Insurance industry report blasts reform

Healthcare reform could cost families $4,000 per year in higher premiums, a new report sponsored by the insurance industry says.

The report marks one of the boldest efforts yet by the insurance industry to oppose reform. Democrats and the White House had made courting the industry one of the central compoments of their campaign.

Conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the report examines the effect on healthcare costs of (1) cuts in Medicare/Medicaid; (2) a weak individual mandate; (3) taxes on so-called "Cadillac" plans; and (4) fees imposed on the insurance industry.

"The report makes clear that several major provisions in the current legislative proposal will cause healthcare costs to increase far faster and higher than they would under the current system," Karen Ignagni, head of America's Health Insurance Plans, told her members over the weekend.

Proponents of reform say the report doesn't look at other components that will make healthcare more affordable, especially subsidies to purchase insurance policies.

A spokesman for the Senate Finance Committee said the report was a "hatchet job" by the insurance industry.

"This report is untrue, disingenuous and bought and paid for by the same health insurance companies that have been gouging too many consumers for too long as they stand in the way of reform yet again," said Scott Mulhauser. "It's a health insurance company hatchet job, plain and simple."

Ironically, one of the report's biggest complaints is that reform doesn't do enough to bring everyone into the insurance pool. The mandates and penalties that could achieve that goal are opposed by most Republicans.

From The Washington Post:

At the heart of the argument is whether the Finance Committee bill does enough to draw young, healthy people into the insurance risk pool. By postponing and reducing penalties on people who do not sign up for health insurance, industry analysts predict it would attract less-healthy patients who would drive up cost.

"Market reform enacted in the absence of universal coverage will increase costs dramatically for many who are currently insured by creating a powerful incentive for people to wait until they are sick to purchase coverage," the authors of the report wrote.


Governor Charlie Crist plans pricey event with Freedom's Watch funder

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will head to Las Vegas at the end of the month for a well-backed, high-priced fundraiser with perhaps the Republican Party's wealthiest donor.

Crist will benefit from a fundraiser at the Palazzo Hotel and Casino, one of the newest casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, on Oct. 29. His host, Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson, is the 26th-richest man in America, according to Forbes magazine.

Adelson funded the conservative group Freedom's Watch during the 2008 campaign, spending millions of dollars to attack then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.

But the economic downturn hit Las Vegas and the tourism industry hard, and Adelson lost $24 billion — reportedly more than any other single American. He has since quit politics, and Freedom's Watch folded.

Also hosting the event is Sig Rogich, the prominent Nevada Republican political consultant who worked in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and is co-chairman of the Republican Governors Association's finance committee.

Rogich, who ordinarily makes news by pumping up Republican candidates, last hit headlines with an unusual endorsement of Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), whom he said had the seniority to help the Silver State through an unusually difficult economic period.

Rogich managed Jim Santini's (R) 1986 campaign against Reid. But in February, he said he would back the majority leader's bid for another six-year term.

Fun fact for guests at Crist's fundraiser: The Palazzo has more floor space than any other building in the Western Hemisphere, beating the Pentagon by 300,000 square feet. The presidential suite, where the Crist fundraiser will be held, is 5,171 square feet, according to a Palazzo employee.


Limbaugh: Obama's presidency worsening relations between races

In a rare interview, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said that President Barack Obama's election has worsened racial problems, not helped solve them.

Limbaugh claimed that critics of Obama's policies are quickly labeled racist, creating a toxic environment for political discourse.

"I'll be honest with you, I predicted to you it was going to exacerbate racial problems, and it has," he told NBC in an interview that aired this morning. "Any criticism of President Obama is going to be said to be racism. And if you don't like his healthcare bill, racism. And I opposed it when Clinton and Hillary were trying to do it, and they aren't black."

Limbaugh, who is an adamant opponent of President Obama, said that his election as the first black president "was wonderful when it happened" but that he "got over it very quickly."

"He's the president of the United States. His skin color doesn't matter to me, his policies are what matter," Limbaugh added.

When asked if some of the past segments on his show, such as a song called "Barack the 'Magic Negro,' " crossed the line from satire into racism — Limbaugh defended them as pure satire.

"Would you ask someone who writes for 'Saturday Night Live' these questions?" he responded, saying the title was lifted from a Los Angeles Times column written by a black man.

Limbaugh also demurred when asked if he was the leader of the Republican Party and had the power to influence GOPers like party Chairman Michael Steele. The chairman apologized to Limbaugh after he criticized him several months ago.

"Well, I'm going to dispute that I have that much power," Limbaugh said. "I believe in the free market. And if the free market creates that with my participation in it — then it is what it is."


Keane: I'd resign if Obama didn't take my advice

The general who helped craft the Iraq surge says if he were in charge of Afghanistan he would resign if President Obama didn't take his advice.

Analysts and pundits have speculated for weeks about what General Stanley McChrystal might do if the president rejects his call for up to 40,000 more troops.

Retired Gen. Jack Keane, the former vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said if put in that position he would resign.

Keane said it would be impossible for him to "ask the troops to go out and do something else that you don't believe will accomplish [your] goals."

