Tag Archives: Scott Brown

What You Need to Know about Budget Reconciliation in the Senate

After last week’s House passage of the American Health Care Act, the Senate has begun sorting through various policy options for health care legislation. But looming over the policy discussions are procedural concerns unique to the Senate. Herewith a primer on the process under which the upper chamber will consider an Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill.

How Will the Bill Come to the Senate Floor?

The bill that passed the House was drafted as a budget reconciliation bill. The phrase “budget reconciliation” refers to a process established by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, in which congressional committees reconcile spending in programs within their jurisdiction to the budget blueprint passed by Congress. In this case, Congress passed a budget in January that required health-care committees to report legislation reducing the deficit by $1 billion—the intended vehicle for an Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill.

What’s So Important about Budget Reconciliation?

The Budget Act lays out specific time limits for debate in the Senate—20 hours of debate—and limits amendments to germane (i.e., relevant) topics. Normally, debate in the Senate is much more free-wheeling, with unlimited debate and amendments permitted on any issue. A senator could offer an amendment on Syria policy to a tax bill, for instance.

Under most circumstances, the Senate can only limit debate and amendments by invoking cloture, which requires the approval of three-fifths of all senators sworn (i.e., 60 votes). Because the reconciliation process prohibits filibusters and unlimited debate, it allows the Senate to pass reconciliation bills with a simple majority (i.e., 51-vote) threshold.

Why Does the ‘Byrd Rule’ Exist as part of Budget Reconciliation?

Named for former Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV), the rule intends to protect the integrity of the legislative filibuster. By allowing only matters integral to the budget reconciliation to pass the Senate with a simple majority (as opposed to the 60-vote threshold), the rule seeks to keep the body’s tradition of extended debate.

What Is the ‘Byrd Rule’?

Simply put, the rule prohibits “extraneous” material from intruding in budget reconciliation legislation. However, the term “Byrd rule” is technically a misnomer in two respects. First, the “Byrd rule” is more than just a longstanding practice of the Senate. After several years of operation as a Senate rule, it was codified into law beginning in 1985, and can be found at 2 U.S.C. 644. Second, the rule consists of not just one test to define whether material is “extraneous,” but six.

What Are the Six Different Types of Extraneous Material?

This chart from Senate Budget Committee staff highlights the six statutory definitions of “extraneous” material, provides some examples of each, and explains how the Senate rules on, and disposes of, material falling under each test.

So the Various Types of ‘Byrd Rule’ Violations Are Not Necessarily Equivalent?

Correct. While most reporters focus on the fourth test—when a legislative provision has a budgetary impact merely incidental to the provision’s policy change—that is not the only type of rule violation. Nor in many respects is it the most significant.

While violations of the fourth test are fatal to the provision—the extraneous material is stricken from the underlying legislation—violations of the third (material outside the jurisdiction of committees charged with reporting reconciliation legislation) and sixth (changes to Title II of the Social Security Act) tests are fatal to the entire bill.

Who Determines Whether a Provision Qualifies as ‘Extraneous’ Under the ‘Byrd Rule’?

As the chart notes, those determinations are made by the Senate Budget Committee chairman—currently Mike Enzi (R-WY)—or the chair, who normally acts upon guidance from the Senate parliamentarian.

How Does One Determine Whether a Provision Qualifies as ‘Extraneous’ under the ‘Byrd Rule’?

In some cases, determining compliance with the rule is relatively straight-forward. A provision dealing with veterans’ benefits (within the jurisdiction of the Veterans Affairs Committee) would clearly fail the third test in a tax reconciliation bill, as tax matters lie within the Finance Committee’s jurisdiction.

However, other cases require a more nuanced, textual analysis by the parliamentarian. Such an analysis might examine Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and other outside scores, to assess the provision’s fiscal impact (or lack thereof), the statute the reconciliation bill seeks to amend, other statutes cross-referenced in the legislation (to assess the impact of the programmatic changes the provision would make), and prior precedent on related matters.

When Does the Senate Assess Whether a Provision Qualifies as ‘Extraneous’?

In some respects, assessing compliance is an iterative process. Often, the Senate parliamentarian will provide informal advice to majority staff as they begin to write reconciliation legislation. While these informal conversations help to guide bill writers during the drafting process, the parliamentarian normally notes that these discussions do not constitute a formal advisory opinion; minority party staff and other interested persons are not privy to the ex parte conversations, and could in time bring her new information that could cause her to change her opinion.

Later in the process, as the reconciliation bill makes its way to the Senate floor, majority and minority leadership staff will gather for more formal discussions to assess which provisions qualify as “extraneous” under the “Byrd rule.” This process, informally known as the “Byrd bath,” allows for all sides to put their cases before the parliamentarian, who will normally provide more definitive guidance on how she would advise the chair to rule.

Do Debates about the ‘Byrd Rule’ Take Place on the Senate Floor?

They can, and they have, but relatively rarely. As James Wallner, an expert in Senate parliamentary procedure, notes, over the last three decades, the Senate has formally adjudicated only ten instances of the fourth test—whether a provision’s fiscal impacts are merely incidental to its proposed policy changes.

Because most determinations of “Byrd rule” compliance (or non-compliance) have been made through informal, closed-door “Byrd bath” discussions in the Senate parliamentarian’s office, there are few formal precedents—either rulings from the chair or votes by the Senate itself—regarding specific examples of “extraneous” material. As a result, the Senate—whether the parliamentarian, the presiding officer, or the body itself—has significant latitude to interpret the statutory tests about what qualifies as “extraneous.”

Can the Senate Overrule the Parliamentarian about What Qualifies as ‘Extraneous’ Under the ‘Byrd Rule’?

Yes, in two respects. The presiding officer—whether the vice president as president of the Senate, the president pro tempore (currently Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT), or another senator—can disregard the parliamentarian’s guidance and issue his or her own ruling. Alternatively, a senator could appeal the chair’s decision, and a simple majority of the body could overrule that decision. There is a long history of senators doing just that.

As a practical matter, however, such a scenario appears unlikely during the Obamacare debate, for two reasons. First, some senators may view such a move as akin to the “nuclear option,” undermining the legislative filibuster by a simple majority vote. The recent letter signed by 61 senators pledging to uphold the legislative filibuster indicates that at least some senators in both parties want to preserve the usual 60-vote margin for passing legislation, and therefore may not wish to set a precedent of allowing potentially “extraneous” material on to a budget reconciliation bill through a simple majority.

Second, if the Senate did overrule the parliamentarian on a procedural matter related to budget reconciliation, a conservative senator would likely introduce a simple, one-line Obamacare repeal bill and ask the Senate to overrule the parliamentarian to allow it to qualify as a reconciliation matter. Since many members of the Senate, like the House, do not actually wish to repeal Obamacare, they would likely decline to head down the road of overruling the parliamentarian, for fear it may head in this direction.

Can the Senate Waive the ‘Byrd Rule’?

Yes—provided three-fifths of senators sworn (i.e., 60 senators) agree. In the past, many budget reconciliation bills—like the Balanced Budget Act of 1997—passed with far more than 60 Senate votes, which made waiving the rule easier.

However, Republicans did not agree to waive the rule for extraneous material included in Senate Democrats’ Obamacare “fix” bill in March 2010. That material was stricken from the legislation and did not make it into law. For this and other reasons, it seems unlikely that eight or more Senate Democrats would vote to waive the rule for an Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill.

Didn’t Democrats Pass Obamacare through Budget Reconciliation?

Yes and no. They fixed portions of Obamacare—for instance, the notorious “Cornhusker Kickback”—through a budget reconciliation measure that passed through both houses of Congress in March 2010. But the larger, 2,400-page measure that passed the Senate on Christmas Eve 2009 was enacted into law first.

Once Scott Brown’s election to the Senate in January 2010 gave Republicans 41 votes, Democrats knew they could not go through the usual process of convening a House-Senate conference committee to consider the differences between each chamber’s legislation. A conference report is subject to a filibuster, and Republicans had the votes to sustain that filibuster.

Instead, House Democrats agreed to pass the Senate version of the legislation—the version that passed with 60 votes on Christmas Eve 2009—then have both chambers use a separate budget reconciliation bill—one that could pass the Senate with a 51-vote majority—to make changes to the bill they had just enacted.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Four Ways Donald Trump Can Start Dismantling Obamacare on Day One

Having led a populist uprising that propelled him to the presidency, Donald Trump will now face pressure to make good on his campaign promise to repeal Obamacare. However, because President Obama used executive overreach to implement so much of the law, Trump can begin dismantling it immediately upon taking office.

The short version comes down to this: End cronyist bailouts, and confront the health insurers behind them. Want more details? Read on.

1. End Unconstitutional Cost-Sharing Subsidies

In May, Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled in a lawsuit brought by the House of Representatives that the Obama administration had illegally disbursed cost-sharing subsidies to insurers without an appropriation. These subsidies—separate and distinct from the law’s premium subsidies—reimburse insurers for discounted deductibles and co-payments they provide to some low-income beneficiaries.

While the text of the law provides an explicit appropriation for the premium subsidies, Congress nowhere granted the executive authority to spend money on the cost-sharing subsidies. President Obama, ignoring this clear legal restraint, has paid out roughly $14 billion in cost-sharing subsidies anyway.

Trump should immediately 1) revoke the Obama administration’s appeal of Collyer’s ruling in the House’s lawsuit, House v. Burwell, and 2) stop providing cost-sharing subsidies to insurers unless and until Congress grants an explicit appropriation for same.

2. Follow the Law on Reinsurance

House v. Burwell represents but one case in which legal experts have ruled the Obama administration violated the law by bailing out insurers. In September, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) handed down a ruling in the separate case of Obamacare’s reinsurance program.

The law states that, once reinsurance funds come in, Treasury should get repaid for the $5 billion cost of a transitional Obamacare program before insurers receive reimbursement for their high-cost patients. GAO, like the non-partisan Congressional Research Service before it, concluded that the Obama administration violated the text of Obamacare by prioritizing payments to insurers over and above payments to the Treasury.

Trump should immediately ensure that Treasury is repaid all the $5 billion it is owed before insurance companies get repaid, as the law currently requires. He can also look to sue insurance companies to make the Treasury whole.

3. Prevent a Risk Corridor Bailout

In recent weeks, the Obama administration has sought to settle lawsuits raised by insurance companies looking to resolve unpaid claims on Obamacare’s risk corridor program. While Congress prohibited taxpayer funds from being used to bail out insurance companies—twice—the administration apparently wishes to enact a backdoor bailout prior to leaving office.

Under this mechanism, Justice Department attorneys would sign off on using the obscure Judgment Fund to settle the risk corridor lawsuits, in an attempt to circumvent the congressional appropriations restriction.

Trump should immediately 1) direct the Justice Department and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) not to settle any risk corridor lawsuits, 2) direct the Treasury not to make payments from the Judgment Fund for any settlements related to such lawsuits, and 3) ask Congress for clarifying language to prohibit the Judgment Fund from being used to pay out any settlements related to such lawsuits.

4. Rage Against the (Insurance) Machine

Trump ran as a populist against the corrupting influence of special interests. To that end, he would do well to point out that health insurance companies have made record profits, nearly doubling during the Obama years to a whopping $15 billion in 2015. It’s also worth noting that special interests enthusiastically embraced Obamacare as a way to fatten their bottom lines—witness the pharmaceutical industry’s “rock solid deal” supporting the law, and the ads they ran seeking its passage.

As others have noted elsewhere, if Trump ends the flow of cost-sharing subsidies upon taking office, insurers may attempt to argue that legal clauses permit them to exit the Obamacare exchanges immediately. Over and above the legal question of whether CMS had the authority to make such an agreement—binding the federal government to a continuous flow of unconstitutional spending—lies a broader political question: Would insurers, while making record profits, deliberately throw the country’s insurance markets into chaos because a newly elected administration would not continue paying them tribute in the form of unconstitutional bailouts?

For years, Democrats sought political profit by portraying Republicans as “the handmaidens of the insurance companies.” Anger against premium increases by Anthem in 2010 helped compel Democrats to enact Obamacare, even after Scott Brown’s stunning Senate upset in Massachusetts. It would be a delicious irony indeed for a Trump administration to continue the political realignment begun last evening by demonstrating to the American public just how much Democrats have relied upon crony capitalism and corrupting special interests to enact their agenda. Nancy Pelosi and K Street lobbyists were made for each other—perhaps it only took Donald Trump to bring them together.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Messaging a Law The American People Don’t Want

Speaking on the Senate floor a little bit ago, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) claimed that “very effective negative branding” has contributed to the American people’s dislike of Obamacare:

We’ve got to stand up and make it clear to people why this [law] is good.  A lot of Americans have not heard enough about how this legislation works for them, works for the country, will improve our system….I think the Administration has a much better story to tell about it than has been told.  And I’m glad the President has said he looks forward to going out and talking to the country about it, because I believe that as the country learns more about it, in fact, they will say, wow, that makes sense, that seems like a pretty sensible thing to do.

The remarks echo similar comments made yesterday by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who said that the problem with the 2700-page bill was not the legislation itself, but the messaging of same: “All of us who are supporters of the legislation should have done a better job of explaining its benefits, and we need to continue to make very clear what the benefits of [Obamacare] are.”

This tack of trying to explain away Obamacare’s unpopularity is perhaps unsurprising.  Implicit in the idea that Democrats need to do a better job explaining the legislation is that the American people need to do a better job of understanding said explanations.  And because said legislation is based upon a paternalistic premise — namely, that all individuals must be forced by their government to buy a product created and defined by a little intellectual elite in a far distant capital – it’s unsurprising that such paternalism would also creep into Democrats’ rationalizations for why the law is unpopular:  Because, they claim, the American people don’t understand it well enough.

That said, it’s interesting how strongly — and consistently — Members of Congress who are retiring, or who have been retired, disagree with the premise that Obamacare’s unpopularity is strictly a messaging problem. Here are some quotes from an article in The Hill from last month:

Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC): ”I think we would all have been better off — President Obama politically, Democrats in Congress politically, and the nation would have been better off — if we had dealt first with the financial system and the other related economic issues and then come back to healthcare.”

Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA): Obamacare should have been done “in digestible pieces that the American public could understand and that we could implement.”

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA): “I think we paid a terrible price for healthcare….I would not have pushed it as hard. As a matter of fact, after [Sen.] Scott Brown [R-Mass.] won [in January 2010], I suggested going back. I would have started with financial reform, but certainly not healthcare.”

Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA): “I’ll be real frank here…I think that the manner in which the health-care reform issue was put in front of the Congress, the way that the issue was dealt with by the White House, cost Obama a lot of credibility as a leader.”

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA): “
It [Obamacare] did hurt us, there’s no doubt about it. The climate out there was really ugly because of it.”

Former Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL): ”I think [Obamacare] is the single least popular piece of major domestic legislation in the last 70 years. It was not popular when it passed; it’s less popular now….I think the worst thing that could happen to Barack Obama’s reelection campaign would be if he had to spend four months this fall explaining what Obamacare 2 would look like.”

The piece de resistance however, might be a quote from now-former Senator Russ Feingold: “I knew the minute I voted for [Obamacare] that that was it.”

Democrats can claim all they want that the problem with Obamacare is the messaging, but the message Sen. Feingold said he received from the American people is — or should be anyway — too big to ignore.

Obamacare and “The Bright Light of Day”

In a post on the White House blog yesterday, OMB Director Lew chided Congress in general, and Republicans in particular, for daring to attach policy riders to appropriations measures currently working their way through Congress.  Of particular note was the sentence in which Lew stated that “ending health care and Wall Street reform are major policy choices that should be made in the bright light of day, and not attached to appropriations bills needed to keep the government operating.”

Seeing as how Director Lew suggested that Republicans are afraid of considering an Obamacare repeal “in the bright light of day,” it’s worth remembering the absurd lengths this Administration and Democrats in Congress went to in order to enact Obamacare in the first place:

  • Candidate Obama repeatedly promised to televise health care negotiations on C-SPAN, “so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies.”  Instead President Obama and Democrats went and drafted their massive 2,700 page law behind closed doors.  Speaker Pelosi took the frequent President’s campaign pledges for transparency so nonchalantly she laughed it off as a joke.
  • The head of the pharmaceutical industry bragged how Administration officials enticed him, and other industry groups, to cut secret agreements to support Obamacare: “We were assured: ‘We need somebody to come in first.  If you come in first, you will have a rock-solid deal.’”  The details of that “rock-solid deal” between the Administration and Big Pharma have STILL not been released publicly.
  • President Obama himself admitted in a January 2010 interview with Diane Sawyer that “amongst supporters…we just don’t know what’s going on” behind closed doors.  He and Democrats promptly re-grouped, drafting new language to pass the bill – behind closed doors.
  • Democrat Members of Congress said they couldn’t be bothered to read the bill – because it was a waste of time, they needed lawyers to read the bill for them, and because “we have to make judgments very fast.”  Democrat leaders admitted that “If every Member pledged to not vote for it if they hadn’t read it in its entirety, I think we would have very few votes.”
  • Speaker Pelosi famously said we had to pass the bill to find out what’s in it – because she apparently believed the American people couldn’t be told its contents in advance.
  • Even as Administration officials were publicly claiming they were “entirely persuaded” that controversial portions of Obamacare were fiscally sustainable, career officials were calling the same program “a recipe for disaster” – evidence that the Administration concealed their knowledge that the law will ultimately be a budget-buster.
  • After the voters in Massachusetts told Democrats they had different ideas and elected a Republican to the Senate, Democrats used an arcane procedure to ram through the 2,700 page bill – a procedure even Speaker Pelosi’s staff called a “trick,” and which one expert said utilized parliamentary tactics to overturn the outcome of an election.

Given this dubious history, Republicans will take no lectures on passing measures “in the bright light of day” from this Administration or Democrats in Congress, who passed an unpopular – and constitutionally questionable – law the American people never wanted.

Fact Checking the President on State-Based Exchanges

During his remarks to the National Governors Association yesterday, President Obama made an interesting claim regarding state-based exchanges.  Specifically, he cited the different models of Exchanges utilized by both Massachusetts and Utah, and claimed that “we made sure the law allowed that” type of flexibility for states to come up with their own Exchange models.

The reality however is quite different.  Multiple press reports in January 2010 noted that the President had signed off on a “backroom deal” with other Democrats ensuring the creation of national – NOT state-based – Exchanges.  On January 15, 2010, the Washington Post’s front-page story noted:

“In a closed meeting with House Democrats, Obama indicated support for a national exchange, as the House prefers, rather than the 50 state exchanges the Senate would like, according to one person present who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations.”

Of course, Scott Brown’s special election victory in the Massachusetts Senate race four days later made the White House’s agreement irrelevant – House Democrats were forced to accept the Senate bill, and its state-based Exchanges, wholesale.  But apart from the President’s attempt to have his own facts on the matter and re-write history, one must ask:  If the President’s first inclination was for a top-down, Washington-imposed approach to health care “reform,” how much flexibility will the Obama Administration really show for states seeking to innovate?

Democrats Propose Changing the Rules Mid-Stream — Again

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Health “Czar” Nancy-Ann DeParle claimed that the Senate had already passed its health bill by a “supermajority,” and “we’re not talking about changing any rules here.”  But it’s worth noting that the ONLY way the Senate ever passed legislation with 60 votes in the first place is because Democrats in Massachusetts changed their rules for the sole purpose of allowing an unelected senator to cast the deciding 60th vote.  As one observer noted, the Legislature’s action was “all about health care,” and the White House weighed in personally with the Governor to jam the process through.  Here’s what some of President Obama’s fellow Democrats said back in September about the Administration-led initiative to change the rules of the process:

Senator Brian A. Joyce, a Milton Democrat wrote 2004 legislation for special Senate elections:  “It’s wrong to change the rules depending on who’s in power…We shouldn’t change the rules by which we govern our democracy depending upon who the governor is.’’

Senator Steven A. Tolman, a Brighton Democrat:  “This is politics, right? Sure it’s politics.’’

Representative Cory Atkins, a Concord Democrat:  “Some people say this is political…Of course it is political.”

A “political” move to “change the rules depending on who’s in power?”  Sounds a lot like downgrading a 60-vote majority down to a 51-vote reconciliation bill – making this the second time the Democrat majority would attempt to change political rules in order to jam through a government takeover of health care…

Will Democrats Listen to the American People?

Wanted to alert you to two additional developments ahead of tomorrow’s summit.  First, you may have seen this CNN poll which shows that only one quarter of Americans want Congress to pass a health care bill similar to the current legislation – down five points from the 30% approval following Scott Brown’s election in mid-January – and the vast majority want Congress to either start over (48%) or stop working on health care entirely (25%).  Interestingly, CNN reports that the poll has “nearly 4 in 10 Democrats saying Congress should start from scratch,” as do a majority (52%) of independents.

