Conservative group suspends anti-healthcare reform ads upon Kennedy's passing

Conservatives for Patients' Rights (CPR), a group that has aired ads against the current healthcare reform proposals, announced on Wednesday that it would suspend its campaign in the wake of Sen. Ted Kennedy's (D-Mass.) death.

CPR's decision demonstrates the respect Kennedy, a long standing proponent of health reform, garners in the debate over the legislation now being considered by Congress.

Here is CPR's statement:
With the sad news of Senator Kennedy's passing Conservatives for Patients Rights is immediately suspending our ad campaign for health care reform out of respect to the Kennedy family as well as the Senator's colleagues and supporters, to whom we extend our condolences. We know the debate will continue - a debate Senator Kennedy embraced with vigor - and we look forward to engaging in the debate in the months ahead. But now is a time for respect, reflection and remembrance. Senator Kennedy's lifetime of dedicated public service transcended multiple generations. His devotion to many issues and his relentless passion made him a hero to his supporters and worthy adversary to his opponents. His voice and presence will be missed.

Lawmakers and advocacy groups have already recognized the significant impact of Kennedy's death on healthcare reform. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who took over Kennedy's spot on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said "he fought to the very end for the cause of his life -- ensuring that all Americans have the health care they need."

Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern said "let us continue his cause. Let us take action this year to pass healthcare reform. And let us continue to build Kennedy's vision of America."

Issa: Obama's budget 'rife with assumptions that defy logic'

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking member Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) slammed on Tuesday President Obama's mid-year budget review for making "assumptions that defy logic as much as his spending defies gravity."

The administration announced today that it increased the projected budget deficit to $9 trillion over the next decade from $7.1 trillion and estimated unemployment would pass 10 percent.

The fifth-term Republican implied that the estimate could be even worse, accusing the White House of using faulty assumptions to draft its estimate.

"Adding insult to gimmickry, President Obama's budget continues to assume that Congressional Democrats will allow 'stimulus' pet projects to expire, that a government take-over of health care will be budget neutral and that the economy will return to a roaring 3.2 percent growth next year," Issa said in a release.

He also hit at the administration's economic policies, saying that the Obama administration "vastly underestimated every aspect of our financial crisis: from unemployment to deficits, from mythical 'jobs saved or created' to projected economic growth."

Cross-posted to the Twitter Room

Liberal House leader: Abandon bipartisanship on health bill

The head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) said on Tuesday that Democratic lawmakers should go it alone to pass healthcare legislation because Republicans are opposed to any real reform.

"Let's call it like it is. Most of what the Republicans want in the health care reform bill represents a victory for well-financed, private-interest greed. It's a gift to corporations, not consumers," wrote CPC co-chairman Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) in a USA Today op-ed.

" I am not in favor of bipartisanship when the other side's principal intention is to delay progress and undermine a bill," he added.

Grijalva called the GOP's push for malpractice reform a "Trojan horse" to destroy the public option.

The fourth-term Democrat accused Republicans of engaging in "doublespeak" on a public health insurance plan; saying that they have claimed the government would run it poorly or that it would run too efficiently and drive private insurers out of business.

Grijalva instead claimed the public option "is what will end the insurance companies' monopoly and control over our individual health."

Schumer calls for airline passenger 'bill of rights'

New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer wants to make sure airline passengers never again have to endure the the discomfort of an extended flight delay stuck aboard a plane.

The second-term senator and state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris are urging the U.S. Congress to pass a "passenger bill of rights" that would guarantee passengers delayed on the runway receive food, water, and restroom visits.

"The airlines can't just treat you as if you're a piece of luggage they can throw on the plane and can sit there forever," Schumer said according to WNYC radio.

Last Friday, 100 passengers at New York's JFK airport waited six hours on the runway for their plane to depart for Minnesota.

Reid pressures Obama administration to hasten 'Clunkers' refunds

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood encouraging his department to "expedite reimbursements" to auto dealers participating in the "Cash for Clunkers" rebate program in order to further stimulate car sales.

"This program has had a significant stimulative effect on the sale of cars in the U.S., and dealers have submitted hundreds of thousands of vouchers for processing," Reid wrote in the letter. "In order to capture a sale...dealers have been forced to effectively finance the CARS vouchers for buyers until the dealers are reimbursed by the federal government."

The Nevada Democrat warned that slow reimbursements could hurt sales at participating dealerships.

Reid also took to Twitter to publicize the announcement:
Sent a letter to Sec LaHood urging him to expedite reimbursements to auto dealers participating in Cash for Clunkers

Full text of the letter is below:
Dear Secretary LaHood:

I am writing to request that the Department of Transportation take additional steps to expedite reimbursements to U.S. automobile dealers for vouchers issued to consumers under the Car Allowance Rebate System (the "CARS" or "cash for clunkers" program).

As you well know, this program has had a significant stimulative effect on the sale of cars in the U.S., and dealers have submitted hundreds of thousands of vouchers for processing. In order to capture a sale but also make use of the CARS incentive, dealers have been forced to effectively finance the CARS vouchers for buyers until the dealers are reimbursed by the federal government, placing a strain on dealers' balance sheets that, if prolonged, could eventually offset some of the benefits of the program. Indeed, I was disappointed to learn of reports that many dealers are no longer participating in the program due to these concerns.

I recognize the CARS program's success perhaps has placed unexpected burdens on the Department, and I appreciate your decision earlier this week to increase the number of staff devoted to processing voucher submissions. I also appreciate your public remarks this week assuring dealers that properly submitted vouchers will be honored and appropriate notice provided to announce the termination of the CARS program, thus preventing the program from running out of money before all vouchers could be honored.

Notwithstanding these assurances, I believe that even more certainty must be provided to dealers who participate in the program to ensure its continued success. For example, the Department should consider implementing a policy providing that all properly submitted vouchers will be reimbursed within five business days, and continue adding staff and devoting resources as needed to meet this timeline. By adopting such a guideline, dealers will be more willing to place their capital at risk to carry the cost of CARS vouchers until reimbursement, and more dealers will continue participating in the program, thereby maximizing the program's objectives.

I appreciate your consideration of this matter and look forward to your response.

Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

Cross-posted to the Twitter Room

Leading Blue Dog: Covering uninsured not top priority of health reform

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) said on Wednesday that providing healthcare to uninsured Americans is "not what this healthcare reform debate is about."

In making his comments, Ross, who is the centrist Blue Dogs' health reform point man, questioned one of the primary healthcare goals of the White House and Democratic leaders.

"That is a side benefit to healthcare reform and an important one," Ross told the Arkansas Educational Television Network. Instead, the fifth-term congressman said the bill should focus on "cost containment."

The Energy and Commerce Committee member reiterated that he wants to pass a health reform bill by the end of this year, a desire that may irk some Republicans who supported his effort to slow the bill before August recess.

"The extreme right had a two-week love affair with me," Ross said. "The extreme right, simply, they do not want healthcare reform. And so, they saw me as killing healthcare reform because I put the brakes on
healthcare reform."

The influential fifth-term Democrat identified several provisions that would prevent him from voting for the bill.

On the public option, Ross said he would not vote for a plan that would "force government-run healthcare on anyone. Period." But he also said that the House bill contained a public plan that is " option."

Providing government subsides for abortions, coverage for illegal immigrants, rationing of care, and deficit increases comprised Ross' deal-breakers.

"I've got the extreme right and the extreme left angry with me so I must be doing something right," he said.

Ross said the bill should reduce costs by allowing the Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies and by dropping co-pays for preventitive doctors' visits.

In the end, Ross acknowledged that the House version may not make up the bulk of the final bill. He estimated that 90 percent of the conference committee bill would come from the Senate Finance Committee's version.


Cornyn: Waxman practicing 'intimidation tactics' against insurers

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) accused House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) of engaging in "intimidation tactics" in reaction to a letter he sent to several private insurance companies requesting financial data.

The second-term senator made his comments using Twitter on Wednesday:
Timing of Waxman demand letter to insurance industry smacks of intimidation tactics. What's next? An IRS audit?

The letter dated Monday said that the committee is investigating "executive compensation and other business practices in the health insurance industry." Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) co-signed the letter with Waxman.

A Stupak spokesman said 52 letters were sent to the nation's largest health insurance companies, some of which oppose the current healthcare reform legislation, the AP reported.

Cross-posted to the Twitter Room

Rep. Scott: 'David Scott's gonna pray wherever I want to'

After an audience member at his town hall criticized him for saying a prayer before the meeting, Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) said, "well I can tell you this, ma'am, David Scott's gonna pray wherever I want to."

During the meeting, a woman said that Scott and the audience "broke a federal law" by saying a prayer because the town hall was held in a public school. The Georgia Democrat's forceful response elicited a loud round of applause from the crowd.

For the record, there is no federal law prohibiting prayer from taking place in a public school. Laws, however, do restrict government-sanctioned prayer.

At the beginning of the meeting, Scott asked everyone to stand and pray so that "we're starting it off right."

Here is an excerpt from the prayer:
We pray, dear God, that you have us be respectful to one another, that we have a civil discussion, and most importantly dear God, that we leave here much wiser, more knowledgeable and better informed than we were when we came in.

Scott concluded the prayer by saying "and all of these blessings we answer your son Jesus Christ's name, and we all say amen."

The fourth-term Blue Dog from Georgia has not shied away town hall controversy. Earlier this month, Scott accused one of his constituents of "hijacking" a healthcare meeting. A few days later a vandal painted a four-foot swastika on Scott's office.

Here is video from the event (via