The State Dinner

Last night there was a State Dinner at the White House, the first given by the Obamas. 

First Lady Gursharan Kaur of India, First Lady Michelle Obama, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, and President Obama arrived for the state dinner.

The dinner for the Prime Minister of India was attended by over 300 guests including two women with the first name Maya (one being the President’s sister), General and Mrs. Powell, and Governor  Bobby Jindal and his wife.  Governor Deval Patrick attended with his wife, Diane.  But where were the Republican Congressional Leadership?  Not there.

While the Washington Times reported that neither John Boehner not Mitch McConnell were invited, it turns out that is not true. Keith Olbermann reported last night on Countdown that both had been invited and had declined.  

I have several questions for the Republicans.  Are you so fixated on bringing down this President that you can’t spend an evening being civil at a State Dinner?  Are you afraid that because this was a dinner given by an African-American President for an Indian Prime Minister that somehow your whiteness would be threatened?  Notice that two of the Republicans (I don’t know if any of the Indian American attendees are Republican.) were black and Indian.  Are you letting your racism out do your civility?  The lame excuse of having to go home for Thanksgiving doesn’t cut it. Most Americans travelling for Thanksgiving will do so today. 

Too bad you didn’t see your way to attend.  It looks like it was a wonderful occasion.  And you missed Jennifer Hudson singing.  Oh, I forgot.  She’s African-American.

Jobs and the Recovery

Very interesting blog entry today from Floyd Norris, Chief Financial Editor of the New York Times.   We all know that the last unemployment figures showed a rise to 10.2% and that President Obama keeps trying to explain that jobs are the last thing to return after a recession.  But Norris argues that maybe things have already started to turn.

The economic reactions over the weekend to Friday’s employment report all started from the assumption that things grew much worse in October. The unemployment rate leaped to 10.2 percent from 9.8 percent. Another 190,000 jobs vanished.

Actually, none of that happened.

In reality, the government report says unemployment rates remained steady at 9.5 percent. And the number of jobs actually rose, by 80,000. And the number of jobs for college-educated Americans rose more than in any month in the last six years.

If those were the numbers in the articles, we would hear about the economy stabilizing, and talk about the Obama stimulus plan starting to have the intended effect.

Why the disparity in numbers?  Because of something called “seasonal adjustment”.

…For some reason, October is the month with the largest seasonal adjustment down in jobs. So the increase in the unemployment rate does not reflect people actually losing jobs. It reflects the belief that seasonal factors should have added more jobs than they did.

So if there were no seasonal adjustment factor, jobs would have actually increased.

Studying the unadjusted numbers provides some indication that the hiring is starting to improve for better jobs. The number of jobs for college graduates, according to the household survey, rose 755,000 in October, before seasonal adjustments. That is the third-largest increase since the government started counting those figures, in 1992. (It trails increases of 895,000 in February 2002 and 755,000 in October 2003.)

On the other hand, the number of jobs fell for those with less education. If this report does indicate that the job recession is ending, it is an end that is providing immediate benefits for the educated, not for many of the people who most need help.

So when the stimulus funding really gets out on the street, probably in the spring, employment for construction jobs should increase.  In the meanwhile, we need to make sure unemployment benefits remain available.


So what is really in the Health Care Reform Bills? One Progressive Analysis

I ran across this very interesting piece by Maggie Mahar who works for the Century Foundation.  The Century Foundation was founded in 1919 and  is “committed to the belief that a mix of effective government, open democracy, and free markets is the most effective solution to the major challenges facing the United States.”  1919 places it with the progressive movement and so it remains.

Mahar writes “Why Congress’ Health Care Bills are better than you think” posted on AlterNet on November 6. (Before the vote and before the Stupak amendment which is upsetting and a backdoor way of extending the Hyde amendment, but now is not the time to kill reform. Repeal of the Hyde amendment is a fight for another day.)  I have sampled a few of her observations, but the entire piece is very interesting, particularly her comments on the Congressional Budget Office which could be a blog on their own.

Many progressives are expressing deep disappointment with the health reform legislation now moving through Congress.

Some suggest that some legislators made deals with lobbyists and let them write the bills. Others complain that both the subsidies and the penalties are too low. Still others don’t like the fact that states can “opt out” of the public insurance option and decide not to offer “Medicare E” — Medicare for everybody.

