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History > 2009 > USA > Congress > Senate (I)





Thomas Libetti

A Great Liberal Voice Goes Silent


















Senate Passes Health Care Overhaul

on Party-Line Vote


December 25, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Thursday to reinvent the nation’s health care system, passing a bill to guarantee access to health insurance for tens of millions of Americans and to rein in health costs.

The 60-to-39 party-line vote, starting at 7:05 a.m. on the 25th straight day of debate on the legislation, brings Democrats closer to a goal they have pursued for decades and brings President Obama a step closer to success in his signature domestic initiative. When the roll was called, with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. presiding, it was the first time the Senate had gathered for a vote on Christmas Eve since 1895.

If the bill becomes law, it would be a milestone in social policy, comparable to the creation of Social Security in 1935 and Medicare in 1965. But unlike those programs, the initiative lacks bipartisan support. Only one Republican supported a broadly similar bill that the House approved last month 220 to 215, and no Republicans backed the Senate version.

After the vote, lawmakers and Mr. Obama wasted no time leaving for their holiday break, well aware that their return to Washington would mean plunging into negotiations to reconcile the measures passed by the two chambers.

If a deal can be struck, as seems likely, the resulting law would vastly expand the role and responsibilities of the federal government. It would, as lawmakers said repeatedly in the debate, touch the lives of nearly all Americans.

The bill would require most Americans to have health insurance, would add 15 million people to the Medicaid rolls and would subsidize private coverage for low- and middle-income people, at a cost to the government of $871 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The budget office estimates that the bill would provide coverage to 31 million uninsured people, but still leave 23 million uninsured in 2019. One-third of those remaining uninsured would be illegal immigrants.

Mr. Obama hailed the Senate action. “We are now incredibly close to making health insurance reform a reality,” he said, before leaving the White House to celebrate Christmas in Hawaii.

The president, who endorsed the Senate and House bills, said he would be deeply involved in trying to help the two chambers work out their differences. But it is unclear how specific he will be — if, for example, he will push for one type of tax over another or try to concoct a compromise on insurance coverage for abortion.

Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, a moderate Republican who has spent years working with Democrats on health care and other issues, said she was “extremely disappointed” with the bill’s evolution in recent weeks. After Senate Democrats locked up 60 votes within their caucus, she said, “there was zero opportunity to amend the bill or modify it, and Democrats had no incentive to reach across the aisle.”

Like many Republicans, Ms. Snowe was troubled by new taxes and fees in the bill, which she said could have “a dampening effect on job creation and job preservation.” The bill would increase the Medicare payroll tax on high-income people and levy a new excise tax on high-premium insurance policies, as one way to control costs.

When the roll was called Thursday morning, the mood was solemn as senators called out “aye” or “no.” Senator Robert C. Byrd, the 92-year-old Democrat from West Virginia, deviated slightly from the protocol.

“This is for my friend Ted Kennedy,” Mr. Byrd said. “Aye!”

Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts, a longtime champion of universal health care, died of brain cancer in August at age 77.

Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, did not vote.

The fight on Capitol Hill prefigures a larger political battle that is likely to play out in the elections of 2010 and 2012, as Democrats try to persuade a skeptical public of the bill’s merits, while Republicans warn that it will drive up costs for those who already have insurance.

“Our members are leaving happy and upbeat,” said the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “The public is on our side. This fight is not over.”

After struggling for years to expand health insurance in modest, incremental ways, Democrats decided this year that they could not let another opportunity slip away. As usual, lawmakers were deluged with appeals from lobbyists for health care interests who have stymied similar ambitious efforts in the past. But this year was different.

Lawmakers listened to countless stories of hardship told by constituents who had been denied insurance, lost coverage when they got sick or seen their premiums soar. Hostility to the insurance industry was a theme throughout the Senate debate.

Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, said insurance companies were often “just one step ahead of the sheriff.” Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said the industry “lacks a moral compass.” And Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, said the business model of the industry “deserves a stake through its cold and greedy heart.”

The bill would establish strict federal standards for an industry that, since its inception, has been regulated mainly by the states. Under it, insurers could not deny coverage because of a person’s medical condition; could not charge higher premiums because of a person’s sex or health status; and could not rescind coverage when a person became sick or disabled. The government would, in effect, limit insurers’ profits by requiring them to spend at least 80 to 85 cents of every premium dollar on health care.

The specificity of federal standards is illustrated by one section of the bill, which requires insurers to issue a benefits summary that “does not exceed four pages in length and does not include print smaller than 12-point font.”

Another force propelling health legislation through the Senate was the Democrats’ view that it was a moral imperative and an economic necessity.

“The health insurance policies of America, what we have right now is a moral disgrace,” said Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa. “We are called upon to right a great injustice, a great wrong that has been put upon the American people.”

Costs of the bill would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, be more than offset by new taxes and fees and by savings in Medicare. The bill would squeeze nearly a half-trillion dollars from Medicare over the next 10 years, mainly by reducing the growth of payments to hospitals, nursing homes, Medicare Advantage plans and other providers.

Republicans asserted that the cuts would hurt Medicare beneficiaries. But AARP, the lobby for older Americans, and the American Medical Association ran an advertisement urging senators to pass the bill, under which Medicare would cover more of the cost for prescription drugs and preventive health services.

Karen M. Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, said the bill appeared to be unstoppable. But she added: “We are not sure it will be workable. It could disrupt existing coverage for families, seniors and small businesses, particularly between now and when the legislation is fully implemented in 2014.”

    Senate Passes Health Care Overhaul on Party-Line Vote, NYT, 25.12.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/25/health/policy/25health.html







De-Criminalizing Children


December 17, 2009
The New York Times


As many as 150,000 children are sent to adult jails in this country every year — often in connection with nonviolent offenses or arrests that do not lead to conviction. That places them at risk of being raped or battered and increases the chance they will end up as career criminals.

To fix this problem, Congress needs to properly reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act of 1974, under which states agreed to humanize juvenile justice policies in exchange for more federal aid. This act was largely bypassed in the 1990s when unfounded fears of an adolescent crime wave reached hysterical levels.

When it reauthorizes the law — it is already three years late — Congress should make it illegal for states to place children in adult prisons, perhaps with the exception of truly heinous criminals.

The House has yet to introduce a new bill; in the Senate, an updated version has yet to be voted out of the Judiciary Committee. The Senate bill is less than ideal, but it does encourage the states to de-emphasize the practice of detaining children in adult jails before trial and requires them to better protect young people who end up there. Several states have begun to reform their systems: housing young people in juvenile facilities — where they are better protected and can get mental health treatment — even if they have been convicted in adult courts. The current version of the law threatens states with loss of federal aid if they make that decision. The Senate bill would do away with that language.

The bill also would require states to phase out policies under which children are detained in either juvenile or adult facilities for offenses like violating curfew or smoking. These children should be dealt with through community-based counseling or family intervention programs, which are better for the child and for taxpayers.

In addition, the bill increases financing for mentoring, drug treatment, mental health care and other programs that have been shown to keep children out of custody in the first place. And it would require states to closely monitor — and address — racial inequities in their system. Studies show that black and Hispanic children get harsher treatment at all levels of the juvenile justice system than white children.

The Senate bill is not perfect. But it represents a welcome step away from the cruel and self-defeating policies that subject children to irreparable harm at the hands of the state and puts them on a path that too often leads to a lifetime spent behind bars.

    De-Criminalizing Children, NYT, 17.12.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/17/opinion/17thu3.html






Senate Grinds to A Halt on Healthcare


December 16, 2009
Filed at 2:53 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The slow-moving U.S. Senate debate on healthcare reform ground to a complete halt on Wednesday, with Republicans forcing the reading of a 767-page amendment as Democrats scrambled to finish work this year.

Republican Senator Tom Coburn invoked his right to require an amendment by independent Senator Bernie Sanders be read aloud by a Senate clerk -- a task expected to take well into the night.

Republicans so far are united in opposition to a sweeping healthcare overhaul that is President Barack Obama's top domestic priority, and have vowed to use every tool possible to slow the debate.

The move did not dramatically disrupt the snail's pace of the Senate, which has largely been in healthcare limbo awaiting cost estimates on provisions in a manager's amendment to be offered in a few days by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid.

The proposed overhaul of the $2.5 trillion healthcare industry has been bogged down in the Senate amid disputes among Democrats over costs, plans for the government-run insurance program and how it would affect abortion.

Reid's amendment will make final adjustments designed to win the 60 Senate votes needed to overcome Republican procedural hurdles. The Democrats have no margin of error -- they control exactly 60 seats.

The Senate bill would extend coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans, provide subsidies to help them pay for the coverage and halt practices like refusing insurance to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Coburn had threatened earlier in the debate to force the public reading of the entire 2,074-page healthcare bill but relented before the Thanksgiving holiday.

This time he followed through after Democrats rejected his request that all remaining amendments be filed for at least 72 hours and given a cost estimate by budget analysts before they are considered.

He also asked Democrats to accept his amendment requiring certification that all senators had read the bill and understood it before they voted on it.



"I think it is impossible to certify that any senator fully understood. They may read but not fully understand for a variety of reasons," Democratic Senator Max Baucus said in rejecting the request.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has said he may use other procedural means to slow the bill as Democrats try to reach a final vote before the Christmas holiday.

Reid must file his manager's amendment and three procedural motions to end debate within the next few days, setting off a series of votes that will lead to a vote on final passage.

Obama has pushed the Senate to finish the healthcare bill this year to keep the issue from slipping into next year's congressional election campaigns.

The Senate bill would then be reconciled in early January with a version approved by the House of Representatives on November 7, and each chamber would have to pass it again.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday she was still confident the Congress could pass the final measure before Obama's State of the Union address in late January.

But the Democratic House leader voiced exasperation with the Senate. "We should have had a bill months ago," Pelosi said.

Union leaders including the executive body of the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation, met on Wednesday to discuss how to respond to Reid's decision to accommodate moderates by eliminating proposals for a government-run insurance option and an expansion of the Medicare health program for the elderly.

Those moves have angered liberals. Unions also have been unhappy with the Senate's proposal to tax high-cost health insurance plans -- like those many unions have -- to help pay for the overhaul.

"This afternoon, the executive board of the AFL-CIO is meeting to discuss the most recent developments in the health care negotiations, what our position is and what our next steps will be," AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale said.


(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro and David Morgan; editing by Paul Simao)

    Senate Grinds to A Halt on Healthcare, NYT, 16.12.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/12/16/us/politics/politics-us-usa-healthcare.html






Senate Sends $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill to Obama


December 13, 2009
Filed at 3:14 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate on Sunday passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill with increased budgets for vast areas of the federal government including health, education, law enforcement and veterans' programs.

The 1,000-page-plus package, one of the last essential chores of Congress this year, passed 57-35 and now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The weekend action underlined the legislative crush faced by Congress as it tries to wind up the year. After the vote, the Senate immediately returned to debate on health care legislation that has consumed its time and energy for weeks. Senate Democrats hope to reach a consensus in the coming days on Obama's chief domestic priority.

The spending bill combines six of the 12 annual appropriation bills for the 2010 budget year that began on Oct. 1. Obama has signed into law five others.

The final one, a $626 billion defense bill, is expected to attract proposals to raise the $12.1 trillion debt ceiling and stimulate the jobs market.

The spending bill passed Sunday includes $447 billion for departments' operating budgets and about $650 billion in mandatory payments for federal benefit programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Those programs under immediate control of Congress would see increases of about 10 percent.

The FBI gets $7.9 billion, a $680 million increase over 2009; the Veterans Health Administration budget goes from $41 billion to $45.1 billion; the National Institutes of Health receives $31 billion, a $692 million increase.

Democrats said the spending was critical to meet the needs of a recession-battered economy. Republicans decried what they said was out-of control spending and pointed to an estimated $3.9 billion in the bill for more than 5,000 local projects sought by individual lawmakers from both parties.

The Citizens Against Government Waste said those projects included construction of a county farmer's market in Kentucky, renovation of a historic theater in New York and restoration of a mill in Rhode Island.

The legislation also contains numerous items not directly related to spending. It provides help for auto dealers facing closure, ends a ban on funding by the District of Columbia government for abortions, lets Amtrak passengers carry unloaded handguns in their checked baggage and permits detainees held at Guantanamo Bay to be transferred to the United States to stand trial, but not to be released.

The bill also approves a 2 percent pay increase for federal workers.

With the Senate concentrating on health care, attention on the upcoming jobs plan shifts to the House.

The defense bill that will be the basis for the package normally enjoys wide bipartisan support, but Republicans, and some fiscally conservative Democrats, are unhappy with the prospect of another jolt of deficit-swelling spending.

Congress must soon raise the debt ceiling, now at $12.1 trillion, so the Treasury can continue to borrow, and Democratic leaders are eyeing a new figure close to $14 trillion, pushing the issue past next November's election.

But a bipartisan group in the Senate says a higher ceiling should be tied to creation of a task force on deficit reduction, and House Democratic moderates say their votes could depend on winning a ''pay-as-you-go'' law requiring that new tax cuts or spending programs don't add to the deficit.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., on CNN's ''State of the Union,'' favored a deficit task force. He said he didn't ''see how this process where everybody kind of lards on is going to actually ever come to an end unless we finally have the discipline to do a straight up-or-down vote across the board on revenues and spending cuts.''

Proposals to put people back to work include tax breaks for new company hires, small business tax breaks, public works spending and federal aid to states.

Congress is also likely to extend measures, included in the $787 billion stimulus act last February, that provide jobless payments and health insurance subsidies for the unemployed.


On the Net:

Information on the bill, H.R. 3288, can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov

    Senate Sends $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill to Obama, NYT, 14.12.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/12/13/us/politics/AP-US-Congress-Spending.html






Senate Poses Obstacles to Obama Pledge on Climate


December 12, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama jets off to Copenhagen later this week to try to place an American stamp on a global climate change agreement. He will be trailed by a cloud of diplomats and bureaucrats all proclaiming the progress his administration has made on global warming in its 11 months in office.

What he will not be carrying is the assent of Congress to whatever he commits the United States to do. That’s a problem for a leader who represents the world’s second biggest greenhouse gas polluter, behind China.

While the House passed a bill in June that embodies Mr. Obama’s pledge to reduce those emissions to about 17 percent below 2005 levels over the next decade, the Senate has barely begun to debate the issue.

The Senate is split on global warming policy into numerous factions divided by ideology, geography and economic interest. And that’s just the Democratic caucus. Republicans are nearly united in opposition to the kind of legislation that would be needed to match Mr. Obama’s ambitions.

Without Senate action — and, down the road, Senate concurrence in any climate treaty he negotiates — Mr. Obama’s promises are merely that, almost certainly not enough to persuade other nations to commit to greenhouse gas reductions.

Can Mr. Obama surmount those problems in his latest effort to save the world? Or will he fly away from Copenhagen as empty-handed as he did in September, when he went there in a losing effort to promote Chicago as the site for the 2016 Olympics?

“This is definitely a Goldilocks problem,” said Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center and an energy adviser to the Obama campaign last year.

“The trick is finding something just right in balancing the importance of demonstrating international leadership while not undermining the legislative dynamic here at home.”

Mr. Obama enters the Copenhagen negotiations without anything close to consensus in his own party for his cap-and-trade plan to reduce emissions. The issue pits coastal liberals against the so-called Brown Dogs of the Rust Belt and the Great Plains whose states depend heavily on coal for power and manufacturing for jobs. At least a dozen of these Democrats have made it clear they will not accept any legislation — or any treaty — that threatens their industries or jobs. Another Senate coalition emerged last week behind a proposal to tax fossil fuels and return most of the revenues to consumers to compensate for higher energy prices. But that plan, though it has drawn some Republican support, is also unlikely to meet the 60-vote threshold required to call a vote.

It is not at all clear today that Mr. Obama and his allies in the Senate can overcome these obstacles next year, or ever. And without the Senate, the entire international project is in jeopardy because without the participation of the United States — which emits 20 percent of all greenhouse gases — any international regime is bound to fall short.

See: Kyoto Protocol. That was the ill-fated 1997 climate accord that the Senate refused to consider because it made no binding demands on developing nations to limit their emissions. The Copenhagen conference is supposed to come up with a framework to replace it, and one of the big fights standing in the way is the level of emissions reductions that developing nations are willing to accept.

“It’s a nine-dimensional political challenge,” Mr. Grumet said. “There is absolutely no way to satisfy all desires.”

Mr. Obama is trying to both prod the Senate into action and go around it with a series of administrative actions that will begin unilaterally to address the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and demonstrate to other nations the president’s will to tackle the issue.

His administration struck a deal with automakers to increase fuel efficiency by 30 percent and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a similar amount by 2016. Some $80 billion in stimulus spending has been earmarked for clean energy projects, energy efficiency and research on capturing carbon emissions. The government will require that all major pollution sources report their greenhouse gas emissions starting in January. And earlier this month the Environmental Protection Agency finalized its finding that carbon dioxide and other climate-altering gases pose a threat to human health and welfare, paving the way for sweeping, economy-wide regulation of global warming pollutants.

E.P.A. regulation is the trump card that the administration is holding if Congress continues to dither. But Mr. Obama has repeatedly said that he much prefers a messy Congressional compromise. Trying to remake much of the economy by regulatory fiat is certain to become entangled in years of litigation.

Yet Mr. Obama cannot simply tell the other leaders at Copenhagen that he must await assent from Congress before he can commit the United States on global warming. He is asking the leaders of Western Europe and Australia to commit troops to support his buildup in Afghanistan and he can hardly stiff them on climate change, a global threat many of them consider as menacing as terrorism.

In other words, his trip this week may have as much to do with Kandahar as Copenhagen. But that does not necessarily help his cause at home.

Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, is the leader of Congressional skeptics on the science of climate change and the global efforts to address it. He said that Mr. Obama is handcuffed by Senate fractiousness on the issue and new doubts among some about the basic science underpinning the talks. (The overwhelming majority of atmospheric scientists believe the planet is warming and humans are responsible.)

“I suspect President Obama is making the trip to Copenhagen in order to ‘save’ the climate conference,” Mr. Inhofe said. “Yet no amount of lofty rhetoric or promises of future commitments can save it. This is due in large part to the fact cap-and-trade legislation in the Senate is dying on the vine, and, as important, are recent revelations of leading climate scientists who appear to have manufactured the climate ‘consensus’ casting doubt over the entire global warming enterprise.”

All of which leaves Mr. Obama in a bind.

More than a year ago, Mr. Obama said of climate change: “Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.”

But when Mr. Obama and other world leaders met last month, they were forced to abandon the goal of reaching a binding accord at Copenhagen because the American political system is not ready to agree to a treaty that would force the United States, over time, to accept profound changes in its energy, transport and manufacturing sectors.

So the leaders said they planned to leave Copenhagen with an interim political deal and work toward a binding treaty next year.

Delay, it turns out, was the only option.

    Senate Poses Obstacles to Obama Pledge on Climate, NYT, 12.12.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/13/weekinreview/13broder.html






Senators Show Doubts on Afghanistan


November 30, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — With President Obama scheduled on Tuesday to explain his new Afghan strategy — calling for up to 35,000 additional American troops to battle insurgents, stabilize the government and help train Afghan security forces — senators of both parties laid out on Sunday a range of reservations. They cited the questionable reliability of the Afghan government and security forces, the steep costs of a larger involvement, and the advisability of any exit strategy.

“We’ve got to prevail over the Taliban and al-Qaeda,” said Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, on “Fox News Sunday.” “Obviously, that means supporting the president.” But he said that any “exit strategy” risked providing guidance and succor to hostile forces willing to outwait coalition troops.

Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, a Democrat who sits on the armed services committee, said on Fox that talk of an exit could, rather, make clear to Afghanistan and Pakistan that “we’re here for the duration, as long as you’re doing your part.”

The ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar of Indiana, painted a decidedly bleak picture. He questioned the reliability of the Afghan government and security forces. Linking new troop deployments to reaching certain benchmarks, he said, would mean “we’re off to a very jagged situation.”

And patience with the war is limited, he said. “The American people will not sustain a war in Afghanistan for 5 years or 10 years, in my judgment,” Mr. Lugar, a former chairman of the committee, told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In addition, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has completed a detailed look back at a crucial failure early in the battle against Al Qaeda: the escape of Osama bin Laden from American forces in the Afghan mountains of Tora Bora in December 2001.

“Removing the Al Qaeda leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat,” the committee’s report concludes. “But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide.”

The report, based in part on a little-noticed 2007 history of the Tora Bora episode by the military’s Special Operations Command, asserts that the consequences of not sending American troops in 2001 to block Mr. bin Laden’s escape into Pakistan are still being felt, blaming the lapse for “laying the foundation for today’s protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan.”

In London on Sunday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown called on Pakistan to step up the hunt for al-Qaeda leaders, Reuters reported. “Al-Qaeda has a base in Pakistan, that base is still there and they are able to recruit from abroad,” he told Sky news. “The Pakistan authorities must convince us that they are taking all the action that is necessary.”

    Senators Show Doubts on Afghanistan, NYT, 30.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/world/asia/30afghan.html






Senate Votes to Open Health Care Debate


November 22, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Senate voted on Saturday to begin full debate on major health care legislation, propelling President Obama’s top domestic initiative over a crucial, preliminary hurdle in a formidable display of muscle-flexing by the Democratic majority.

“Tonight we have the opportunity, the historic opportunity to reform health care once and for all,” said Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, and a chief architect of the legislation. “History is knocking on the door. Let’s open it. Let’s begin the debate.”

The 60-to-39 vote, along party lines, clears the way for weeks of rowdy floor proceedings that will begin after Thanksgiving and last through much of December.

The Senate bill seeks to extend health benefits to roughly 31 million Americans who are now uninsured, at a cost of $848 billion over 10 years.

The House earlier this month approved its health care bill by 220 to 215, with just one Republican voting in favor. That measure is broadly similar to the Senate legislation, but there are some major differences that would have to be resolved before a bill could reach Mr. Obama, and that would almost surely push the process into next year.

As the Democrats succeeded Saturday in uniting their caucus by winning over the last two holdouts, big disagreements remained, making final approval of the bill far from certain.

Two reluctant Democratic senators, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, warned that their support for a motion to open debate did not guarantee that they would ultimately vote for the bill. Their remarks echoed previous comments by several other senators, including Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, and Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut.

Those comments made clear that more horse-trading lies ahead and that major changes might be required if the bill is to be approved. And it suggested that the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who relied only on members aligned with his party to bring the bill to the floor, may yet have to sway one or more Republicans to his side to get the bill adopted.

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said his party’s opposition would persist. “The battle has just begun,” he said.

In a rare ceremonial gesture reserved for major votes, senators cast their yeas and nays from their desks in the chamber, each one rising to voice his or her position. Senator George V. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, was not present and did not vote.

After the vote, Mr. Reid said he understood that Ms. Landrieu was already working with two other Democratic senators, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware and Charles E. Schumer of New York, to see if they could devise a public insurance plan with broad appeal.

The White House issued a statement praising the vote. “The President is gratified that the Senate has acted to begin consideration of health insurance reform legislation,” his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said, adding that President Obama “looks forward to a thorough and productive debate.”

Mrs. Lincoln, who faces a tough re-election campaign next year and has in recent weeks been the target of millions of dollars in television advertising by both sides in the health care fight, said pointedly that she would not vote for the measure if it retained a government-run health insurance plan, known as the public option, to compete with private insurers. “Although I don’t agree with everything in this bill, I believe it is more important that we begin debate on how to improve the health care system for all Americans,” said Mrs. Lincoln, who was the last uncommitted Democrat, and whose speech, at about 2:30 p.m. Saturday, lifted a cloud of suspense that had hovered around the Capitol.

She added: “But let me be perfectly clear. I am opposed to a new government-administered health care plan as a part of comprehensive health insurance reform, and I will not vote in favor of the proposal that has been introduced by leader Reid as it is written.” But Senator Lieberman, who voted to take up the health care bill, said he was still staunchly opposed to a government-run plan. It is “a terrible idea,” he said.

Ms. Landrieu, whose support came after she won a provision that could be worth more than $100 million in additional federal aid for her financially troubled state, said, “I have decided there are enough significant reforms and safeguards in this bill to move forward, but much more work needs to be done.”

A parade of Democrats and Republicans spent Saturday laying out their arguments for and against the bill in floor speeches.

Mr. Reid, in a rousing closing speech given at his customary volume, which is barely audible, likened the health care bill to some of the most profound issues confronted by the Senate across history.

“Imagine if instead of debating either of the historic G.I. Bills — legislation that has given so many brave Americans the chance to brave college — if this body had stood silent,” Mr. Reid said. “Imagine if instead of debating the bills that created Social Security or Medicare, the Senate’s voices had been stilled. Imagine if instead of debating whether to abolish slavery, instead of debating whether giving women and minorities a right to vote, those who disagreed were muted, discussion was killed.”

With the Democrats nominally controlling 60 votes — the precise number needed to overcome the Republican attempt to stop the bill — the vote on Saturday evening was the biggest test yet of the Democrats’ resolve and of Mr. Reid’s ability to unite his fragile caucus. Mr. Reid faces a tough re-election fight next year.

The bill would expand health benefits by broadly expanding Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for low-income people, and by providing subsidies to help moderate-income people buy either private insurance or coverage under a new government-run plan, the public option. And it would impose a requirement that nearly all Americans obtain insurance or pay monetary penalties for failing to do so.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of the legislation would be more than offset by new taxes and fees and reductions in government spending, so that the bill would reduce future federal budget deficits by $130 billion through 2019.

Mr. Reid accused Republicans who opposed the legislation of “living in a different world.” He and several other Democrats also used their speeches to assail perceived abuses by private insurers. “The health insurance industry has an insatiable appetite for more profit,” Mr. Reid said.

Senate Republicans countered with an impassioned denunciation of the measure as an ill-conceived budget-busting expansion of government and a threat to the health and economic security of all Americans, especially the elderly.

The Republicans sought to portray the vote on Saturday — on whether to end debate on a motion to bring up the health bill — as tantamount to a vote on the bill itself, and to shake the confidence of Democrats who had wavered in recent days.

In his closing argument, just ahead of the vote, Mr. McConnell implored at least a single Democrat to vote no. “If we don’t stop this bill tonight,” he said, “the only debate we’ll be having is about higher premiums, not savings for the American people, higher taxes instead of lower costs, and cuts to Medicare rather than improving seniors’ care.”

“The American people are looking at the Senate tonight; they’re hoping we say no to this bill,” Mr. McConnell added moments later, holding up a single index finger. “All it would take,” he said, “is just one member of the other side of the aisle, just one, to give us an opportunity not to end the debate but to change the debate in the direction the American people would like us to go.”

Mr. McConnell warned of the political consequences for senators who voted to move ahead. “Senators who support this bill have a lot of explaining to do,” he said. “Americans know that a vote to proceed on this bill, to get on this bill, is a vote for higher premiums, higher taxes and massive cuts to Medicare.”

Republicans also said that the vote was a proxy for a larger dispute over abortion, because they said the bill did not sufficiently restrict the use of federal money for insurance covering abortions. Senator Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska, described the vote as “the key vote on abortion in the health care debate.”

Saturday night’s vote was required because Senate rules and precedent have long granted a right of virtually unlimited debate, or filibuster, to the minority that can be curtailed only by a supermajority vote of 60 senators to move ahead. Currently, there are 58 Democrats in the Senate and two independents who routinely align with them. If the Democrats had lost the vote, they could have tried again, presumably after changing the bill to try to attract more votes.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont assailed the Republicans as obstructionists on Saturday morning. “I will vote today to end the filibuster so the Senate can begin the historic debate to improve and reform our nation’s health insurance system,” he said. “Let’s not duck the debate, let the debate begin. Let’s not hide from the votes.”

While Democrats generally agree on the broad goals of the legislation, to cover the uninsured and to slow the growth in health care spending, there are potentially serious disagreements over any number of provisions that could sink the bill.

Ms. Landrieu, in her speech, methodically cataloged provisions of the bill that she liked and those that she said needed improvement.

Under the bill, she said, owners of small businesses would no longer face “volatile costs” for health insurance. In addition, she said, the bill would “encourage employers to move away from high-cost benefit plans” and shift some compensation to wages.

But more needed to be done to improve the bill, she argued, particularly to help small businesses and the self-employed. And she issued a stern warning about the public option, one of the most contentious features of the sweeping health care legislation.


Carl Hulse contributed reporting.

    Senate Votes to Open Health Care Debate, NYT, 22.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/health/policy/22health.html

















Thrust and Parry on the Senate Floor, NYT, 22.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/weekinreview/22herszenhorn.html















Thrust and Parry on the Senate Floor


November 21, 2009
The New York Times


Unless the Sunday morning news programs are buzzing about how the Senate health care bill was unexpectedly blocked on a procedural vote Saturday night, lawmakers have all headed home for Thanksgiving, and to rest up for what is likely to be a legislative floor fight of galactic proportions through much of December.

But even if they haven’t headed home, senators will be readying every parliamentary weapon for use in the debate by the full Senate, whenever that begins.

Some of the clashes will be for show, intended to appeal to various constituencies watching on C-Span. But much of the parliamentary arsenal will be employed with a purpose — stripping out the proposed government-run insurance plan, for instance, adding tougher language on medical malpractice lawsuits, or tightening restrictions on insurance coverage for abortions.

There are tactics designed to force votes on pet issues, and other tactics to avoid votes when lawmakers do not want to go on record with a position.

Simple as it might sound, the most fearsome tactic available to any senator is the ability to burn time, to drag out the debate in ways that can grind legislative business to a halt and leave the Senate caught in an interminable purgatory.

“This is one of those cases where it’s far easier to be obstructionist than it is to get something done,” said Martin Paone, a former chief of Senate floor operations for the Democrats.

But whether it’s stalling maneuvers or rhetorical bomb-throwing, engaging on the parliamentary battlefield can carry a price. At each step, senators must calculate the probability of success: the benefits of making a point versus the risks of aggravating colleagues.

There is also the larger political and public perception question of how the tactics will be viewed by voters. Will senators be seen as taking a principled stand, or as obstructing the legislative process?

So, aficionados of legislative war-games, grab this playbook and settle in.

    Thrust and Parry on the Senate Floor, NYT, 22.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/weekinreview/22herszenhorn.html






Senate Plan Would Expand Regulation of Risky Lending


November 11, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate banking committee proposed on Tuesday to drastically overhaul the regulatory system by consolidating bank agencies, creating a consumer financial protection agency and imposing new restraints on exotic financial instruments and credit rating agencies.

The 1,136-page plan by Senator Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, differs in major respects from both the White House and House plans. Even before it was made public, it had encountered sharp resistance from Republicans and powerful business interests in Washington. With only a few weeks left in the legislative session, it is all but certain that Congress will not deliver on President Obama’s request to repair the financial regulatory system by the end of the year unless major compromises are quickly struck.

Still, the long-awaited Senate plan is significant as a starting point for the lawmakers, which are increasingly talking about trying to complete legislation during the first three months of 2010. While the measure will inevitably be revised during weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations, it lays down the first marker by Mr. Dodd and other senior Democrats on the banking committee.

Mr. Dodd has said he hopes to move the bill through the banking committee in the next few weeks. In recent days he has been rewriting major portions to gain support from more Democrats on the committee.

In the House, Representative Barney Frank has guided the Financial Services Committee through a series of legislative drafting sessions that could lead to passage of a comprehensive bill by the full House as early as next month. His committee has already approved a host of major regulatory changes and is expected to complete work soon on a contentious chapter that would give the government greater authority to seize large and troubled financial companies.

But in the Senate, where 60 votes are required to move controversial legislation through the chamber, Mr. Dodd has considerable work ahead of him.

Senior administration officials said the Dodd plan was a good starting point that, while different from the White House plan in major ways, embraced its core principles and addressed many of the problems that had been identified as causes of the financial crisis.

Mr. Dodd and his staff had held regular meetings with Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the banking committee, but those talks recently broke down. Mr. Shelby is said to be opposed to major provisions of Mr. Dodd’s bill, most notably the creation of an agency to protect consumers from abusive and deceptive mortgages and credit cards. Mr. Dodd has yet to produce a Republican who supports his plan. Moreover, several provisions will probably be opposed by moderate and conservative Democrats with ties to various industry groups that have raised objections to the measure.

The Dodd proposal would create an agency to monitor and address systemic risks posed by large financial companies. It would give the agency the authority to write tougher capital standards and to break up any companies if they posed a threat to the financial stability of the nation.

The proposal would merge the current federal supervisory oversight of the banking system from four agencies into one new agency. It would create a separate division within that agency to regulate smaller banks. The biggest losers under such a plan would be the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, two of the bank agencies that would go out of the business of handling day-to-day supervision of thousands of institutions.

Both the White House and the House plan do not go that far in consolidating agencies. Rather, they would merge the four bank agencies into three by combining the Office of the Comptroller, which regulates federally chartered banks, with the Office of Thrift Supervision, which supervises savings and loans. They would not change the authority of the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to regulate banks.

One big winner under Mr. Dodd’s plan is the Securities and Exchange Commission, which would not only get greater authority but more resources. Adopting a proposal by Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, the plan would permit the commission to retain the fees it charges Wall Street and by being self-financed, not only have a larger budget, but also remove the political constraints of being financed each year by Congressional appropriations. Democratic and Republican leaders of the commission have sought such authority for decades but Congress, which prefers to use the power of the purse as a tool to supervise the agency, has never agreed.

Mr. Dodd’s plan would impose tighter restrictions on the largely unregulated derivatives market. It would require many derivatives to be traded through clearinghouses where they could be monitored.

The measure would require that hedge funds with more than $100 million in assets be registered with the S.E.C. and disclose financial information so that they could be monitored by regulators.

In the area of corporate governance, the measure would give shareholders the right to hold nonbinding votes on the pay of senior executives. It would give shareholders more of a say in nominating directors. And it would impose new requirements on the compensation committees of boards.

The legislation would also place new restrictions on financial companies that repackage mortgages into securities and sell them in the secondary market. It would require such companies to hold at least 10 percent of the mortgages so that they would have a financial incentive to assure the quality of the securities.

    Senate Plan Would Expand Regulation of Risky Lending, NYT, 11.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/11/business/11regulate.html






Senate Approves More Jobless Benefits


November 5, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to offer up to 20 more weeks of unemployment benefits to those who have been out of work a long time, after weeks of delay in which hundreds of thousands of Americans exhausted their government aid.

The measure will increase to 99 weeks, or nearly two years, the maximum length of time that a jobless worker can get benefits in some states.

As early as Thursday, the House is expected to approve the Senate version, which differs from the measure it passed six weeks ago, so the legislation can be signed into law by President Obama.

The Democrats feel an urgency to act now because the monthly labor report that comes out Friday is expected to show that the nation’s unemployment rate in October continued to be at or above 10 percent. Also, more than 600,000 workers had run out of benefits at the end of October, according to the National Employment Law Project, a liberal advocacy group.

The Senate added two unrelated provisions to extend and liberalize tax breaks that were in this year’s $787 billion economic stimulus package.

One would continue for five months a popular $8,000 credit for many first-time home buyers, which was to expire Nov. 30, and create a $6,500 credit for some homeowners who want to buy a new residence. The other would allow businesses to deduct losses from their income in five profitable years instead of two; the stimulus law had limited the break to small businesses.

The Senate’s 98-to-0 vote disguised the partisan divisiveness of past weeks. After Democrats settled their internal differences a month ago, Republicans objected to acting until Democrats allowed votes on amendments opposing illegal immigration, the liberal organization Acorn and the financial rescue program. The Democrats refused, saying that Republicans were trying to score political points.

By this week, pressure to act was building from states with double-digit unemployment rates. One Republican senator, George V. Voinovich of Ohio, suggested impatience with his colleagues’ demands.

“This is serious business, and we ought to get on with it,” Mr. Voinovich said in an interview. “We’ve got to keep these families together so they don’t fall through the cracks. I mean, this is what keeps them going so they get through this period.”

On Wednesday, the Senate voted to end the filibuster, 97 to 1. The holdout was Senator Jim DeMint, a Republican from South Carolina, which has the nation’s fifth-highest unemployment rate, 11.6 percent. Hours later, he joined supporters on the vote to pass the bill.

A spokesman for Mr. DeMint, Wesley Denton, said, “He’s disappointed it is being paid for by increasing burdens on small businesses that create jobs instead of using unspent stimulus funds.”

The tax provision that would offset the $2.4 billion cost of the extra benefits so they do not add to the budget deficit is a longstanding one. The bill would extend a 33-year-old surcharge on the tax that employers pay to finance unemployment compensation. First imposed in 1976 as a temporary levy, the surcharge has been $14 a worker since 1983.

The Senate bill would extend benefits by 14 weeks nationwide for those whose relief has run out, and up to 20 weeks in states — 26 currently — where the unemployment rate is over 8.5 percent.

The House-passed bill would limit the extended benefits to those states with the highest joblessness but Senate Democrats in other states pushed for a nationwide extension. The effort for the nationwide extension was led by Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, where the unemployment rate is 7.2 percent.

The nation’s unemployment compensation system is a patchwork of state programs; federal benefits are available when state aid runs out, typically after 26 weeks. Reflecting the severity of the recession, the number of workers who have been out of a job longer than that comprise about a third of the total unemployed — the highest share since data collection began in 1948, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal policy group.

    Senate Approves More Jobless Benefits, NYT, 5.11.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/05/us/politics/05benefits.html






A Senate Naysayer, Spoiling for Health Care Fight


October 30, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Senator Tom Coburn’s office is the rare Capitol Hill work space without a “me wall” — the display of photographs of a lawmaker standing beside presidents, foreign leaders and other dignitaries, all illustrating How Big a Deal he is.

Instead, hanging above Mr. Coburn’s desk is a large framed print of the word “no.” It was a tribute from a liberal voter in New York thanking Mr. Coburn, a conservative Republican from Oklahoma, for his efforts at thwarting expensive legislation.

Known as Dr. No, Mr. Coburn, a family practice physician, views legislative battle less in terms of Republicans versus Democrats than as a matter of yes versus no. He sees himself as a one-man treatment center helping Congress beat its bipartisan addiction to misguided spending.

“I’ve always considered myself an opposition within the opposition,” said Mr. Coburn, whose willingness to block, delay or neuter bills through an array of procedural measures has made him an effective nuisance during his five years in the Senate.

As the health care overhaul heads to the Senate floor, Mr. Coburn is preparing for what he considers a career pinnacle of havoc. Enacting the proposal, he says, would be catastrophic, and so if precedent holds, he will try to hinder it with every annoying tool in his arsenal: filing amendments (he has done that 508 times since joining the Senate, second only to John McCain’s 542 in that period), undertaking filibusters and objecting strenuously.

“When it comes to obstructing bills, he is part of a very tiny pantheon in the history of the Senate,” said Ross Baker, a Senate historian at Rutgers University.

To Mr. Coburn, charges of obstructionism are a mark of honor he will wear as proudly as ever in the coming weeks.

“My mission is to frame this health care debate in terms of the fiscal ruin of this country,” said the 61-year-old Mr. Coburn, who recently railed on the Senate floor that the federal debt was “waterboarding” his five grandchildren. “I have instructed my staff to clear my schedule for every minute that bill is on the floor.”

After inflicting migraines in Washington, Mr. Coburn goes home on weekends to Muskogee, where he treats patients on Mondays. He says he does his best thinking aboard his John Deere mower, which can run 20 miles an hour and slash through pretty much anything on his seven-acre meadow. Mr. Coburn dons earplugs, stares straight ahead and cuts a determined swath, just as he does in the Senate.

His at-times hyperbolic rhetoric, fervent social conservatism and seeming indifference to whether or not people like him have made him something of a lightning rod. “If we wiped out the entire Congress and sent common people who have no political experience, we would get far better results than we have today,” he said in a remark typical of how he views the institution.

And in a remark typical of how some members of the institution view Mr. Coburn, Jim Manley, a spokesman for the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said: “Senator Coburn relishes it when people call him Dr. No, but he is more appropriately called Dr. I Know Best. He has routinely blocked and delayed bills that have wide bipartisan support, often based on specious arguments.”

Despite this mutual animosity, Mr. Coburn has also forged a series of notable friendships over the years, albeit often of the tough-love variety. One of his best friends in his Senate class (2004) was the young lawmaker from Illinois, Barack Obama, to whom he still speaks regularly and writes supportive notes, even while publicly ripping his performance as president.

He is also a friend and roommate (for now) of Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, who engaged in an extramarital affair with a campaign aide last year. Mr. Coburn, who acted as an intermediary in efforts to reach a financial settlement with the woman’s family, has been publicly critical of Mr. Ensign’s conduct and character.

“When someone is sick, do you not try to help them get well?” he said of Mr. Ensign. “Or do you say, ‘Oh, you’re sick, goodbye’? When someone hurts you, do you hurt them back, or do you love them? My goal with John is to try to love him and to help him do what’s right.”

It is not clear that Mr. Ensign returns the love or welcomes the help. Asked for comment, his spokeswoman relayed a statement that said Mr. Coburn “has been a good friend who has always given me wise advice that I have not always been smart enough to follow.” Two friends of Mr. Ensign said he was making plans to move out.

Mr. Coburn hosts a twice-a-week Webcast, “The Senate Doctors Show,” with Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, an orthopedic surgeon who once practiced at the same Casper, Wyo., hospital where Mr. Coburn was born (and — fun fact — where Dick Cheney’s mother used to volunteer). In the Webcast, the two senators answer questions from around the country on health policy issues. Mr. Barrasso said he and Mr. Coburn would play a similar role on the floor during the debate, “a kind of truth squad” speaking from firsthand knowledge of the health care system.

“You need people in the Senate who are going to take the lead on things,” said Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican whip. “Take the lead on things” could be seen as a polite senatorial way of saying Mr. Coburn’s “lead” may sometimes run counter to the wishes of the Senate.

Mr. Coburn has complained to other senators about the “timidity” of the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and his deputies. As a member of the House, Mr. Coburn similarly gained a reputation as an acute pain in the tailbone to the Republican leadership.

“The first thing you can say about Tom Coburn is that he marches to his own drummer,” said Dick Armey, a Republican who was majority leader in the House when Mr. Coburn served there in the 1990s. “That’s always been O.K. in my book, but sometimes it can be a problem in the House.”

Mr. Coburn was elected to the Senate with a reputation for outspoken social conservatism. He had denounced the “homosexual agenda” and said he favored the death penalty “for abortionists and other people who take life.”

These issues remain deeply meaningful to him personally, but “none of these things are important right now,” he said, compared with the “fiscal ruin” he sees the country facing.

“If you look historically, every great republic has died over fiscal issues,” he said. “That is the biggest moral issue of our time.”

Mr. Coburn spends as little time as possible in Washington, a place he seems to genuinely dislike. An ordained Southern Baptist deacon, he attends church every Sunday back in Muskogee and teaches a Bible study class. He tries to stop armadillos from tearing up his lawn. He pulls fat water moccasins from his pool.

“I kill them,” he said with relish, “by slicing their heads off with the sharp edge of a shovel.”

    A Senate Naysayer, Spoiling for Health Care Fight, NYT, 30.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/30/health/policy/30coburn.html






U.S. Considers Reining In ‘Too Big to Fail’ Institutions


October 26, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Congress and the Obama administration are about to take up one of the most fundamental issues stemming from the near collapse of the financial system last year — how to deal with institutions that are so big that the government has no choice but to rescue them when they get in trouble.

A senior administration official said on Sunday that after extensive consultations with Treasury Department officials, Representative Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, would introduce legislation as early as this week. The measure would make it easier for the government to seize control of troubled financial institutions, throw out management, wipe out the shareholders and change the terms of existing loans held by the institution.

The official said the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, was planning to endorse the changes in testimony before the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday.

The White House plan as outlined so far would already make it much more costly to be a large financial company whose failure would put the financial system and the economy at risk. It would force such institutions to hold more money in reserve and make it harder for them to borrow too heavily against their assets.

Setting up the equivalent of living wills for corporations, that plan would require that they come up with their own procedure to be disentangled in the event of a crisis, a plan that administration officials say ought to be made public in advance.

“These changes will impose market discipline on the largest and most interconnected companies,” said Michael S. Barr, assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions. One of the biggest changes the plan would make, he said, is that instead of being controlled by creditors, the process is controlled by the government.

Some regulators and economists in recent weeks have suggested that the administration’s plan does not go far enough. They say that the government should consider breaking up the biggest banks and investment firms long before they fail, or at least impose strict limits on their trading activities — steps that the administration continues to reject.

Mr. Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, said his committee would now take up more aggressive legislation on the topic, even as lawmakers and regulators continue working on other problems highlighted by the financial crisis, including overseeing executive pay, protecting consumers and regulating the trading of derivatives.

Illustrative of the mood of fear and anger over the huge taxpayer bailouts was Mr. Frank’s recent observation that critics of the administration’s health care proposal had misdirected their concerns — Congress would not be adopting death panels for infirm people but for troubled companies.

The administration and its Congressional allies are trying, in essence, to graft the process used to resolve the troubles of smaller commercial banks onto both large banking conglomerates and nonbanking financial institutions whose troubles could threaten to undermine the markets.

That resolution process gives the government far more sweeping authority over the institution and imposes major burdens on lenders to the companies that they would not ordinarily face when companies go into bankruptcy instead of facing a takeover by the government.

Deep-seated voter anger over the bailouts of companies like the American International Group, Citigroup and Bank of America has fed the fears of lawmakers that any other changes in the regulatory system must include the imposition of more onerous conditions on those financial institutions whose troubles could pose problems for the markets.

Some economists believe the mammoth size of some institutions is a threat to the financial system at large. Because these companies know the government could not allow them to fail, the argument goes, they are more inclined to take big risks.

Also, under the current regulatory structure, the government has limited power to step in quickly to resolve problems at nonbank financial institutions that operate like the failed investment banks Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, and like the giant insurer A.I.G.

As Wall Street has returned to business as usual, industry power has become even more concentrated among relatively few firms, thus intensifying the debate over how to minimize the risks to the system.

Some experts, including Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, and Paul A. Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, have proposed drastic steps to force the nation’s largest financial institutions to shed their riskier affiliates.

In a speech last week, Mr. King said policy makers should consider breaking up the largest banks and, in effect, restore the Depression-era barriers between investment and commercial banks.

“There are those who claim that such proposals are impractical. It is hard to see why,” Mr. King said. “What does seem impractical, however, are the current arrangements. Anyone who proposed giving government guarantees to retail depositors and other creditors, and then suggested that such funding could be used to finance highly risky and speculative activities, would be thought rather unworldly. But that is where we now are.”

The prevailing view in Washington, however, is more restrained. Daniel K. Tarullo, an appointee of President Obama’s, last week dismissed the idea of breaking up big banks as “more a provocative idea than a proposal.”

At a meeting Friday at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, said in response to a question by a former Bank of England deputy governor that he would prefer “a more subtle approach without losing the economic benefit of multifunction, international firms.”

Republican and Democratic lawmakers generally agree that the “too big to fail” policy of taxpayer bailouts for the giants of finance needs to be curtailed. But the fine print — how to reduce the policy and moral hazards it has encouraged — has provoked fears on Wall Street.

Even before Mr. Frank unveils his latest proposals, industry executives and lawyers say its approach could make it unnecessarily more expensive for them to do business during less turbulent times.

“Of course you want to set up a system where an institution dreads the day it happens because management gets whacked, shareholders get whacked and the board gets whacked,” said Edward L. Yingling, president of the American Bankers Association. “But you don’t want to create a system that raises great uncertainty and changes what institutions, risk management executives and lawyers are used to.”

T. Timothy Ryan, the president of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, said the market crisis exposed that “there was a failure in the statutory framework for the resolution of large, interconnected firms and everyone knows that.” But he added that many institutions on Wall Street were concerned that the administration’s plan would remove many of the bankruptcy protections given to lenders of large institutions.

    U.S. Considers Reining In ‘Too Big to Fail’ Institutions, NYT, 26.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/26/business/economy/26big.html






Senate Approves Broadened Hate-Crime Measure


October 23, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Thursday to extend new federal protections to people who are victims of violent crime because of their sex or sexual orientation, bringing the measure close to reality after years of fierce debate.

The 68-to-29 vote sends the legislation to President Obama, who has said he supports it.

The measure, attached to an essential military-spending bill, broadens the definition of federal hate crimes to include those committed because of a victim’s gender or gender identity, or sexual orientation. It gives victims the same federal safeguards already afforded to people who are victims of violent crimes because of their race, color, religion or national origin.

“Hate crimes instill fear in those who have no connection to the victim other than a shared characteristic such as race or sexual orientation,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said afterward. “For nearly 150 years, we have responded as a nation to deter and to punish violent denials of civil rights by enacting federal laws to protect the civil rights of all of our citizens.”

Mr. Leahy sponsored the hate-crimes amendment to the military bill and called its passage a worthy tribute to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who first introduced hate-crimes legislation in the Senate more than a decade ago.

Opponents argued to no avail that the new measure was unnecessary in view of existing laws and might interfere with local law enforcement agencies. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said he agreed that hate crimes were terrible. “That’s why they are already illegal,” Mr. DeMint said, asserting that the new law was a dangerous, even “Orwellian” step toward “thought crime.”

Ten Republicans voted for the hate-crimes measure. The only Democrat to oppose it was Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who said he could not vote for the current bill “because it does nothing to bring our open-ended and disproportionate military commitment in Afghanistan to an end and/or to ensure that our troops are safely and expeditiously redeployed from Iraq.” The Senate action came two weeks after the House approved the measure, 281 to 146, and would give the federal government the authority to prosecute violent, antigay crimes when local authorities failed to.

The measure would also allocate $5 million a year to the Justice Department to assist local communities in investigating hate crimes, and it would allow the agency to assist in investigations and prosecutions if local agencies requested help.

Federal protections for people who are victims of violent crime because of their sexual orientation have been sought for more than a decade, at least since the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student.

    Senate Approves Broadened Hate-Crime Measure, NYT, 23.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/us/politics/23hate.html






Congress Is Split on Effort to Tax Costly Health Plans


October 13, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — A proposed tax on high-cost, or “Cadillac,” health insurance plans has touched off a fierce clash between the Senate and the House as they wrestle over how to pay for legislation that would provide health benefits to millions of uninsured Americans.

Supporters, including many senators, say that the tax is essential to tamping down medical spending and that over 10 years it would generate more than $200 billion, nearly a fourth of what is needed to pay for the legislation.

Critics, including House members and labor unions, say the tax would quickly spiral out of control and hit middle-class workers, people more closely associated with minivans than Cadillacs.

The tax, a provision of the bill to be voted on Tuesday by the Senate Finance Committee, is one of the few remaining proposals under consideration by Congress that budget experts say could lead directly to a reduction in health care spending over the long term, by prompting employers and employees to buy cheaper insurance. Whether it remains in the bill is emerging as a test of the commitment by President Obama and his party to slowing the steep rise of medical expenses.

It is also a prime example of the major differences still to be bridged by Democrats as health care legislation advances to floor debate in both houses.

Under the Finance Committee bill, the tax would be imposed beginning in 2013 on employer- sponsored health plans with total premiums exceeding $8,000 for individuals and $21,000 for families, regardless of whether the coverage was paid for by the employer, the individual or both. The tax would be paid by insurers, who would be expected to pass along the cost to customers.

Critics say that would mean an increase in premiums or in out-of-pocket expenses for employees, raising medical costs for individuals and families.

Supporters say the more likely prospect is that employers would bargain-hunt or take other steps to avoid the tax, putting pressure on insurers to offer cheaper coverage and slowing the rise in medical costs for everyone.

In a preliminary estimate, the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation calculated that absent any such employer efforts, 14 percent of family health policies and 19 percent of individual policies would be hit by the tax in 2013. By 2019, according to the estimate, 37 percent of family policies and 41 percent of individual policies would be affected. Those numbers rise over time in these calculations because although the initial tax threshold would increase with the economy’s overall inflation, premiums would be expected to rise even faster.

Many Democratic senators, led by the Finance Committee chairman, Max Baucus of Montana, like the idea of the tax, and Mr. Obama embraced it in his speech to Congress on Sept. 9.

“This reform will charge insurance companies a fee for their most expensive policies, which will encourage them to provide greater value for the money,” the president said then. “This modest change could help hold down the cost of health care for all of us in the long run.”

Congress has also heard from many economists, Republicans and Democrats alike, who support the tax.

But House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, the chamber’s chief tax-writer, oppose the idea, as do labor unions and businesses. Ms. Pelosi last week floated the idea of taxing insurers’ “windfall profits” as a possible alternative, to supplement the House’s main revenue raiser, an income tax surcharge on the nation’s highest earners.

At least 173 House Democrats, two-thirds of the party caucus, have signed a letter to Ms. Pelosi voicing opposition to the insurance tax .

“The tax, supposedly aimed at Cadillac health plans, would affect millions of middle-class people,” said Representative Joe Courtney, Democrat of Connecticut. “The American people soundly rejected the idea when it was proposed by Republicans in elections last year.”

Under current law, employer-paid premiums for health insurance are not taxable. Experts say this provides a big government subsidy for such coverage, and an incentive for businesses to provide better benefits in lieu of higher wages.

In an unusual alliance reflecting the shared interest of some unions and businesses on the issue, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the United States Chamber of Commerce are mobilizing opposition to the tax.

James P. Gelfand, senior manager of health policy at the Chamber of Commerce, said that if the tax is imposed, “employers will have to reduce wages or benefits or increase cost-sharing.” And, he said, “employees will blame employers, not the government.”

Leaders of organized labor, which in recent years has often negotiated for benefits in place of raises, descended on Capitol Hill last week to lobby against the tax, which could hit many health plans covering unionized workers. Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, said at least half his members would be in health plans subject to the tax in 2013.

John P. Yrchik, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, has lobbied Mr. Courtney and other members of the state’s Congressional delegation, noting that the tax would affect teachers in 30 percent of Connecticut towns. In some towns, Mr. Yrchik said, health insurance premiums for teachers’ family policies already exceed $25,000.

Aides to Mr. Baucus, the Finance Committee chairman, said the tax had numerous benefits, and predicted that employers and employees would shop for health plans to avoid it, forcing insurers to rein in costs.

They also cited projections by the Joint Committee on Taxation that about $142 billion of the 10-year total of $201 billion to be raised by the proposal would come from increased income and payroll taxes — evidence, they said, that workers would receive increased wages if employers spent less on health benefits.

But the same expectation that employers would adjust their health plans to avoid the tax was cited by some critics as a potential harm for workers.

“Employers and insurers will reduce their benefits to avoid paying the proposed tax,” said Representative Pete Stark, the California Democrat who heads the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health. “As a result, middle-class families will be forced to pay more for health care.”

Some experts said that the tax was a complicated, backdoor way to tax employer-provided health benefits, and a number of them maintained that simply ending the tax exemption for such benefits would be a better approach.

Others said the tax would have an uneven impact, falling harder on businesses that, for instance, have older employees or are situated in high-cost regions.

Robert H. Dobson, an actuary at Milliman, an employee benefits consulting firm, said, “The high cost of so-called Cadillac plans has as much to do with the characteristics of the covered population as it does with the richness of the benefits.”

    Congress Is Split on Effort to Tax Costly Health Plans, NYT, 13.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/13/health/policy/13plans.html






Week in Review

In Kennedy, the Last Roar of the New Deal Liberal


August 30, 2009
The New York Times


“AN important chapter in our history has come to an end,” Barack Obama said in his first public remarks on the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. “Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States senator of our time.”

What Mr. Obama didn’t say — and perhaps didn’t need to — was that the closed chapter was the vision of liberalism begun by the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, extended during the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson and now struggling back toward relevance. It holds that the forces of government should be marshaled to improve conditions for the greatest possible number of Americans, with particular emphasis on the excluded and disadvantaged. It is not government’s only obligation, in this view, but it is the paramount one.

No major political figure of the past half-century was so deeply invested in this idea as Mr. Kennedy was. It underlay the staggering number of bills he created or sponsored in his long Senate career, whether in medical care or education, on behalf of immigrants or labor unions. And it underlay Mr. Kennedy’s crusade for universal health care — “a right, not a privilege,” as he declared at the Democratic National Convention last August.

The belief in government as the guardian of opportunity and advancement is not a complicated one, but it is fraught with ambiguities — including the risks incurred when government grows too large and also too expensive. Indeed, the peak years of Mr. Kennedy’s Senate career, the 1980s and ’90s, coincided with the ascendancy of a countervision, captured in Ronald Reagan’s assertion: “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.”

In that period, many Democrats began to rethink the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society. Many distanced themselves from “the L word.” And Mr. Kennedy appeared out of step. As the authors of “Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy,” observe, “Even in his own party, his liberalism had seemed, at times, outmoded as the ‘third way’ of the Clintons gained ascendance in the Washington of the 1990s.”

So too in 2008 the party’s top presidential contenders dependably referred to themselves as “progressives.”

Still, Mr. Kennedy was unwavering. It is hard to imagine any contemporary Democrat taking the podium as Mr. Kennedy did last summer in Denver to reprise the celebrated oration he had made at the 1980 convention in New York. But Mr. Kennedy did — without apology. The passage of time, and the reordered political landscape, had not obscured his causes or dimmed his rhetoric.

His roots in old-fashioned liberalism went deep. Like his brothers, he was reared in the towering shadow of President Roosevelt, who was first elected president in 1932, the year Edward Kennedy was born.

But the older Kennedy brothers drifted away from New Deal politics. John F. Kennedy stood at the center of a new post-ideological pragmatism. In 1962, the year Edward Kennedy was first elected to the Senate, President Kennedy asserted that while “most of us are conditioned for many years to have a political viewpoint — Republican or Democrat, liberal, conservative or moderate,” in reality the most pressing government concerns were “technical problems, administrative problems” that “do not lend themselves to the great sort of passionate movements which have stirred this country so often in the past.”

Robert F. Kennedy, in contrast, was drawn to passionate movements, but his devotions could shift with the political winds. An anti-Communist in the 1950s — when he worked briefly on the staff of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy — Robert later embraced the “New Politics” of the late 1960s, with its strong flavor of anti-establishment protest. In the 1968 election he seemed to be simultaneously courting militant leftists and aggrieved white ethnics stirred by the populist demagoguery of the segregationist George Wallace.

It was Edward, the youngest brother, whose “true compass” — to borrow the title of his forthcoming memoir — pointed unerringly toward New Deal liberalism. He became its champion for the remainder of his life.

This earned him a reputation for being the populist Kennedy, gifted with the common touch. Certainly he enjoyed politics at the retail level — plunging into the crowd, shaking hands.

But Mr. Kennedy’s accomplishments in the political arts were mixed. He excelled at stumping for others, as he did in his brothers’ presidential campaigns. And he performed impressively for Mr. Obama in 2008. Just before the deluge of primaries in early February, when the contest between Mr. Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton was tight, Mr. Kennedy drew large crowds in California and New Mexico, where shouts of “Viva Kennedy” greeted his visits to the barrios.

