Weekly Pulse: Days of Swine and Poses

Lindsay E. Beyerstein

Tuesday, Senate Republicans prioritized human life over anti-abortion grandstanding and confirmed Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Tuesday, Senate Republicans prioritized human life over
anti-abortion grandstanding and confirmed Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as
Secretary of Health and Human Services. When the world totters on the
brink of a pandemic, slow-walking the future health secretary begins to
look unseemly.

As Dana Goldstein reports in TAPPED:

Sebelius’ confirmation has been delayed
as her home state Republican legislature has forced her to deal with a
series of abortion-related bills. Her latest pro-choice veto inspired a
Republican backer of her nomination, Sen. Sam Brownback, to hint that
he may change his mind and vote "no" on her appointment.

Of course, it was all an act, though some conservative activists
suspect that swine flu was just a ruse to guilt-trip Republicans into
confirming Sebelius. Seriously.

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Wendy Wright, of the conservative group Concerned Women for America, told the Washington Independent
that "If there’s even a hint that [Department of Homeland Security] is
manipulating the health situation to push a political appointee
through, well, it almost defies imagination that they’d be willing to
that."

Some costs of the Republican war on science became evident this week
as the U.S. declared an state of emergency over swine flu. John Nichols
of the Nation recalls that the Republicans cut $420 million for pandemic preparedness from the stimulus bill on the grounds that public health spending had nothing to do with economic recovery:

Senate Republicans led by Maine Senator
Susan Collins attacked the public-health spending and successfully
eliminated it from the Senate version of the stimulus. Collins
complained at the time to CNN that: "There’s funding to help improve
our preparedness for a pandemic flu. There is funding to help improve
cyber security. What does that have to do with an economic stimulus
package?"

Collins read the stimulus legislation,
and the threat, wrong. So, too, did Senate Democratic leaders, who
compromised with her wrongheaded demands in order to secure support for
a watered-down stimulus plan.

If you’ve been watching the stock market lately, or talked to a
travel agent, you know exactly what pandemic preparedness has to do
with the economy. Airline and manufacturing stocks were especially hard-hit by flu fears this week, not to mention pork bellies.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced yesterday that he was
becoming a Democrat. As Jonathan Stein and Nick Bauman explain in Mother Jones, the far-right caused Specter’s defection.
The longtime Pennsylvania senator broke with the Republicans not on
principle, but because preliminary polling data showed that he couldn’t
win a primary challenge by far-right Republican, Pat Toomey.

In theory, the Democrats now have a filibuster-proof 60-seat
majority, but not until the winner of the Minnesota senate race, Al
Franken, is seated. As Brian Beutler notes at TPMDC, there are enough divisions
in the Democratic caucus to reduce a super-majority to mere majority on
many important votes. Specter has a reputation as a moderate Republican
and few expect the party switch to radically affect his votes. However,
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid now has leverage over Specter,
because Reid now controls Specter’s committee assignments.

Finally, in TAPPED, Ezra Klein argues that the Democrats
are wise to continue asserting their right to pass healthcare through
budget reconciliation-and therefore with a simple majority-if no
healthcare bill is passed before the October 15.
Let’s call it the Don’t Drop Dead Date. Hopefully, the prospect of
reconciliation will spur Republicans to cooperate on healthcare reform,
because the alternative is being left out all together.

News Politics

Terry McAuliffe Considers Retaining Bob McDonnell’s Secretary of Health

Erin Matson

Dr. Bill Hazel was involved in an effort to salvage McDonnell's reputation after the governor became the focus of national attention for pushing a bill that, as originally written, would have subjected women to forced vaginal probes prior to receiving an abortion in the state.

Click here for all our coverage of Terry McAuliffe’s secretary of health and human resources pick, Dr. Bill Hazel.

In at least one notable way, Virginia Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe’s campaign messaging around reproductive health and his shortlist for cabinet appointments appear to be at odds.

In the lead-up to this year’s gubernatorial election—an election in which women’s reproductive rights played a decisive role—McAuliffe said on his campaign website, “We can’t put up walls or send the signal that Virginia is moving backward on important issues like women’s health.” During one campaign event, an attendee recorded him responding to questions about his stance on reproductive rights with, “I will be a brick wall to stop any erosion of any constitutional right that any woman has in Virginia. I will be a brick wall.”

But according to reports that began to circulate shortly after he won the election against Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, McAuliffe is considering retaining Dr. Bill Hazel, the secretary of Health and Human Resources under Gov. Bob McDonnell. McDonnell became the focus of national attention, and scorn, last year after pushing a bill that, as originally written, would have subjected women to forced vaginal probes prior to receiving an abortion in the state.

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Hazel, who was originally appointed to the post in 2010, was involved in an effort to salvage McDonnell’s reputation after signing the ultrasound bill. The resulting “compromise” that Hazel may have helped craft in a small-group, closed-door meeting resulted in Gov. McDonnell signing a law that mandates costly and medically unnecessary ultrasounds prior to abortion. Under the law, abdominal ultrasounds are mandatory regardless of whether they will produce visible images; doctors may still offer transvaginal ultrasounds to women, who may not be aware they are legally entitled to refuse them. Women are, moreover, forced to pay for these additional procedures, irrespective of medical need, although some crisis pregnancy centers have begun to offer free ultrasounds that are provided along with inaccurate information to women seeking abortions.

Hazel has worked closely with fellow McDonnell appointee Matt Cobb, the deputy secretary of Health and Human Resources, on matters pertaining to abortion and reproductive rights, especially on interpreting and implementing stringent new clinic regulations that have resulted in the closure of two abortion clinics and a pending lawsuit against the Virginia Board of Health. Cobb’s wife, Victoria Cobb, is president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, which states on its website that it “works from the belief that human life from fertilization to natural death is sacred, and the right to life is foundational to all other rights.”

The Washington Post has reported that retaining Hazel might be seen as a way to help Governor-Elect McAuliffe sell Medicaid expansion to Republicans in the Virginia legislature. Such a move would represent a shift for Hazel, who in 2010 attended the signing of the Virginia Healthcare Freedom Act, a piece of state legislation in opposition to the Affordable Care Act. At that event, Gov. McDonnell shared his opinion that the Affordable Care Act violates the U.S. Constitution.

News Health Systems

Reid and Pelosi Celebrate Opening of Obamacare Exchanges Amid Government Shutdown

Adele M. Stan

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid joined union leaders in celebration of the official launch of the Affordable Care Act, and laid the government shutdown at the feet of Republicans.

Click here for all our coverage of the government shutdown.

As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took the podium in the Capitol Visitor Center on Tuesday, her exuberance was palpable. At an event sponsored by labor unions and health-care advocacy groups, Pelosi came to celebrate the October 1 opening of the health-insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a piece of legislation that is as much her signature achievement as it is President Obama’s.

More than a million people, Pelosi said, had already signed on to Healthcare.gov or called the toll-free number for information about the exchanges by mid-afternoon on Tuesday, and other speakers at the event, hosted by Americans United for Change, a progressive organization allied with labor unions, noted that the government website was so overwhelmed with traffic that it was running a bit slowly.

“It’s pretty exciting even though there was an attempt to say, ‘We’re going to distract everyone from enrollment in [insurance plans offered through] the Affordable Care Act by shutting down government,’” Pelosi said of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which voted on Monday to attach a measure to the continuing resolution—the legislation needed to keep government running—that would have delayed implementation of the ACA, also known as Obamacare.

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Because the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, stripped the measure out of the continuing resolution before returning the bill to House, the government was shuttered on the same day that the insurance exchanges opened for business.

As Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change put it: “At 12:01 this morning, Republicans shut the government down. At 12:01 this morning, Democrats brought affordable health care to the American people.”

Joining Pelosi at the podium was Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has pledged not to negotiate over implementation of the health-care law, for which Republicans also tried to revoke funding with an earlier version of the continuing resolution, a measure that also failed to pass the Senate. Pelosi heralded Reid as a force critical to the ACA’s passage in 2009.

The union members and activists—including dozens from Planned Parenthood—gave Reid a hero’s welcome when he entered the room, apparently in recognition of his refusal to compromise on Obamacare. (The latest House version of the continuing resolution included a delay of the prescription contraception benefit and other preventive health care for women.)

Reid marked the occasion celebrating the health-care law by taking a swipe at GOP predictions of a health-care disaster and by comparing those with similar reactions to the introduction of Social Security and Medicare more than 50 years ago. Recalling remarks made by Ronald Reagan in 1961, Reid quoted the late president, saying: “‘If you don’t stop Medicare, one day you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.’ Well, I haven’t heard anything like that since last night, in the House of Representatives.”

Other members of the House and Senate spoke, include Representatives Sander Levin (D-MI), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), and George Miller (D-CA), as well as Senators Max Baucus (D-MT) and Tom Harkin (D-IA), who poignantly noted that among the large class of progressives he entered Congress with in 1974, “only four are left.”

Union leaders Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County, and municipal employees also stepped forward to celebrate implementation of the act.

Most moving, though, were the stories of individuals—those of Leslie Boyd, who lost her son before Obamacare’s passage because he was denied a cancer screening by his insurance company, and Maureen Murphy, who said that the Affordable Care Act had literally saved her life after private insurers rejected her for a pre-existing condition, making it impossible for her to get treatment of a life-threatening immunological disorder.

After the event came to a close, members of the American Federation of Government Employees gathered on the capitol grounds. “We Want to Work,” their signs read.

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