Sarah Kliff

Stories by Sarah Kliff

  • What Obama Did Say About Health Care: Four Important Policy Provisions

    I’ve already said my share on what Obama did not say in his State of the Union address. But it’s also worthwhile to take a look at what he did say, which policy provisions in health-care reform made the cut for the speech and which ones did not. It’s not a particularly daunting task─Obama only spent 452 words on health care last night, about 6 percent of his 70-minute speech—so, after getting a bit of a nudge reading the Columbia Journalism Review this morning, here’s my run down on the four main policy provisions that Obama highlighted and what the Senate bill would do about them: Obama said: “The approach we've taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry.”Senate bill says: Insurers cannot deny coverage based on a preexisting condition; everyone can buy. Insurers would also be seriously limited in their ability to “rate” customers, a common practice in the industry where older, riskier patients pay more. The Senate bill would limit age...
  • Missing From SOTU: Guidance on How to Pass Health-Care Reform

    On the surface, Obama made it clear in his State of the Union address that he wanted Congress to pass health-care reform. He admitted that it's been a politically rocky road, but beseeched legislators to “find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.”...
  • Why Bush’s Abstinence-Only Policies Are (Probably) Not to Blame for the Teen-Pregnancy Increase

    The first increase in teen pregnancy in more than a decade has, unsurprisingly, led many to place blame on Bush’s heavy funding of abstinence-only education. The Guttmacher Institute report that identified the teen-pregnancy increase suggests that it has to do with "the growth of abstinence-only sex education programs at the expense of comprehensive programs." Katie Couric made a similar link on last night’s CBS News, and, over at Feminste, one of the most-read feminist blogs, they're putting it even more bluntly: ...
  • 'You Have to Play It:' In Which Sen. Ben Nelson Overplays His Hand

    Wonk Room points us to a revealing interview that Sen. Ben Nelson gave to Life Site News, a high-profile news source among opponents of abortion. Remember that abortion compromise he and Senator Reid worked out? Turns out it was a bit of a sham: Nelson did not support it and planned to filibuster his own language. Here's the key part, where the interviewer is pressing Nelson on why he thought the Stupak amendment would see the light of day after conference: LSN: What made you think that it had a shot, after conference?...
  • Ms. Pelosi, Pass This Bill: A New Rallying Cry for the Senate Bill

    After yesterday’s panic over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's not having enough votes to pass the Senate version of health-care reform, there’s a new narrative picking up a lot of steam today: Pelosi needs to get her caucus in order, follow the original White House recommendation, and pass the Senate version of the bill through the chamber.So, how exactly did we get from "Pelosi doesn’t have the votes" to "Pelosi needs to get the votes" in a mere 24 hours? It has to do with a letter, released this morning, addressed to the House leadership and signed by “virtually all the top health-care policy experts on the progressive side," as TPM describes it. The letter comes with the support of, among others, Yale's Jacob Hacker (the man who basically introduced the idea of the public option), MIT’s Jon Gruber  (health-economics wonk extraordinaire) and Princeton’s Paul Starr, who has a Pulitzer for his writing on health care in America. One of the professors...
  • Doesn't Have the Votes Yet: What Nancy Pelosi Really Said

    In the 2010, ultraquick news cycle, Pelosi’s “I don't see the votes for it at this time" comment got the pretty standard treatment: high-ranking Democrat says something about health care, and a collective Beltway blogosphere freakout ensues. Did Nancy Pelosi Just Declare Health Care Dead? Ezra Klein wondered in a headline. Drudge Report is currently going with: THE DAY HEALTH CARE DIED. (Full disclosure: I participated in said Beltway freakout, albeit from outside the Beltway.) Now that we've all had a few moments to catch our breath (à la Talking Points Memo taking things down a notch with a SO IS IT REALLY OVER? headline), let's take a look at what Pelosi actually said. Turns out, it doesn't really boil down to "we don't have the votes." It was more along the lines of, we don’t have the votes yet, or don't have enough votes for this specific tactic. Moreover, Pelosi followed up the comment with a pretty strong statement that has largely...
  • The Compromise Blowback: Why Pelosi Doesn't (Yet) Have the Votes for the Senate Health-Care Bill

    Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi fueled speculation of health care’s demise when earlier this morning she told reporters, "I don't think it's possible to pass the Senate bill in the House. I don't see the votes for it at this time." Which, for me, raises an interesting question: how is it that Pelosi, with 256 Democrats in her caucus, 219 of whom voted for the bill the first time around, doesn’t have the 218 votes she needs to approve the Senate bill?From what I can tell, the answer is this: among those 256 Democrats, she has a lot of colleagues unhappy with, and unwilling to vote for, the many compromises that their Senate counterparts made.The Senate bill required a lot of dealmaking to get the whole Democratic caucus on board. In that process, a number of House provisions got watered down or altogether dropped. The Senate nixed the public option and then the Medicaid buy-in when that was causing issues. Their Medicaid expansion and federal subsidies are...
  • Stupak Is Back: Why Abortion Will Be a Key Issue as Health-Care Reform Moves Forward

    Remember back about two months ago, when pro-choice groups were organizing "Stop Stupak!" rallies after a surprise abortion restriction found its way into the final House bill? And then about three weeks ago, when Sens. Harry Reid and Ben Nelson were haggling over an abortion compromise, just hours before the final Christmas Eve vote?Time to get ready for round three of the abortion battle. With Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts, the Democratic leadership has some serious work cut out for them, and most of it has to do with figuring out what it will take to get the House on board. "We’ll be looking to see what the mood of the House is and what they want to do," Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan told the Hill today. A lot of the focus has been on the liberal representatives and whether they will support the Senate's more conservative legislation. But on the right, there's another group to key an eye on: Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan and his pro-life...
  • A Tough Case to Make at the Tiller Murder Trial

    Although the man who admits killing abortion doctor George Tiller can argue he committed voluntary manslaughter rather than murder, he is unlikely to succeed in doing so.
  • A Health Care Reform Hole For Medium-Size Businesses

    The health-care-reform bill, among its many provisions, does a lot to encourage small businesses to insure their employees. In the Senate version, those with fewer than 25 employees receive tax credits that make insuring employees more affordable. And above 50 employees, companies are slapped with $750 per-employee fines for not providing health insurance. The fines get really hefty—$3,000—for each low-income employee not insured. In both situations, using rewards or punishment, the bill gives businesses serious incentives to get their workers insured.But what aid goes to businesses in-between, those with 26 to 49 employees? Relative to other, very complex questions about health care, this one has a simple answer: none. They do not get the tax credits provided to smaller businesses, nor do they have fines assessed like larger companies. “Beyond any kind of added bonus of trying to be competitive, there’s not a lot spelled out in the bill,” says Molly Brogan, spokesperson for...
  • How Will Health-Care Reform Affect You? Let Us Count The Ways

    For the back page of this week's dead-tree edition, I combed through the Senate's 2,074-page bill to answer what, turns out to be, a pretty complex question: how does health-care reform affect you? Here's the answer in visual form, jargon-free and in less than 400 words (for even more-detailed answers to your health-care-reform questions, be sure to read Mary Carmichael's excellent piece on how health-care reform will change our country). A caveat: I worked off the Senate's bill, which will likely be similar─although not identical─to the final version that both houses pass. Enjoy!  
  • Congress' 'Ping-Pong' Partisanship

    The New Republic is reporting (and Talking Points Memo is confirming) that Democrats will likely skip conference committee, opting instead to resolve the differences between the Senate and House versions via "ping-pong," i.e. the two chambers sending the bill back and forth until they get a version they agree on. Going to committee is a more formal and laborious process, with at least three procedural steps just to get to conference and, as one report puts it, giving senators the opportunity for “one or several filibusters that can delay or even stall further action on a bill that a majority of the Senate wishes to send to conference.”“Ping-pong," despite the silly name, is more straightforward: House takes the Senate bill, amends it, sends it back to Senate for a stamp of approval and it’s on Obama’s desk. And, as one particularly blunt Democratic aide put it to TPM, going the ping-pong route “cuts out the Republicans.” There is less room for debate, filibuster or...
  • Obama's Smart Sex Education Funding

    Although health care has dominated the policy sphere as of late, I wanted to call attention to the sex-education funding in the 2010 Appropriations Bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies. The 146-page bill is, to be fair, not a Twilight-caliber page turner, but it does tackle sex education, a hugely contentious issue during the Bush administration, when $1.8 billion was appropriated for abstinence-only education.Here’s the Obama approach to the issue:$100,000,000 shall be for making contracts and competitive grants to public and private entities to fund medically accurate and age-appropriate programs that reduce teen pregnancy; and for the federal costs associated with administering and evaluating such contracts and grants, of which not less than $75,000,000 shall be for replicating programs that have been proven through rigorous evaluation to delay sexual activity, increase contraceptive use (without increasing sexual...
  • What Senators Talk About When They Talk About Health Care: A By The Numbers Guide To The Debate