But on other occasions Mr. Kennedy faltered. His intemperate denunciation of Judge Robert H. Bork in 1987 helped poison the atmosphere of Supreme Court appointments up to the present day.

His one signal talent was for legislation, the painstaking, glacial business of shaping bills and laws. He learned at the feet of Senate giants like Richard Russell, who had also been a mentor to another superb legislator, Lyndon Johnson.

The friction between Mr. Kennedy’s uncertain feel for politics and his instinctive command of governance led to his gravest miscalculation, his ill-executed attempt to unseat his party’s incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, in the 1980 primaries.

“No real difference of politics separated Kennedy from Carter,” Theodore H. White noted when he revisited the episode in 1982.

Mr. White, curious to grasp the motives behind this quixotic mission, pressed Mr. Kennedy about it. At first Mr. Kennedy haltingly mentioned Mr. Carter’s failed leadership and squandered opportunities. But when prodded further, he delivered “a stunning discussion of just how laws are passed, of how Carter’s amateur lobbyists had messed up program after program by odd legislative couplings of unsorted programs,” Mr. White wrote. “Then, details cascading from him more and more rapidly, he concluded in an outburst of frustration” that Mr. Carter was incompetent. “Even on issues we agree on, he doesn’t know how to do it,” Mr. Kennedy told Mr. White, who likened his attitude to “the contempt of a master machinist for a plumber’s assistant.”

The paradox was that by challenging Mr. Carter, Mr. Kennedy weakened him in the general election, and thus assisted in the victory of Mr. Reagan, who promptly ushered in the conservative counterrevolution, founded on distrust of government, that Mr. Kennedy spent the next three decades battling, losing as often as he won.

The literary critic Lionel Trilling once wondered why so many liberal intellectuals he knew seemed unnerved by any mention of death. Might it be, he speculated, because death was, “in practical outcome, a negation of the future and of the hope it holds out for a society of reason and virtue?”

Mr. Trilling had in mind the “progressives” of the 1930s and ’40s, who were lit with utopian dreams and intoxicated, in many instances, by the Soviet “experiment.”

Mr. Kennedy’s liberalism had its basis in something different — New Deal meliorism, with its hopeful spirit of reform.

And he brought to it in its later stages a quality of chastened knowledge, the hardiness of the survivor. Mr. Kennedy was, of course, uniquely versed in the concrete facts of death. All three of his brothers died young, two slain by assassins’ bullets. And for 40 years he bore the guilt of the death he caused in Chappaquiddick in 1969.

Becoming “the greatest senator of our time” could not atone for this. Nor could it redress Mr. Kennedy’s many other trespasses — the boozing and womanizing and the suffering it brought.

But if the art of governance did not redeem Mr. Kennedy, it irradiated him, and the liberalism he personified. At a time when government itself had fallen into disrepute Mr. Kennedy applied himself diligently to its exacting discipline, and wrested whatever small victories he could from the machinery he had learned to operate so well. Whether or not his compass was finally true, he endured as the battered, leaky vessel through which the legislative arts recovered some of their lost glory.

    In Kennedy, the Last Roar of the New Deal Liberal, NYT, 30.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/30/weekinreview/30tanenhaus.html






‘Soul’ of Party Is Memorialized by Nation


August 30, 2009
The New York Times


ARLINGTON, Va. — The nation said final farewell on Saturday to Edward M. Kennedy, who used his privileged life to give consistent, passionate voice to the underprivileged for nearly a half-century as a United States senator from Massachusetts. He was the only one of four fabled Kennedy brothers to reach late adulthood, and he was remembered for making the most of it.

Along the rain-dappled roadways of Boston in the late morning, and then in the sweltering humidity of Washington in early evening, people waited for the fleeting moment of a passing hearse so that they could pay respects to the man known simply as Ted. At the United States Capitol, where Mr. Kennedy had served for so long, his wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, stepped out of a limousine to receive hugs, bow her head during prayers, and to hear the singing of “America the Beautiful.”

The gray rainy day began with a funeral Mass at a working-class Roman Catholic church in Boston where the senator had sometimes sought comfort, without entourage or advance notice. Where he once reflected amid the hush of empty oak pews, there now sat hundreds gathered in his honor, including President Obama; three of the four living former presidents; dozens of foreign dignitaries and members of Congress; and, of course, people so familiar to Americans simply because they are Kennedys.

And it was during that portion of the Mass, when prayers of hope are shared, that his grandchildren, nieces and nephews stepped up to the microphone to express once more Ted Kennedy’s political and human desires:

That human beings be measured not by what they cannot do but by what they can do. That quality health care becomes a fundamental right and not a privilege. That the old politics of race and gender die away. That newcomers be accepted, no matter their color or place of birth. That the nation stand united against violence, hate and war. And, in echo of his famous words, that the work begins anew, the hope arises anew, and the dream lives on.

“We pray to the Lord,” each petitioner concluded.

And each time the mourners answered as one, “Lord, hear our prayer.”

After Holy Communion, Mr. Obama delivered the eulogy for the man whose endorsement in the 2008 campaign was like the passing of a sword from Camelot, helping enormously in giving this country its first African-American president.

“Today we say goodbye to the youngest child of Rose and Joseph Kennedy,” Mr. Obama said. “The world will long remember their son Edward as the heir to a weighty legacy, a champion for those who had none, the soul of the Democratic Party, and the lion of the United States Senate — a man whose name graces nearly 1,000 laws, and who penned more than 300 laws himself.”

He was the thoughtful representative of the people, Mr. Obama said, keeping in touch, for example, with the Massachusetts families who lost loved ones on Sept. 11. Across the country, he said, people would say, “You wouldn’t believe who called me today” — and it would be Ted Kennedy.

Mr. Kennedy was also a family man, lover of the arts, prankster, charmer, sailor. And that is the image the president left with the congregation: “Of a man on a boat, white mane tousled, smiling broadly as he sails into the wind, ready for whatever storms may come, carrying on toward some new and wondrous place just beyond the horizon.”

“May God bless Ted Kennedy,” the president said. “And may he rest in eternal peace.”

After the more than two-hour funeral, the senator was carried from his native Massachusetts for the other bookend of his life, Washington, D.C. and to Arlington National Cemetery, where Edward Moore Kennedy, the last of the Kennedy brothers and the only one not to die violently, was buried toward the bottom of a lush green hill.

The body of his oldest brother, Joseph, a World War II Navy pilot killed on a mission in 1942, was never recovered; he was 29. The body of his second-oldest brother, John, the president assassinated in 1963, lies a few dozen yards away; he was 46. Robert, the senator and presidential aspirant who was assassinated in 1968, lies even closer; he was 42.

And now, Teddy, who wept and eulogized and often lived in the shadows of these brothers, would join them after a 15-month struggle with brain cancer. He was 77.

Saturday’s farewell, scripted in large part by Senator Kennedy himself, concluded three days of tributes and well-orchestrated ceremonies. These included a public viewing of the coffin at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston and a private memorial service Friday night that ended with determined choruses of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”

Then, under the uncooperative skies brought by morning, a motorcade that included the black hearse carrying the senator’s coffin traveled through rain-wet Boston, past people cheering and applauding, up Tremont Street to Mission Hill, a diverse, working-class neighborhood with a commanding view of the city. Church bells rang out in mournful welcome.

The hearse stopped in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a twin-spire 19th-century church that stands within walking distance of several hospitals. Known locally as a healing church, it has received over many decades the petitions and prayers of the sick and worried.

Among these petitioners was Mr. Kennedy. In 2003, while his daughter, Kara, was successfully battling lung cancer, he came to pray and reflect here, often beside the Rev. Edward McDonough, an old priest known as a healer who died in 2008. Then, last summer, aware that he had an aggressive form of cancer, the senator returned with Mrs. Kennedy, quietly, privately.

With rain drumming against hundreds of black umbrellas that together looked like a mournful stream of bunting, this public and private man returned to the church once more. With the precision of ritual, eight representatives of the five branches of military service removed his flag-covered coffin from the back of the hearse and into this soft day.

Watching from under an umbrella, not far away, was his widow, in a black suit offset by a string of pearls. They married in 1992, after which she helped to transform him from a man, scarred by loss and personal failings — not the least his role in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, just 29, in a car accident in 1969 — into an elder statesman.

Family and friends, including his former wife, Joan, celebrities and politicians crammed into the oak pews inside the church, some shoving their umbrellas under their seats, some fanning themselves in a sanctuary infused with the hint of incense. Three former presidents, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, were among the mourners; George H. W. Bush was ill and could not attend.

The coffin was met in the center aisle by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, and other priests for a moment where the martial met the spiritual. The flag was taken off, folded, tucked.

The coffin was rolled up the center aisle, past 12 confessionals, past 12 marble pillars, past people with names of international resonance. It came to a stop at the altar, under the church’s cupola, whose artwork includes a painting of Mr. Kennedy’s friend, the healing priest, Father McDonough.

There the coffin remained, through the readings from the Old and New Testaments; through the ethereal music, including Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 6, played by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and Cesar Franck’s “Panis Angelicus,” sung by the tenor Placido Domingo.

After President Obama delivered his eulogy, Cardinal O’Malley commended Mr. Kennedy to his maker. Ten pallbearers, all of the next Kennedy generation, slowly wheeled the coffin down the aisle, as the huge, 3,200-pipe organ above played and the congregation serenaded this lion of the Senate with “America the Beautiful.”

At the portal, the honor guard unfolded the American flag, their white gloves looking like fluttering doves that were gently draping the flag over the coffin. Then it was back down those wet gray steps, one by one, gently, and back into the Boston rain.

The eight-member honor guard guided the coffin across the slate-and-brick patio, while soldiers and police officers came to attention. As the coffin was eased back into the hearse’s bed, under the gaze of a widow’s aching eyes, it received a crisp salute.

As the motorcade began its journey to Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, the people of Massachusetts lined the streets and highways, some huddled under umbrellas. In this way, Massachusetts said farewell to its favored son.

Borne by a presidential plane to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Mr. Kennedy’s coffin was taken by motorcade to Capitol Hill, where hundreds of members and staff members of Congress — many holding tiny American flags — gathered on the steps. When the motorcade appeared in the distance, applause and cheers rose up, then grew louder as the hearse came to a stop, the senator’s flag-covered coffin visible through a back window.

Mrs. Kennedy stepped out of a limousine to receive hugs, bow her head during more prayers, and to hear “America the Beautiful” sung once more. At 6:43, motorcycles engines began to grumble, and the motorcade began the final leg of its destination, down Constitution Avenue, past the Lincoln Memorial and on to the solemnness that awaited at Arlington National Cemetery.

With dusk settling on the green swells and white tablets of Arlington, and insects clicking in the trees, the joint casket team carried the coffin up the thick grass to a grave dug early Saturday morning, 80 inches long and 32 inches wide. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, read a letter that Mr. Kennedy wrote to Pope Benedict XVI, one in which he shared the news of his illness, admitted his failings and testified to his strong faith.

Soon, seven riflemen were firing three volleys. Soon, the shadow of a bugler was playing “Taps,” as heat lightning stunned the night sky. Arlington was dark; a long day had ended. But come Sunday morning, cemetery officials say, the green of the grass will be smooth again, the hole filled, the sod laid. Only then it will feature a white wooden cross made by the cemetery’s carpenter, and a white marble marker that bears the name of another Kennedy, this one as distinct and as human and as accomplished as the others, a man in his own right.


EDWARD MOORE KENNEDY, it will say. 1932-2009

Reporting was contributed by Edmund L. Andrews, Bernie Becker, Abby Goodnough, Ariel Sabar and Katie Zezima.

    ‘Soul’ of Party Is Memorialized by Nation, NYT, 30.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/30/us/politics/30kennedy.html






Senate Has Changed in Kennedy’s Time


August 28, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — In the spring of 2003, the United States Senate was heading for a meltdown. Democrats were blocking confirmation of federal judges. Republicans were set to retaliate with a “nuclear option”: a new rule stripping senators of their right to filibuster judicial nominations.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, fearing for the future of the institution, turned to a historian for help. He invited Robert A. Caro, author of the epic Lyndon B. Johnson biography, “Master of the Senate,” to speak to lawmakers about Senate traditions, and the founding fathers’ vision of it as a place for extended debate.

To Mr. Caro, Mr. Kennedy’s own knowledge of Senate history and reverence for its ideals was yet another reminder of why his host deserved a place in the pantheon of Senate greats, alongside men like Webster and Calhoun and Clay. But it was also a reminder of how much the Senate had changed during Mr. Kennedy’s 46 years there.

“Ted Kennedy was a senator out of another, very different, Senate era: an era in which senators who believed in great causes stood at their desks, year after year and decade after decade, fighting for those causes, and educating the country about them,” Mr. Caro said.

It is a tradition, he said, “that seems all but lost today.”

From physical changes to the chamber — in 1986 the lighting was brightened for television and the slouchy overstuffed couches were cleared away — to the arrival of women, to the disappearance of the conservative Southern Democrats who used their clout to strangle civil rights legislation, the Senate of today is far different from the one Mr. Kennedy joined in November 1962.

Like the nation itself, it has become coarser, more partisan and, many scholars and politicians argue, more dysfunctional. As both parties have moved to their ideological extremes, the center is all but gone.

“When Kennedy came, both political parties in the Senate were internally divided,” said Don Ritchie, the associate Senate historian. “There were as many Eisenhower Republicans as Goldwater Republicans. There were more liberal Democrats but a sizable number of conservative Democrats. There was never a party line vote on anything. There were ideological coalitions rather than partisan coalitions.”

One measure of that partisanship is the rise of the filibuster, once a rarity that was reserved for the great legislative debates of the day. Today, rare is the bill that does not face a filibuster threat. In 1963, Mr. Kennedy’s first full year in the Senate, the leaders filed just one “cloture motion,” Senate parlance for the procedure that can end a filibuster by cutting off debate. Last year, 50 cloture motions were filed.

The Senate was then, and is now, a clubby place governed by its own peculiar rules and conventions. But with the possible exception of Senator Robert C. Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat and longest-serving senator (at 91, having served for 50 years, he is frail and in failing health) today’s senators are rarely acclaimed for eloquent discourse.

Mr. Byrd’s March 2003 speech opposing the war in Iraq, for instance, made him an octogenarian Internet sensation; until he became ill, he was known to give Senate speeches on matters as simple as the beauty of spring. But in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, the world’s greatest deliberative body is finding it harder to be, well, deliberative.

Consider the communications style of two other longtime senators, Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Democrat, and Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican. Each has served 28 years in the Senate. Not long ago, they got into a spat over health care — through their Twitter feeds.

On Wednesday, when news of Mr. Kennedy’s death was announced, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, declared that “the Kennedy family and the Senate family have together lost our patriarch.” Yet some members lament that with fund-raising pressures growing increasingly intense and members rushing home every weekend, the Senate’s family days are behind it. Friendships, an essential ingredient to passing legislation, are harder to forge today, both within parties and across party lines.

Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican and good friend of Mr. Kennedy who was defeated for re-election last year, recalls that when he joined the Senate in 1969, the Democratic leader, Mike Mansfield urged freshmen to form bipartisan dinner groups “to get to know one another on a personal basis.” He remembers carpooling to work with Senator Edmund S. Muskie, Democrat of Maine.

“There were a bunch of us who lived over the District line. We all had kids, we all had one car, we’d pair up and drive to the Senate,” Mr. Stevens said. “It was a sharing Senate at the time, without regard to politics. It was a family. It’s not a family anymore.”

It is tempting to wax nostalgic about the good old days, but some things about the Senate have inarguably changed for the better. Today’s Senate is more diverse, with women especially represented in greater numbers. There were only two women in the Senate when Mr. Kennedy joined, while today there are 17. The women of the Senate share monthly off-the-record dinners (no aides allowed), organized by Senator Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland and the longest-serving female senator.

The Senate staff is much larger and more professional today, with deep policy expertise. Mr. Kennedy’s staff was widely considered the best and the brightest, with high-powered alumni, among them a Supreme Court justice, Stephen G. Breyer. But Adam Clymer, a Kennedy biographer and former New York Times reporter, says there is a downside to specialization: today’s senators rely more on their aides than on one another.

“Kennedy told me he didn’t know from farm legislation,” Mr. Clymer said. “But he knew George McGovern and liked him, thought he was a serious fellow. So he asked McGovern how he ought to vote on farm legislation.”

Television, which arrived in 1986 when the Senate approved a C-Span camera in the chamber, was a boon for civic engagement. But it quickened the pace and coarsened the atmosphere, as Senate aides began monitoring TV screens for untoward remarks about their bosses. And with cameras inside the Senate chamber, the low lighting, “a calming influence,” in the view of Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator from Wyoming, had to go. Suddenly, some senators seemed more interested in engaging the cameras than one another.

“When they got those bright lights in, guys began to dye their hair,” Mr. Simpson said. “There was more of a peacock syndrome.”

Perhaps, 47 years from now, Americans will be wondering aloud whether there will ever be another Al Franken or Mark Udall or Kirsten Gillibrand. But as Mr. Kennedy is being lionized in death, it is difficult to envision the modern Senate’s producing another lawmaker who could amass his longevity and his record, or who could use the Senate, as he did, as a forum to educate the nation, decade in and decade out.

“There is no Kennedy of the future,” said Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who studies the Senate. “You’ve got some smart diligent hardworking impressive senators. Is any of them like Kennedy? It’s like looking at a Major League Baseball game and seeing some really good players and knowing there’s no Ted Williams in that group.”

    Senate Has Changed in Kennedy’s Time, NYT, 28.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/28/us/28senate.html







Senator Edward Kennedy


August 27, 2009
The New York Times


Three decades ago, Senator Edward Moore Kennedy ruined his last hope to be elected to the White House when a television interviewer asked him why he wanted to be president. He could not articulate an answer, offering instead a rambling, empty response that persuaded his party that he may not really have wanted or been suited for the job that his brother John had held and to which his brother Robert had aspired.

Yet as so often happened in an extraordinary life that careened from success to misfortune and scandal and back to success again, this bumbling moment worked to Mr. Kennedy’s advantage and, as it turned out, to the even greater advantage of the nation as a whole. Having failed in his insurgent challenge to President Jimmy Carter, Mr. Kennedy was finally free to focus with passion and political craft on his more natural calling as one of the master legislators and great reformers in the modern Senate.

The record Mr. Kennedy leaves after 46 years can only be envied by his peers as they join the nation in mourning his passing after a 15-month fight against brain cancer — a record firmly anchored in Mr. Kennedy’s insistence that politics be grasped and administered through the prism of human needs.

Together with a hard-won mastery of parliamentary intricacies, and a willingness to reach across party lines to win crucial votes, Mr. Kennedy’s unwavering taproot liberalism left a robust legacy: signature laws and reforms on civil rights, the judiciary, refugees, social welfare, foreign policy (he was one of 23 senators to vote against authorizing the Iraq invasion), voting rights, job training, public education and the minimum wage.

Last year, in his bittersweet adieu before the Democratic convention, the senator stirred his party to act on what he called “the cause of my life” — quality health care as a fundamental right of American citizenship.

The fate of Senator Kennedy’s cause remains in the hands of a conflicted Congress and President Obama, the Democratic candidate whom Mr. Kennedy dared to champion when other party leaders hesitated. And while his leadership will be missed in the intricate legislative warfare ahead, it would be a fitting tribute if his death could resolve for the better an issue too long in doubt.

Mr. Kennedy’s life was burdened with personal tragedy, including the assassinations of two brothers, and personal embarrassment, mostly self-inflicted. He was pronounced finished 40 years ago after Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in a car the senator drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island off Martha’s Vineyard. But Massachusetts voters stuck with him, and in the last 15 years Mr. Kennedy seemed to get a much firmer grip on his personal life, not least in an effort to set a better example as the patriarch of the Kennedy clan.

“I recognize my own shortcomings,” he conceded in 1991, knowing that they will not be erased from the pages of history. But neither will his spirit, his devotion to helping Americans in need and his belief that politics, not always a savory calling, can make a real difference.

His mantra, forged in tragedy, and expressed most eloquently to the Democratic National Convention when he abandoned his presidential quest in 1980, was simple and ennobling: “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” In his final speeches, he explicitly handed on this mantra to President Obama.

    Senator Edward Kennedy, NYT, 27.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/27/opinion/27thu1.html






Allies and Adversaries React to Kennedy’s Death


August 27, 2009
The New York Times


Faythe Collins remembered meeting Senator Edward M. Kennedy as a child and later, as a worried mother whose children had been detained in Brazil, calling his office and leaving a message.

“I expected a secretary to maybe call me back,” she said.

But the voice on the phone was that of the senator himself.

Ms. Collins, who went to the John F. Kennedy Museum in Hyannis, Mass., on Wednesday to sign one of three condolence books put out hours after the senator’s death, recalled his telling her that “he couldn’t pull any strings” to hasten her children’s return, but suggesting options that she could try on her own and calling back several times to check on how things were going.

“The information he gave me helped me get my kids back to this country,” said Ms. Collins, 45, who grew up in Hyannis and still lives not far from the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. “It’s so rare that politicians take the time to help ordinary people.”

As word of Mr. Kennedy’s death spread Wednesday, memories of him were shared by people from across the globe and all walks of life, from the truck driver from Waltham, Mass., who declared that the senator had “fought for the average people instead of special interests,” to the president of the United States, who called him a “singular figure in American history.”

But while his allies spoke of Mr. Kennedy’s idealism and his steadfast commitment to democratic ideals and the ideals of the Democratic Party, his conservative adversaries on cable television and talk radio complained that Democrats would try to capitalize on his death by rallying support for a health care overhaul that the senator had hoped would be his final legislative triumph.

Rush Limbaugh countered the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who called Mr. Kennedy a “lion of the Senate,” by saying, “We were his prey.”

Some remembered him as the Kennedy who was elected to the Senate when one of his brothers was president and another attorney general, and who lived through their assassinations, his own failings at Chappaquiddick and a presidential bid that went nowhere in 1980, but who remained a senator in the course of 10 presidencies and had a hand in shaping laws that touched on education, civil rights, Medicare, Social Security and much more.

“I’m a Republican, but I respected him for what he tried to do,” said Dudley Thomas, a retired computer manager who lives near the Kennedy compound. “He was always fighting for what he thought was right.”

Others stood on a corner near the compound where well-wishers had placed flowers and keepsakes and explained that their reminiscences had nothing to do with politics.

After spending two hours on the road getting there, Danielle Nunes of Billerica, Mass., said: “We came because I remember when I was a girl and my parents had a boat, we passed Ted and I said, ‘Hi, Ted!’ My mother said, ‘It’s Mr. Kennedy,’ and he said: ‘Don’t worry about it. Call me Ted.’ ”

Some of the most passionate tributes came from his colleagues in the Senate, where he served for 46 years.

First among them was Mr. Obama, who was the junior senator from Illinois when he decided to run for president, and whose candidacy Mr. Kennedy championed with an endorsement that provided a boost against Hillary Rodham Clinton as the height of the Democratic primary season last year.

Mr. Obama said Wednesday that he was “heartbroken” at Mr. Kennedy’s death and had “profited as president” from his counsel.

“His ideas and ideals,” the president said, “are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives — in seniors who know new dignity, in families that know new opportunity, in children who know education’s promise and in all those who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just, including myself.”

The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said Mr. Obama had expressed his condolences in a telephone call to Mr. Kennedy’s wife, Victoria. There had been speculation that Mr. Obama would visit Mr. Kennedy during the president’s vacation on Martha’s Vineyard this week, but aides said that the senator’s condition had been too serious and that a presidential visit would have been too disruptive.

Some other Senate colleagues echoed Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who called Mr. Kennedy an “irrepressible, larger-than-life presence.” Senator John McCain of Arizona, who as the Republican nominee lost to Mr. Obama in the presidential election last year, said that Mr. Kennedy “had become irreplaceable in the institution he loved” and that there would be an “emptiness” in the Senate without him.

There were tributes from foreign leaders and from the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who said Mr. Kennedy’s had been “a voice for those who would otherwise go unheard.”

Natan Sharansky, the Israeli politician and former Soviet political prisoner, called him “one of the towering figures in human rights.” When Mr. Sharansky was released from a Soviet prison in 1986, he said, it was Mr. Kennedy who called his wife, in Israel, to let her know.

Mr. Sharansky recalled a time when American officials visiting Moscow had worried about upsetting the Soviet government and endangering democracy activists there by going to see them. But in the spring of 1974, Mr. Kennedy ended official talks there and headed to the home of Alexander Lerner, a well-known dissident.

“He was the first to dare to do it, and that was the precedent that allowed other American officials to visit refuseniks,” Mr. Sharansky said. “Before that, it was like an iron curtain. Nobody did it.”

Former President Jimmy Carter, whom Mr. Kennedy challenged in the Democratic primaries in 1980 and denounced as a “clone of Ronald Reagan,” said Mr. Kennedy had been “pre-eminent” on Capitol Hill.

“He has been staunch and honest and open, and very able to express his view to the American people,” Mr. Carter told the BBC from Ramallah, in the West Bank. “I think Ted Kennedy, although he came from a very affluent family, a very prominent family, successful in politics, I think his first commitment was always to the people who were most in need.”

Nancy Reagan, whose husband defeated Mr. Carter in 1980 and once called Mr. Kennedy “the champion of big-government spending and an all-pervasive federal presence in our lives and wallet,” said Ronald Reagan and Mr. Kennedy had had “great respect for one another.”

“Given our political differences,” Mrs. Reagan said, “people are sometimes surprised by how close Ronnie and I have been to the Kennedy family. But Ronnie and Ted could always find common ground.” Noting that she considered him “an ally and a dear friend,” she added that she and Mr. Kennedy had found “our common ground in stem cell research.”

Democratic leaders said they would commemorate Mr. Kennedy by pushing health care legislation through Congress. Senator Robert C. Byrd, for one, suggested in a statement that the bill be named for him.

Mr. Limbaugh said he predicted months ago that Democrats would do just that, and Sean Hannity, a radio talk show host who also has a program on the Fox News Channel, called it “unseemly.” Mr. Hannity said Mr. Kennedy’s death “is not added reason to push for passage.”

But in an age of often bitter political divisions, some maintained that Mr. Kennedy had been a singular force for bipartisanship.

“Don’t you find it remarkable that one of the most partisan, liberal men in the last century serving in the Senate had so many of his — so many of his foes embrace him because they know he made them bigger?” said Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., fighting back tears as he talked in a previously scheduled appearance at the Energy Department. “He made them more graceful by the way in which he conducted himself.”


Reporting was contributed by Ethan Bronner from Jerusalem; Ariana Green from Hyannis, Mass.; Brian Stelter from New York; and Jeff Zeleny from Oak Bluffs, Mass.

    Allies and Adversaries React to Kennedy’s Death, NYT, 27.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/27/us/27react.html






After a Grim Diagnosis, Determined to Make a ‘Good Ending’


August 27, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The once-indefatigable Ted Kennedy was in a wheelchair at the end, struggling to speak and sapped of his energy. But from the time his brain cancer was diagnosed 15 months ago, he spoke of having a “good ending for myself,” in whatever time he had left, and by every account, he did.

As recently as a few days ago, Mr. Kennedy was still digging into big bowls of mocha chip and butter crunch ice creams, all smushed together (as he liked it). He and his wife, Vicki, had been watching every James Bond movie and episode of “24” on DVD.

He began each morning with a sacred rite of reading his newspapers, drinking coffee and scratching the bellies of his beloved Portuguese water dogs, Sunny and Splash, on the front porch of his Cape Cod house overlooking Nantucket Sound.

If he was feeling up to it, he would end his evenings with family dinner parties around the same mahogany table where he used to eat lobster with his brothers.

He took phone calls from President Obama, house calls from his priest and — just a few weeks ago — crooned after-dinner duets of “You Are My Sunshine” (with his son Patrick) and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” (with Vicki).

“There were a lot of joyous moments at the end,” said Dr. Lawrence C. Horowitz, Mr. Kennedy’s former Senate chief of staff, who oversaw his medical care. “There was a lot of frankness, a lot of hugging, a lot of emotion.”

Obviously, Dr. Horowitz added, there were difficult times. By this spring, according to friends, it was clear that the tumor had not been contained; new treatments proved ineffective and Mr. Kennedy’s comfort became the priority.

But interviews with close friends and family members yield a portrait of a man who in his final months was at peace with the end of his life and grateful for the chance to savor the salty air and the company of loved ones.

Befitting the epic life he led, Mr. Kennedy was the protagonist of a storybook finale from the time of his diagnosis in May 2008. It was infused with a beat-the-clock element: his illness coincided with the debate over health care (“the cause of my life”) and the election of a young president he championed.

Mr. Kennedy raced to complete his legislative work and his memoirs (“I’ve got to get this right for history,” he kept saying), leaned heavily on his faith, enjoyed (or endured) a procession of tributes and testimonials and just recently petitioned Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts to push for a speedy succession so his Senate seat would not be vacant long.

The knowledge that his death was approaching infused Mr. Kennedy’s interactions with special intensity, his friends say.

“He was the only one of the Kennedy boys who had a semi-knowledge that his end was near,” said Mike Barnicle, the former Boston Globe columnist and an old friend who lives nearby on Cape Cod and visited the senator this summer. “There was no gunman in the shadows, just an M.R.I. It was a bad diagnosis, but it allowed for the gift of reflection and some good times.”

Even as Mr. Kennedy’s physical condition worsened over the summer, he still got out of bed every day until Tuesday, when he died in the evening, said Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and one of Mr. Kennedy’s closest friends in the Senate.

“I’m still here,” Mr. Kennedy would call colleagues out of the blue to say, as if to refute suggestions to the contrary. “Every day is a gift,” was his mantra to begin conversations, said Peter Meade, a friend who met Mr. Kennedy as a 14-year-old volunteer on Mr. Kennedy’s first Senate campaign.

Some patients given a fatal diagnosis succumb to bitterness and self-pity; others try to cram in everything they have always wanted to do (sky-diving, a trip to China). Mr. Kennedy wanted to project vigor and a determination to keep on going. He chose what he called “prudently aggressive” treatments.

“He always admired people who took risks, like Teddy and Kara did,” Mr. Dodd said, referring to two of Mr. Kennedy’s children, who both beat cancer with bold treatments. And he vowed to work as hard as he could to lead a legislative overhaul of the nation’s health care system.

“He was the irrepressible Ted Kennedy,” said Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, who visited with his longtime colleague last week. “He was determined to get things done, but he also understood he had limitations.”

Mr. Kennedy deputized Dr. Horowitz, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, to research all treatment options before deciding on an intensive regimen of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation — hardly a clear-cut choice with an almost inevitably lethal disease and a patient of Mr. Kennedy’s age. Some physicians assembled at Massachusetts General Hospital considered his tumor inoperable — and measured his likely survival time between six weeks and a few months.

Before he traveled by private plane from Cape Cod to Duke University Medical Center for his surgery in June 2008, Mr. Kennedy made sure to put his affairs in order — his will, his medical directives and even his legislative instructions, family members say.

On the way to the airport, he called two Democratic colleagues: Mr. Dodd, telling him to take over a mental health bill he had been working on, and Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, instructing her to take over a higher education bill he had been shepherding.

“Barbara,” he boomed over the phone, “as if he was at a Red Sox-Orioles baseball game,” Ms. Mikulski said in an interview. Just days after the surgery, Mr. Kennedy began following up with Ms. Mikulski. “He was Coach Ted,” she said.

Mr. Kennedy took no comfort, friends say, in hearing how missed he was in Washington, or how in his absence he had been become something of a “spiritual leader” on issues with which he is identified, like health care. He kept in close touch with his staff and colleagues, and he was engaged in a running conversation with Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, on the delicate subject of whether Mr. Kennedy would be available to vote.

Mr. Reid assured him that he would not ever ask him to come to Washington unless his vote was essential. (His disease and treatments made Mr. Kennedy vulnerable to infections, so wading into crowded areas was risky.) When a crucial Medicare provision came up last summer, Mr. Reid asked Mr. Kennedy if he could make it down.

Mr. Kennedy’s family and staff debated the issue until the senator ended it. “I’ll be there,” he said, according to a member of his staff who was involved in the decision. He received a standing ovation when he returned to the Senate floor, and the bill passed easily.

Vicki Kennedy fiercely guarded her husband’s privacy, but Mr. Kennedy’s illness had an undeniably public component. His setbacks and hospital visits often drew news media attention. After his emotional speech at last summer’s Democratic Convention in Denver, it was disclosed that he had been suffering from kidney stones and had barely been able to get out of his hospital bed a few hours earlier.

He had to memorize the text of his speech because he struggled to see the teleprompter (his surgery had left him with impaired vision). The seizure Mr. Kennedy had at an Inaugural luncheon at the Capitol led his son Patrick to joke that his father was trying to overshadow Mr. Obama on his big day.

Mr. Kerry remembers Mr. Kennedy telling him on the Senate floor in March that he was having trouble preparing for an event he had been extremely excited for — throwing out the first pitch on opening day at Fenway Park.

While Mr. Kennedy typically told people he felt well and vigorous, by spring it was becoming clear that his disease was advancing to where he could not spend his remaining months as he had hoped, helping push a health care plan through the Senate.

He left Washington in May, after nearly a half-century in the capital, and decamped to Cape Cod, where he would contribute what he could to the health care debate via phone and C-Span. He would sail as much as possible, with as little pain and discomfort as his caretakers could manage.

He also told friends that he wanted to take stock of his life and enjoy the gift of his remaining days with the people he loved most.

“I’ve had a wonderful life,” he said repeatedly, friends recalled.

Mr. Dodd, in an interview, said: “At no point was he ever maudlin, ever ‘woe is me.’ I’m confident he had his moments — he wouldn’t be Irish if he didn’t — but in my presence, he always sounded more worried about me than he was about himself.”

Starting in late July, Vicki Kennedy organized near-nightly dinner parties and singalongs at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. The senator was surrounded in the dining room by his crystal sailing trophies and a semiregular cast of family members that included his three children, two stepchildren and four grandchildren. Jean Kennedy Smith, Mr. Kennedy’s sister, had rented a home down the street this summer and became a regular, too. Instead of singing, she would sometimes recite poetry.

Even as Mr. Kennedy became frustrated about his limitations, friends say his spirit never flagged. “This is someone who had a fierce determination to live, but who was not afraid to die,” said Representative Bill Delahunt, a Democrat and a Kennedy friend whose district includes Cape Cod. “And he was not afraid to have a lot of laughs until he got there.”

In recent years, friends say, Mr. Kennedy had come to lean heavily on his Roman Catholic faith. In eulogizing his mother, Rose Kennedy, in 1995, he spoke of the comfort of religious beliefs. “She sustained us in the saddest times by her faith in God, which was the greatest gift she gave us,” Mr. Kennedy said, his voice stammering.

He attended Mass every day in the year after his mother’s death and continued to attend regularly, often a few times a week.

The Rev. Mark Hession, the priest at the Kennedys’ parish on the Cape, made regular visits to the Kennedy home this summer and held a private family Mass in the living room every Sunday. Even in his final days, Mr. Kennedy led the family in prayer after the death of his sister Eunice on Aug. 11. He died comfortably and in no apparent pain, friends and staff members said.

His children had expected him to hold on longer — Mr. Kennedy’s son Patrick and daughter Kara could not get back to Hyannis Port in time from California and Washington.

But the senator’s condition took a turn Tuesday night and a priest — the Rev. Patrick Tarrant of Our Lady of Victory Church in Centerville, Mass. — was called to his bedside. Mr. Kennedy spent his last hours in prayer, Father Tarrant told a Boston television station, WCVB-TV.

Mr. Kennedy had told friends recently that he was looking forward to a “reunion” with his seven departed siblings, particularly his brothers, whose lives had been cut short.

“When he gets there, he can say ‘I did it, I carried the torch,’ ” Mr. Delahunt said. “ ‘I carried it all the way.’ ”

    After a Grim Diagnosis, Determined to Make a ‘Good Ending’, NYT, 27.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/27/us/politics/27year.html






Loss of Health Care Champion Creates Uncertainty


August 27, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy has quickly become a rallying point for Democratic advocates of a broad health care overhaul, a signature Kennedy issue that became mired in partisanship while he fought his illness away from the Capitol.

“The passion of his life was health care reform,” said Representative David R. Obey, the liberal Wisconsin Democrat who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee. “Above all else, he would want us to redouble our efforts to achieve it.”

Yet Democrats have serious internal differences on how to approach health care, and Republicans and Democrats remain deeply divided on the policy proposals — a gulf some say Mr. Kennedy was uniquely equipped to bridge.

It seemed unlikely that Republicans would suddenly soften their firm opposition in the aftermath of Mr. Kennedy’s death or that Democrats would relent on their push for substantial change, especially for a government-run insurance plan, which Mr. Kennedy endorsed.

But Democrats and others said the senator’s death should provide at least a temporary respite from the angry denunciations that flowed this summer, putting Democrats on the defensive as they met with voters back home. One advocacy group opposed to the Democratic proposals, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, announced that it was suspending its advertising out of respect for the senator and his family.

Some lawmakers used the moment to appeal for a new tone in the discussion of the volatile issue. “Let us stop the shouting and name calling and have a civilized debate on health care reform which I hope, when legislation has been signed into law, will bear his name for his commitment to insuring the health of every American,” Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, said in a statement on Mr. Kennedy’s death.

Some, however, expressed little hope for a permanent cease-fire. “We’ll pause out of respect for our fallen comrade, but nothing seems to have any effect on the partisanship,” said Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who recently switched parties and became a Democrat.

Whether the loss of health reform’s longtime champion will substantially alter the dynamic or the outcome of the Congressional fight will be determined only when Congress returns in September. Mr. Kennedy’s colleagues said they hoped his example would provide new inspiration.

“Maybe Teddy’s passing will remind people once again that we are there to get a job done as he would do,” said Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat and close friend of Mr. Kennedy who filled in for him as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Republicans said they did not ultimately expect much change in the health debate.

“Democrats will rally, but they still have to come up with a bill that works,” said one senior Republican official who did not want to be identified when talking about the delicate subject of how Mr. Kennedy’s death would play out in the policy fight. Another top Republican said the fight was already somewhat suspended with President Obama on vacation and would most likely “pick up right where we left off in a week or two.”

Republicans also noted that Mr. Kennedy, though an ideological liberal, was a legislative pragmatist who worked with Republicans to strike compromises on difficult subjects like health care, education and immigration. They said they saw little such reaching across the aisle in his absence.

Several Republicans also said they believed Congress would be closer to a health deal than it is now if Mr. Kennedy had regularly been on hand in the Senate, working face-to-face with his colleagues and using his prestige and credibility to advance the issue.

In a recent interview, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, said Mr. Kennedy was “the only Democrat who could really move all the Democrats’ special interests into coming along” with a bipartisan approach. Mr. Hatch said that in his absence, Mr. Kennedy’s staff members had written a “one-sided, partisan bill,” approved by the health committee on July 15. But Democrats say Mr. Kennedy had been deeply involved in putting together the legislation, had been consulted regularly on even the fine points and had been elated when the health committee approved its measure.

“He felt confident that we were on track even though there is a lot of ranting and raving going on right now,” Mr. Dodd said.

Howard Dean, the former presidential contender and national Democratic chairman, said it was “conjecture” to imagine how the course of health legislation might have changed had Mr. Kennedy lived. But, he said, “his death absolutely will stiffen the spine of the Democrats to get something this year for this extraordinary giant in Senate history.”

Other Democrats and health care advocates said they also viewed enacting health care legislation as the best tribute they could pay to the senator who had pursued accessible health coverage for every American for decades.

“Ted Kennedy’s dream of quality health care for all Americans will be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

In the most concrete effect of Mr. Kennedy’s death on Capitol Hill, the Democratic majority in the Senate will be reduced to 59 for at least the coming weeks, since Massachusetts law requires a special election to fill the seat and one might not be held until early next year. But Senate Democrats had for weeks accepted the fact that Mr. Kennedy would not be able to return to the floor even for a critical filibuster-breaking vote.

With only 59 seats, the Democrats are one short of the number they need to overcome procedural tactics that prevent a vote; if they face a filibuster, the leadership would have to hold its own members together and attract at least one Republican supporter beyond that. The math may lead Democrats to look more closely at considering health care under a procedural shortcut that could avert filibusters but also leave them with a health plan far reduced in scope.

The White House declined to comment Wednesday about what impact — if any — Mr. Kennedy’s death would have on the health care debate. Mr. Obama did not mention the health care debate in a written statement about Mr. Kennedy’s death or in brief televised remarks delivered from Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday morning. He did, however, recall the bipartisan manner in which Mr. Kennedy often approached legislative fights.

“He could passionately battle others, and do so peerlessly, on the Senate floor for the causes that he held dear, and yet still maintain warm friendships across party lines,” Mr. Obama said.


Carl Hulse reported from Washington, and Katharine Q. Seelye from New York. Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting from Oak Bluffs, Mass., and Robert Pear from Washington.

    Loss of Health Care Champion Creates Uncertainty, NYT, 27.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/27/us/politics/27health.html







A Great Liberal Voice Goes Silent


August 27, 2009
The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Edward Kennedy, Senate Stalwart, Dies” (The New York Times on the Web, Aug. 26):

It is impossible to read of the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy without profound sadness and a sense that we have lost one of the rare breed that truly cares for his fellow beings and works to make the world a better place.

The eulogies that will follow will highlight his great accomplishments — and will be poignant and bittersweet because so few in politics are fighting these good and necessary fights.

The greatest tribute that we as a nation, through our elected officials, could give would be to pass the health care reform proposed by President Obama in honor of the strongest supporter of health care for all. Let us make it the Edward Kennedy Health Reform Program.

To squabble now, to obfuscate and engage in demagogy, is a sad way to remember a great man’s cause.

Elaine Hirschl Ellis

New York, Aug. 26, 2009

To the Editor:

At the dawning of a new day, we received the news that Edward M. Kennedy, the “lion of the Senate,” in his 47th year of service from the state of Massachusetts, had died.

He was a visionary, standing up against the onrush of seemingly lost causes.

Yes, he was devoutly liberal. He defined the word as the essence of our spiritual being and not as a differentiation between political philosophies. He envisioned liberty and freedom as a right rather than a privilege.

Tirelessly, doggedly and with purpose, he fought from the heart. And now his work has ended. It’s time now for someone else to inflame our passions and drive us forward. James D. Cook

Streamwood, Ill., Aug. 26, 2009

To the Editor:

What made Edward M. Kennedy so special was that he represented what America should be. He showed that you can attain riches and privilege but know that you have an obligation to make sure that those who don’t possess your luck have a better life. Elliot Kotler

Ossining, N.Y., Aug. 26, 2009

To the Editor:

May all of our senators and members of Congress take such strong, brave and consistent stands as Senator Edward M. Kennedy did on behalf of the poor and the disenfranchised, and on behalf of the rest of us as well.

He worked so hard for so long to make universal health care a reality. There could be no more fitting tribute to Senator Kennedy than providing universal health care for all in the United States. Anna Paganelli

Santa Cruz, Calif., Aug. 26, 2009

To the Editor:

I cannot think of another politician who so redeemed his image over the years. Edward M. Kennedy became the kind of statesman that politicians on both sides of the aisle should aspire to be. Janice Hough

Palo Alto, Calif., Aug. 26, 2009

To the Editor:

Your thoughtful article about the death of Senator Edward M. Kennedy caused me to reflect on three issues.

First, to us in Ireland, he was a great and steadfast friend who helped us work our way through one of the darker periods in our history.

Second, as a United States senator, he was perhaps the greatest legislator in your great nation’s history.

Third, and very important, he was instrumental in blocking Robert Bork’s confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States. Remember his speech about “Robert Bork’s America”? Had Mr. Bork been confirmed, there would now be an unbreakable right-wing phalanx on the court. What price then liberty in America?

May a great man rest in peace.

Oliver Costello

Collon, Ireland, Aug. 26, 2009

To the Editor:

Edward M. Kennedy was great in the estimation of most liberals, but he was also respected by many of his opponents. He was incredibly capable and deeply caring, showing all-too-human weaknesses but never abandoning his convictions.

Few in this nation and world have courage and principles strong enough to campaign against injustice no matter the odds or opposition. We are all flawed yet humbled and inspired by Mr. Kennedy’s model of unwavering confidence and perseverance.

Dick Howland

Amherst, Mass., Aug. 26, 2009

To the Editor:

Senator Edward M. Kennedy was a champion of social justice. He was a voice for the voiceless, and a powerful force on behalf of the vulnerable.

I remember when I was a young girl, and my country of origin, Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), was experiencing genocide committed by the Pakistani (then West Pakistan) army. The American government remained silent because it was an ally of Pakistan. But Senator Kennedy stood up and helped mobilize international support for the Bangladeshis’ liberation war in 1971.

Now that I am here in Massachusetts for a short period (from Australia), I feel deeply privileged that I am in his state, and have been able to pay tribute to a great man. Nahid Afrose Kabir

Cambridge, Mass., Aug. 26, 2009

To the Editor:

Senator Edward M. Kennedy could have coasted on his name, but he chose instead to devote himself to the hard work of legislation in the fields of health care, labor and education, as well as to principled opposition to unnecessary military adventurism.

We need more public servants like Senator Kennedy on both sides of the aisle. He was devoted to the common good, and not to the good of corporate donors and special interests.

Ellen Oxfeld

Middlebury, Vt., Aug. 26, 2009

    A Great Liberal Voice Goes Silent, NYT, 27.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/27/opinion/l27kennedy.html






Edward Kennedy, Senate Stalwart, Dies


August 27, 2009
The New York Times


Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, a son of one of the most storied families in American politics, a man who knew triumph and tragedy in near-equal measure and who will be remembered as one of the most effective lawmakers in the history of the Senate, died late Tuesday night. He was 77.

The death of Mr. Kennedy, who had been battling brain cancer, was announced Wednesday morning in a statement by the Kennedy family, which was already mourning the death of the Senator’s sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver two weeks earlier.

“Edward M. Kennedy – the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply – died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port,” the statement said. “We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever.”

Mr. Kennedy had been in precarious health since he suffered a seizure in May 2008. His doctors determined the cause had been a malignant glioma, a brain tumor that often carries a grim prognosis.

As he underwent cancer treatment, Mr. Kennedy was little seen in Washington, appearing most recently at the White House in April as Mr. Obama signed a national service bill that bears the Kennedy name. Last week Mr. Kennedy urged Massachusetts lawmakers to change state law and let Gov. Deval Patrick appoint a temporary replacement upon his death, to assure that the state’s representation in Congress would not be interrupted by a special election.

While Mr. Kennedy had been physically absent from the capital in recent months, his presence had been deeply felt as Congress weighed the most sweeping revisions to America’s health care system in decades, an effort Mr. Kennedy called “the cause of my life.”

On July 15, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, which Mr. Kennedy headed, passed health care legislation, and the battle over the proposed overhaul is now consuming Capitol Hill.

Mr. Kennedy was the last surviving brother of a generation of Kennedys that dominated American politics in the 1960s and that came to embody glamour, political idealism and untimely death. The Kennedy mystique — some call it the Kennedy myth — has held the imagination of the world for decades and came to rest on the sometimes too-narrow shoulders of the brother known as Teddy.

Mr. Kennedy, who served 46 years as the most well-known Democrat in the Senate, longer than all but two other senators, was the only one of those brothers to die after reaching old age. President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were felled by assassins’ bullets in their 40s. The eldest brother, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., died in 1944 at the age of 29 while on a risky World War II bombing mission.

Mr. Kennedy spent much of last year in treatment and recuperation, broken by occasional public appearances and a dramatic return to the Capitol last summer to cast a decisive vote on a Medicare bill.

He electrified the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August with an unscheduled appearance and a speech that had delegates on their feet. Many were in tears.

His gait was halting, but his voice was strong. “My fellow Democrats, my fellow Americans, it is so wonderful to be here, and nothing is going to keep me away from this special gathering tonight,” Mr. Kennedy said. “I have come here tonight to stand with you to change America, to restore its future, to rise to our best ideals and to elect Barack Obama president of the United States.”

Senator Kennedy was at or near the center of much of American history in the latter part of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st. For much of his adult life, he veered from victory to catastrophe, winning every Senate election he entered but failing in his only try for the presidency; living through the sudden deaths of his brothers and three of his nephews; being responsible for the drowning death on Chappaquiddick Island of a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide to his brother Robert. One of the nephews, John F. Kennedy Jr., who the family hoped would one day seek political office and keep the Kennedy tradition alive, died in a plane crash in 1999 at age 38.

Mr. Kennedy himself was almost killed, in 1964, in a plane crash, which left him with permanent back and neck problems.

He was a Rabelaisian figure in the Senate and in life, instantly recognizable by his shock of white hair, his florid, oversize face, his booming Boston brogue, his powerful but pained stride. He was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy.

Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, one of the institution’s most devoted students, said of his longtime colleague, “Ted Kennedy would have been a leader, an outstanding senator, at any period in the nation’s history.”

Mr. Byrd is one of only two senators to have served longer in the chamber than Mr. Kennedy; the other was Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. In May 2008, on learning of Mr. Kennedy’s diagnosis of a lethal brain tumor, Mr. Byrd wept openly on the floor of the Senate.

Born to one of the wealthiest American families, Mr. Kennedy spoke for the downtrodden in his public life while living the heedless private life of a playboy and a rake for many of his years. Dismissed early in his career as a lightweight and an unworthy successor to his revered brothers, he grew in stature over time by sheer longevity and by hewing to liberal principles while often crossing the partisan aisle to enact legislation. A man of unbridled appetites at times, he nevertheless brought a discipline to his public work that resulted in an impressive catalog of legislative achievement across a broad landscape of social policy.

Mr. Kennedy left his mark on legislation concerning civil rights, health care, education, voting rights and labor. He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at his death. But he was more than a legislator. He was a living legend whose presence insured a crowd and whose hovering figure haunted many a president.

Although he was a leading spokesman for liberal issues and a favorite target of conservative fund-raising appeals, the hallmark of his legislative success was his ability to find Republican allies to get bills passed. Perhaps the last notable example was his work with President George W. Bush to pass the No Child Left Behind education law pushed by Mr. Bush in 2001. He also co-sponsored immigration legislation with Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. One of his greatest friends and collaborators in the Senate was Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican.

Mr. Kennedy had less impact on foreign policy than on domestic concerns, but when he spoke his voice was influential. He led the Congressional effort to impose sanctions on South Africa over apartheid, pushed for peace in Northern Ireland, won a ban on arms sales to the dictatorship in Chile and denounced the Vietnam War. In 2002, he voted against authorizing the Iraq war; later, he called that opposition “the best vote I’ve made in my 44 years in the United States Senate.”

At a pivotal moment in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, Mr. Kennedy endorsed Senator Obama for president, saying Mr. Obama offered America a chance for racial reconciliation and an opportunity to turn the page on the polarizing politics of the past several decades.

“He will be a president who refuses to be trapped in the patterns of the past,” Mr. Kennedy told an Obama rally in Washington on Jan. 28, 2008. “He is a leader who sees the world clearly, without being cynical. He is a fighter who cares passionately about the causes he believes in without demonizing those who hold a different view.”

Mr. Kennedy struggled for much of his life with his weight, with alcohol and with persistent tales of womanizing. In an Easter break episode in 1991 in Palm Beach, Fla., he went out drinking with his son Patrick and a nephew, William Kennedy Smith, on the night that Mr. Smith was accused of raping a woman. Mr. Smith was prosecuted in a lurid trial that fall but was acquitted.

Mr. Kennedy’s personal life stabilized in 1992 with his marriage to Victoria Anne Reggie, a Washington lawyer. His first marriage, to Joan Bennett Kennedy, ended in divorce in 1982 after 24 years.

Senator Kennedy served as a surrogate father to his brothers’ children and worked to keep the Kennedy flame alive through the Kennedy Library in Boston, the Kennedy Center in Washington and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he helped establish the Institute of Politics.

In December, Harvard granted Mr. Kennedy a special honorary degree. He referred to Mr. Obama’s election as “not just a culmination, but a new beginning.”

He then spoke of his own life, and perhaps his legacy.

“We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make,” he said. “I have lived a blessed time.”

Kennedy family courtiers and many other Democrats believed he would eventually win the White House and redeem the promise of his older brothers. In 1980, he took on the president of his own party, Jimmy Carter, but fell short because of Chappaquiddick, a divided party and his own weaknesses as a candidate, including an inability to articulate why he sought the office.

But as that race ended in August at the Democratic National Convention in New York, Mr. Kennedy delivered his most memorable words, wrapping his dedication to party principles in the gauzy cloak of Camelot.

“For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end,” Mr. Kennedy said in the coda to a speech before a rapt audience at Madison Square Garden and on television. “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”


A Family Steeped in Politics

Born Feb. 22, 1932, in Brookline, Mass., just outside Boston, Edward Moore Kennedy grew up in a family of shrewd politicians. Both his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, and his mother, the former Rose Fitzgerald, came from prominent Irish-Catholic families with long involvement in the hurly-burly of Democratic politics in Boston and Massachusetts. His father, who made a fortune in real estate, movies and banking, served in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration, as the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and then as ambassador to Britain.

There were nine Kennedy children, four boys and five girls, with Edward the youngest. They grew up talking politics, power and influence because those were the things that preoccupied the mind of Joseph Kennedy. As Rose Kennedy, who took responsibility for the children’s Roman Catholic upbringing, once put it: “My babies were rocked to political lullabies.”

When Edward was born, President Herbert Hoover sent Rose a bouquet of flowers and a note of congratulations. The note came with 5 cents postage due; the framed envelope is a family heirloom.

It was understood among the children that Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., the oldest boy, would someday run for Congress and, his father hoped, the White House. When Joseph Jr. was killed in World War II, it fell to the next oldest son, John F., to run. As John said at one point in 1959 while serving in the Senate: “Just as I went into politics because Joe died, if anything happened to me tomorrow, Bobby would run for my seat in the Senate. And if Bobby died, our young brother, Ted, would take over for him.”

Although surrounded by the trappings of wealth — stately houses, servants and expensive cars — young Teddy did not enjoy a settled childhood. He bounced among the family homes in Boston, New York, London and Palm Beach, and by the time Edward was ready to enter college, he had attended 10 preparatory schools in the United States and England, finally finishing at Milton Academy, near Boston. He said that the constant moving had forced him to become more genial with strangers; indeed, he grew to be more of a natural politician than either John or Robert.

After graduating from Milton in 1950, where he showed a penchant for debating and sports but was otherwise an undistinguished student, Mr. Kennedy enrolled in Harvard, as had his father and brothers. It was at Harvard, in his freshman year, that he ran into the first of several personal troubles that were to dog him for the rest of his life: He persuaded another student to take his Spanish examination, got caught and was forced to leave the university.

Suddenly draft-eligible during the Korean War, Mr. Kennedy enlisted in the Army and served two years, securing, with his father’s help, a cushy post at NATO headquarters in Paris. In 1953, he was discharged with the rank of private first class.

Re-enrolling in Harvard, he became a more serious student, majoring in government, excelling in public speaking and playing first-string end on the football team. He graduated in 1956 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, then enrolled in the University of Virginia School of Law, where Robert had studied. There, he won the moot court competition and took a degree in 1959. Later that year, he was admitted to the Massachusetts bar.

Mr. Kennedy’s first foray into politics came in 1958, while still a law student, when he managed John’s Senate re-election campaign. There was never any real doubt that Massachusetts voters would return John Kennedy to Washington, but it was a useful internship for his youngest brother.

That same year, Mr. Kennedy married Virginia Joan Bennett, a debutante from Bronxville, a New York suburb where the Kennedys had once lived. In 1960, when John Kennedy ran for president, Edward was assigned a relatively minor role, rustling up votes in Western states that usually voted Republican. He was so enthusiastic about his task that he rode a bronco at a Montana rodeo and daringly took a ski jump at a winter sports tournament in Wisconsin to impress a crowd. The episodes were evidence of a reckless streak that repeatedly threatened his life and career.

John Kennedy’s election to the White House left vacant a Senate seat that the family considered its property. Robert Kennedy was next in line, but chose the post of attorney general instead (an act of nepotism that has since been outlawed). Edward was only 28, two years shy of the minimum age for Senate service.

So the Kennedys installed Benjamin A. Smith 2d, a family friend, as a seat-warmer until 1962, when a special election would be held and Edward would have turned 30. Edward used the time to travel the world and work as an assistant district attorney in Boston, waiving the $5,000 salary and serving instead for $1 a year.

As James Sterling Young, the director of a Kennedy Oral History Project at the University of Virginia, put it: “Most people grow up and go into politics. The Kennedys go into politics and then they grow up.”

Less than a month after turning 30 in 1962, Mr. Kennedy declared his candidacy for the remaining two years of his brother’s Senate term. He entered the race with a tailwind of family money and political prominence. Nevertheless, Edward J. McCormack Jr., the state’s attorney general and a nephew of John W. McCormack, then speaker of the United States House of Representatives, also decided to go after the seat.

It was a bitter fight, with a public rehash of the Harvard cheating episode and with Mr. McCormack charging in a televised “Teddy-Eddie” debate that Mr. Kennedy lacked maturity of judgment because he had “never worked for a living” and had never held elective office. “If your name was simply Edward Moore instead of Edward Moore Kennedy,” Mr. McCormack added, “your candidacy would be a joke.”

But the Kennedys had ushered in an era of celebrity politics, which trumped qualifications in this case. Mr. Kennedy won the primary by a two-to-one ratio, then went on to easy victory in November against the Republican candidate, George Cabot Lodge, a member of an old-line Boston family that had clashed politically with the Kennedys through the years.

When Mr. Kennedy entered the Senate in 1962, he was aware that he might be seen as an upstart, with one brother in the White House and another in the cabinet. He sought guidance on the very first day from one of the Senate’s most respected elders, Richard Russell of Georgia. “You go further if you go slow,” Senator Russell advised.

Mr. Kennedy took things slowly, especially that first year. He did his homework, was seen more than he was heard and was deferential to veteran legislators.

On Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, he was presiding over the Senate when a wire service ticker in the lobby brought the news of John Kennedy’s shooting in Dallas. Violence had claimed the second of Joseph Kennedy’s sons.

Edward was sent to Hyannis Port to break the news to his father, who had been disabled by a stroke. He returned to Washington for the televised funeral and burial, the first many Americans had seen of him. He and Robert had planned to read excerpts from John’s speeches at the Arlington burial service. At the last moment they chose not to.

A friend described him as “shattered — calm but shattered.”


A Deadly Plane Crash

Robert moved into the breach and was immediately discussed as a presidential prospect. Edward became a more prominent family spokesman.

The next year, he was up for re-election. A heavy favorite from the start, he was on his way to the state convention that was to renominate him when his light plane crashed in a storm near Westfield, Mass. The pilot and a Kennedy aide were killed, and Mr. Kennedy’s back and several ribs were broken. Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana pulled Mr. Kennedy from the plane.

The senator was hospitalized for the next six months, suspended immobile between a frame that resembled a waffle iron. His wife, Joan, carried on his campaign, mainly by advising voters that he was steadily recovering. He won easily over a little-known Republican, Howard Whitmore Jr.

During his convalescence, Mr. Kennedy devoted himself to his legislative work. He was briefed by a parade of Harvard professors and began to develop his positions on immigration, health care and civil rights.

“I never thought the time was lost,” he said later. “I had a lot of hours to think about what was important and what was not and about what I wanted to do with my life.”

He returned to the Senate in 1965, joining his brother Robert, who had won a seat from New York. Edward promptly entered a major fight, his first. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Voting Rights Act was up for consideration, and Mr. Kennedy tried to strengthen it with an amendment that would have outlawed poll taxes. He lost by only four votes, serving lasting notice on his colleagues that he was a rapidly maturing legislator who could prepare a good case and argue it effectively.

Mr. Kennedy was slow to oppose the war in Vietnam, but in 1968, shortly after Robert decided to seek the presidency on an antiwar platform, Edward called the war a “monstrous outrage.”

Robert Kennedy was shot on June 5, 1968, as he celebrated his victory in the California primary, becoming the third of Joseph Kennedy’s sons to die a violent death. Edward was in San Francisco at a victory celebration. He commandeered an Air Force plane and flew to Los Angeles.

Frank Mankiewicz, Robert’s press secretary, saw Edward “leaning over the sink with the most awful expression on his face.”

“Much more than agony, more than anguish — I don’t know if there’s a word for it,” Mr. Mankiewicz said, recalling the encounter in “Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography,” by Adam Clymer (William Morrow, 1999).

Robert’s death draped Edward in the Kennedy mantle long before he was ready for it and forced him to confront his own mortality. But he summoned himself to deliver an eloquent eulogy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

“My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it,” Mr. Kennedy said, his voice faltering. “Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.”


A New Role as Patriarch

After the funeral, Edward Kennedy withdrew from public life and spent several months brooding, much of it while sailing off the New England coast.

Near the end of the summer of 1968, he emerged from seclusion, the sole survivor of Joseph Kennedy’s boys, ready to take over as family patriarch and substitute father to John’s and Robert’s 13 children, seemingly eager to get on with what he called his “public responsibilities.”

“There is no safety in hiding,” he declared in a speech at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., in August. “Like my brothers before me, I pick up a fallen standard. Sustained by the memory of our priceless years together, I shall try to carry forward that special commitment to justice, excellence and courage that distinguished their lives.”

There was some talk of his running for president at that point. But he ultimately endorsed Hubert H. Humphrey in his losing campaign to Richard M. Nixon.

Mr. Kennedy focused more on bringing the war in Vietnam to an end and on building his Senate career. Although only 36, he challenged Senator Russell B. Long of Louisiana, one of the shrewdest, most powerful legislators on Capitol Hill, for the post of deputy majority leader. Fellow liberals sided with him, and he edged Mr. Long by five votes to become the youngest assistant majority leader, or whip, in Senate history.

He plunged into the new job with Kennedy enthusiasm. But fate, and the Kennedy recklessness, intervened on July 18, 1969. Mr. Kennedy had been at a party with several women who had been aides to Robert. The party, a liquor-soaked barbecue, was held at a rented cottage on Chappaquiddick Island, off Martha’s Vineyard. He left around midnight with Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, took a turn away from the ferry landing and drove the car off a narrow bridge on an isolated beach road. The car sank in eight feet of water, but he managed to escape. Miss Kopechne, a former campaign worker for Robert, drowned.

Mr. Kennedy did not report the accident to the authorities for almost 10 hours, explaining later that he had been so banged about by the crash that he had suffered a concussion, and that he had become so exhausted while trying to rescue Miss Kopechne that he had gone immediately to bed. A week later, he pleaded guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of an accident and was given a two-month suspended sentence.

But that was far from the end of the incident. Questions lingered in the minds of the Massachusetts authorities and of the general public. Why was the car on an isolated road? Had he been drinking? (Mr. Kennedy testified at an inquest that he had had two drinks.) What sort of relationship did Mr. Kennedy and Miss Kopechne have? Could she have been saved if he had sought help immediately? Why did the senator tell his political advisers about the accident before reporting it to the police?

The controversy became so intense that Mr. Kennedy went on television to ask Massachusetts voters whether he should resign from office. He conceded that his actions after the crash had been “indefensible.” But he steadfastly denied any intentional wrongdoing.

His constituents sent word that he should remain in the Senate. And little more than a year later, he easily won re-election to a second full term, again defeating a little-known Republican, Josiah A. Spaulding, by a three-to-two ratio. But his heart did not seem to be in his work any longer. He was sometimes absent from Senate sessions and neglected his whip duties. Senator Byrd, of West Virginia, took the job away from him by putting together a coalition of Southern and border-state Democrats to vote him out.

That loss shook Mr. Kennedy out of his lethargy. He rededicated himself to his role as a legislator. “It hurts like hell to lose,” he said, “but now I can get around the country more. And it frees me to spend more time on issues I’m interested in.” Many years later, he became friends with Mr. Byrd and told him the defeat had been the best thing that could have happened in his Senate career.


Turmoil at Home

In the next decade, Mr. Kennedy expanded on his national reputation, first pushing to end the war in Vietnam, then concentrating on his favorite legislative issues, especially civil rights, health, taxes, criminal laws and deregulation of the airline and trucking industries. He traveled the country, making speeches that kept him in the public eye.

But when he was mentioned as a possible candidate for president in 1972, he demurred; and when the Democratic nominee, George S. McGovern, offered him the vice-presidential nomination, Mr. Kennedy again said no, not wanting to face the inevitable Chappaquiddick questions.

In 1973, his son Edward M. Kennedy Jr., then 12, developed a bone cancer that cost him a leg. The next year, Mr. Kennedy took himself out of the 1976 race. Instead, Mr. Kennedy easily won a third full term in the Senate, and Jimmy Carter, a former one-term governor of Georgia, moved into the White House.

In early 1978, Mr. Kennedy’s wife, Joan, moved out of their sprawling contemporary house overlooking the Potomac River near McLean, Va., a Washington suburb. She took up residence in an apartment of her own in Boston, saying she wanted to “explore options other than being a housewife and mother.” But she also acknowledged a problem with alcohol, and conceded that she was increasingly uncomfortable with the pressure-cooker life that went with membership in the Kennedy clan. She began studying music and enrolled in a program for alcoholics.

The separation posed not only personal but also political problems for the senator. After Mrs. Kennedy left for Boston, there were rumors that linked the senator with other women. He maintained that he still loved his wife and indicated that the main reason for the separation was Mrs. Kennedy’s desire to work out her alcohol problem. She subsequently campaigned for him in the 1980 race, but there was never any real reconciliation, and they eventually entered divorce proceedings.

Although Mr. Kennedy supported Mr. Carter in 1976, by late 1978 he was disenchanted. Polls indicated that the senator was becoming popular while the president was losing support. In December, at a midterm Democratic convention in Memphis, Mr. Kennedy could hold back no longer. He gave a thundering speech that, in retrospect, was the opening shot in the 1980 campaign.

“Sometimes a party must sail against the wind,” he declared, referring to Mr. Carter’s economic belt-tightening and political caution. “We cannot heed the call of those who say it is time to furl the sail. The party that tore itself apart over Vietnam in the 1960s cannot afford to tear itself apart today over budget cuts in basic social programs.”

Mr. Kennedy did not then declare his candidacy. But draft-Kennedy groups began to form in early 1979, and some Democrats up for re-election in 1980 began to cast about for coattails that were longer than Mr. Carter’s.

After consulting advisers and family members over the summer of 1979, Mr. Kennedy began speaking openly of challenging the president, and on Nov. 7, 1979, he announced officially that he would run. “Our leaders have resigned themselves to defeat,” he said.

The campaign was a disaster, badly organized and appearing to lack a political or policy premise. His speeches were clumsy, and his delivery was frequently stumbling and bombastic. And in the background, Chappaquiddick always loomed. He won the New York and California primaries, but the victories were too little and came too late to unseat Mr. Carter. At the party’s nominating convention in New York, however, he stole the show with his “dream shall never die” speech.

With the approach of the 1984 election, there was the inevitable speculation that Mr. Kennedy, who had easily won re-election to the Senate in 1982, would again seek the presidency. He prepared and planned a campaign. But in the end he chose not to run, saying he wanted to spare his family a repeat of the ordeal they went through in 1980. Skeptics said he also knew he could not fight the undertow of Chappaquiddick.


A Full-On Senate Focus

Freed at last of the expectation that he should and would seek the White House, Mr. Kennedy devoted himself fully to his day job in the Senate. He led the fight for the 18-year-old vote, the abolition of the draft, deregulation of the airline and trucking industries, and the post-Watergate campaign finance legislation. He was deeply involved in renewals of the Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing law of 1968. He helped establish the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He built federal support for community health care centers, increased cancer research financing and helped create the Meals on Wheels program. He was a major proponent of a health and nutrition program for pregnant women and infants.

When Republicans took over the Senate in 1981, Mr. Kennedy requested the ranking minority position on the Labor and Public Welfare Committee, asserting that the issues before the labor and welfare panel would be more important during the Reagan years.

In the years after his failed White House bid, Mr. Kennedy also established himself as someone who made “lawmaker” mean more than a word used in headlines to describe any member of Congress. Though his personal life was a mess until his remarriage in the early 1990s, he never failed to show up prepared for a committee hearing or a floor debate.

His most notable focus was civil rights, “still the unfinished business of America,” he often said. In 1982, he led a successful fight to defeat the Reagan administration’s effort to weaken the Voting Rights Act.

In one of those bipartisan alliances that were hallmarks of his legislative successes, Mr. Kennedy worked with Senator Bob Dole, Republican of Kansas, to secure passage of the voting rights measure, and Mr. Dole got most of the credit.

Perhaps his greatest success on civil rights came in 1990 with passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which required employers and public facilities to make “reasonable accommodation” for the disabled. When the law was finally passed, Mr. Kennedy and others told how their views on the bill had been shaped by having relatives with disabilities. Mr. Kennedy cited his mentally disabled sister, Rosemary, and his son who had lost a leg to cancer.

Mr. Kennedy was one of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s strongest allies in their failed 1994 effort to enact national health insurance, a measure the senator had been pushing, in one form or another, since 1969.

But he kept pushing incremental reforms, and in 1997, teaming with Senator Hatch, Mr. Kennedy helped enact a landmark health care program for children in low-income families, a program now known as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-Chip.

He led efforts to increase aid for higher education and win passage of Mr. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. He pushed for increases in the federal minimum wage. He helped win enactment of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, one of the largest expansions of government health aid ever.

He was a forceful and successful opponent of the confirmation of Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court. In a speech delivered within minutes of President Reagan’s nomination of Mr. Bork in 1987, Mr. Kennedy made an attack that even friendly commentators called demagogic. Mr. Bork’s “extremist view of the Constitution,” he said, meant that “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, and schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of Americans.”

Some of Mr. Kennedy’s success as a legislator can be traced to the quality and loyalty of his staff, considered by his colleagues and outsiders alike to be the best on Capitol Hill.

“He has one of the most distinguished alumni associations of any U.S. senator,” said Ross K. Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University who has worked in Congress. “To have served in even a minor capacity in the Kennedy office or on one of his committees is a major entry in anyone’s résumé.”

Those who have worked for Mr. Kennedy include Stephen G. Breyer, appointed to the Supreme Court by President Clinton; Gregory B. Craig, now the White House counsel; and Kenneth R. Feinberg, the Obama administration’s top official for compensation.

Mr. Kennedy “deserves recognition not just as the leading senator of his time, but as one of the greats in its history, wise in the workings of this singular institution, especially its demand to be more than partisan to accomplish much,” Mr. Clymer wrote in his biography.

“The deaths and tragedies around him would have led others to withdraw. He never quits, but sails against the wind.”

Mr. Kennedy is survived by his wife, known as Vicki; two sons, Edward M. Kennedy Jr. of Branford, Conn., and United States Representative Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island; a daughter, Kara Kennedy Allen, of Bethesda, Md.; two stepchildren, Curran Raclin and Caroline Raclin, and four grandchildren. His former wife, Joan Kennedy, lives in Boston.

Mr. Kennedy is also survived by a sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, of New York. On Aug. 11, his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver of Potomac, Md., died at age 88. Another sister, Patricia Lawford Kennedy, died in 2006. His sister Rosemary died in 2005, and his sister Kathleen died in a plane crash in 1948.

Their little brother Teddy was the youngest, the little bear whom everyone cuddled, whom no one took seriously and from whom little was expected. He reluctantly and at times awkwardly carried the Kennedy standard, with all it implied and all it required. And yet, some scholars contend, he may have proved himself the most worthy.

“He was a quintessential Kennedy, in the sense that he had all the warts as well as all the charisma and a lot of the strengths,” said Norman J. Ornstein, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute. “If his father, Joe, had surveyed, from an early age up to the time of his death, all of his children, his sons in particular, and asked to rank them on talents, effectiveness, likelihood to have an impact on the world, Ted would have been a very poor fourth. Joe, John, Bobby ... Ted.

“He was the survivor,” Mr. Ornstein continued. “He was not a shining star that burned brightly and faded away. He had a long, steady glow. When you survey the impact of the Kennedys on American life and politics and policy, he will end up by far being the most significant.”

    Edward Kennedy, Senate Stalwart, Dies, NYT, 27.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/27/us/politics/27kennedy.html






A Torch Extinguished: Ted Kennedy Dead at 77


August 27, 2009
Filed at 1:41 a.m. ET
The New York Times


HYANNIS PORT, Mass. (AP) -- The greatest heights eluded Ted Kennedy over a lifetime of achievement and pain. No presidency. No universal health care, chief among his causes.

Instead, Kennedy built his Washington monument stone by stone, his imprint distinct on the Senate's most important works over nearly half a century. He toiled across the Potomac River from the graveyard of his fallen brothers.

The last of the Kennedys who fascinated the nation with their ambition, style, idealism, tragedies -- and sometimes sheer recklessness -- Edward Moore Kennedy died late Tuesday night at 77. A black shroud and vase of white roses sat Wednesday on his Senate desk, which John Kennedy had used before him.

So dropped the final curtain on ''Camelot,'' the already distant era of the Kennedy dynasty.

The Massachusetts senator's extended political family of fellow Democrats and rival Republicans, steeled for his death since his brain-tumor diagnosis a year ago yet still jarred by it, joined in mourning. Kennedy was the Senate's dominant liberal and one of its legendary dealmakers.

Just last year he jumped into a fractious Democratic presidential nomination fight to side with Barack Obama, giving the Illinois senator a boost that had the air of a family anointment.

''For his family, he was a guardian,'' Obama said Wednesday. ''For America, he was a defender of a dream.''

The president, vacationing in Martha's Vineyard, was awakened after 2 a.m. and told of Kennedy's death. He spoke soon after with the senator's widow, Victoria, and ordered flags flown at half-staff on all federal buildings.

Kennedy will be buried Saturday at Arlington National Cemetery after a funeral Mass in Boston, where Obama is to deliver a eulogy.

Kennedy will lie in repose at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston before that.

Also buried at Arlington, the military cemetery overlooking the capital city, are John and Robert Kennedy; John Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline; their baby son, Patrick, who died after two days, and their stillborn child.

To Americans and much of the world, Kennedy was best known as the last surviving son of the nation's most glamorous political family. Of nine children born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy, Jean Kennedy Smith is the only one alive.

To senators of both parties, he was one of their own.

''Even when you expect it, even when you know it's coming, in this case it hurts a great deal,'' said Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Politicians also calculated the consequences for Obama's push for expanded health coverage. For several months, at least, Kennedy's death will deprive the Democrats of a vote that could prove crucial for his signature cause of health reform.

His illness had sidelined him from an intense debate that would have found him at the core any other time. Conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, his improbable Republican partner on children's health insurance, volunteerism, student aid and more, said the Senate probably would have had a health care deal by now if Kennedy had been healthy enough to work with him.

''Iconic, larger than life,'' Hatch said of his friend. ''We were like fighting brothers.''

He was the last of the famous Kennedy brothers: John the assassinated president, Robert the assassinated senator and presidential candidate, Joseph the aviator killed in action in World War II when Ted was 12.

He lost his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, less than two weeks ago, saw the bright promise of nephew John F. Kennedy Jr. end in a plane crash in 1999 and struggled with excesses of his own until he became a settled elder statesman.

Like Obama, Kennedy was a master orator. But the words that live for the ages seem to be those he uttered in tragedy or defeat.

Older Americans remember his eulogy of Robert Kennedy, when he asked history not to idealize his brother but remember him ''simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.''

Remembered, too, is his speech conceding the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination to the incumbent Jimmy Carter. ''For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die,'' he said.

By then, his hopes of reaching the White House had been damaged by his behavior a decade earlier in the scandal known as Chappaquiddick.

On the night of July 18, 1969, Kennedy drove his car off a bridge and into a pond on Chappaquiddick Island, on Martha's Vineyard, and swam to safety while companion Mary Jo Kopechne drowned in the car. He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident; a judge said his actions probably contributed to the young woman's death. He received a suspended sentence and probation.

Kennedy's legislative legacy includes health insurance for children of the working poor, the landmark 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, family leave and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He was also key to passage of the No Child Left Behind Education law and a Medicare drug benefit for the elderly, both championed by Republican President George W. Bush.

In the Senate, Republicans respected and often befriended him. But his essential liberalism marked him as a lightning rod, too. He proved a handy fundraising foil motivating Republicans to open their wallets to fight anything he stood for.

In 1980, Kennedy's task of dislodging a president of his own party was compounded by his fumbling answer to a question posed by CBS' Roger Mudd: Why do you want to be president?

''Well, I'm, uh, were I to, to make the, the announcement, to run, the reasons that I would run is because I have a great belief in this country,'' he began.

It's a question that all savvy politicians ever since make sure won't catch them unprepared.

In his later years, Kennedy cut a barrel-chested profile, with a swath of white hair, a booming voice and a thick, widely imitated Boston accent. He coupled fist-pumping floor speeches with charm and formidable negotiating skills.

''I think that once he realized he was never going to be president -- that that was not the legacy he had to follow -- he really worked at becoming the best senator he possibly could,'' Leahy said. ''And he did.''

He was first elected to the Senate in 1962, taking the seat that his brother John had occupied before winning the White House, and he served longer than all but two senators in history.

Kennedy was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in May 2008 and underwent surgery and a grueling regimen of radiation and chemotherapy.

He made a surprise return to the Capitol last summer to cast a decisive vote for the Democrats on Medicare. He made sure he was there again in January to see his former Senate colleague sworn in as president but suffered a seizure at a celebratory luncheon afterward.

His survivors include a daughter, Kara Kennedy Allen; two sons, Edward Jr. and Patrick, a congressman from Rhode Island, and two stepchildren, Caroline and Curran Raclin.

Edward Jr. lost a leg to bone cancer in 1973 at age 12. Kara had a cancerous tumor removed from her lung in 2003. In 1988, Patrick had a non-cancerous tumor pressing on his spine removed. He also has struggled with depression and addiction and recently spent time at an addiction treatment center.


Woodward reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman in Washington, Philip Elliott in Oak Bluffs, Mass., and Bob Salsberg contributed to this report.


On the Net:

Kennedy's office: http://kennedy.senate.gov

    A Torch Extinguished: Ted Kennedy Dead at 77, NYT, 27.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/08/27/us/politics/AP-US-Obit-Ted-Kennedy.html






Obama Wins Crucial Senate Vote on F-22


July 22, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — With some of his political capital on the line, President Obama won a crucial victory on Tuesday when the Senate voted to strip out $1.75 billion in financing for seven more F-22 jet fighters from a military authorization bill.

The president had repeatedly threatened to veto the $679.8 billion bill if it included any money for the planes. The 58-to-40 vote clearly gives the Obama administration more leeway to overhaul military spending.

The F-22, the world’s most advanced fighter, has been a flashpoint in a battle over the administration’s push to shift more of the Pentagon’s resources away from conventional warfare projects, like the F-22, to provide more money for fighting insurgencies.

Senate aides said that some Democrats who otherwise might have voted for more planes sided with the president out of concern that a loss could have hurt him in the fight for health care reform.

“The president really needed to win this vote,” Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan who led the fight to cut financing for the plane, said after the vote.

Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the F-22, has estimated that work on the plane provides 25,000 jobs and indirectly supports about 70,000 others. But Robert M. Gates, the defense secretary, has said that the Pentagon needs to accelerate a new plane, the F-35, and that doing so would offset the job losses.

About 1,000 suppliers in 44 states provide the jobs, which will gradually be phased out as some of the 187 F-22s that have been ordered are completed.

About two-thirds of the jobs are in California, Texas, Georgia, Washington and Connecticut. Several large unions who supported Mr. Obama in his campaign for the presidency, back building more planes.

All four senators from California and Washington are Democrats, and they all voted in favor of preserving the money for more planes.

The senators from Connecticut — Senator Christopher J. Dodd, a Democrat, and Senator Joseph Lieberman, a former Democrat who is now an independent — also voted to keep the money in the budget, as did the four Republican senators from Georgia and Texas.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, had long supported the plane, partly because of jobs in Massachusetts, but he voted on Tuesday to strip out the money. Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, another senior Democrat who also had supported the plane, is battling brain cancer and did not vote Tuesday.

Immediately after the vote, Mr. Obama praised the Senate’s decision, saying that any money spent on the fighter was an “inexcusable waste” — and that by following his lead the Senate had demonstrated a commitment to changing Washington’s ingrained habits.

He also received crucial support from his Republican rival in last year’s presidential election, Senator John McCain of Arizona, who co-sponsored an amendment with Mr. Levin to remove the $1.75 billion from the bill.

Mr. McCain told reporters after the vote that the result was “definitely attributable” to the strong push by the president and Mr. Gates.

Mr. McCain added that the vote “really means there’s a chance of us changing the way we do business in Washington,” particularly in terms of Pentagon contracting.

Mr. Levin said that Mr. Gates and the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, made phone calls to influential senators to rally support.

“This was a very significant decision that the Senate made after a very, very tough battle,” Mr. Levin said.

Despite Mr. Obama’s veto threat, the Armed Services Committee had set the stage for Tuesday’s decision by voting 13 to 11 in late June to shift the $1.75 billion from other parts of the Pentagon’s budget for 2010 to add the seven planes to the 187 that have been built or ordered.

The House has also voted to keep the plane alive by authorizing $369 million to buy advanced parts for 12 more F-22s. Ultimately, a conference committee will decide the next step.

And even though Tuesday’s vote represented a test of strength for the White House, the issue could potentially resurface in the Senate. Senator Daniel Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii and the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was among the Democrats who voted on Tuesday to preserve the money for the planes, and his panel will be putting together a separate military appropriations bill soon.

Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican from Georgia who led the fight to save the plane, said after the vote that he was disappointed. But he added that he hoped a law banning exports of the plane might be changed to allow it to be sold to allies like Japan. Lockheed assembles the planes in Marietta, Ga.

Still, military analysts said supporters had made much more progress in saving the F-22 than most experts had expected when Mr. Gates announced plans in April to cancel it and other major weapons systems.

Critics have long portrayed the F-22 as a cold war relic. The plane was designed in the late 1980s and can perform tactical operations at higher altitudes than other fighters. It can cruise at supersonic speeds without using telltale afterburners, and it has a stealthy skin that scatters radar detection signals. Proponents see it as a form of insurance against possible wars with countries like China.

But the F-22 has never been used in war, and the Pentagon’s focus has shifted to simpler weapons needed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Air Force leaders recently agreed that they could make do with the F-22s already built or ordered, instead of the 381 that the service had sought.

Mr. Gates has said a new fighter, the F-35, is better designed to attack ground targets. The plane will be used by the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Air Force, and the Pentagon plans to buy more than 2,400 of them.

    Obama Wins Crucial Senate Vote on F-22, NYT, 22.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/22/business/22defense.html






Obama Implores Senate to Pass Climate Bill


June 27, 2009
Filed at 6:47 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hours after the House passed landmark legislation meant to curb greenhouse gas emissions and create an energy-efficient economy, President Barack Obama on Saturday urged senators to show courage and follow suit.

The sharply debated bill's fate is unclear in the Senate, and Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address to ratchet up pressure on the 100-seat chamber.

''My call to every senator, as well as to every American, is this,'' he said. ''We cannot be afraid of the future. And we must not be prisoners of the past. Don't believe the misinformation out there that suggests there is somehow a contradiction between investing in clean energy and economic growth.''

Obama said the bill would create jobs, make renewable energy profitable and decrease America's dependence on foreign oil.

''It will spur the development of low-carbon sources of energy -- everything from wind, solar and geothermal power to safer nuclear energy and cleaner coal,'' he said.

House Democratic leaders said the bill helped accomplish one of Obama's campaign promises and would make the U.S. a leader in international efforts to address climate change when negotiations take place in Copenhagen later this year.

''We passed transformational legislation, which will take us into the future,'' said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., after the 219-212 vote.

''For some it was a very difficult vote because the entrenched agents of the status quo were out there full force, jamming the lines in their districts and here, and they withstood that,'' Pelosi said.

The vote marked the first time either house of Congress has passed legislation to curb global warming gases. The legislation, totaling about 1,200 pages, would require the U.S. to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and by 83 percent by mid-century.

Success will be tougher in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid says he wants to take up the legislation by the fall. Sixty 60 votes will be needed to overcome any Republican filibuster.

The ''razor-thin vote in the House spells doom in the Senate,'' said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the top Republican on the Senate's environment panel.

Reid, D-Nev., was more optimistic.

''The bill is not perfect, but it is a good product for the Senate,'' Reid said. ''Working with the president and his team, I am hopeful that the Senate will be able to debate and pass bipartisan and comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this fall.''

Supporters and opponents agreed that the legislation would lead to higher energy costs. But they disagreed on the impact on consumers.

Democrats pointed to two reports -- one from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the other from the Environmental Protection Agency -- that suggested average increases would be limited after tax credits and rebates were taken into account. The CBO estimated the bill would cost an average household $175 a year, the EPA $80 to $110 a year. But Republicans and industry groups say the real figure would much higher.

The White House and congressional Democrats argued the bill would create millions of green jobs as the nation shifts to greater reliance on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar and development of more fuel-efficient vehicles -- and away from use of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal.

It will ''make our nation the world leader on clean energy jobs and technology,'' said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who negotiated deals with dozens of lawmakers in recent weeks to broaden the bill's support.

Republicans saw it differently.

This ''amounts to the largest tax increase in American history under the guise of climate change,'' declared Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.

In the Republicans' weekly radio and Internet address, House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio said, ''By imposing a tax on every American who drives a car or flips on a light switch, this plan will drive up the prices for food, gasoline and electricity.''

But Obama said the measure would cost the average American about the price of a postage stamp per day.

''It is paid for by the polluters who currently emit dangerous carbon emissions,'' the president said. ''It provides assistance to businesses and families as they make the gradual transition to clean energy technologies.''

In California alone, Obama said, 3,000 people will be employed to build a new solar plant that will create 1,000 permanent jobs.


Associated Press writers Dina Cappiello and H. Josef Hebert contributed to this report.


On the Net: www.whitehouse.gov

    Obama Implores Senate to Pass Climate Bill, NYT, 28.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/27/us/politics/AP-US-Climate-Bill.html






Many in Congress

Hold Stakes in Health Industry


June 14, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — As President Obama and Congress intensify the push to overhaul health care in the coming week, the political and economic force of that industry is well represented in the financial holdings of many lawmakers and others with a say on the legislation, according to new disclosure forms.

The personal financial reports, due late last week from members of Congress, show that many lawmakers hold investments in insurance, pharmaceutical and prescription-benefit companies and in hospital interests, all of which would be affected by the administration’s overhaul of health care.

The lawmakers’ stakes are impossible to quantify because the reports ask for ranges of value for each asset, and because many officials’ holdings are in stock index and mutual funds. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, for example, has interests in a stock index fund for the health care sector of more than $50,000 and up to $100,000.

Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, the senior Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, one of three panels in the House with jurisdiction over health care, reported at least tens of thousands of dollars in health-related interests, including the medical technology giant Medtronic, the drug maker Wyeth and the insurance company Aetna.

In Congress, as members and aides of the three House committees continue to meet privately, the Senate health committee will begin publicly drafting and voting on its bill as soon as Tuesday. Later in the week, the Democratic chairman and senior Republican of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus of Montana and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, are expected to unveil a bipartisan plan.

Neither Mr. Baucus, from a ranching family, nor Mr. Grassley, a farmer, have major health-related holdings, their reports show.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, chairman of the health committee, has much of his wealth in blind trusts.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, leads the health committee in consultation with Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Dodd’s wife, Jackie Clegg Dodd, is a member of the board and a shareholder in several health-related companies, including Cardiome Pharma, Javelin Pharmaceuticals and Brookdale Senior Living.

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a Republican on the health committee, is an obstetrician with income from his clinic in Muskogee. The wife of Representative Wally Herger of California, the senior Republican on the health subcommittee of the Ways and Means panel, works for Catholic Healthcare West, while the wife of Representative Joe L. Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, works for JPS Health Network.

Mr. Obama’s chief adviser on health care, Nancy-Ann DeParle, also filed disclosure forms with the White House. Ms. DeParle, who served in the Clinton administration, went on to lucrative positions on the boards of health companies and as director of a private-equity firm with health investments, earning more than $2 million from 2008 to this year, according to forms signed on May 13.

The companies included Medco Health Solutions, a pharmacy benefits manager; Boston Scientific, a device maker; Cerner, a provider of medical information technology; and DaVita, an operator of dialysis services.

A handwritten note on the forms, dated June 4, says that “all conflicting assets have been divested.” Ms. DeParle is the wife of a reporter for The New York Times, Jason DeParle.


Janie Lorber, Ashley Southall and Jack Styczynski contributed reporting.

    Many in Congress Hold Stakes in Health Industry, NYT, 13.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/us/politics/14cong.html






Abuse Photos Part of Agreement on Military Spending


June 12, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiators reached tentative agreement on Thursday on a $105.9 billion spending measure that would provide money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through September but would drop a ban on the release of photographs showing abuse of foreign prisoners held by United States forces.

The deal was concluded after Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, went to the Capitol to assure Senate Democrats that President Obama would use all administrative and legal means to prevent the photos’ release. At the same time, a federal court issued a ruling effectively ensuring that the photos would not be released for months, if ever.

Mr. Obama followed up with a letter, promising to work with Congress if legislation was necessary to keep the photos from being publicized but urging lawmakers not to let the dispute interfere with freeing up the money for the armed forces.

“Given the singular importance of providing funding for our troops, it is essential that Congress pass the supplemental appropriations bill,” Mr. Obama wrote in the letter, which was read publicly at the negotiating session by Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii and the Appropriations Committee chairman.

The photo restriction, approved by the Senate, was viewed by some Democratic House members as an end run around federal freedom of information laws. It was dropped to appease Democrats already uneasy about approving nearly $80 billion for combat and more money for aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Democrats said they could not secure enough votes to pass the bill if the photo ban were included. But Republicans threatened to try to block the measure if the ban were cut out, saying the photos could incite terrorists and endanger Americans overseas.

“What good are we to our soldiers if we can’t protect them in a time like this?” asked Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “Every photo is a bullet for our enemy.”

He and his allies, including Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, said Mr. Obama should take executive action to block the release of the photos by ordering them classified.

The administration’s cause was bolstered when a federal appeals court in New York announced last Thursday that it had granted a request by the Obama administration and recalled its April 27 order to release the photographs, permitting the administration to take the case to the Supreme Court.

In effect, the decision by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit means it will be months before there is any chance that the Defense Department could be ordered to release the photographs.

Amrit Singh, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is seeking the release of the photographs as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, said she was disappointed by the court’s ruling. “It will only serve to delay further the release of these photographs, which are critical for informing the ongoing public debate about the treatment of prisoners,” she said.

Ms. Singh said the photos portrayed abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq in places other than Abu Ghraib prison, the Iraq jail made infamous in 2004 by photographs of abuse there, and would therefore show that abuse was “not aberrational but systemic.”

The photo issue is just one of several that are likely to generate opposition to the bill, which would also set aside $7.7 billion to prepare for a flu pandemic, provide $1 billion to encourage consumers to trade in older cars for more fuel-efficient models and allow detainees at the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, center to be brought to the United States for trial.

The measure also clears the way for a $100 billion line of credit for the International Monetary Fund, which was the initial source of trouble for the spending bill. Republicans strongly supported the spending legislation when it was considered this year, but have threatened to withhold their support over the foreign aid, saying some of the money could go to unfriendly governments.

With Republicans abandoning the measure, Democrats need as many votes as they can win over and the ban on releasing the photos emerged as a major obstacle. In the meeting of House and Senate negotiators late Thursday afternoon, efforts to reinstate the ban were beaten back.

Some lawmakers also questioned including $1 billion to encourage owners of older cars to trade them in for more fuel-efficient models. That program, known as Cash for Clunkers, is nominally aimed at helping the environment and reducing carbon emissions, but many lawmakers who pushed for it were primarily interested in lifting vehicle sales to prop up the struggling auto industry.

The provision had not originally been included by either the House or Senate. And critics, mainly Republicans but also some Democrats, charged that it was a brazen giveaway of tax dollars to bankrupt auto companies that had already received billions in federal bailout assistance. But an effort to eliminate the money was defeated.

The bill also includes $8 million to pay for a new commission to examine the causes of the financial and economic crisis.


Scott Shane contributed reporting.

    Abuse Photos Part of Agreement on Military Spending, NYT, 12.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/12/us/politics/12cong.html?hpw






Senate Votes to Impose U.S. Regulation on Tobacco


June 12, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to impose federal regulation on cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, passing a landmark bill to empower the Food and Drug Administration to control products that eventually kill half their regular users.

The legislation, with only minor differences from a version the House passed in April by a nearly 3-to-1 ratio. A White House spokesman, Reid H. Cherlin, said on Thursday that President Obama, who was a co-sponsor of the bill when he was in the Senate, would sign the legislation when it reached his desk.

An estimated one in five people in this country smoke, and more than 400,000 of them die each year from smoking-related disease. But for decades, even after the surgeon general’s 1964 report declaring cigarettes a health hazard, Congressional efforts to regulate tobacco had met stiff opposition from lawmakers from tobacco-growing states and their political allies.

And when the F.D.A. tried on its own to start regulating nicotine as a drug, the Supreme Court struck down that effort in 2000, saying the agency could not take such a step without Congressional authority. Cigarettes remained less regulated than cosmetics or pet food.

But with broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and House, and a campaign pledge by Barack Obama to sign such legislation if he became president, the anti-tobacco forces came into alignment.

“This long-overdue grant of authority to F.D.A. to regulate tobacco products means that the agency can finally take the actions needed to protect our people from the most deadly of all consumer products,” Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who was chief sponsor of the legislation in the Senate, said in a statement from home, where he is receiving treatment for a brain tumor.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, as it is called, would empower the F.D.A. to set standards for cigarettes, regulating chemicals in cigarette smoke and outlawing most tobacco flavorings. It could also study whether to also ban menthol. Flavorings are considered a lure to first-time smokers, especially the young. Menthol is used by three-quarters of black smokers, who also have a disproportionate share of lung cancer.

The law would also further restrict marketing and advertising of tobacco products. Colorful advertising and store displays will be replaced by black-and-white-only text as part of restrictions aimed at reducing the appeal to youth to try smoking. Cigarette makers will be required to stop using terms like “light” and “low tar” by next year and to place large and graphic health warnings on their packages by 2012.

But while the F.D.A. could mandate a reduced level of nicotine, an addictive chemical, the law expressly says the agency cannot ban it. Public health advocates say outlawing nicotine would force addicts would turn to a black market or other sources.

Still, health advocates predict that F.D.A. product standards could eventually reduce some of the 60 carcinogens and 4,000 toxins in cigarette smoke, or make them taste so bad they deter users.

“This is a bill not for a one-year or two-year splash, but for a long-term impact,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Washington advocacy group that took a lead in coordinating support for the legislation. The Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris, whose Marlboro brand helps make it the nation’s leading tobacco seller, endorsed the F.D.A. legislation and negotiated some of its crucial provisions with Congress.

The Congressional Budget Office had estimated that the F.D.A. legislation would reduce youth smoking by 11 percent and adult smoking by 2 percent over the next decade beyond the declines that had already resulted from public education, higher taxes and smoke-free indoor space laws.

At least partly because of such other efforts, cigarette smoking has declined measurably over the last decade: in 2005, about 21 percent of adults in the United States were smokers, compared with about 25 percent in 1995.

Reynolds America and Lorillard, the second- and third-largest companies, opposed the legislation and criticized it as being intended to protect Philip Morris’s market dominance by restricting advertising and new products.

But Brendan McCormick, a spokesman for Philip Morris’s parent, Altria, argued that previous marketing restrictions, like the television advertising ban imposed in 1971, had not frozen companies’ market shares. He said his company supported “federal regulation and the benefits it will bring to tobacco consumers and the greater predictability and stability we think it will bring to the tobacco industry.”

There are only minor differences between the Senate bill and the one the House passed in April — the main one involving the size of the graphic warnings on cigarette packs, which would be bigger under the Senate version.

Henry A. Waxman, the California Democratic who was chief sponsor of the House bill, said in an interview that he hoped the House could simply pass the Senate version of the bill next week to send quickly to the President.

“I would prefer we do that,” Mr. Waxman said, adding that it was still possible to call a conference committee instead to negotiate the minor differences. But that process, he said, could delay action and risk another Senate filibuster of the type that was broken Monday in a crucial vote of 61 Senators, two more than needed to proceed to final action. That filibuster had been mounted by Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, the nation’s leading tobacco-growing state. Only one Democrat — Kay Hagan, also of North Carolina — had voted to uphold the filibuster.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 60 to 36 against a substitute bill by Mr. Burr and Ms. Hagan to promote smokeless and other “reduced risk” products rather than strictly regulate all new tobacco products.

Under the law, new products could be approved only if makers could demonstrate health benefits to society as a whole — meaning the products would not induce too many nonsmokers or would-be quitters to try them, rather than abstaining.

Another crucial procedural vote Wednesday passed 67-30, cutting off amendments. And the final action Thursday came on a 79 to 17 vote, with Ms. Hagan of North Carolina the only Democrat voting against it.The voting reflected a political shift from years past, when tobacco state senators could count on support from other Southern conservatives.

John Cornyn of Texas, who is chairman of the Senate Republican campaign committee, co-sponsored the tobacco bill and voted against the filibuster. “This is a rarity these days in Washington,” Mr. Cornyn said in debate Tuesday. “It is actually a bipartisan bill.”

Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, the ranking Republican on the Senate health committee, also supported the tobacco legislation. “Smoking killed my dad and my mom and my mother-in-law, and second-hand smoking conclusively affected me,” he said during the Senate debate. “So this isn’t political. This is about the health of all Americans.”

Although tobacco companies have also lost a series of recent rulings in court, tobacco industry financial analysts say federal regulation, higher taxes and court verdicts are all manageable because the companies, with a market of addicted customers, can raise prices to remain profitable.

A Goldman Sachs analyst, Judy Hong, wrote in a report to investors last week, “Some of the new remedies may be unpleasant but not financially disabling to the tobacco companies.”

Under the law, tobacco regulation would be introduced in stages. First, the F.D.A. would hire a director and staff and find space for a new Tobacco Center, to be financed by industry fees. The projected budget is $85 million the first year, $450 million by the third year and more than $700 million in 10 years. A scientific advisory committee would be set up by next year.

New marketing restrictions next year would include a ban on all outdoor advertising of tobacco within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.

The Association of National Advertisers, a trade organization, says the legislation’s “massive crushing and unprecedently broad advertising restrictions” violate First Amendment protections for commercial speech. A court challenge is probable.

While cigarette consumption has declined in most Western countries, it is growing in Asia and Eastern Europe. An estimated 1.3 billion people now smoke worldwide, according to the World Lung Foundation.

“The unfortunate thing,” Nancy Brown, president of the American Heart Association, said in an interview, “is the bad American habit is now being exported to other countries.”

    Senate Votes to Impose U.S. Regulation on Tobacco, NYT, 12.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/12/business/12tobacco.html






Senators Set to Visit White House to Discuss Health Care Overhaul


June 2, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama will meet with influential Senate Democrats on Tuesday to discuss overhauling health care, as the White House releases a report asserting that revamping the system would increase the income of a typical family of four by $2,600 in 2020, and by $10,000 in 2030.

The Democrats on two Senate committees that are drafting health legislation have been invited to the White House to meet with Mr. Obama, hours before he leaves for the Middle East and Europe. As part of a push to secure Congressional passage of a bill this year, the administration will also make the case on Tuesday that reforming health care is critical to fixing the economy.

“If we don’t do this we’re going to be facing a real mess 30 years from now,” Christina Romer, the chairwoman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters Monday on a conference call to discuss her new report, “The Economic Case for Health Care Reform.”

Also, six health care organizations followed up Monday on a commitment they made last month to Mr. Obama to trim $2 trillion in health care costs over 10 years. The groups, representing doctors, hospitals, drug companies and a labor union, proposed eliminating unnecessary medical tests and procedures, slashing red tape and better managing chronic diseases.

They said the potential savings could be $1 trillion to $1.7 trillion over 10 years.

Health care spending in the United States accounts for 18 percent of the gross domestic product, according to the White House report, and is expected to rise sharply, to as much as 28 percent in 2030 and 34 percent in 2040. The administration says it can slow the growth of health spending even as it expands coverage to the more than 45 million people who are now uninsured.

Republicans are doubtful. Referring to the health care groups’ proposals, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, said Monday, “I’m skeptical that these proposals will add up to anywhere near $2 trillion.”

The House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, called the White House report “nothing more than smoke and mirrors,” and said the administration had not offered a credible plan to expand coverage “without raising taxes or rationing care.”

The White House report — 51 pages, with charts, graphs and algebraic formulas — estimated that slowing the growth rate of health care spending by 1.5 percent a year would increase economic output by more than 2 percent in 2020 and nearly 8 percent in 2030. The report also states that revamping the health care system would “prevent disastrous increases in the federal budget deficit.”

The 1.5 percent figure was cited as a goal by the six organizations that proposed cost savings to the president. Each submitted recommendations, though it was not clear how much each was willing to sacrifice.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, representing drug companies, advocated greater use of certain prescription drugs, like medicines for high blood pressure — a move it said could save lives and money by keeping people healthier and reducing hospital admissions.

Doctors, represented by the American Medical Association, promised to try to curb the overuse of imaging services, like magnetic resonance imaging of the knee and the shoulder, and to reduce surgeries that might not be necessary, like Caesarean section deliveries and angioplasties in patients with stable coronary artery disease.

The Service Employees International Union said Medicaid and Medicare could save money by encouraging the use of home care services, instead of nursing homes. The union recommended that the federal government temporarily increase Medicaid payments to the states for home- and community-based services.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, representing insurers, vowed to establish standard claim forms and Web sites that allowed doctors to communicate more easily with insurers.

Congress may try to put some proposals into legislation, to help offset the costs of providing coverage for millions of the uninsured. This week, the chairmen of the two relevant Senate committees are finishing legislation to be considered by their panels this month.

    Senators Set to Visit White House to Discuss Health Care Overhaul, NYT, 2.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/health/policy/02health.html?hpw






Sotomayor to Make Her Capitol Hill Debut


June 2, 2009
Filed at 4:38 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor is getting her first chance to make an impression on senators who will vote on her nomination to the Supreme Court, with a marathon set of Capitol Hill meet-and-greets that kicks off what could be a long debate.

Sotomayor's schedule Tuesday is packed with roughly half-hour meetings -- known as ''courtesy calls'' -- that are as important for the courtly tone they set for the debate as they are for offering a few moments of candid conversation with the nominee.

Republican senators have already begun to question remarks Sotomayor has made in the past about how her life experiences influence her judicial decisions. In turn, Democrats have defended her as a fair and unbiased judge, and all sides say they are eager to talk to her privately and question her in the public hearings to come.

Sotomayor is set to meet with 10 senators during her first day on Capitol Hill, retreating to Vice President Joe Biden's office in between sessions to huddle with the White House team, heavy with confirmation battle veterans, that's guiding her nomination. Prominent on Sotomayor's list of visits are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and their seconds-in-command, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

She'll also begin her rounds with the Judiciary Committee members who will hold the high-profile hearings on her confirmation, starting with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman, and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the panel's senior Republican, as well as Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah.

Rounding out her schedule are visits with her homestate Democratic senators. Sotomayor will lunch with Sen. Chuck Schumer, her unofficial chaperone during the confirmation process, and visit Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

The White House is working daily to promote the narrative about Sotomayor that President Barack Obama began the day he named her: a seasoned federal judge who overcame hardship as a youngster and would deliver justice that reflects respect for the law but an understanding of real life.

Republicans, however, want to push Sotomayor about whether she would put her own views above the law and rule as an ''activist.''

Senate aides in both parties are preparing for Sotomayor's voluminous response to a 10-page questionnaire the Judiciary panel sent her last week -- an extensive survey of her life, public statements, rulings and political activities -- which will add copious detail to a so-far broad debate over her fitness and qualifications for the Supreme Court.

Barring a huge surprise, she is expected to be confirmed. Democrats control 59 seats in the Senate, where a majority vote is needed for confirmation, and another seven Republicans previously voted to confirm Sotomayor for a lower court.

Sotomayor, 54, would replace retiring Justice David Souter, becoming the first Hispanic and the third woman to sit on the court.

Obama wants the Senate to confirm Sotomayor before its August vacation. The White House formally started the clock on Monday, sending her nomination to the Senate.


Associated Press writer Ben Feller contributed to this report.

    Sotomayor to Make Her Capitol Hill Debut, NYT, 2.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/02/us/politics/AP-US-Sotomayor-Supreme-Court.html







Questions for General McChrystal


June 1, 2009
The New York Times


The Senate owes the American people more than a pro forma confirmation of Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, President Obama’s choice to be the next United States military commander in Afghanistan.

General McChrystal, who goes before the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, built an impressive reputation as commander of the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations teams in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2003 to 2008. Highly trained and motivated task forces under his command captured Saddam Hussein and called in the air strikes that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Successes like these could help turn the tide in Afghanistan.

But there are other, more disturbing aspects of that record that the Senate also must consider. Special Operations task forces operated in secret, outside the normal military chain of command and with minimal legal accountability, especially during the years Donald Rumsfeld ran the Pentagon. General McChrystal’s command substantially overlaps this troubled period.

In 2004, for example, a Special Operations unit converted one of Saddam Hussein’s former torture centers near Baghdad into its own secret interrogation cell, where detainees were subjected to a range of physical and psychological abuses.

This was not an isolated incident. In 2006, The Times reported on field outposts set up by Special Operations units in Baghdad, Falluja, Balad, Ramadi and Kirkuk where detainees were stripped naked and subjected to simulated drowning.

At least 34 Special Operations soldiers were eventually disciplined by the Pentagon for these abusive interrogations. Many more cases had to be dropped because the specific interrogator could not be conclusively identified or because crucial computer records were lost.

While there is no suggestion that General McChrystal was personally involved in any misconduct, he has a clear responsibility to illuminate what went wrong, what if anything was done to stop these horrors, and what he intends to do to ensure that they are not repeated under his command in Afghanistan.

The overall performance of the Special Operations Command under General McChrystal’s leadership — both acts of heroism and acts of abuse — is an essential part of measuring General McChrystal’s fitness for his new assignment. He needs to be rigorously questioned.

    Questions for General McChrystal, NYT, 1.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/01/opinion/01mon2.html






In Battle to Cut Billions, a Spotlight on One Man


May 31, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Near the end of a two-hour hearing on a special war-spending bill this month, Senator Daniel K. Inouye, in his slow and rumbling voice, finally said the words that defense lobbyists across Washington had been hoping to hear: there was “good reason to be optimistic.”

Mr. Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii, was answering a fellow senator’s question about the future of Boeing’s mammoth C-17 cargo plane. But from Mr. Inouye, the taciturn new chairman of the Appropriations Committee, the comment was also the latest reminder that, as the Obama administration lifts its ax over hundreds of billions of dollars in military contracts that the Pentagon says it no longer needs, he is the industry’s last line of defense.

Mr. Inouye is best positioned to fulfill or frustrate the administration’s hopes of reining in runaway procurement costs. That makes him the object of intense courtship from industry executives, senators and even a certain Hawaiian in the White House.

“In the Senate, the buck stops with Chairman Inouye,” said David Morrison, a lobbyist for Boeing and a former aide to Mr. Inouye, the company with the most at stake in the proposed cuts.

Critics, though, say Mr. Inouye — a self-described “king of pork” responsible for nearly a billion dollars in earmarks each year — is also the most potent remaining champion of the parochialism that for decades has made major military projects hard to kill.

“There is no question a lot of this stuff is going to get put back by Congress,” said Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma. “And the question is, why? Do we need more C-17s, or are we trying to keep people employed on a weapons system that we already have enough of?” Now, Mr. Coburn said, “We’ll see what the priorities are.”

Mr. Inouye is the last of a vanishing breed of powerful old-school appropriators. His predecessor as appropriations chairman, Senator Robert C. Byrd, 91, Democrat of West Virginia, is enfeebled by age. Another former chairman, Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican whom Mr. Inouye called “brother,” lost re-election last year amid ethics charges.

And in the House, Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the defense appropriations subcommittee, is under a cloud because of federal investigations into lobbyists, contractors and other lawmakers with ties to his office.

“Inouye is the last of the old bulls,” said Steve Ellis of the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, which tracks Congressional spending. “The others have been gored.”

In an interview, Mr. Inouye said he seeks only the country’s security and its soldiers’ safety as he reviews the budget presented by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. “If we agree with the secretary, we go along,” Mr. Inouye said. “And if we don’t, we act accordingly.”

But he also hinted of conflict ahead when he takes up the main defense budget. “You’ll see some interesting activity when the big bill comes up,” he chuckled.

Elected to Congress in 1959, two years before President Obama was born, Mr. Inouye is known as a war hero and civil rights icon. While other Japanese-Americans were in internment camps, he lost his arm leading an Army unit of Japanese-Americans in World War II.

Honoring that legacy is one of many pet causes to which he has doled out federal money, including in one case to a group he helps oversee. In 2000 he inserted into the annual defense bill $20 million for a project dedicated to the sacrifices of soldiers like himself at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, where he was longtime chairman of the board of governors.

He capitalized on his official power to help finance the project in other ways as well. He helped draw donations from military contractors with big interests before his committee. Boeing recently pledged $100,000 a year for five years, a museum spokesman said. (Mr. Inouye, 84, whose first wife died three years ago, also married the museum’s then-president, Irene Hirano, 60, last year.)

Mr. Inouye has other close ties to lobbyists. His son, Daniel K. Inouye Jr., once the leader of a punk rock band, is a lobbyist for several entertainment and communications companies that lobby the senator intensely because he sits on the commerce committee. (Mr. Inouye’s son says he lobbies only the House.)

Mr. Inouye has rescued military contractors before, most notably when the Clinton administration tried to cut procurement. When the Pentagon balked at buying early C-17s — the plane it again wants to stop buying — Boeing hired a lobbyist close to Mr. Inouye: Henry Giugni, a former Honolulu police officer who had become Mr. Inouye’s closest aide and then, with his help, the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms.

A month later, Mr. Inouye, then chairman of the military spending panel, wrote to the defense secretary urging the acquisition of more C-17s, and production continued for 15 more years. Now, the pressure from all sides is far more intense. The president has repeatedly called the senator, aides say, to talk about priorities like passing the war-spending bill quickly — meaning without adding any big equipment programs.

“He calls me Dan,’ ” Mr. Inouye said. “I call him Mr. President.’ ”

Scores of defense industry lobbyists, meanwhile, are reminding Mr. Inouye of his past support for threatened programs, including the missile defense system, partly based in Hawaii, or the Army’s “future combat systems,” a pet project of his friend and fellow Japanese-American from Hawaii, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, now the veterans affairs secretary.

As Mr. Inouye prepared for the Senate defense budget and a House-Senate conference on the war-spending bill, some of those lobbyists had a chance to speak to him at a fund-raiser this month for his political action committee at the home of the Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, whose firm’s clients include Boeing, Lockheed Martin and United Technologies. (All three are among Mr. Inouye’s biggest sources of campaign money.)

Dozens of senators are also beseeching Mr. Inouye to save defense jobs in their states, including 19 who have signed a letter asking him to save Boeing’s C-17.

Many lobbyists took Mr. Inouye’s cryptic “reason to be optimistic” comment as a signal that he intended to include the eight C-17s from the House’s version of the war-spending bill when it goes to conference and may add the other eight sought by Boeing in the main defense bill. Supporters of Lockheed Martin’s F-22, a plane the Pentagon has tried for years to stop buying, took heart from Mr. Inouye’s omission of $147 million requested to shut down the production line, leaving it open while the company seeks new sales either to the United States or its allies, as Taxpayers for Common Sense reported.

Mr. Inouye has kept mum about what he may seek to insert in the 2010 military spending bill. But he acknowledged feeling the pressure. “People, whenever a lot of them see me, say, ‘Congratulations, you have got a great job, chairman of the biggest committee,’ ” he said. “I don’t have the time to explain to them that I spend less time sleeping.”

    In Battle to Cut Billions, a Spotlight on One Man, NYT, 31.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/31/us/politics/31inouye.html?hp






Push to Confirm First Hispanic to Supreme Court


May 27, 2009
Filed at 8:38 a.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday he can't imagine a filibuster against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, even though GOP lawmakers want to closely scrutinize her legal philosophy.

''The nominee has serious problems,'' Sen. Jeff Sessions said in a nationally broadcast interview. ''But I would think that we would all have a good hearing, take our time, and do it right. And then the senators cast their vote up or down based on whether or not they think this is the kind of judge that should be on the court.''

''I don't sense a filibuster in the works,'' the Alabama Republican said, amid President Barack Obama's call for the Senate to install his history-making choice of the 54-year-old Sotomayor to succeed Justice David Souter on the high court. She would be the Hispanic justice to serve there.

The GOP faces an uphill battle in defeating the New York-born daughter of Puerto Rican parents, but Republicans are promising a thorough and perhaps lengthy hearing process that scrutinizes her record and judicial philosophy.

Democrats hold 59 votes in the Senate, more than enough to confirm Sotomayor but not quite enough to stop a vote-blocking filibuster if Republicans should attempt one. Still, seven Republican senators currently serving backed Sotomayor's 1998 nomination to the appeals court covering New York, Vermont and Connecticut, and she was first nominated to be a federal judge by Republican President George H.W. Bush.

Sessions had said Tuesday it was ''possible'' he could back Sotomayor's nomination, although he was one of several Republicans who opposed her when she came before the Senate as a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1998. ''We ought to look at her record fresh,'' he said.

One possibly complicating issue surfaced Wednesday morning as Sessions appeared in a joint interview with Sen. Chuck Schumer on a nationally broadcast news show.

Sessions and Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, disagreed about the significance of a remark Sotomayor was videotaped making at a law seminar, where at one point she commented that federal appellate courts ''make policy.''

Sessions called that statement ''troubling'' and said she needs to explain it to the committee. Schumer said the statement had been taken out of context, and that Sotomayor had quickly added that she was not advocating such an activist role.

Republicans ''oppose her at their peril,'' Schumer had said earlier.

Sotomayor's personal story and her academic and legal credentials earn her respect from all quarters, but conservatives see plenty to criticize in her rulings and past statements. They describe her as a judicial activist who would put her feelings above the Constitution.

Sotomayor has said that personal experiences ''affect the facts that judges choose to see.''

''I simply do not know exactly what the difference will be in my judging,'' she said in a speech in 2001. ''But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.''

Any Republican effort to block Sotomayor's confirmation could be risky for a party still reeling from last year's elections and struggling to gain back lost ground with Hispanics, the fastest-growing part of the population and one that is increasingly active politically.

Sessions acknowledged as much Wednesday, saying the GOP needs to ''broaden its tent.''

But at the same time he said he feels lawmakers have ''an absolute constitutional duty'' to ensure that any nominee elevated to the high court not be someone who would bring along a personal agenda.

Sotomayor's personal story and her academic and legal credentials earn her respect from all quarters, but conservatives see plenty to criticize in her rulings and past statements. They describe her as a judicial activist who would put her feelings above the Constitution.

Sotomayor has said that personal experiences ''affect the facts that judges choose to see.''

''I simply do not know exactly what the difference will be in my judging,'' she said in a speech in 2001. ''But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.''

Obama, eager to begin putting his imprint on the court, is asking that the Senate confirm Sotomayor before Congress' August break. The court begins its new term in October.

The White House and its allies, including Hispanic groups with broad reach into communities throughout the country, are readying a major push to persuade more GOP senators to back her confirmation.

''We want people to realize that this is kind of like voting for president,'' said Estuardo Rodriguez, a spokesman for Hispanics for a Fair Judiciary, which is leading a coalition of organizations that plans to push for the judge's speedy confirmation. ''You can actually call your senator and say: 'I want this. I want you to vote for Sonia Sotomayor.'''

The top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said, ''We will thoroughly examine her record to ensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the law evenhandedly, despite their own feelings or personal or political preferences.''

Sotomayor would join Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the court and just the third in its history. She would replace liberal Justice David Souter, thereby maintaining the court's ideological divide. A number of important cases have been divided by 5-4 majorities, with conservative- and liberal-leaning justices split 4-4 and Justice Anthony Kennedy providing the decisive vote.

Born in the South Bronx, Sotomayor lost her father at a young age and watched her mother work two jobs to provide for her and her brother. Her path has soared ever since: Princeton University and Yale Law School, then positions as a commercial litigator, federal district judge and appellate judge.

''What you've shown in your life is that it doesn't matter where you come from, what you look like or what challenges life throws your way,'' Obama said as Sotomayor stood at his side at a packed White House event to announce her nomination Tuesday. ''No dream is beyond reach in the United States of America.''

Said the nominee, ''I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.''

Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, called Sotomayor's nomination ''a monumental day for Latinos. Finally, we see ourselves represented on the highest court in the land.''

She said Obama's choice recognized ''that excellence and diversity are not mutually exclusive.''

Sessions and Schumer appeared on NBC's ''Today'' show and Sessions also was interviewed on CNN.


Associated Press writer Ben Feller contributed to this report.

    Push to Confirm First Hispanic to Supreme Court, NYT, 27.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/05/27/us/politics/AP-US-Supreme-Court-Sotomayor.html






Funds to Close Guantánamo Denied


May 21, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to cut from a war spending bill the $80 million requested by President Obama to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and to bar the transfer of detainees to the United States and its territories.

The vote, which complicates Mr. Obama’s efforts to shutter the prison by his deadline of Jan. 22, 2010, was 90 to 6. Republicans voted unanimously in favor of cutting the money.

