congress approves an extension. Unemployment insurance, as we know, already lapsed. By
February, some 241,000 workers in Illinois are scheduled to exhaust
their benefits if no additional relief is provided. And the bill, as
ugly as it is, would provide some fiscal stimulus to an economy that's not chugging along at full strength.
Tim Fernholz outlined four ways the party could improve the package here.
With polls showing the American people want the Bush-era tax cuts for the richest Americans to expire, progressives around the country are bemoaning President Obama's "compromise" with congressional Republicans to extend the breaks for the rich for two years. Illinois Democrats have joined the chorus of disappointed liberals.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), who is becoming a leading progressive voice on budget issues, cautioned on MSNBC that "I think there is still some negotiating to be done and still get it done by the end of this lame-duck session." Watch the interview here:
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (IL-7) said he would vote no on the plan as is because he doesn't "think it does enough for the poor" or "the middle class." And U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL-4), who is currently fighting to get the DREAM Act passed, spoke to WLS' Don Wade and Roma about the tax plan this morning: "I think if you really begin to look at it, you've got to ask yourself, 'Why is it that early on in this process, we are saying to the country and the legislative body, that we're going to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax write-offs to 2 percent of our wage earners -- and just so we're clear, 80 percent of whom make over $1 million -- while we have two wars going on?'" Listen to his comments here.
The president's plan garnered slightly more support from Democratic leaders downstate. A spokesperson for recently defeated U.S. Rep. Phil Hare (IL-17) said the importance of extending unemployment insurance for 13 months means he will have to give the deal "serious consideration." And some progressive writers and economists have said that while the deal is imperfect, it "is not the end of the world either." Still, if he expects the current plan to pass, Obama is going to have to quickly shift from luring Republican support to simply keeping his party by his side.
After blowing a deadline to vote on a final plan by December 1, President Obama's so-called deficit commission plans to weigh in on its controversial proposal tomorrow. In order to send the group's recommendation to the U.S. Senate formally, 14 of the 18 members must sign on.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9) was the first member to come out and announce that she will vote no after she claimed this summer that conservatives had taken over the commission. Progressives have complained that the plan penned by the commission's co-chairs makes the tax code more regressive and relies too heavily on spending cuts. Schakowsky unveiled an alternative debt reduction plan she says "achieves our goal" by 2015 while protecting "the poor and the middle-class." Progress Illinois highlighted her plan here.
The other panel's representative from Illinois -- Sen. Dick Durbin -- has not yet said how he will vote on the recommendations, though he does want to ensure they did not "disproportionately impact" the elderly, the poor, and children. Durbin does support an increase in the age for Social Security eligibility, a key part of the proposal (and one that is also highly regressive). Because of this, concerned groups are organizing to urge Durbin to vote against the plan. The Illinois Alliance of Retired Americans and the Strengthen Social Security Campaign wrote to the state's senior senator to fight the proposal. Other progressives worried about a possible yes vote from Durbin should consider doing the same.
Back in the summer, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9) told Think Progress that President Obama's 18-member deficit
commission, of which she is a member, was destined to fail because
conservatives refuse to consider any tax hikes. That seems likely. The
proposal put forth by the commission’s co-chairs last week, when it's
not making the tax code more regressive, relies heavily on spending cuts. And Republicans on the panel have definitively ruled outany tax increase in recent weeks.
The Illinois Democrat wants to see Congress take a different path. Yesterday, she unveiled a debt reduction plan she says "achieves our goal" by 2015 while protecting "the poor and the middle-class." Among the changes
she's advocating are $110.7 billion in cuts from the defense budget and
$7.5 billion in cuts to farm subsidies; tying up corporate tax
loopholes; and implementing a public option for health care reform, a
progressive estate tax, and a cap-and-trade system. (She discussed her ideas with Ezra Klein here.)
The package should
probably have placed some additional focus on the long-term impact
of health care inflation, which the federal health care law begins to
address and the co-chairs' report all but ignores, but it's definitely
serious and should be treated that way on the Hill.
Successful incumbent U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (9th) had a message for progressives last night after it became clear that the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Alexi Giannoulias, lost to GOP candidate Congressman Mark Kirk. Citing the desire of some Republicans, including Kirk, to repeal the health care reform bill, Schakowsky said "don't mourn, organize." Watch her message: