Weekly Pulse: Finance Committee Passes Health Bill

Lindsay Beyerstein

Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee finally passed its health care bill. The bill passed by a vote of 14-9. All the Democrats, plus Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voted in favor. As we know, it doesn’t include a public option.

Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee finally passed its health care bill. John Nichols of the Nation reacts:

If every kid in class finishes their homework except for
one, guess which kid will get the most attention. That’s right, the
slacker.

And, when the slacker finally does turn in the assignment, it is invariably a slapdash job that fails to meet minimum standards.

So it is in the U.S. Senate, where the Finance Committee finally got around to finishing its health care reform assignment.

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The bill passed by a vote of 14-9. All the Democrats, plus Sen.
Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voted in favor. As we know, it doesn’t include
a public option.

Robert Scheer, also of the Nation, sums up the bill as written:

The main thrust of the proposal is to forcibly submit
even more customers to the tender mercies of the insurance industry
while doing nothing significant to cut costs. Insurers will now pretend
that the burdens on them are onerous and will demand concessions to
make this an even bigger boondoggle for the medical profiteers than
George W. Bush’s prescription drug coverage initiative

Sheer sees the Finance Committee bill as a sop to the health
insurers. If it were to pass in its present form, it would deliver
millions of new customers to private insurers by requiring everyone to
carry insurance. The free market keeps costs down when companies
compete to give the best value for the lowest price. But most health
insurers operate as monopolies on their home turf. If insurers had to
compete for customers, they’d have an incentive to lower their prices.
That’s why progressives want to introduce competition in the form of a
public option.

An all-private insurance system gives power to an industry that it is indifferent to the needs of the people it claims to serve.

Before we go any further, our warmest congratulations to Robin
Marty, who is expecting her second child. In a piece for RH Reality
check, Marty details how the private insurance industry toys with
people’s lives in pursuit of profit. For Marty and her husband, joy is
mixed with apprehension because their maximum out-of-pocket insurance
cost just doubled. By the time the baby arrives, Marty’s husband
expects to pay 10% of his pre-tax income
just to keep his family insured. And they’d better hope that bundle of
joy is of an actuarially-approved size. An insurance company in
Colorado refused to cover a 4-month-old baby because he was “too fat,”
according to the boy’s father. The company relented after media
pressure, but there’s no indication that they plan to drop their
general rule that babies whose weight is above the 95th percentile
don’t get covered.

Earlier this week, the insurance industry broadsided the Obama
administration by releasing a “report” warning that health care reform
would cause premiums to skyrocket.

As economist Robert Reich explains in TAPPED, the industry was upset that the Senate Finance Committee was considering more lenient punishments
for young healthy people who don’t buy health insurance. (They would
still be fined, just not as much.) The industry report claimed that if
the government spares the rod, only old sick people will sign up, and
premiums will be higher for everyone. Reich argues that the report
inadvertently makes the case for the public option:

But the bomb went off under the insurers. The only
reason these costs can be passed on to consumers in the form of higher
premiums is because there’s not enough competition among private
insurers to force them to absorb the costs by becoming more efficient.
Get it? Health insurers have just made the best argument yet about why
a public insurance option is necessary.

Steve Benen of the Washington Independent notes that former Democrat Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) went on Don Imus’s syndicated shock jock radio show to echo the insurance industry’s talking points.
“I’m afraid that in the end, the Baucus bill is actually going to raise
the price of insurance for most of the people in the country,”
Lieberman said.

With all this hypothesizing and posturing, it’s easy to forget that
neither Lieberman–nor anyone else—is going to vote on the Baucus bill
as written. The Finance Committee bill is just one of several proposals
to have passed their respective committees. In the Senate, the more
liberal Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) passed a
bill with a public option this summer. All the House health reform
bills also include a public option.

As Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent explains, the tone of the debate is expected to shift dramatically:
Now that the various bills have cleared their bipartisan committees,
power shifts to the Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate who
are in charge of shaping the final legislation.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Analysis Law and Policy

California Bill Aimed at Anti-Choice Videos Draws Free Speech Concerns

Amy Littlefield

“We wanted to make sure that we updated ... laws to kind of reflect a changing world and to make sure that we actually protect the doctors who provide these important services to women,” California Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez said, adding that his legislation would also protect patient safety and access to abortion.

A California bill that would make it a crime to distribute secret recordings of health-care providers—like the ones David Daleiden used in his smear campaign against Planned Parenthood—has cleared a legislative hurdle, but faces opposition from media groups and civil liberties advocates, who say the legislation is overly broad.

It is already illegal in California to record, whether in audio or video form, a confidential communication without the consent of all parties involved. But California Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, who introduced AB 1671, told Rewire that while current law specifically forbids the distribution of illegally recorded telephone calls, there is no similar protection for videos.

“We wanted to make sure that we updated those laws to kind of reflect a changing world and to make sure that we actually protect the doctors who provide these important services to women,” Gomez said, adding that his legislation would also protect patient safety and access to abortion.

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AB 1671 makes it a crime if someone who violates California’s existing law against secret recordings “intentionally discloses or distributes, in any manner, in any forum, including, but not limited to, Internet [websites] and social media, or for any purpose, the contents of a confidential communication with a health care provider that is obtained by that person.”

Violators could be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $2,500, penalties similar to those already in place for making illegal recordings. But the new measure specifies that for both recording and distribution, the fines apply to each violation; that means someone like Daleiden, who circulated his videos widely, could quickly rack up heavy fines. Repeat offenders could face fines of up to $10,000 per violation.

The effort to pass the bill comes as abortion providers face a rising tide of threats and secret recordings. Besides Daleiden’s efforts, covertly recorded footage of clinic staff has cropped up in the documentary HUSH and in videos released by the anti-choice group Live Action. Planned Parenthood reported a ninefold increase in harassment at its health centers in July last year, when Daleiden began releasing the deceptively edited videos he claimed showed the organization was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donation. (Multiple federal and state investigations have found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood.) The National Abortion Federation recorded an “unprecedented” spike in hate speech and threats against abortion providers last year, peaking with the fatal shooting of three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood.

Increased Threats

“It was so alarming and so extensive that our staff that normally tracks threats and violence against providers could not keep up,” NAF President and CEO Vicki Saporta told Rewire. The organization was forced to hire an outside security firm.

Beth Parker, chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, told Rewire the new legislation is needed to protect the safety of abortion providers.

“If our providers aren’t safe, then they won’t provide, and we won’t have access to reproductive health care,” Parker said in a phone interview.

Daleiden’s group, the Center for Medical Progress, is based in California, and much of his covert recording took place there. Of the four lawsuits he and his group face over the recordings, three have been filed in federal court in California. Yet so far, the only criminal charges against Daleiden have been lodged in Texas, where a grand jury tasked with investigating Planned Parenthood instead indicted Daleiden and fellow anti-choice activist Sandra Merritt for purportedly using fake California driver’s licenses as part of their covert operation. The charges were later dropped for procedural reasons.

Last summer, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced plans to review whether the Center for Medical Progress violated any laws, and in April, state investigators raided Daleiden’s apartment. Harris has not yet announced any charges. Daleiden has accused officials of seizing privileged information, a claim the attorney general’s office told Rewire it is working on resolving in court.

Harris, meanwhile is running for Senate; her campaign website describes her as “a champion for a woman’s right to choose.”

“We think there is an excellent case and the attorney general should have prosecuted,” Beth Parker of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California told Rewire. “Daleiden did more than just publish the videos, as we know, I mean he falsified driver’s licenses, he falsified credit cards, he set up a fake company. I mean, we have, as you know, a major civil litigation against him and his conspirators. I just can’t answer to why the attorney general hasn’t prosecuted.”

Parker said AB 1671 could increase incentives for law enforcement to prosecute such cases.

“What we’ve heard as we’ve been working [on] the bill is that criminal law enforcement almost never prosecutes for the violation of illegal recording,” Parker said. “It’s just too small a crime in their view.”

Assemblymember Gomez also said he hopes his bill will facilitate the prosecution of people like Daleiden, and serve as a deterrent against people who want to use illegal recordings to “undermine the fact that people have this right to have control over their bodies.”

“That’s the hope, is that it actually does change that landscape, that DAs will be able to make a better case against individuals who illegally record and distribute,” Gomez said.

Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation says the actions of law enforcement matter when it comes to the safety of abortion providers.

“There’s certainly a correlation between law enforcement’s response to criminal activity aimed at abortion providers and the escalation or de-escalation of that activity,” Saporta said, citing the federal government’s response to the murders of abortion providers in the 1990s, which included the deployment of federal marshals to guard providers and the formation of a task force by then-Attorney General Janet Reno. “We had more than a decade of decreases in extreme violence aimed at abortion providers, and that ended in 2009 with the murder of Dr. [George] Tiller.”

But media and civil liberties groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union of California, have expressed concerns the bill could sweep up journalists and whistleblowers.

“The passing of this law is meant to chill speech, right, so that’s what they want to do,” Nikki Moore, legal counsel of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, which opposes the legislation, said in an interview with Rewire. In addition to potential criminal penalties, the measure would create new civil liabilities that Moore says could make journalists hesitant to publish sensitive information.  

“A news organization is going to look at it and say, ‘Are we going to get sued for this? Well, there’s a potential, so we probably shouldn’t distribute it,’” Moore said.

As an example of the kind of journalism that could be affected by the bill, Moore cited a Los Angeles Times investigation that analyzed and helped debunk Daleiden’s footage.

“Planned Parenthood’s bill would criminalize that behavior, so it’s short-sighted of them if nothing else,” Moore said.

Assemblymember Gomez disagrees about the scope of the bill. “We have tailored it narrowly to basically say it applies to the person who illegally recorded the video and also is distributing that video, so it doesn’t apply to, say, a news agency that actually ends up getting the video,” he said.

Late last week, the California Senate Appropriations Committee released AB 1671 to the state senate floor on a vote of 5 to 2, with Republicans opposing it. The latest version has been amended to remove language that implicated “a person who aids and abets” the distribution of secret recordings, wording civil liberties groups said could be used to sweep in journalists and lawyers. The latest draft also makes an exception for recordings provided solely to law enforcement for investigations.

But the ACLU of California and the California Newspaper Publishers Association said they still oppose the bill. (The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it is still reviewing the changes.)

“The likelihood of a news organization being charged for aiding and abetting is certainly reduced” under the new language, Moore said. But provisions already exist in the California penal code to implicate those accused of aiding and abetting criminal behavior.

“You can imagine scenarios where perhaps the newspaper published it and it’s an anonymous source, and so now they’re aiding and abetting the distribution, and they’re the only person that the prosecutor knows might have been involved,” Moore says.

In letter of opposition sent in June to Assemblymember Gomez, Kevin Baker, legislative director of the ACLU of California, raised concerns about how the measure singles out the communications of health-care providers.

“The same rationale for punishing communications of some preferred professions/industries could as easily be applied to other communications —e.g., by law enforcement, animal testing labs, gun makers, lethal injection drug producers, the petroleum industry, religious sects,” Baker wrote.

Gomez said there could be further changes to the bill as talks aimed at resolving such opposition continue. An earlier version passed the assembly easily by a vote of 52 to 26. The latest draft faces an August 31 deadline to pass the senate and a concurrence vote in the assembly before the end of the session. After that, Gomez said he hopes California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) will sign it.

“If we can strike the right balance [between the rights of privacy and free speech], my hope is that it’s hard for him not to support it,” Gomez said. 

Analysis Politics

Koch Brothers Move to Influence Congressional and State Races

Ally Boguhn

The Kochs are poised to play a momentous role in financing hundreds of candidates across the country and launching attacks on those who oppose their goals. Given their network’s penchant for funding anti-choice politicians and causes, that's something that should deeply concern reproductive rights advocates.

Over the weekend, Charles and David Koch’s network of ultra-wealthy donors and the politicians they fund convened in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to strategize about how to push their message across the countrya meeting that should signal cause for alarm for those concerned with big money in politics.