    While getting Senators’ unanimous agreement on the health care bill Senate just sent to Congress would be impossible, I bet we could get them to agree on one thing: the debate was really, really long. Incredibly, insanely, overwhelming long.But just how long was it? I did some combing through government statistics to get a sense of what exactly getting health care through the Senate involved. The answer, in short, is: a lot of time and a lot of harping on specific, over and over again. Without further adieu, the 2009 Senate health care debate by the numbers: 25 – Consecutive days of debate, the longest the Senate has stayed in session since 1917. That works out to…229 hours, 0 minutes, and 8 seconds – total amount of time the Senate spent in session during the health care debate, from November 20 to December 23, 2009.* This would be equal to almost 10 days of non-stop session.1 hour, 21 minutes and 17 seconds - the longest time a Senator spent speaking during a single day of debate,...
  • The Senate Is Really, Really Cranky

    In covering the health-care-reform debate, I have watched a lot of . Usually, it’s pretty mundane stuff, senators repeating their various talking points and requesting a few extra moments to finish their remarks without any objection. Every now and then a senator would shake things up, like when Franken decided to deny Lieberman his extra time. But those moments have been few and far between, overwhelmed by posterboard-size graphs and pre-prepared remarks.But this afternoon it has been an altogether different atmosphere: the senators are really, really cranky. And they are really, really ready to finish this debate. The microphone, at one point, picked up one senator (presumably Sam Brownback or Pat Roberts?) inviting a colleague to come out to Kansas this winter. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma requested three minutes to lament missing his 41st wedding anniversary, which is today (we later learned that it is also Roland Burris of Illinois' wedding anniversary, too. Mazel Tov to both...
  • Crystal Renn's Disappearing Act: Why the 'V' Magazine Spread Sends Mixed Messages About Bigger Bodies

     When I stumbled onto the upcoming "One Size Fits All" photo essay  in the January issue of V magazine, featuring plus-size model Crystal Renn, I was initially pleased. The spreads featured Renn and a skinnier counterpart in nearly identical clothing and poses. Renn looked awesome and, frankly, outdid her skinnier counterpart in a number of the photos:  Then, I did a little research, and it suddenly dawned on me: Renn is by no means plus size. While she is admittedly larger than the average model, Renn’s body does not represent the rest of us. In fact, she has dimensions that most American women would envy: a 31-inch waist, which turns out to be six inches smaller than that of the average American woman, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not to mention  that at 5 feet 9, she’s about a half foot taller than the average American woman as well. When it comes to body diversity, Renn's spread is a big step for fashion, and a teeny...
  • Something for Senator Casey, Too

    In the who-got-what game, here’s one that has not gotten much attention: in Sen. Harry Reid’s manager’s amendment, Sen. Bob Casey secured some long-sought-after funding for pregnant and parenting teenagers. His press secretary, Larry Smar, confirms that Casey was the man behind two reproductive health–related provisions in the amendment. First, he added a provision to create a pregnancy-assistance fund, $250 million over 10 years to help pregnant and parenting teens with child-care assistance, housing, and education. He also landed an increase in the adoption tax credit, $1,000 for the next two years. Smar estimates that this will increase federal support for adoption by $1.2 billion. Not too shabby for a senator who made it pretty clear that he did not intend to filibuster.Casey has long tried to secure similar funds in Congress, introducing the Pregnant Women Support Act in the past two sessions with support from pro-life Democrats. But he’s never been able to get enough support...
  • The New Abortion Divide

    With Senate compromise, pro-choice stalwarts have disappointed their supporters in the women's rights movement.
  • Federal Subsidies, Insurance Affordability, and You: A Primer

    Since writing a story about the fee for opting out of health care, I’ve gotten a number of questions (a few from my NEWSWEEK colleagues) on how the federal subsidies would work: who gets them, why and how they can be spent? For simplicity’s sake, we’ll stick to the Senate bill, which varies slightly from the subsidies provided in the House version. Here’s what you need to know:...
  • Senate Makes an Abortion Compromise to Win Nelson; Everyone Is Unhappy (Except Nelson)