"That gets very difficult, in terms of a moral dilemma, asking your troops to do something you believe is going to fail," he told ABC's This Week.

Asked by George Stepanopoulos if he would resign, Keane said "probably yes, under those circumstances.

Keane retired in 2003, but co-authored a policy paper that became the basis for the military surge in Iraq. McChrystal is calling for similar, temporary troop escalation to help quell violence in Afghanistan.

Keane acknowledged, however, that "presidents have a right to make decisions" as they see fit.


Obama's approval ticks upward

After gradually declining over the last few months, President Obama's job approval ticked upward in the latest Gallup Poll.

Obama's job approval now stands at 56%, his highest rating since early august. 37% of Americans disapprove of the president.



McCain acknowledges tensions in 2008 campaign

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) acknowledged there were "tensions" in his 2008 campaign team, especially between top aide Steve Schmidt and Sarah Palin.

"There's always tensions that develop within campaigns," McCain told CNN's John King. "And there were clearly tensions between Steve Schmidt and people in the Palin camp."

Schmidt said recently that were Palin to win the GOP nomination in 2012, "we could have a catastrophic election result."

McCain demurred on Palin's chances to win the White House, saying the party should "go through the process rather than condemning anybody's chances."

"We have some great people out there and Sarah is one of them," he added.


DNC pulls ad after Dole objects

The DNC is scrapping plans to air a TV ad touting Bob Dole's support for healthcare reform after the former Majority Leader objected.

Dole had signed on to a healthcare reform plan with Tom Daschle sponsored through the Bipartisan Policy Center and has urged Republicans to keep working for a bipartisan healthcare compromise.

But he said the planned DNC ad suggested he supported specific Democratic legislation, which he does not.

“The ad makes it appear Senator Dole is supporting the Democratic version of health-care reform," Dole spokesman Michael Marshall told the New York Times. "That is patently false. He is not supporting any bill out there. He has been pushing for bipartisanship and for leaders on both sides to come together to pass sound reform."

Democrats have been highlighting prominent Republicans who support reform, including former Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).

Here's the commercial in question.


Senators cautious on repealing marriage act

The military ban on gays should be repealed, but Congress should be more cautious on repealing a gay marriage law, two Democratic senators said today.

Reacting to President Obama's speech on gay rights last night, Sens. Bob Casey  (D-Pa.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) agreed with Obama that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," is bad policy.

"[W]e shouldn't be losing the great talent of anyone in the military, whether it's because of skin color or because they're a man or a woman or sexual orientation," Stabenow said on CNN's State of the Union.

But neither Senator would endorse a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman and allows states to not recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

"We can move forward on a lot of measures, but I'm not sure there's the support yet for that," said Casey.

Stabenow noted that Michigan had passed a law prohibiting gay marriage, which would make it difficult for her to support repealing DOMA.

"For a number of us, that becomes a challenge in terms of what has happened in terms of voting in our states," she said.


UPDATED: White House blasts Fox News: 'Wing of the Republican Party'

Fox News is simply "a wing of the Republican Party," a top White House aide said today.

Appearing on CNN this morning, White House Communications Director Anita Dunn said Fox News exists simply to further the agenda of the GOP.

"Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party," Dunn said.

This is the second time in a week that Dunn has blasted Fox.

She was quoted in Time Magazine on Thursday blasting the cable network as "opinion journalism masquerading as news."

Fox News Senior Vice President of News Michael Clemente said Fox News' growing viewership speaks for itself. 

"An increasing number of viewers are relying on FOX News for both news and opinion," said Clemente.

He added that Fox has a clear barrier between hard news programming and opinion shows.

"The average news consumer can certainly distinguish between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page, which is what our programming represents," he said. "So, with all due respect to anyone who still might be confused about the difference between news reporting and vibrant opinion, my suggestion would be to talk about the stories and the facts rather than attack the messenger…which over time, has never worked."

The Obama administration has made a concerted effort to hit back at what it sees as media misinformation.

"The best analogy is probably baseball," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told Time. "The only way to get somebody to stop crowding the plate is to throw a fastball at them. They move."


Levin predicts Obama will succeed at overturning military ban on gays

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) predicted Sunday that "Don't ask, don't tell" will be repealed as President Barack Obama promised Saturday.

“I will end ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,'" Obama said Saturday night at a Human Rights Campaign dinner, without giving a timetable to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

"I think he will and he can," Levin said when asked by "Meet the Press" host David Gregory whether the president, who has been criticized by many in the gay community for lagging on gay-rights issues, will follow through on his pledge.

The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman said the policy would have to be changed with "thoughfulness and care," though, and with the input of military leaders.

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, also appearing on "Meet the Press," would not weigh in on whether the policy should be overturned, but stressed that the Pentagon and senior military officials must be part of the process.

Former Souther Commander Gen. Barry McCaffrey said it should be up to Congress to change the law.

Armed Services Committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) echoed the call for the military to be involved in the process, but likewise didn't weigh in on overturning the policy.

"I'm not going to make policy based on a campaign rally," Graham said.