In a speech that showed both frustration and hope for the future, President Barack Obama addressed the American people Thursday morning after Congress reached a short-term compromise late Wednesday night to end the federal government shutdown, reopening the government until Jan. 15 and suspending the debt ceiling through Feb. 7.
The president said in his address that the past weeks of federal shutdown have wreaked havoc on America's economy and the trust of the American people in their government. Obama sternly said that the federal shutdown has done more to undermine the economy than anything else in the past three years.
Obama added that the shutdown has "inflicted completely unnecessary damage" on the U.S. economy and American people, as well as "encouraged our enemies, emboldened our competitors, and depressed our friends who look to us for steady leadership." more >>
Americans were shocked by headlines like, "Priests Face Arrest for Holding Mass During Shutdown." News accounts reported that Catholic priests were warned that they are not permitted to minister on base during the shutdown, and they risk being arrested if they attempt to do so.
Since they are unpaid volunteers, this was not caused by a shutdown of military funds. Priests were warned that they risked arrest and military discipline if, without pay, they simply walked onto the base property to perform a chaplain's regular duties.
Congress quickly responded with a nonbinding resolution to reinstate furloughed chaplains on a volunteer basis. The House voted 400 to 1, and the Senate passed a similar resolution. more >>
Political leaders reached an agreement Wednesday on a temporary government funding bill and a temporary extension of the nation's debt limit. The agreement provides a path out of the current toxic environment that led to the standstill, but it also puts off the difficult issues for only a few months.
The agreement will fund the government until Jan. 15, increase the national debt limit to allow enough borrowing until Feb. 7, and set up a conference committee composed of members from both houses and both parties to come up with a longer term agreement by Dec. 13. The agreement will also include back pay for federal workers and one small change to the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," – income verification will be required for all beneficiaries of ACA subsidies.
The government shutdown began when Republicans demanded changes to the ACA in exchange for funding the government. President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats insisted they would not negotiate. In the end, they split the difference. Obama and the Democrats did allow one change to the ACA, but it is a modest one. more >>
The Affordable Care Act is like the television show Storage Wars, where unclaimed items in storage lockers are auctioned off after a quick peek through the door. People bid top dollar and hope for the best. Some find a goldmine, but the unseasoned bidders usually receive a Pandora's Box.
Let's look at some of the winners. The Center for Public Policy, a non-partisan public interest think tank in Washington D.C., estimated that $120 million was spent lobbying for health reform. Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) alone spent $26 million lobbying for Obamacare in 2009. And PhRMA has spent well over $100 million on ad campaigns promoting healthcare reform legislation.
Upon passage of the bill, the stocks of some of the largest health insurers, including Cigna, UnitedHealth Group,WellPoint,and Aetna climbed. Major makers of electronic health records (EHR) systems lobbied hard, locking out smaller competitors. Chicago-based Allscripts Healthcare Solutions former CEO Glen Tullman, who had served as health technology adviser to Obama's presidential campaign in 2008, made more than $200,000 in contributions to the campaign, and was frequent guest at the White House during 2009. With some nudging from the Stimulus mandate for EHRs, annual sales of Allscripts more than doubled from $548 million in 2009 to $1.44 billion in 2012. Cerner, another software purveyor, spent $400,000 lobbying for EHR. During the same three-year period, sales rose 60 percent. more >>
In dysfunctional and ideologically driven Washington, it seems the only way to slow out-of-control spending is with the debt ceiling votes. Republicans control only one-half of one-third of the government. The only leverage they have in imposing some form of fiscal sanity is their debt ceiling votes.
All the posturing and rhetoric of Democrats and Republicans leading up to the "deal" remind me of a WWF wrestling match: lots of pre-match bluster with a predetermined outcome.
It seems all the politicians want to do now is hit the "pause" button on all of this. Both sides are getting beat up in the polls. more >>
With House leaders unable to reach an agreement within their own Republican caucus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have now taken the lead on a short-term increase in the national debt limit and short-term funding bill to end the government shutdown.
Reid and McConnell had announced an agreement on Monday, but that was put on hold after Speaker of the House John Boehner announced that the House would work on their own agreement. Late Tuesday, though, Boehner emerged from a meeting with his caucus to announce that they were unable to come to any agreement that could pass the House. That put a path forward back into the hands of McConnell and Reid.
The McConnell/Reid plan was being finalized Tuesday night and, if all goes as planned, will be voted on Wednesday, just one day before Thursday's debt limit deadline. more >>