At the event, Charles Koch, joined by at least 300 donors who had each committed at least $100,000 annually to the network, reportedly outlined plans to get those with similar political ideologies elected to office and to “cultivat[e] conservative leaders at the state level,” according to the Washington Post.

During the 2012 election cycle, the Kochs’ network raised an estimated $407 million to influence races. As the Post‘s Matea Gold noted in a 2014 report, that level of funding gave the Kochs and their supporters expansive and almost unparalleled room to try to exert political influence.

As Adele Stan reported for Rewire in 2013, such influence extended in part to anti-choice groups, who received millions from Koch-connected organizations during the 2010 midterm and 2012 presidential election cycles. In addition, Koch-linked organizations gave tens of millions of dollars to candidates who were almost entirely opposed to abortion rights.

“The resources and the breadth of the organization make it singular in American politics: an operation conducted outside the campaign finance system, employing an array of groups aimed at stopping what its financiers view as government overreach,” explained Gold in another article. “Members of the coalition target different constituencies but together have mounted attacks on the new health-care law, federal spending and environmental regulations.”

In 2015 the Kochs revealed during their annual winter donor retreat that their network planned to spend up to $900 million on the 2016 election cycle, according to the New York Times—a number so high that it “would put [the network] on track to spend nearly as much as the campaigns of each party’s presidential nominee.” Conservative news outlet National Review, however, reported in May that the billionaires had intended to scale back the scope of their electoral funding, instead “steering their money and focus away from elections and toward a slew of the more intellectual, policy-oriented projects on which they have historically lavished their fortune.”

Still, the Kochs are poised to play a momentous role in financing hundreds of candidates across the country and launching attacks on those who oppose their goals. The extent of their contributions is carefully concealed by the web through which they funnel money—consisting of political action committees, issue-advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations, and the like—but what has been reported thus far offers a small glimpse into their political influence.

Though the allocated total spending was downgraded, the Koch network is nevertheless on track to spend almost $750 million this election cycle, with about $250 million going to politics and the Koch groups that work on policy issues, including Americans for Prosperity and the Freedom Partners Action Fund.

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“The [Koch] network is and will continue to be fully engaged in 2016’s political and policy battles. We want to maximize the number of freedom-oriented Senators,” James Davis, a spokesman for the Koch network, told the Hill in June amid news that the network was moving to spend $30 million on ad buys. “We see that on a number of issues, particularly free speech, the current majority is far preferable to the alternative.”

According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org, which provides a comprehensive record of federal campaign contributions, the dark money group Americans for Prosperity—a 501(c)(4) that focuses on “citizen advocacy”—has spent at least $2,422,436 thus far on federal elections this cycle, investing in key Senate races in Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Most of that money, more than $1.9 million, has been spent in Ohio to oppose the state’s former Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, in his race against incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R). The two politicians have been locked in a tight battle for a critical seat that could help determine which party takes control of the Senate. The Koch-backed group launched a seven-figure ad buy last August focusing on Strickland’s tax policies as governor of Ohio.

Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC founded by the Kochs in 2014 to which they have directly given $6 million so far this cycle, has invested even more into opposing Strickland, spending more than $9.4 million in independent expenditures, according to the Sunlight Foundation’s Influence Explorer. As was the case with Americans for Prosperity’s spending, much of that funding went directly to gigantic television and digital ad buys, again hitting Strickland’s tax policies.

In Wisconsin, Americans for Prosperity has spent $66,560 in opposition to Democratic Senate candidate Russ Feingold in his race against incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. Freedom Partners Action Fund’s spending in that same race, meanwhile, totals $2,102,645 in independent expenditures to oppose Feingold. The latter group also spent another $5,500 in support of Johnson.

However, just after Johnson spoke at the Republican National Convention in late July, Freedom Partners Action Fund pulled the $2.2 million worth of airtime they had reserved for the candidate. The ads were slated to begin airing on August 3.

James Davis, speaking on behalf of the organization, claimed the decision did not mean the group was no longer backing Johnson. “We are realigning our television advertising strategy to ensure maximum impact across key Senate races,” Davis told the Huffington Post. “We will continue direct citizen outreach through our grassroots activists, volunteer phone calls, digital media and direct mail. Last weekend alone Network grassroots organizations made almost half a million contact attempts to targeted audiences.”

Americans for Prosperity has thus far spent $63,233 in Pennsylvania’s key Senate race opposing Democratic candidate Katie McGinty, who is running against incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R), while Freedom Partners has spent $3,518,492 in independent expenditures doing the same.

And in Nevada, Americans for Prosperity has spent $16,074 opposing Democratic candidate Catherine Cortez Masto, who is running against Republican Rep. Joe Heck for the seat being vacated by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D). Freedom Partners Action Fund has thus far spent $3,899,545 there opposing Cortez Masto. The group used much of that money pushing ads which were deemed by fact-checkers to be “mostly false,” alleging that as attorney general of the state, Cortez Masto had killed jobs by “driving” Uber out of Nevada. In truth, said Politifact, Uber only left temporarily and the ad “takes things out of context.”


Though the Kochs have seemingly failed to put much effort into House races thus far through Americans for Prosperity and the Freedom Partners Action Fund, there have been a few notable exceptions.

In early July, Americans for Prosperity geared up to launch a campaign aimed at aiding the re-election of Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), according to the Washington Post. The organization is reportedly not investing in paid media for the race, but it will be sending hundreds of staffers out to spread its message door to door. The Post reported that the 501(c)(4)’s goal in Colorado is to “help preserve the Republican majority by targeting districts where [Americans for Prosperity] already has staff and resources and can most efficiently affect voting outcomes, according to the group.” The group expects to spend six figures in the Colorado race.

Americans for Prosperity has already spent $62,384 thus far opposing the Democratic candidate for the House, state Sen. Morgan Carroll, in her race against Coffman.

The nonpartisan Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, which analyzes U.S. House, Senate, and gubernatorial campaigns, rates the Colorado 6th Congressional District as a toss-up, though it leans Republican.

Earlier in the year, Americans for Prosperity also spent $190,973 to defeat Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) in her failed bid for re-election. Ellmers lost her primary race for North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District in early June to her Republican colleague Rep. George Holding after redistricting in the state led the two to run against each other. Her defeat came amid targeting from anti-choice groups looking to unseat the representative despite her opposition to abortion, for reportedly speaking out against language in the House of Representatives’ 2015 20-week abortion ban that would have required rape victims to formally report their assault to police in order to be exempted from the law.

Koch Industries Inc. Political Action Committee (KOCHPAC), the political action committee for Koch companies, has invested almost all of its $1,209,900 in contributions to House Republican candidates. In total, the PAC has given $1,050,900 to 165 Republicans running for House seats and $8,500 to Democrats. The group has also given a total of $181,500 to 23 different Republicans running for the Senate, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), Sen. Rand Paul (KY), Sen. Roy Blunt (MO), and Sen. Mike Lee (UT).

What was outlined above is probably just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to other Koch-connected groups not listed here, there are likely also other forms of spending by the groups discussed that has gone undisclosed.

Take, for example, some of the Kochs’ state-level work. As the Brennan Center for Justice explained in a recent report on money in politics, “it is at the state and local levels that secret spending is arguably at its most damaging,” and that is where the Kochs are now shifting some of their attention.

Though “dark money” 501(c)(4) groups, including Americans for Prosperity, are not required to disclose all of their spending, media reports indicate that the organization’s affiliates are investing in local races. According to the Brennan Center’s analysis of six states with available spending data, “on average, only 29 percent of outside spending was fully transparent in 2014 in the states we examined, sharply down from 76 percent in 2006.”  Yet, the report notes, “dark money surged in these states by 38 times on average between 2006 and 2014.”

Exact numbers may be elusive, but there is no doubt the Kochs will have major influence on the 2016 election cycle. According to Rewire‘s analysis, spending from just three of the key Koch groupsFreedom Partners Action Fund, Americans for Prosperity, and KOCHPAChas already occurred in congressional races in 43 states across the country. Given the network’s penchant for funding anti-choice politicians and causes, that’s something that should deeply concern reproductive rights advocates.

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