October 2005
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Month October 2005

One liberal’s positive view of Alito

Katherine (Kate) Pringle is a partner in a New York law firm.  She is also a progressive Democrat who was heavily involved in John Kerry’s presidential campaign.  And after she graduated from law school in 1993, she spent a year working as a law clerk to Third Circuit Judge Samuel Alito, Jr.

In light of this morning’s nomination of Alito to the Supreme Court, I called Pringle to get her take.  The short answer: she is very pleased with the nomination.  More below.

Employers are NOT universally opposed to “pay or play”

Don’t be fooled.  To read the Globe articles discussing the House’s health care bill, you would think that the "business community" is universally opposed to including a "pay or play" employer assessment in whatever health care legislation emerges from the State House.  But it just ain’t so.

I spoke at some length this morning with Phil Edmundson, CEO of William Gallagher Associates in Boston, and the co-founder of a group called Massachusetts Business Leaders for Quality Affordable Health Care (MBLQAHC).  MBLQAHC is listed as a sponsor of Health Care For All’s "Affordable Care Today" campaign, which is backing the Health Access and Affordability Act.  And, importantly, MBLQAHC is squarely behind the idea of a "pay or play" type of assessment on businesses, whereby businesses over a certain size either provide health insurance to their employees or pay an assessment into a state fund that is used to subsidize free or low-cost health insurance (I’m oversimplifying, but that’s basically the idea).  While there are differences between the House bill and the HAAA, Edmundson describes the House bill generally – and its inclusion of an employer "pay or play" assessment in particular – as "a big step forward."  Much more below.

Nail ‘Em

"Guarantees are for used cars and washing machines, not Supreme Court justices," Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said yesterday on CNN. Not entirely true. There is no reason Senators cannot extract a promise from judicial nominees to decide specific types of cases in specific ways before they vote to confirm them. Roberts, for example, was unnecessarily allowed to wiggle out of answers to numerous questions on grounds these subjects might come before the Court. True, the Constitution leaves judges free to decide actual cases as they think best once on the bench but violation of a general guarantee offered in a confirmation hearing could arguably be grounds for impeachment. At a minimum, getting judges to promise to decide types of cases in specific ways before confirmation by the people’s representatives would set a more democratic standard for the judiciary.

Willard Weighs in for the Rich

Willard took a jog down a Cape beach in top coat and dress shoes last week to weigh in once again for the rich. The Governor spoke against the clean energy Cape Wind proposal. His Excellency was mocked by supporters of the project who carried small pinwheels. Cape Code Times reports that Willard’s office, while opposing wind power on the wealthy Cape has approved permits for wind developers in the Berkshires. Meanwhile, the newspaper reported, "while Mitt was muddying the wind and the water here, Canada’s wind-power capacity, already the fastest-growing form of electricity generation in Canada, took another significant step forward with the funding for two new wind-power projects in Quebec. Together, the 60 turbines at the Mount Miller and Mount Copper wind farms provide 108 megawatts of wind-energy capacity, lifting Canada’s total wind-power generation capacity from 444 to more than 550 megawatts, an increase of nearly 25%."

Bush wants Alito confirmed this year

President Bush, in announcing Judge Samuel Alito’s nomination, has urged the Senate to hold a vote on Alito by the end of this year.  That seems very unlikely – last I heard, both Republicans and Democrats were saying that the Judiciary Committee probably would not even hold hearings before January.  Bush probably would prefer to have Alito voting on the cases that the Court has already heard, rather than the arguably more centrist O’Connor, but at this point it doesn’t look like that will happen. NBC News is reporting that Sen. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is already describing Alito as a "controversial" nominee.  Dems are not holding their fire on this one.  Fireworks to come, no doubt.