Finally, many ask: “Why can’t everyone sign on for the public plan in 2013? Why do we have to wait until 2013? Why can’t they roll out universal coverage next year?”

Normally, I would be among the first to critique the bills. By temperament and training, I’m both a skeptic and a critic.

But in this case, I think it is important to recognize that we cannot expect this first piece of health reform legislation to be anything but wildly imperfect. In fact, I’m impressed by the progress Washington has made in just 10 months.

I’ve been watching the struggle for health care reform since the early 1970s, and compared to what has happened over the past 39 years, this is mind-boggling.

Mahar cites gains in three main areas:  affordability, no denial of coverage, and a realignment of Medicare.

On affordability

For example, under the House bill, a family of three making $32,000 a year would pay $1,360 in annual premiums for good, comprehensive coverage; under the Senate Finance Committee bill, that family would be asked to lay out $2,013. Today, without reform, if that family tried to buy insurance, it would find that the average plan costs $13,500. For this household, the current legislation makes all the difference.

Too often, the press suggests that such a family would be expected to pay $10,000 out of pocket to cover co-pays and deductibles. That just isn’t true.

Even if the entire family were in an auto accident and racked up $200,000 in medical bills, at their income level, the House bill caps out-of-pocket expenses at $2,000 a year. Under the Senate Finance bill, the family would have to pay $4,000.

Moreover, under both bills, there are no co-pays for primary care. Even private insurers cannot put a $25 barrier between a family and preventive care.

Moving up the income ladder, a median-income household earning roughly $55,000 would pay premiums of $4,300 to $6,500 — depending on whether the Senate Finance bill or the more generous House bill sets the terms.

Without legislation, they too would face a $13,500 price tag — and that is if they could get a group rate. If they are buying insurance on their own, coverage could easily cost $16,000

No denial of coverage

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s health care reform fact sheet offers two outrageous examples of just how easy it is for insurers to deny coverage today:

  • Peggy Robertson: The Colorado mother of two was denied health coverage because she had a C-section in 2006. The insurance company told her if she got “sterilized” she would be eligible for coverage.
  • Christina Turner: After being sexually assaulted in Florida, Turner followed her doctor’s orders and took a month’s worth of anti-AIDS medication as a precautionary measure. She never developed an HIV infection. Months later, when shopping for new health insurance coverage, Turner was repeatedly denied coverage because of the precautionary anti-HIV treatment she received after being raped.

Realignment of Medicare which has the Republican opposition literally foaming at the mouth.

What many reformers don’t seem to understand is that when the public plan begins to negotiate fees with providers in 2013, Medicare fees for some very expensive services will be significantly lower than they are today, while reimbursements to primary care doctors will be substantially higher.

Medicare already has announced plans to cut fees for CT scans and MRIs by as much as one-third and has proposed trimming fees to cardiologists by 6 percent next year. Meanwhile, it would hike fees for primary care physicians by 4 percent.

Over the next three years, Medicare will be realigning financial incentives to reward preventive care and management of chronic diseases, while reducing payments for overly aggressive tests and treatments that have no proven benefit — and penalizing hospitals that don’t pay enough attention to medical errors. In the process, Medicare will be conserving health care dollars while protecting patients from needless risks.

As President Barack Obama has promised, Medicare cuts can make health care safer and more affordable for everyone — including the upper middle class. Because most private insurers will mime Medicare’s efforts to reduce overpayment, the cost of care will come down for everyone.

Mahar makes a couple of other interesting points about the new legislation including this on the Senate opt-out.

…even if the Senate’s opt-out provision for states remains in the final health care reform bill, states will not opt out. It would be too difficult for politicians to try to explain to voters why they cannot have access to a government plan that will be able to offer comprehensive insurance for less than what they pay for private insurance.

She concludes

If there ever was a time to avoid the traps of perfectionism, it’s now. As the old saying goes, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

And there’s a lot that’s good in the bills coming out of the House and Senate. No, they’re not perfect, but they offer a path to even better reform in the future while improving the lives and health care outcomes for millions of Americans. And that is all to the good.

We need to encourage Harry Reid and the other Blue Dog Senators to get a backbone.  One way to ease re-election fears might be to have some provisions kick-in sooner rather than later.  Mahar doesn’t talk about time tables and I know that the health exchange and public option are set for 2013.  I think some more research is in order.

First Look at the House Health Care Vote

A few days after the one year anniversary of Barack Obama’s election, the House of Representatives has succeeded in passing what pundits of many stripes are calling  “sweeping reform.”  I’m one of those sick political junkies who stayed up to watch the vote.  220 to 215.  39 Democrats voted against final passage while one Republican voted for.  The magic number was 218.

Speaker Pelosi and the House Leadership.  Photo from the New York Times.

I’ve been looking at the voting pattern posted on the New York Times “Inside Congress” webpage.  There were four votes taken last night.  Looking at Democrat Rick Boucher, an old friend from the mountains of Virginia in a district that voted for McCain and two Republicans, An Cao from New Orleans and Timothy Johnson from Illinois, is quite interesting.

On the Stupak Amendment that added language relating to abortion beyond that of the horrible Hyde Amendment, all three men voted party line and the amendment passed 240 to 194.   The next vote was on the Republican substitute bill.  Rick Boucher and Timothy Johnson voted against the Republican bill while An Cao voted for it.   The substitute was defeated 258 to 176.  (Speaker Pelosi didn’t vote.)

The third vote was to recommit the Democratic Bill.  This was defeated 247 to 187 with Boucher and Johnson (joined by Republican John Duncan from Tennessee) voted against and An Cao voting for recommitment.On the vote for final passage, Boucher and Johnson voted against the Democratic bill while An Cao voted for it.  The Senate Democrats should take a lesson from Rick and vote to end the Republican filibuster even if they vote against the final bill.  And An Cao stood with his leadership on everything but final passage.  (Snowe and Collins take note. )  Harry Reid needs only 50 Democratic votes for passage and Joe Biden can break the tie. 

Chris Cillizaa makes an interesting observation in the Washington Post this morning. 


That’s the number of House Democrats voting against tonight’s health care bill who represent districts carried by President Barack Obama during the 2008 election.

Of the eight, Obama’s highest percentage came in Rep. Artur Davis‘ 7th district where he won 74 percent of the vote. Davis’ vote is rightly understood through a political lens as, despite the overwhelming support for Obama in his district, he is running for governor of a conservative-leaning state next November and wants to safeguard against attacks from Republicans.

Six of the remaining seven members — Reps. John Adler (N.J.), Brian Baird (Wash.), John Barrow (Ga.), Larry Kissell (N.C.), Scott Murphy (N.Y.) and Glenn Nye (Va.) — represent districts where the President took 55 percent or less in 2008, making their decision to vote “no” strategically defensible

(The last Democratic member holding an Obama district to vote against the bill was Rep. Dennis Kucinich who, as we all know, is tough to predict.)

That means — for you non-math majors out there — that 31 of the 39 Democrats who voted against the bill represent seats won by Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) last fall.

Hats off to Speaker Nancy Pelosi for getting the bill passed.  Ball is now passed to Harry Reid.

2009 Elections

Call me an apologist for the Democrats, but I know why Creigh Deeds lost in Virginia.  He lost because Virginia voters are historically strange.  Eight to 12 years of one party and they switch.  When Charles Robb was elected Governor he was the first Democrat in 12 years.  He was followed by two more Dems.  Then there were 8 Republican years followed by 8 Democratic ones.  See the pattern here.  I think the swing has become shorter because people’s attention span has become shorter.  I’ve said for years that Virginia needs to change this crazy one term and you’re out rule for governors.  I think Tim Kaine could have been re-elected. 

I’ll leave the analysis of Jon Corzine’s loss to others, but I think it had something to do with raising taxes and the unemployment rate in New Jersey.  The subway news-sheet I read on my way to work yesterday advised that if you were looking for a job, don’t think about moving to New Jersey.

Most disappointing is the rejection of gay marriage by the Maine voters.  As I have said about California’s Prop 8, I think it is wrong to let people vote on other people’s civil rights.  This also shows why we need national protections beginning with an ending “don’t ask” for the military and the Defense of Marriage Act.  Of course, this will probably make the Obama administration even more cautious.


Democrats won a special election in New York State’s northernmost Congressional district Tuesday, a setback for national conservatives who heavily promoted a third candidate in what became an intense debate over the direction of the Republican Party.

This is the district which clearly showed Republican party differences.

The district has been a Republican stronghold for generations, and the party has represented parts of it since the 19th century.

The battle became one of the most closely followed races in the nation, drawing in some of the biggest forces in politics in both parties. Republicans who viewed the race as a test of the party’s most deeply held conservative principles — including Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska; Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a presidential hopeful; and grass-roots groups that have forcefully opposed Democratic economic and health care policies — rallied behind Mr. Hoffman.

Democrats threw muscle behind the race as well, eager to avoid a potentially embarrassing defeat as President Obama’s approval ratings have softened and efforts to portray them as the party of big government and deficit spending appear to be sticking. A win in the Republican-leaning 23rd Congressional District would provide Democrats with a welcome boost, while a loss would reinforce the notion that the party is struggling.

The seat became vacant after President Obama appointed its long-serving Republican congressman, John M. McHugh, as secretary of the Army.

But as you will recall

Leading conservative voices — including The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and The Weekly Standard and the talk show personalities Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck — took on the Republican nominee, Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, who supports gay rights and abortion rights and had embraced some Democratic economic policies like the federal stimulus package. They labeled her as too liberal.

The attacks on Ms. Scozzafava eventually took their toll, and she stunned her party over the weekend first by withdrawing from the race and then by urging her supporters to vote for Mr. Owens, a 60-year-old lawyer from Plattsburgh.

So despite the gloomy election news elsewhere, we can watch the Republicans fight some more.  I have a feeling they will try to run against more moderate Republicans.  Maybe some of them should try to save themselves by supporting health care reform.  And if, as some have speculated, the Democrats are appointing these moderate Republicans to set up a Democratic win in the next election, the strategy worked in New York’s 23rd.

The stage is set for 2010.

Michelle as Catwoman

I know there is a lot of serious stuff to write about:  The war in Afganistand, the progress of the health care bill, the election tomorrow, people who expected instant change when President Obama was elected, etc. etc..  But when the the last time the First Lady donned a costume to greet trick or treaters at the White House?  I don’t think it has ever happened.

According to the White House Historical Association,  Tricia Nixon was probably the first to hold a Halloween party in the White House.  She invited kids to a party.  No mention of Tricia donning a costume.  The Fords and Carters linked Halloween to charitable giving to groups like UNICEF.  Bush 1 held an anti-drug youth rally int 1989.

This appears to be the first all out White House party.

 Michelle and Barack Obama hand out candy to trick or treaters.  Pictures from

The first family members took to the front steps for about half an hour, passing out treats including White House M&Ms, a sweet dough butter cookie from the White House pastry shop and dried fruit (cherries, apricots, pears, apples and papayas).

 The children aged 6 to 14, some with younger siblings in tow, came from 11 area schools — five in the District, three in Maryland and three in Virginia chosen by the Department of Education. One toddle burst into tears upon seeing the president, who said “happy Halloween” to each child as they passed.

 Also out front, red and yellow butterflies inside giant bubbles, two giant orange and black eyes peering out from first-floor windows, a giant black spider and cobwebs hanging over the North Portico, walking “trees” on stilts. Also Star Wars and other characters handing out candy. Most of the characters came from theatrical groups, including the Red Moon Theater in Chicago and D.C. companies.

The President stuck with tradition:  No costume.  There was also a party inside.

Inside, a couple hundred military families and White House staffers and their children roamed the first floor of the White House as an old-fashioned turntable played actual albums. Among those making the scene were Robert “Lord Vader” Gibbs and son Ethan; and Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice as Goofy.

 As the pool was being ushered out, the president spoke briefly. He told the military families “We are so grateful to you,” especially those who are separated from family members. He thanked staffers and their children, at which point FLOTUS piped in, “They’re so cute!”

 “They’re adorable,” POTUS said, “as is, by the way, my wife — a very nice-looking Cat Woman.”

But almost topping the First Lady was press secretary, Robert Gibbs.

Robert Gibbs dressed as Star Wars' Darth Vader, while his son Ethan sported a Boba Fett costume.