“The American people don’t want these men walking the streets of America’s neighborhoods,” said Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota. “The American people don’t want these detainees held at a military base or federal prison in their back yard, either.”

The six Democrats who voted against the measure include some of their party’s most prominent voices on military affairs and criminal justice issues. Among them were Senators Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Senators Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the majority whip; Tom Harkin of Iowa and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island were the others voting against the measure.

The vote was on an amendment to a $91.3 billion military spending bill that will finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as some other national security programs, including preparations for pandemic flu, through Sept. 30.

The abrupt decision by Senate Democratic leaders to strip out the money for closing the Guantánamo detention center amounted to a strong rebuke of the Obama White House, which lawmakers in both parties have criticized for not providing a more detailed plan for what will be done with the 240 detainees currently held in the prison.

Senate Democrats had initially hoped to preserve the financing for closing the prison. House Democrats, however, had already stripped the money from their version of the military spending bill, saying they could not authorize funds without first reviewing Mr. Obama’s plans for the prisoners.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to outline some of those plans in a speech on Thursday in Washington.

Robert S. Mueller 3d, the director of the F.B.I., told a House panel on Wednesday that he is concerned that Guantánamo detainees could foment terrorism if they are sent to the United States. On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that the United States could continue to hold some detainees at the base indefinitely without charges.

Even so, Mr. Obama has faced growing demands in recent days, from both parties but particularly from Republicans, to spell out in detail how he plans to close the Guantánamo detention center and to provide assurances that detainees would not end up on American soil, not even in maximum security prisons.

The move by Senate Democrats to bar, for now, any transfer of detainees to the United States, raised the possibility that Mr. Obama’s order to close the camp by Jan. 22, 2010, may have to be changed or delayed.

“Guantánamo makes us less safe,” the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said on Tuesday at a news conference where he laid out the party’s rationale for its decision. “However, this is neither the time nor the bill to deal with this. Democrats under no circumstances will move forward without a comprehensive, responsible plan from the president. We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States.”

Senate Democrats said they still backed Mr. Obama’s decision to close the prison. But lawmakers have not exactly been eager to accept detainees in their home states. When the tiny town of Hardin, Mont., offered to put the terrorism suspects in its empty jail, Montana’s senators, both Democrats, and its representative, a Republican, quickly voiced opposition.

Administration officials have indicated that if the Guantánamo camp closes as scheduled more than 100 prisoners may need to be moved to the United States, including 50 to 100 who have been described as too dangerous to release.

Of the 240 detainees, 30 have been cleared for release. Some are likely to be transferred to foreign countries, though other governments have been reluctant to take them. Britain and France have each accepted one former detainee. And while as many as 80 of the detainees will be prosecuted, it remains unclear what will happen to those who are convicted and sentenced to prison.

At the White House on Tuesday, the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said the administration expected that Congress would eventually release the money to close the camp, and he suggested that the concerns of lawmakers would start to be addressed on Thursday, when Mr. Obama will present a “hefty part” of his plan.

At the Pentagon, a spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said Tuesday that he believed that the administration remained on track to meet the deadline for closing the prison. “I see nothing to indicate that that date is at all in jeopardy,” Mr. Morrell said.

As the administration has struggled with the issue, it has come under assault from the right and the left.

Conservatives have sought to portray the president as weak on national security. Liberals, including some human rights advocates, have criticized several of Mr. Obama’s decisions, including his plan to revive the military commissions created by the Bush administration to prosecute terrorism suspects held at Guantánamo.

Lawmakers, mindful of polls showing wide public opposition to bringing detainees to the United States, have expressed concerns about the safety of their constituents, and some have said that any location housing detainees, even the most secure prisons, would become a potential target for a terrorist attack.

On Tuesday Republicans, including the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has been warning for weeks about the dangers of closing the prison, applauded the Democrats’ decision.

At a news conference, Mr. McConnell said he hoped it was a prelude to keeping the camp open and dangerous terrorism suspects offshore, where he said they belong. He noted that no prisoner had escaped from Guantánamo since the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Guantánamo is the perfect place for these terrorists,” Mr. McConnell said. “However, if the president ends up sticking with this decision to close it next January, obviously they need a place to be. It ought not to be the United States of America.”

Senate Democrats on Tuesday conceded that their decision to shift course in part reflected the success of Republicans in putting them on the defensive.

But the Democrats said they had also acted to avert a partisan feud that would delay the military-spending measure, which is needed to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other national security programs through Sept. 30. The House last week overwhelmingly approved the $96.7 billion spending measure after stripping the money for closing Guantánamo and inserting language barring Mr. Obama from transferring any detainees to the United States without first presenting a detailed plan to Congress, and giving lawmakers a chance to review it.

Later in the week, the White House announced that it would revive the military commissions to prosecute some of the terrorism suspects held at Guantánamo.

The Obama administration said it would expand the legal rights of suspects, including a limit on the use of hearsay evidence and a ban on evidence gained from cruel treatment.

Still, discomfort has only grown in Congress. Senate Democrats had initially included the $80 million for closing the prison in their version of the war-spending measure, but with tight restrictions requiring Mr. Obama to submit a plan before the money could be used.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid, said the majority leader had not intended to suggest that detainees could never be transferred to American prisons, but only to say that the Senate would not provide money for closing Guantánamo until a task force created by Mr. Obama presented a report on detainee policy in July.

Mr. Reid in his comments, however, was unequivocal in insisting that the terrorism suspects never reach American shores.

“You can’t put them in prison unless you release them,” he said. “We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.”

Mr. Reid said he and other Senate Democrats had shifted course after seeing the version of the spending bill approved by the House last week, a rare gesture of deference by the upper chamber of Congress to the lower one.

“In looking at the position of the House, that was more logical,” Mr. Reid said. “We have clearly said all along that we wanted a plan. We don’t have a plan. And based on that, this is not the bill to deal with this.”


Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David Stout contributed reporting.

    Funds to Close Guantánamo Denied, NYT, 21.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/21/us/politics/21gitmo.html






Op-Ed Columnist

Vice’s Secret Vices


April 29, 2009
The New York Times



In a closed-door session on Tuesday, Dick Cheney testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating the “enhanced” interrogation techniques of “high value” detainees.

This columnist gained exclusive “access” to the classified testimony of the “deeply missed” former vice president.

The chairwoman of the committee, Dianne Feinstein, began by telling Cheney that she was “shocked personally” by what she had learned about the brutality of the way prisoners were treated.

“Those insects weren’t even poisonous,” Cheney growled. “Facial slaps? Abdominal slaps? Throwing a naked man into a wall? Kid stuff. Those methods worked. They kept us safe for seven years. Safer than with that delicate Hawaiian orchid in the White House. America is coming across as weak and indecisive. Just when Rummy and I had stomped out that ‘Blame America First’ flower-child culture, Obama has dragged it back, apologizing profusely all over the world for the country he’s running, canoodling with greasy dictators, kissing up to those weasels in Europe, which is only free today because of our military. Friends and foes alike will be quick to take advantage if they think they’re dealing with a Creamsicle.”

Senator John McCain, looking disgusted, began yelling at Cheney, telling him that waterboarding someone 183 times in a month was against the law. “The Japanese who did that in World War II were tried and hanged,” he sneered.

“Shut your piehole,” Cheney replied flatly. “Everyone’s sick of you being an apologist for torture. Why don’t you go join that pantywaist Specter on the other side where you belong?”

Senator Russ Feingold got into the fray, asking Cheney sarcastically: “Can you tell us exactly which terrorist plots were foiled by torture?”

Cheney offered his mirthless smile. “Certainly,” he replied. “Shortly after 9/11, we disrupted a plot to assassinate a senator, penetrating two terrorist cells and uncovering a Serbian scheme. Our interrogator used a chokehold, threatened to withhold a detainee’s heart medicine, and broke a few laws, but it was well worth it.”

Feingold interrupted with thinly veiled contempt: “You’re telling us now that the Serbs are linked to Al Qaeda?”

Cheney nodded. “Of course. Then, the following year, we were able to get a lead on an international terrorist named Syed Ali and stop a nuclear bomb from being detonated in Los Angeles. Sure, an enemy combatant was shot in the chest. Yes, a hacksaw came into play. There was some wall slamming, throat grabbing and when Ali wouldn’t talk because he was doing ‘Allah’s work,’ our agent had to feign the shooting death of Ali’s first-born son. But in the end we averted World War III with three Middle East countries and kept America safe from a suitcase bomb.

“In 2004, we thwarted the spread of a deadly weaponized virus strain. The following year, after some unsuccessful attempts at sensory disorientation with detainees, we got a torture specialist who had a way with a taser and his trusty syringe. Strict measures, like breaking fingers one by one and using an electrical cord from a lamp to shock a suspect, were necessary. We were under attack by a terrorist named Habib Marwan who controlled a bunch of Middle East terrorist cells. They were planning to meltdown nuclear power plants across the country, shoot down Air Force One and set off a nuclear missile. On top of that, we were dealing with a mole in our counterterrorism unit.

“In 2006, after an incident with the man who made history by becoming the first black president ...”

Senator Feinstein interrupted: “Excuse me, Mr. Cheney, are you talking about Barack Obama?”

“I said the first black president,” Cheney snapped, before continuing: “Our interrogator needed to do some things outside protocol. There was an exploding vest, a foot digging into a wound, an injection of pain-inducing hyoscine-pentothal, a threat to cut out the eyes of a suspect being interrogated unless he confessed where the Sentox nerve gas cannisters were. But the Geneva Conventions are a small thing to give up when you consider that we broke up a nefarious plot that reached to the highest levels — the Oval Office.”

Senator Olympia Snowe looked confused: “But you were in the Oval Office in 2006, Mr. Cheney.”

Something dawned on Evan Bayh and he smiled grimly. “Didn’t it turn out in the end, Dick,” he asked, “that some of these so-called terrorist plots were really domestic villains with black ops teams scheming to control the oil supply and get rich? Sort of like what you did with Iraq and Halliburton?”

Cheney glared at him, saying “We’re the patriots.” Bayh walked over and whispered something to the chairwoman.

“Mr. Cheney,” Feinstein said, sounding shocked, “your testimony is delusional, not to mention derivative.”

Cheney looked apoplectic, not to mention apocalyptic. “How dare you,” he cried, “demean our country’s finest counterterrorism agent, Jack Bauer?”

    Vice’s Secret Vices, NYT, 29.4.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/29/opinion/29dowd.html?hpw






Brown Speaks to Congress on Economy


March 5, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged American leaders on Wednesday to “seize the moment,” in tandem with their European allies, to work through the global economic crisis and prepare for a future that brings “the biggest expansion of middle-class incomes and jobs the world has ever seen.”

Speaking from one of the most prominent stages accorded any visiting foreign dignitary — a joint meeting of Congress — Mr. Brown called for a clear rejection of protectionist tendencies as the world struggles toward recovery.

The address came a day after President Obama assured Mr. Brown that the “special relationship” between the two countries was as strong as ever — despite what some observers have described as coolness in the handling of the prime minister’s visit. The White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said again Wednesday that “the relationship remains strong and special.”

In any case, the senators and congressmen, joined by American military leaders and other dignitaries, gave the prime minister a warm welcome, interrupting his 45-minute speech at least a dozen times with standing ovations. One of those came after he announced that Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who is suffering from brain cancer, had been granted an honorary knighthood.

The chamber was nearly full as Mr. Brown spoke; the Capitol interns who are sometimes summoned to fill empty seats on such occasions were relatively few in number.

Mr. Brown praised his host country as one of remarkable strength, optimism and resilience. “America is not just the indispensable nation,” he said, “you are the irrepressible nation.”

Those strengths, he added, needed to be marshaled fully now in what Mr. Brown said would have to be concerted world action to stimulate national economies, bolster banks and improve their oversight, and help developing countries survive the downturn.

Echoing a point that Mr. Obama has begun to make, Mr. Brown argued that a big part of the solution to the crisis lay in having confidence that it can be solved.

“While today people are anxious and feel insecure, over the next two decades our world economy will double in size,” Mr. Brown said. “Twice as many opportunities for business, twice as much prosperity, and the biggest expansion of middle class incomes and jobs the world has ever seen.”

He argued that the United States, under a president who enjoys great popularity at home and sometimes even greater popularity abroad, would find a rare receptiveness to its efforts to move forward.

“Let me say that you now have the most pro-American European leadership in living memory,” Mr. Brown said.

“There is no old Europe, no new Europe, there is only your friend Europe. So once again I say we should seize the moment — because never before have I seen a world so willing to come together. Never before has that been more needed. And never before have the benefits of cooperation been so far-reaching.”

He also vowed to continue close cooperation in the fight against terrorism, in efforts to induce Iran to suspend its nuclear program, and in moves to curtail global warming. And he paid tribute to the soldiers of both countries who had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Brown, who was chancellor of the Exchequer, or finance minister, in the Labour Party government of Tony Blair, has been calling for a “global new deal” with every country working to end the downturn.

The prime minister has been laying the groundwork for a meeting on April 2 in London of the leaders of the Group of 20 major economies. He has been calling for greater accountability and transparency, and stricter oversight, for banking and financial institutions around the world.

Mr. Obama has supported many of the same goals, at least in principle.

But Julianne Smith, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that Mr. Brown might not get all he wanted.

“I don’t think he’s going to be able to go back home and say ‘Obama and I see completely eye-to-eye on some big global regulation scheme,’ ” she said.

Part of that is a general American skepticism toward such internationalist approaches, Ms. Smith said. “Europeans, even the Brits, have a higher level of comfort with global machinery and bureaucratic machinery than Americans do,” she said.

Commentators on both sides of the ocean have catalogued a number of signs that the reception accorded to Mr. Brown in Washington was not quite as warm as the ones British prime ministers enjoyed during the Bush years: No invitation to Camp David, no full-scale news conference, no state dinner — and while there was a meeting between the men’s wives, none was held between the two couples. Mr. Brown, whose own approval ratings in Britain are suffering, had hoped to profit from his visit to the popular American president.

Mr. Obama brushed such concerns aside on Tuesday, saying that the two countries were united by a bond “that will not break.”

And Mr. Brown said the same on Wednesday: “Partnerships of purpose are indestructible,” he said. “There is no power on Earth that can drive us apart.”

    Brown Speaks to Congress on Economy, NYT, 5.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/05/world/europe/05brown.html






Obama's gamble: Big plans have big risks


24 February 2009
USA Today
By Richard Wolf


WASHINGTON — Until Tuesday, President Obama was already dealing with the worst economy since the Depression: failing industries, teetering banks, a stock market sliced in half and millions of people losing their homes.

Now he's added overhauling the nation's health care system to his to-do list — a challenge that has vexed presidents from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton. Not to mention weaning America off Middle East oil, fixing its schools, bolstering Social Security and declaring war on deficits and debt.

"The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care, the schools that aren't preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit," Obama said in his first address to Congress Tuesday. "That is our responsibility."

It's a high-risk strategy, doing everything at once. Obama is doing it for two reasons: The economy is in free fall, and the voters gave him a sizeable mandate in November.

"We've never seen an administration get out of the starting blocks as rapidly or try to clear as many hurdles in the first 50 yards," says Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute and former director of the Congressional Budget Office. "But moving at a more moderate pace I don't think decreases the risk appreciably, because then you're going to be driven by events, reacting to crises. He is trying to be proactive."

That won praise even from Republicans on Tuesday. "The president deserves much credit for his willingness to tackle health care reform, the budget deficit, Social Security and the recession all at once," said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., while warning against tax increases.

The challenge for Obama is all the greater because he's presiding over an incomplete government. Nearly all departments and agencies are without key political appointees who will design and implement policy, because they've yet to be nominated or confirmed.

Three Cabinet-level departments still lack leaders, including the Department of Health and Human Services following the withdrawal of former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle over personal tax problems. The White House has slowed the nomination process and stepped up its vetting of candidates to avoid additional public relations calamities.

On the other hand, Obama is helped by his willingness to name many veterans of the Clinton administration to his top echelon of advisers. And if he needs advice on the pitfalls of overhauling health care, Hillary Rodham Clinton is down the street at the State Department.

Her advice could come in handy on what not to do. Her health care effort failed in 1994 due largely to the Clinton administration's decision to craft its own plan, rather than work with Congress. It took most of 1993 to do that, delaying the legislative process well beyond President Clinton's honeymoon period.

The last three presidents who represented a party that reclaimed the White House used their first budgets to make major changes, something Obama hopes to do in the budget outline he unveils Thursday. Republican Ronald Reagan cut spending and taxes. Democrat Bill Clinton pushed through a major deficit-reduction deal that helped lead to budget surpluses. Republican George W. Bush focused almost single-mindedly on his massive tax cuts.

"History suggests that particularly when the White House changes parties … the president has a window to make bigger changes than he may be able to get later in his term," says Robert Greenstein, founder of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

With the country in economic crisis, Obama is betting that Americans are more prepared to fix the nation's problems than they have been: 46 million people uninsured and soaring costs for others, dependency on fossil fuels from foreign lands, a debt approaching $11 trillion due to unsustainable government benefits.

The risk is obvious: failing.

"Clinton paid a price for not succeeding on health care," says Steve Elmendorf, who was chief of staff to former House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt. "So if you go out and announce, 'I'm going to do X on health care' and you don't succeed, you pay a price."

    Obama's gamble: Big plans have big risks, UT, 24.2.2009, http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-02-24-analysis_N.htm






Stimulus Plan Receives Final Approval in Congress


February 14, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Congress on Friday approved a $787 billion economic stimulus measure, meeting the crushing mid-February deadline that Democrats had set for adopting the centerpiece of President Obama’s early agenda but without quelling partisan divisions in Washington. Not a single House Republican voted for the bill.

The House vote was 246 to 183, with just 7 Democrats joining all 176 Republicans in opposition. In the Senate, the vote, 60 to 38, was similarly partisan. Only 3 centrist Republicans joined 55 Democrats and 2 independents in favor.

The Senate finally adopted the bill at 10:47 p.m. after what appeared to be the longest Congressional vote in history. The peculiar 5-hour 17-minute process was required because Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, had to return to Washington from his home state after attending a funeral home visitation for his mother, who died Feb. 2.

Under a procedural deal between the parties, the bill needed 60 votes to pass. The vote began at 5:30 p.m., but from 7:07 p.m., when Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, cast his “aye,” the tally hung at 59 to 38, until Mr. Brown arrived.

Mr. Obama is expected to sign the bill on Monday.

Among the senators voting against it was Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, who withdrew this week as the president’s nominee for commerce secretary.

Despite the bill’s promise of increased unemployment benefits and new health care subsidies, as well as more than $100 billion in aid for states, House Republicans did not break rank. Even those from states hit hardest by the recession opposed the bill, in a rebuke of the new president.

During the debate, the Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, angrily dropped the 1,073-page bill text to the floor with a thump, as he accused Democrats of failing to read the legislation.

“The president made clear when we started this process that this was about jobs,” Mr. Boehner said after the vote. “Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. And what it’s turned into is nothing more than spending, spending and more spending.”

The $787 billion plan — a combination of fast-acting tax cuts and longer-term government spending on public works projects, education, health care, energy and technology — was smaller than Democrats first proposed. But, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, more than 74 percent of the money will be spent within the next 18 months, a relatively rapid pace that could determine whether the plan succeeds.

The House voted in the afternoon, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and fellow Democrats cheered on the floor. Ms. Pelosi handed out chocolate bars to her committee chairmen, a gift to her from Steven A. Ballmer, the chairman of Microsoft. The label showed a picture of the Capitol and read, “A stimulus package we can all sink our teeth into.”

At a news conference, Ms. Pelosi and her top lieutenants praised Mr. Obama for completing the legislation so quickly.

“The president requested swift, bold action,” Ms. Pelosi said. “The American people are feeling a great deal of pain. They have uncertainty about their jobs, about health care, about the ability to pay for the education of their children, and sad to say in our great country, even to put food on the table. And today we have passed legislation that does take that swift, bold action on their behalf.”

Just four weeks into Mr. Obama’s presidency, the Democrats boasted that they had already approved three major bills: a measure to curb pay-discrimination against women in the workplace, a broad expansion of the state children’s health insurance program and the stimulus.

“We have yet to pass the 30th day of this administration,” said the House majority leader, Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland. “And we have passed historic legislation.”

    Stimulus Plan Receives Final Approval in Congress, NYT, 14.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/14/us/politics/14web-stim.html






Congress, White House Near Final Deal on Stimulus


February 11, 2009
Filed at 12:25 p.m. ET
The New York Times


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers and the White House were moving toward a final deal on Wednesday for what could be a stimulus plan of under $800 billion that Democrats say is crucial to rescuing the struggling U.S. economy.

"We're close. I expect to have it done by 3 p.m. (2000 GMT)," said Senator Max Baucus, one of the negotiators on the package of tax cuts and government spending designed to pull the U.S. economy out of its deep recession.

Senator Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican whose support is key to passage, said $789 billion "sounds pretty close" to the overall price tag, while Democratic Senator Ben Nelson added, "The target was actually lower than that."

House and Senate negotiators were expected to emerge from closed-door meetings later on Wednesday and gather in a public session to sign off on a compromise bill that would then be sent to the full House and Senate for final passage.

Once that happens, possibly by week's end, President Barack Obama would promptly sign the legislation into law.

"I've heard white smoke is imminent but I haven't seen it yet," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell has been an outspoken critic of the bill, saying it contains too much government spending that would not stimulate the economy.

But Democrats who control both houses of Congress have mostly rebuffed Republicans, saying the combination of tax cuts and spending to rebuild roads, bridges and other projects in the bill would create or save up to 4 million jobs.

Democrats are working with three moderate Republican senators so that the bill could speed through the Senate.

Alone, the stimulus package is unlikely to fix the U.S. economy because it does not address financial sector problems. As long as banks face losses and struggle to raise money, lending and growth will suffer.

The Obama administration hopes to address this through a bank rescue program unveiled by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Tuesday. Wall Street plunged as traders expressed disappointment there were not more details.


Nelson said he thought some money for education had been increased in the stimulus compromise, adding that lawmakers were scaling back money for tax incentives to encourage auto and home buying.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said lawmakers intended to keep in a one-year fix to a quirk in the tax law that threatens to ensnare the middle class in a tax intended for the richest. Other specifics were not yet available.

One House Democratic aide said the sides were finding it easier to agree on tax cuts than on the more complicated list of spending priorities contained in the legislation.

The House has passed a bill costing about $820 billion, while the Senate's version will cost $838 billion.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says her chamber's legislation would create more jobs, fulfilling Obama's pledge to create or save up to 4 million jobs through construction and investment projects and tax cuts to put money in consumers' hands.

But Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, hamstrung by more difficult Senate procedures, cut out some spending that Republicans objected to in order to get the required 60 votes.

Apart from three senators, all Republican lawmakers have opposed the bills as written so far. Democrats had scant hopes of attracting many more of their votes for a bill Obama says needs to be enacted quickly to avert a "catastrophe."

Various business groups support the Democratic-written legislation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, supports "many of the pro-growth tax initiatives in the bill, as well as the spending-side provisions to provide stimulus, create jobs and get Americans back to work."

(Editing by Alan Elsner)

    Congress, White House Near Final Deal on Stimulus, NYT, 11.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/02/11/business/business-us-usa-stimulus.html






Congress Is Divided Over Competing Stimulus Bills


February 8, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Senate agreement on a roughly $827 billion economic stimulus bill sets up tough negotiations with the House, primarily over tens of billions of dollars in aid to states and local governments, tax provisions, and education, health and renewable energy programs.

Congress is racing to try to finalize the legislation this week.

The price tag for the Senate plan is now only slightly more than the $820 billion cost of the measure adopted by the House. Both plans are intended to blunt the recession with a combination of tax cuts and government spending on public works and other programs to create more than three million jobs.

But the competing bills now reflect substantially different approaches. The House puts greater emphasis on helping states and localities avoid wide-scale cuts in services and layoffs of public employees. The Senate cut $40 billion of that aid from its bill, which is expected to be approved Tuesday.

The Senate plan, reached in an agreement late Friday between Democrats and three moderate Republicans, focuses somewhat more heavily on tax cuts, provides far less generous health care subsidies for the unemployed and lowers a proposed increase in food stamps.

To help allay Republican concerns about the cost, the Senate proposal even scales back President Obama’s signature middle-class tax cut. The Senate plan also creates new tax incentives to encourage Americans to buy homes and cars within the next year.

Republican opponents continued to rail against the stimulus plan on the Senate floor on Saturday, though it appeared they would not have the votes to stop it.

The negotiations in Congress will test whether Democrats, who say they won a mandate in November to pursue their goals, are willing to give up some favored long-term policy initiatives to win over more Republican votes.

The talks will also test whether any but the most moderate Republicans will be willing to support the Obama administration, or whether they will simply recoil in an opposition stance.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was in Williamsburg, Va., on a retreat with her fellow House Democrats on Friday, called the emerging Senate cuts to the stimulus program “very damaging” and said she was “very much opposed to them.” But after the Senate reached a deal, Ms. Pelosi expressed resolve to complete the legislation in the days ahead.

Mr. Obama, who has made the economic recovery effort the centerpiece of his agenda, is expected to take a stronger hand in the negotiations and will embark on an aggressive public lobbying campaign.

He will hold a meeting in Indiana on Monday, followed by a formal White House news conference, the first of his term, in prime time on Monday night. He will pitch the plan again on Tuesday in Florida and on Wednesday in Virginia.

In his weekly radio and Internet address on Saturday, the president praised the Senate deal and urged quick passage of a final bill.

“The time for action is now,” Mr. Obama said. “If we don’t move swiftly to put this plan in motion, our economic crisis could become a national catastrophe.”

Also on Monday, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner is expected to announce the broad outlines of a rescue plan for the financial industry. The administration hopes that the announcement will quiet some critics in Congress who say not enough is being done for the housing sector.

After Senate Democrats reached their deal with moderate Republicans on Friday, Republicans who are more conservative refused to put the legislative process on a fast track.

Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, insisted that the deal required careful deliberation and said he would spend the weekend reviewing it, even though it was all but certain that he would not support the measure.

As a result, the Senate met for a rare Saturday session, and Republicans delivered some of their harshest criticism of Mr. Obama since he took office, suggesting that he was pressing Congress to act irresponsibly by warning of imminent catastrophe.

“In discussing with the American people his approach to the stimulus of our economy, he has first really used some dangerous words,” said Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican. Mr. Kyl added, “It seems to me that the president is rather casually throwing out some careless language.”

The majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, said Congress would move quickly to get the bill into conference, in hopes of sending the bill to the White House by the week’s end.

As it stands, three Republicans are expected to join the 58 Democrats in favor of the bill, and the negotiations may tilt slightly in the Senate’s favor as officials try to keep that coalition in place.

Both the House and the Senate must vote again to approve the final legislation, leaving a chance of unexpected pitfalls.

The main fight is likely to be over the Senate’s proposal to cut $40 billion from proposed aid to states. Such aid does not necessarily lift the economy, but it prevents states from carrying out cuts that could make the recession worse, and the money can be deployed quickly, a challenge in any stimulus.

The $40 billion was the largest cut in a paring back of the Senate proposal that helped seal a deal between Democrats and the moderate Republicans, thanks to the efforts of a bipartisan group led by Senators Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska.

Another big difference is the Senate’s inclusion of nearly $70 billion to protect thousands of middle-class Americans from paying the alternative minimum tax in 2009, sparing them from a system originally intended to prevent the wealthy from claiming too many tax deductions.

House Democratic leaders have indicated a willingness to retain that provision even though it could require them to give up tens of billions of dollars in favored spending programs and force them to make wrenching choices.

Adjusting the alternative minimum tax is also unlikely to give much extra lift to the economy, because Congress has adopted similar fixes for years and would probably have done so again regardless of the stimulus.

Other trims the Senate settled on eliminated $19.5 billion in construction aid for schools and colleges and sliced proposed new aid for the Head Start early childhood program by $1 billion.

In some cases, the cuts to the Senate bill brought it closer to the House proposal. For instance, the senators reduced financing to expand broadband data networks in rural and underserved areas to $7 billion from $9 billion. The House has proposed $6 billion.

Some of the Senate’s changes clearly reflected the personal priorities of lawmakers, especially the moderate Republicans who were instrumental in reaching an accord.

The Senate deal, for example, reduced proposed aid to NASA and the National Science Foundation by $200 million each.

But it added $6.5 billion for medical research at the National Institutes of Health, favored by Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, one of the three Republicans supporting the plan

Even with Democrats controlling both chambers, the negotiations are likely to be difficult. House Democrats have shown little inclination to cater to Republican wishes, especially given the unwillingness of Republicans to vote for the bill.

So far, Mr. Obama and his aides have strongly resisted any change to his proposal for a middle-class tax cut, which was one of his main campaign promises.

It would provide a tax credit of up to $500 for individuals and up to $1,000 for couples, with the credit phasing out for individuals earning more than $75,000 a year and couples more than $150,000.

The Senate bill would lower that income cap to $70,000 for individuals and $140,000 for couples, saving the government $2 billion but potentially reducing the effectiveness of a tax break that is intended to lift consumer spending.

It is unclear how Congress will deal with two provisions aimed directly at general consumers, including an $11 billion tax break in the Senate bill to spur car sales by allowing buyers to deduct any sales tax and one year of loan interest.

The chambers must reconcile competing homebuyer tax credits.

To stabilize real estate prices, the House would give first-time homebuyers a tax credit of 10 percent of a home’s cost, up to $7,500, with income caps reducing the credit for individuals earning at least $75,000 and couples earning $150,000.