Alito picked to replace O’Connor

Federal appeals court judge Samuel Alito, Jr., currently sitting on the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, will be named this morning to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Bush tried the whole "go outside the federal judiciary," "don’t nominate a white male" thing once, and that didn’t go so well for him.  So we’re back to a well-trodden path.  Alito was the US attorney in New Jersey, and has been on the Third Circuit for 15 years.  Alito’s most famous vote was in the case that eventually became the Supreme Court’s hugely important Planned Parenthood v. Casey – Alito voted to uphold Pennsylvania’s restrictive abortion law in its entirety (ultimately, the Supreme Court upheld most of the law but struck down the spousal notification part of it).  But with 15 years on the court of appeals, there is a very large body of work to be pored over in the coming weeks. Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has already made loud noises against Alito, and an attempted Democratic filibuster is considered a possibility at this stage.  That’s going to be tough to sustain, IMHO – Alito will most likely be an impressive nominee who will do […]

Initial reactions to House health care plan

Here’s my quick-n-dirty first take on the House’s plan, to be unveiled tomorrow am. See this post for the sections to which I’m referring. A. The expansion of MassHealth is good: It’s the strategy for which we had hoped in expanding access to low-income folks — exactly the same as the Health Access and Affordability Act. Restoration of dental services cut in 2002 is also important. B. This creates a "purchasing mechanism" for individuals and small business to buy insurance. Now, if this creates a "pool" by which the buying power of the state is leveraged to lower rates, that’s good. I’m not clear on that from the language, however. C. "Commonwealth Care": It’s a subsidized insurance program for those who are too "rich" for MassHealth (our Medicaid program) but still under 300% of poverty level. Sliding scale assistance. D. There’s that pesky personal mandate again. "Individuals for whom there are not affordable products [Who decides what's "affordable" and for what income level?] available will not be penalized." Uhh… that’s good, I guess… but if there is an "affordable" product for you, you still have to pay a "penalty" based on what you would have to pay. Look, I understand […]

Summary of Health Access Reform Bill

Tomorrow, 10/31, the MA House Joint Committee on Health Care Financing will approve its version of health care reform.  Here’s the Globe’s preview. (Expect a lot of "trick or treat", "scary" clichés from the press and lobbyists. Yuk yuk.) We’ll have more on this tonight and going forward — there’s a lot of good, some bad, some practical, and some improbable.

I hate pdf’s because they require opening another program, and they don’t really seem "interactive" enough for blogging, so I’m just cutting and pasting the entire text of their "highlights". Here’s the pdf if you insist.

A) MassHealth Expansion
The bill expands MassHealth coverage for children, parents and childless adults. Currently, children in families up to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) are eligible for MassHealth. The bill increases eligibility to children in families earning up to 300% FPL ($38,500/yr for a family of 2). MassHealth coverage for parents would be expanded from 133% FPL to 200% FPL ($32,200/yr for a family of 3).

This bill also provides MassHealth coverage for all childless adults up to 100% FPL ($9,600/yr). Currently, the majority of childless adults are not eligible for Medicaid at any income level, unless eligible because of circumstances such as disability or long-term unemployment.

It’s contagious!

Good gravy. We’re not satisified with our own screwed-up health care system — now we’re actually exporting it: …Experts questioned the priorities of Washington’s $1-billion rebuildingplan, which has focused on construction instead of basic needs such asbetter training for doctors and public healthcare campaigns. …"I saw enormous incompetence which was more costly than even Iraqicorruption," said Richard Garfield, a Columbia University health expertwho worked with U.S. and international officials in Iraq last year. TheU.S. "was pouring money down the drain." Ugggggghhh….

Willard Weighs in for the Rich

Willard took a jog down a Cape beach in top coat and dress shoes yesterday to weigh in once again for the rich and against the people. The Governor spoke against the clean energy Cape Wind proposal. His Excellency was mocked by supporters of the project who carried small pinwheels. Cape Code Times reports that Willard’s office, while opposing wind power on the wealthy Cape has approved permits for wind developers in the Berkshires. Meanwhile, the newspaper reported, "while Mitt was muddying the wind and the water here, Canada’s wind-power capacity, already the fastest-growing form of electricity generation in Canada, took another significant step forward with the funding for two new wind-power projects in Quebec. Together, the 60 turbines at the Mount Miller and Mount Copper wind farms provide 108 megawatts of wind-energy capacity, lifting Canada’s total wind-power generation capacity from 444 to more than 550 megawatts, an increase of nearly 25%."