    The predicted deluge of statements on the Nelson-Reid abortion compromise have begun to filter in, and there is a bizarre moment of widespread consensus from groups that both support and oppose abortion rights:We hate this compromise. On the left, the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood have both come out in opposition to the Senate bill, and NARAL will likely do so later this afternoon. They see the ability of states to opt their exchanges out of abortion coverage as a huge step back for a woman’s right to choose. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards says the compromise is unworkable, “essentially an abortion rider [that] creates an unworkable system whereby individuals are required to write two separate checks each month, one for abortion care and one for everything else.” Similar sentiments from NOW president Terry O’Neil, who describes the bill as “a health insurance bill for half the population and a sweeping anti-abortion law for the rest of us.”The...
  • Senate (Sort Of) Caves to Nelson's Abortion Demands

    After 13 hours of negotiations, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson signed on to health-care reform as the pivotal 60th vote. He did so with stronger prohibitions on abortion than those floated by Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, contained within Majority Leader Harry Reid's manager's amendment. Under the latest set of provisions, not only would federal funds be prohibited from being used for abortion coverage, but states could also prohibit abortion coverage on their exchange. If this provision passes, how many states would we expect to prohibit abortion coverage on their public exchange? We can get a pretty good guess by looking at the current situation for Medicaid funding of abortion. Since the 1976 passage of the Hyde amendment, barring federal funds from covering abortion, Medicaid has been prohibited from covering the procedure except in cases of rape or incest or if the life of the woman is at risk. However, states are free to use their own funds to cover elective abortions...
  • The Democrats Versus the Filibuster: Time to Man Up

    Want to really spook a senator? Just whisper the word filibuster. Lieberman is doing it over anything remotely resembling a public option, Nelson has a similar take on abortion language, and even Roland Burris is trying the filibuster threat on for size, albeit in an opposite direction.But here’s a really scary proposition: what if President Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid throw up their hands and say, “OK, fine, go for the filibuster”? Could a filibuster attempt by the Republicans and possibly a few Democrats really be that bad? The more I think about it, the more I wonder whether the Democrats would be better off to pursue a bill they want, hold on to things they like (the Medicare buy-in and less restrictive abortion language and such), bring that to the floor, and say: this is our bill. This, of course, flies in the face of the conventional wisdom, that any concession must be made to avoid a filibuster and shore up 60 votes by the time the Senate votes on the bill. As...
  • Joe Lieberman Wants a Pony

    Earlier this week we poked some fun at the extraordinary demands we may soon expect from health-care holdout Joe Lieberman, including a provision not to cover Americans born in a month without an “r.” Turns out the independent senator from Connecticut has stepped up his demands, and no one is more frustrated than the folks at left-leaning MoveOn.org, which has turned its irritation into creativity. Now, it turns out, Lieberman would like a pony, too:Any Gaggle readers want to weigh in with the next demand we can expect from Lieberman, in sock-puppet form or otherwise? Let us know in the comments below.  
  • Don't Want Health Insurance? There's a Fine for That

    Health-care reform hinges on a lot of things: liberals staying on board through a series of compromises, Joe Lieberman's vote, and the willingness of Senators to spend Christmas in session—all have gotten a lot of press lately as crucial factors in the debate. ...
  • Why an Abortion Compromise Is a Waste of Time

    Sen. Bob Casey has been showing his “abortion compromise” language around Washington today. The idea is that a compromise could win over Sen. Ben Nelson, who has threatened to filibuster if the Senate does not add Stupak language to its version of the health-care-reform bill. We have not seen the Casey compromise, but we do know this: Nelson isn’t buying it. And neither are other opponents of abortion rights. Doug Johnson, a longtime lobbyist for the National Right to Life Committee, told Politico today: “This is an exercise in cosmetics—putting lipstick on a legislative warthog.”This should not be a surprise. If you examine the recent history of abortion compromises in Congress, you find a consistent failure to convince senators that abortion is an issue with room for compromise. Likewise, an attempt to win over Nelson with an abortion compromise is all but guaranteed to fail.This year, Congress considered three “compromise” bills dealing with abortion issues: Casey’s Pregnant...
  • Health-Insurance Holdouts

    Even with a health-care overhaul, thousands of Americans may pay a fine rather than purchase insurance. Here's why.