The Senate plan includes a more generous credit of 10 percent, up to $15,000, that would be available to all homebuyers, with no income limits.

A formal conference to resolve the differences between the two bills is expected to begin by midweek.

In the Senate debate, critics of the plan said their main objective was to support proposals that would quickly create jobs or spur consumer spending.

But there were Republicans who vehemently opposed some spending programs in the bill, saying the federal government was overstepping its bounds and should not be getting involved in taking up local responsibilities like school construction.

Many of the education programs in the bill are top priorities of the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Representative David R. Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin.

In debate on the Senate floor, many Republicans, including the party’s defeated presidential nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, offered amendments to reduce spending and broaden the tax cuts in the plan. The Democrats easily swatted those down.

Critics of the stimulus plan say Democrats have packed it not with the most effective short-term proposals to lift the economy, but with favored, liberal spending programs that will drastically increase the national debt and cause long-term fiscal harm.

“A bill that was meant to be timely, targeted and temporary has instead become a Trojan horse for pet projects and expanded government,” the Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, said in a floor speech on Friday.

Although Mr. Obama made substantial efforts to reach across party lines, not one of the House Republicans voted for the stimulus measure. They complained that House Democrats shut them out of the process.

In the Senate, too, talks proved excruciatingly difficult. In the end, the only Republicans whose support the Democrats won were Mr. Specter, Ms. Collins and Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

    Congress Is Divided Over Competing Stimulus Bills, NYT, 8.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/us/politics/08stimulus.html






Senators Reach Accord on Stimulus Plan as Jobs Vanish


February 7, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats reached an agreement with Republican moderates on Friday to pare a huge economic recovery measure, clearing the way for approval of a package that President Obama said was urgently needed in light of mounting job losses.

The deal, announced on the Senate floor, was a result of two days of tense negotiations and political theater. Mr. Obama dispatched his chief of staff to Capitol Hill to help conclude the talks and reassure senators in his own party, and he called three key Republicans to applaud them for their patriotism.

Earlier, when it looked as if a vote might take place Friday night, officials said, a government plane was dispatched to Florida to bring back Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who has brain cancer.

The fine print was not immediately available, and the numbers were shifting. But in essence, the Democratic leadership and two centrist Republicans announced they had struck a deal on about $110 billion in cuts to the roughly $900 billion legislation — a deal expected to provide at least the 60 votes needed to send the bill out of the Senate and into negotiations with the House, which has passed its own version.

The pact, which is expected to be approved in the next few days, was concluded just hours after the Labor Department announced that 598,000 jobs were lost in January. The contraction in jobs is already steeper than in any other recession since at least the early 1980s. And economists warn that several more shoes are about to drop, a message that added urgency to the Senate deliberations.

As the negotiations were under way, lawmakers said it was time to stop quibbling about the exact parameters of the legislation — which mixes safety-net spending, tax cuts and a huge infusion of dollars into federal programs — and to begin work toward a final agreement that could be sent to Mr. Obama next week.

“Our country can’t wait another day for another approach,” said Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat who is a leader of the bipartisan coalition that worked out the agreement.

The details were negotiated at an afternoon meeting in the office of the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, involving Mr. Reid, other top Democrats and two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. After they came to terms, the senators brought in the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, for assurance that the deal was acceptable to the administration. Mr. Emanuel signaled it was.

“With today’s unemployment numbers reaching more than 3.6 million workers,” Mr. Emanuel said after the session, “delay and failure were not an option.”

Mr. Obama called Ms. Collins and Mr. Specter, as well as Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, another Republican expected to support the deal, to acknowledge they were acting against pressure from their party and, one official said, to thank them for their patriotism in helping advance the bill at a critical time.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama urged Congress to act expeditiously. “It is inexcusable and irresponsible for any of us to get bogged down in distraction, delay or politics as usual while millions of Americans are being put out of work,” said Mr. Obama, who has recently shown less patience for Republican resistance to the bill.

Most Senate Republicans remained opposed to the measure, criticizing it as a case study in excessive spending that would do little to lift the economy. Some conservatives indicated Friday night that they would push for time to study the new legislation before any final vote.

“We want to stimulate the economy, not mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren by the kind of fiscally profligate spending embodied in this legislation,” said Senator John McCain of Arizona, the defeated Republican presidential nominee, who has emerged as a chief opponent of the proposal.

Republicans were clearly irritated at the outcome and faulted those involved in working out the bargain. “When you say this was the best we could do, I disagree with you,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on the floor. “This not remotely close to what we could have done if we had sat down in a true bipartisan fashion and found a better way.”

The Senate’s proposed cuts took aim at an array of popular spending programs that critics said should not be part of a fiscal recovery bill, even if they represent laudable policy goals, because they would not deliver a quick enough jolt to the economy.

Even Mr. Obama’s signature tax cut for middle-class Americans was scaled back as part of the deal. Under the new plan, tax credits of up to $500 for individuals and $1,000 for couples would begin to phase out at lower income levels than first proposed, saving the government $2 billion.

The biggest cut, roughly $40 billion in aid to states, was likely to spur a fierce fight in negotiations with the House over the final bill. Many states, hit hard by the recession, face wrenching cuts in services and layoffs of public employees as they struggle to comply with laws requiring them to balance their budgets.

When debate began this week, the price tag on the Senate version of the stimulus bill was roughly $884 billion, but it grew to more than $900 billion as senators added provisions including tax breaks totaling $30 billion for purchases of homes and cars.

Lawmakers said that by poring over the 736-page bill they had excised about $110 billion, bringing the total cost to about $780 billion — $40 billion less than the stimulus bill approved by the House last week. Because of consumer tax breaks and spending for health research that had been added in the Senate, the new total for the measure could be about $820 billion. But even the senators behind the compromise were uncertain of the number.

In addition to the large cut in state aid, the Senate agreement would cut nearly $20 billion proposed for school construction; $8 billion to refurbish federal buildings and make them more energy efficient; $1 billion for the early childhood program Head Start; and $2 billion from a plan to expand broadband data networks in rural and underserved areas.

The administration had initially hoped that it could win the support of as many as 80 senators, but that goal disappeared after House Republicans voted unanimously against the measure. As questions were raised about the total spending, getting even three or four Republican senators to sign on became difficult.

Ms. Collins said she believed the changes had significantly improved the measure. Mr. Specter said that while he still had reservations, he had come to accept Mr. Obama’s push to enact the economic plan by mid-February. “I believe we do have to act,” Mr. Specter said, “and under the circumstances this is the best we can do.”

But several other Republicans who had taken part in the talks said they could not support the compromise.

“Unfortunately, there was too much in the Democratic counterproposal that was not stimulative,” said Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio, “and that did not provide the jump-start our economy so desperately needs.”

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said most Republicans remained unconvinced that the package would reinvigorate the economy.

“You have to balance the likelihood of success versus the crushing debt that we’re levying on the backs of our children, our grandchildren and, yes, their children,” Mr. McConnell said.

Mr. Reid urged Republicans to get behind the plan. “This is a critical day for this new Congress and our country,” he said. “Faced with this grave and growing economic crisis, Republicans must decide today whether they will join the president and Congressional Democrats on that road to recovery.”

    Senators Reach Accord on Stimulus Plan as Jobs Vanish, NYT, 7.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/07/us/politics/07stimulus.html?hp






Paterson Picks Gillibrand for Senate


January 24, 2009
The New York Times


By DANNY HAKIM and NICHOLAS CONFESSOREALBANY — Gov. David A. Paterson has selected Representative Kirsten Gillibrand, a 42-year-old congresswoman from upstate who is known for bold political moves and centrist policy positions, to fill the United States Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to a person who spoke to the governor early Friday.

The governor will announce his selection at noon in Albany. An aide to Ms. Gillibrand confirmed that she had accepted the appointment.

Ms. Gillibrand is largely unknown to New Yorkers statewide, but is considered an up-and-coming and forceful lawmaker in her district and has gained considerable attention from Democratic leaders in Washington.

Mr. Paterson made his final decision shortly before 2 a.m. Friday after a marathon series of phone calls and deliberations with his top aides, according to the person who spoke to him. He began making phone calls to other contenders about 9 p.m., and had notified most of the other contenders by midnight. By then, the only two candidates who had not heard from Mr. Paterson were Ms. Gillibrand and Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers.

One of Mr. Paterson’s preferences had been to select a woman to replace Mrs. Clinton.

The governor continued to deliberate and discuss the matter with his advisers — despite earlier reports that he had settled on Ms. Gillibrand — until he made his decision, according to the person who talked to him. He then called Ms. Gillibrand, who had earlier in the evening been told to come to Albany to await an announcement, to let her know she was his pick.

If Mr. Paterson was hoping to quiet the tumult over the selection process by picking Ms. Gillibrand, there were indications that he may not get his wish. Ms. Gillibrand, who has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, is controversial among some of the party’s more liberal leaders downstate.

Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a Long Island Democrat and ardent gun control activist, said Thursday that if Ms. Gillibrand got the job, she was prepared to run against her in a primary in 2010. Ms. McCarthy was elected to Congress after her husband was killed in a gunman’s rampage on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993.

Ms. Gillibrand’s selection was a careful political calculation by the governor, who will run for his second term as governor in 2010, when Ms. Gillibrand will also be on the ballot. The choice reflects Mr. Paterson’s thinking that his selection should be someone who can help him attract key demographics — in Ms. Gillibrand’s case upstate New Yorkers and women.

Ms. Gillibrand, who lives near Hudson, N.Y., just outside of Albany, with her husband, Jonathan Gillibrand, a financial consultant, and their sons, Theodore, who is 5, and Henry, who is 6 months old. (Ms. Gillibrand received a standing ovation on the floor of the House from her colleagues for working right up to the day she gave birth to Henry.)

Ms. Gillibrand, who had never held public office, won her seat in 2006 against great odds, defeating a four-term Republican incumbent in a race that turned intense and nasty in its final days.

She proved to be a formidable candidate, raising millions of dollars and assembling a campaign organization that aggressively exploited the personal and political baggage of her opponent, Representative John E. Sweeney, who frequently found himself on the defensive.

Just before the election, for example, the Sweeney camp accused Ms. Gillibrand of being behind a published report that the police had been called to the congressman’s home during a domestic disturbance. Mr. Sweeney even ran a television spot in which his wife, Gayle Sweeney, spoke of how his rival was attempting to “slander my marriage, husband and family.”

Mr. Sweeney eventually admitted that the police had been called to his home. In the end, Ms. Gillibrand won with 53 percent of the vote.

The news of Ms. Gillibrand’s appointment followed a day of anonymous and often bitter sniping over Caroline Kennedy’s mystifying departure from the Senate field.

Because the governor has often contradicted his own comments about the Senate pick in the course of a single day, no one in the capital appeared ready to say for certain who the new senator would be. Ms. Gillibrand’s was the name most frequently mentioned, though other candidates, including Ms. Weingarten and Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, were not ruled out.

The governor’s announcement on Friday is unlikely to immediately undo the public relations damage over the collapse of Ms. Kennedy’s candidacy or put to rest criticism that the governor had lost control of the selection process.

There was incredulity in Democratic circles on Thursday afternoon after the governor’s camp engaged in a ferocious public back-and-forth with Ms. Kennedy’s side, reaching out to numerous news organizations to disparage her qualifications; one person close to the governor said that her candidacy had been derailed by problems involving taxes and a household employee, but declined to provide details.

That account was at odds with Ms. Kennedy’s own description of her reasons for withdrawing. While not denying that issues had arisen, aides to Ms. Kennedy played down their significance, saying they had been aired out in discussions between the Paterson and Kennedy camps over the last two weeks and were not considered by either side to be disqualifying.

Ms. Kennedy’s only tax issue on the public record appeared to be a $615 city tax lien that she settled in 1994, a minuscule amount for a multimillionaire.

The person close to the governor also said emphatically that Mr. Paterson “never had any intention of picking Kennedy” because he had come to consider her unready for the job.

But several people who had spoken to the governor said he had decided on Ms. Kennedy weeks ago. A Democratic operative with ties to Mr. Paterson said the governor told Ms. Kennedy last week that she was the choice but that he would use the next few days to do “a little misdirection to keep the suspense up.”

Later Thursday, the two sides appeared to agree to a cease-fire.

At 5 p.m., Mr. Paterson’s office said “the governor considers Caroline a friend and knows she will continue to serve New York well inside or outside of government.”

No “information gathered during this selection process created a necessity for any candidate to withdraw,” the statement said, adding that “speculation to the contrary is both inaccurate and inappropriate.”

Shortly thereafter, a spokesman for Ms. Kennedy issued a statement saying: “Caroline Kennedy withdrew her name for consideration from the United States Senate for personal reasons. Any statements to the contrary are false.”

Certainly, the bid for the Senate seat was a bracing process for Ms. Kennedy. Before she began her candidacy last month, she was a quiet celebrity daughter of a storied and tragic family, fondly remembered by many Americans as a young girl in the White House who liked to ride horses.

On Thursday, an aide to Ms. Kennedy, offering the fullest explanation so far of her exit, said a personal problem had emerged on Wednesday. She called the governor around 3 or 4 p.m., the aide said, to tell him that she would be withdrawing from consideration for the appointment. According to the aide, Mr. Paterson told Ms. Kennedy to take a day to think about it.

At no point, the aide said, did the governor tell Ms. Kennedy she was out of the running. “He was saying she was a contender, she was involved, and things were going the way they were going,” the aide said. “He did not tell her either way that it was yes or no, but that she was still being considered.”

At that point, the aide said, Ms. Kennedy began consulting with friends and family. Around the same time, news outlets, including The New York Post and The New York Times, began reporting that she had withdrawn.

The Paterson administration initially refused to respond to the reports. Then, about 7 p.m. Wednesday, a spokesman for Mr. Paterson said in a brief interview that the governor had dismissed the idea that Ms. Kennedy was withdrawing as “just the rumor of the day.”

But at the time, according to Ms. Kennedy’s aide, the governor and Ms. Kennedy had already spoken about the possibility of her withdrawing.

Ms. Kennedy’s own political advisers appeared at times to be unable to reach her on Wednesday night. At one point late in the evening, Ms. Kennedy was drafting a statement reaffirming her interest in the seat. But she ultimately concluded that she would go ahead with her plan to withdraw, and released a statement by e-mail at 12:03 a.m. Thursday, saying, “I informed Governor Paterson today that for personal reasons I am withdrawing my name from consideration for the United States Senate.”

Rumors about who will get the Senate appointment spread through the capital Thursday, and several people who are longtime allies of the governor warned that he was unpredictable.

While some Democratic lawmakers and officials said during the day that they believed Ms. Gillibrand was the front-runner, others pondered whether the attention on her was being fanned by Mr. Paterson’s own advisers to distract the press as he laid the groundwork to pick someone else.

Ms. Gillibrand did her best to stay out of the line of fire, skipping a meeting of the House Armed Services Committee and declining, through a spokeswoman, to issue any statements throughout the day.

    Paterson Picks Gillibrand for Senate, NYT, 24.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/24/nyregion/24senator.html?hp






Some Ask if Bailout Is Unconstitutional


January 16, 2009
The New York Times


While much of the debate over the $700 billion federal bailout plan has focused on whether the money is being spent wisely or well, concerns are growing among many conservatives about its constitutionality.

Some conservatives have argued that the law creating the program, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which Congress passed hastily in October, violates constitutional principles that limit the amount of power that lawmakers can delegate to the executive branch.

They also maintain that the enormous bailout plan has illegally grown beyond its original focus on the financial services industry to include a bailout of the auto industry and more.

Robert A. Levy, the chairman of the Cato Institute, a libertarian organization in Washington, said in an interview that the bailout program, which goes by the acronym TARP for Troubled Assets Relief Program, goes beyond the realm of delegation the courts should allow. Mr. Levy said that earlier cases had found such delegation was appropriate if Congress laid down “an intelligible principle” that provided clear guidance to an agency or a regulator. But that, he said, is precisely what is missing in the bailout.

“There’s no intelligible principle that I could discern,” Mr. Levy said.

Now the FreedomWorks Foundation, which was founded in 1984 and declares itself to be “leading the fight for lower taxes, less government and more freedom,” says it plans to file a lawsuit against the program.

The group’s chairman is Dick Armey, the former Republican House majority leader. A memorandum the group distributed to Congress on Thursday laid out its argument that “when Congress delegates so much authority to the executive branch with so few rules to guide its discretion, Congress unconstitutionally transfers its lawmaking power to the executive.”

The bailout’s sheer size, the memorandum states, takes it beyond the realm of other Congressional delegations of authority that have been found constitutional. “As far as we can tell, Congress has never delegated so much power to an executive agency with so little to constrain the agency’s discretion,” the memorandum concluded, calling the result “a classic violation of the nondelegation principle.”

The group has not said when it might file suit or whom the plaintiffs might be.

“We’re still sort of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on that,” FreedomWorks’ vice president for research, Wayne T. Brough, said.

The possible legal challenge was first reported by Bloomberg News.

Prof. Laurence H. Tribe, an expert on constitutional law at Harvard, said in an interview that such a challenge was unlikely to succeed because the doctrine of Congressional delegation, which flourished in the 1930s, was significantly weakened during the New Deal and never recovered.

The bailout, Professor Tribe said, “certainly tests the outer limits of Congressional delegation authority,” and “if the delegation doctrine were genuinely alive and well, TARP might be among its potential victims.”

But, he said, recent cases in which the Supreme Court approved broad delegations of authority made it clear that it was unlikely to intervene on constitutional grounds. As an example Professor Tribe cited the authority conveyed to the federal Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act.

Eric A. Posner, a professor of law at the University of Chicago law school, agreed.

“Not even this court,” with its bank of steadily conservative justices, is likely to revive the kinds of legal arguments of the 1930s, Professor Posner said.

“I would be extremely surprised,” he said, to see such an enormous legal shift, especially over a bill that focused on spending as opposed to broader issues.

Dr. Brough of FreedomWorks acknowledged that more than 70 years of jurisprudence and the structure of the government from the New Deal onward might pose a difficult barrier for his group to surmount. However, he said: “In our minds, this is probably the biggest intervention in the economy going back to then. It’s worth revisiting.”

He said that although the $700 billion was likely to have been spent before any challenge could make its way through the courts, the economy showed no signs of turning around, and there were more economic interventions on the way.

When that happens, Dr. Brough said, “it’s important that you can point to something and say, ‘Hey, guys, what you did last time was wrong.’ ”

Jim Manley, the chief spokesman for the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said he was unimpressed by the foundation’s argument.

“Taking economic advice from Dick Armey is akin to taking shooting lessons from Dick Cheney,” Mr. Manley said. “Neither are particularly helpful.”

    Some Ask if Bailout Is Unconstitutional, NYT, 16.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/16/us/politics/16challenge.html?ref=politics






Senate Releases Second Portion of Bailout Fund


January 16, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama’s economic agenda advanced rapidly in Congress on Thursday as the Senate voted to release the second half of the financial industry bailout fund and House Democrats unveiled an $825 billion fiscal recovery plan aimed at putting millions of unemployed Americans back to work.

The Senate action, by a vote of 52 to 42, spares Mr. Obama a messy legislative fight just as he takes office and gives him a $350 billion war chest to further stabilize the financial sector. The vote came amid renewed distress in the banking industry, including further deterioration of Citigroup and a pitch for more government aid by the Bank of America.

Mr. Obama had personally lobbied reluctant senators to release the money. His top economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, made three visits to the Capitol and sent two letters to reassure lawmakers that the program would be better managed.

In the most recent letter, delivered shortly before the vote, Mr. Summers promised to use $50 billion to $100 billion for “a sweeping effort to address the foreclosure crisis.” He promised tough oversight and clear tracking of how the money is used, and new restrictions on executive pay at firms that receive help.

The vote was an early test for Mr. Obama, in which 6 Republicans joined 46 Democrats to release the money and keep the new administration’s agenda on track.

After personal entreaties from Mr. Obama, all but one of the seven Democratic freshmen senators voted to release the money, including Senators Mark Udall of Colorado and Tom Udall of New Mexico, who as House members twice voted against the original bailout bill.

In a statement, the president-elect applauded the outcome.

“I know this wasn’t an easy vote because of the frustration so many of us share about how the first half of this plan was implemented,” Mr. Obama said. “Now my pledge is to change the way this plan is implemented and keep faith with the American taxpayer.”

Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff who huddled with Republicans on Wednesday to make the case for the money, saw the outcome as the first major win for the new administration.

“Obviously we would have preferred something else,” Mr. Emanuel said. “But this was the first play of the game, and we threw an 80-yard pass.”

The House may still vote on the bailout money, but the point is moot because the law requires action by both chambers to block the funds. Instead, House Democrats said they could focus on their aggressive timetable for the $825 billion stimulus measure.

That package, developed in partnership with Mr. Obama, includes huge increases in spending on education, aid to states for Medicaid costs, temporary increases in jobless benefits and a vast array of public works projects to create jobs.

The stimulus plan is the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s early agenda and seeks to make good on some of his signature campaign promises, including an income tax cut for most Americans earning less than $200,000 a year.

Under the plan, individuals would receive up to $500 and families up to $1,000. The money would be delivered through paychecks as a reduction in Social Security withholdings, and is intended to bolster consumer spending by giving a small lift to household pocketbooks.

Some of the other major components of the plan include $87 billion for a temporary increase in aid to states for Medicaid costs; $79 billion in aid to local school districts and public colleges to prevent cutbacks; $90 billion in infrastructure spending, and $54 billion to encourage energy production from renewable sources.

The Senate is developing its own version of the stimulus bill, and intense haggling is expected over the next few weeks. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California, has said the bill must pass by mid-February or she will cancel the Presidents’ Day recess.

The House version, introduced by the Appropriations Committee chairman, Representative David R. Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin, contains the broad parameters expected in the final product: roughly $550 billion in spending and $275 billion in tax cuts over two years. The House is expected to vote on the bill the week of Jan 26.

Mr. Obey, at a news conference, said that without the recovery plan, Americans would face a dire recession and unemployment of 12 percent. He said that even such a huge stimulus might not be enough to stabilize the economy.

“You have to look at this bill as not a salvation for the economy by any means,” he said, sitting at his desk in the Capitol with a window behind him overlooking the Washington Monument. “It is simply the largest effort by any legislative body on the planet to try to take government action to prevent economic catastrophe, and even that may be insufficient.”

Mr. Obama is expected to travel to hard-hit Ohio on Friday to trumpet aspects of the plan, particularly the renewable energy provisions and the aid for struggling Americans, including a further extension of jobless benefits, new health insurance subsidies for the unemployed and an increase in food stamps.

Although Mr. Obama promised to collaborate with Republicans and consider all ideas, the draft proposal put forward emphasized mostly Democratic principles of helping middle-class workers with tax relief and helping the unemployed pay health care costs.

Republican leaders quickly criticized the plan.

“This is the first time Republicans and the American people have seen any specifics on the proposal Congressional Democrats intend to pass, and what we’re seeing is disappointing,” the Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, said in a statement. “The plan released this morning by Congressional Democrats was developed with no Republican input and appears to be grounded in the flawed notion that we can simply borrow and spend our way back to prosperity.”

Mr. Boehner and other Republicans are planning to push for deeper and more permanent tax cuts that they say will do a better job of encouraging economic growth.

Among lawmakers in both parties, there has been substantial outrage on Capitol Hill over the Bush administration’s management of the bailout program. Some senators said the new worries over Citigroup and Bank of America had influenced their vote.

Many Republicans said they were angered that the administration had used the rescue money to help General Motors and Chrysler, and they demanded assurances from the Obama administration that it would not similarly aid individual industries.

In urging senators to release the money, the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, gave an impassioned speech, focused on Mr. Obama. “We must give our new president every tool to try to fix this economy,” Mr. Reid said.

The Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who voted against releasing the money, said he appreciated Mr. Obama’s assurances that the bailout program would be used to stabilize the financial system. But Mr. McConnell said, “the incoming administration also indicated it would use the money in ways I cannot support.”

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who supported the original bailout, voted against releasing the money.

Mr. Obama, in a meeting with the editorial board of The Washington Post, said that he would convene a “fiscal responsibility summit” in February to focus on solving long-term problems with the economy, including the rising costs of Social Security and Medicare.

At his news conference, Mr. Obey said that the bill would create a board to oversee how the stimulus money was being spent and that money allocated under the recovery bill would be tracked on a new Web site.

Carl Hulse contributed reporting.

    Senate Releases Second Portion of Bailout Fund, NYT, 16.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/16/us/politics/16stimulus.html






Despite Anger, Release of $350 Billion More for Bailout Gains Favor


January 13, 2009
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Republican and Democratic Senate leaders signaled on Monday that they would support the release of the second half of the Treasury’s $700 billion financial system bailout fund, despite anger among many rank-and-file lawmakers over the Bush administration’s management of the program.

As Congress prepared to act, regulators directed thousands of banks to provide more information about how they have used the money received through the bailout program, responding to concern that financial institutions were hoarding the cash rather than lending it to businesses and consumers.

President-elect Barack Obama said on Monday that like Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, his administration would demand substantially greater oversight of the program.

President Bush on Monday formally requested the $350 billion from Congress at the urging of Mr. Obama.

Under the bailout law, Congress can block the money but only if the House and Senate act to do so. The Senate is expected to vote on the request as early as Thursday.

Aides said that Mr. Obama would attend the weekly lunch of Democratic senators at the Capitol on Tuesday, where he was expected to encourage his former colleagues to approve the bailout money as well as discuss details of his proposed $800 billion recovery package.

Mr. Obama made calls to a number of senators in both parties Monday, including Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the Democratic chairman of the Budget Committee.

After a meeting with the president of Mexico on Monday, Mr. Obama said the additional $350 billion would be critical to his efforts to stabilize the economy.

“It is clear that the financial system, although improved from where it was in September, is still fragile, and I felt that it would be irresponsible for me with the first $350 billion already spent, to enter into the administration without any potential ammunition should there be some sort of emergency or weakening of the financial system,” Mr. Obama said.

“I think many of us have been disappointed with the absence of clarity, the lack of transparency, the failure to track how the money’s been spent and the failure to take bold action with respect to areas like housing, consumer credit, so that we can maintain credit,” he said.

In conjunction with Mr. Bush’s announcement, Lawrence H. Summers, Mr. Obama’s designee to be director of the National Economic Council, sent a letter to Congressional leaders, pressing them to approve the funds and promising to overhaul the bailout program, including more oversight and a sweeping new effort to prevent home foreclosures.

Mr. Summers said the Obama administration would also impose tough conditions on companies receiving aid, including limits on executive pay and shareholder dividends. “We will ensure that resources are directed to increasing lending and preventing new financial crises and not to enriching shareholders or executives,” he wrote.

Separately, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation also moved on Monday to reassure critics who had complained that banks were not using the bailout money as intended to increase the flow of credit.

The F.D.I.C. directed the 5,100 banks that it regulates to document how they have used government money that they have received.

The agency did not spell out or even imply how much of the money that banks receive should go toward new lending, as opposed to building capital reserves or making acquisitions. But in requiring the banks to provide information, the F.D.I.C. went further than any of the other federal regulators to put pressure on lenders.

The Senate’s approval of the $350 billion would be a big relief for the Obama administration, which is hoping to avoid a messy legislative battle just as the new president takes office. That outcome seemed increasingly likely as some influential senators said they would urge their colleagues to approve the money.

“It’s extremely important that we make these dollars available to the new administration so there is as much flexibility as possible to stabilize the financial system,” Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, said. Critics, including an oversight panel, have accused the Bush administration of badly mismanaging the program, in part by not adequately tracking how private banks have used bailout funds.

But some lawmakers said the bailout, formally called the Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP, had accomplished its main goal by preventing a further deterioration of the credit and stock markets.

“Without the first TARP, we may have a Dow at 4,000 right now and the economy in an absolutely free fall,” Mr. Conrad said.

But the request for the bailout money is still certain to generate impassioned debate.

Mr. Conrad, in an interview, said that the letter from Mr. Summers and the phone call from Mr. Obama had addressed all of his concerns and convinced him that the new administration should be trusted with the $350 billion. But he said other lawmakers could be harder to convince.

“I think it is going to take communications from the president-elect and repeated outreach to my colleagues because people feel so burned by the previous administration’s handling of the authority given to them,” Mr. Conrad said.

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said he was reluctant to provide the additional money.

“The American people have a lot of questions about how additional funds would be used,” Mr. McConnell said. “I would be hard pressed to support additional funding for the TARP without sufficient assurances this money will not be wasted, misspent or simply used for more industry-specific bailouts.”

Some lawmakers, including the House Republican leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, have said they will oppose disbursing the $350 billion.

Other critics, including Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, have expressed a willingness to release the money provided conditions are attached to it. Mr. Frank has drafted a bill that would impose those controls and would also require at least $40 billion of the new money be used for home foreclosure prevention efforts. And in a sign that Mr. Obama’s assurances just might not be enough, House Democratic leaders said they would push to approve Mr. Frank’s bill this week.

Even if the Senate approves the bailout money, the House will have to vote as well. And some Democratic aides said it was difficult to envision approval of the money without Mr. Frank’s bill also being adopted.

The Treasury Department, under threat of a subpoena, agreed on Monday to turn over to Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, copies of the 10 contracts it had signed with major Wall Street firms under the $700 billion federal bailout program.

The documents were requested in late October by Mr. Levin, who heads the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

The companies are American International Group, Bank of America, Bank of New York Mellon, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, State Street Corporation and Wells Fargo.

The subcommittee has no plans to make the contracts public, an aide to Mr. Levin said.

    Despite Anger, Release of $350 Billion More for Bailout Gains Favor, NYT, 13.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/business/economy/13econ.html