Also of note, a coalition of small business groups including NFIB and NAM released a letter today outlining their support for reforms that lower costs – which both the Senate and House bills do not do.  The question for Democrats now becomes: Will they listen to struggling small business owners and the general public looking for a positive, incremental approach that focuses on lowering health costs for Americans, or insist on jamming through a government takeover of health care through the most partisan means possible?

Of Summits and “Tricks…”

Even as the President was briefing reporters this afternoon to insist that his proposed bipartisan summit would yield a “constructive debate” about health care and that he was “open to any ideas,” Speaker Pelosi’s top health care aide was quoted by CongressDaily saying Democrats were working to develop a “prenegotiated” package that would be “very close to being done” before the Easter recess, about six weeks away.  He also noted that “there’s a trick” involved in passing the bill through the reconciliation process – to ensure that the legislation could be jammed through on a party-line vote.

In addition to undermining the notion that Democrats were “open to any ideas” on health care, some may find a particular irony in these comments, given that Speaker Pelosi in a House floor speech on December 8, 2003 criticized the way Republicans handled the House vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill: “The Republicans also run this Congress like the Republicans run Florida.  They cannot accept the result of a vote.”  Of course, Speaker Pelosi’s health advisor is now publicly advocating “tricks” so that Democrats can avoid the implications of Scott Brown’s election to the Senate – to say nothing of the message voters have been sending for months now, most recently in today’s new Gallup poll that has President Obama’s approval on health care at an all-time low.

Many Republicans may agree with Speaker Pelosi’s advisor that reconciliation is a “trick” – the question is, will the Democrats insist on imposing this “trick” on an American public that has rejected Democrats’ government takeover of health care?

The American People’s Message: Start Over on Health Care

In case you hadn’t seen, Gallup is out with a new survey today analyzing the health care debate in the wake of Sen.-elect Brown’s victory on Tuesday evening.  A clear majority (55%) believe Congress should “suspend work on the current health care bill” being worked on and consider more bipartisan solutions.  By contrast, only 39% want Congress to continue working to pass the existing legislation.  A definitive 56-37% majority of independents – a demographic group critical to the Brown victory – support starting over, as do more than one quarter (26%) of Democrats.

Likewise, only 32% believe passage of health care reform should be Congress’ “top priority;” a strong majority believe that Congress should address other problems first (46%) or do not view health care as a major legislative priority (16%).  With unemployment remaining at 10%, and more than 2.7 million jobs lost just since President Obama signed the $787 billion “stimulus” bill, many may view bringing jobs back into the economy as a larger priority than passing tax increases to fund massive entitlement expansions.

In Massachusetts and across the nation, the American people have spoken, calling on Democrats to abandon their government takeover of health care.  The question remains: Will Democrats heed the people’s call?

Did Democrats’ Backroom Deals Cost Them a Senate Seat?

In the wake of Scott Brown’s historic election victory last night, even some Democrats are admitting as much.  Former special counsel to President Clinton Lanny Davis, writing in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, notes that “We Democrats had to explain to Massachusetts voters and other Americans why non-Nebraskans and nonunion members have to pay more taxes, while Nebraskans and union members get to pay less.  Those two deals seem to have alienated most people across the political spectrum.  That’s not easy.”

The voters of Massachusetts agreed.  Interviewed by the New York Times in North Andover, 73-year-old Marlene Connolly said she voted Republican for the first time in her life, because “’I’m just devastated by what Obama’s doing.  I don’t think he cares enough about anything other than his own personal agenda or this foolish health care bill.’”  The Times correspondent noted that “most upsetting to her was the proposed deal made for unions recently on the excise [aka “Cadillac”] tax.  ‘My daughter and her husband work for companies that are not unionized and they would get slammed’” so that union members could get special favors.

In a leaked memo yesterday, one of Martha Coakley’s advisors noted that her polling lead “dropped significantly after the Senate passed health care reform,” because “polling showed significant concerns with the actions of Senator [Ben] Nelson to hold out for a better deal.  Senator Nelson’s actions specifically hurt Coakley…”  And the polling surge that brought Scott Brown to the lead – and eventual victory – in the Senate race occurred over the weekend, just a few days after the backroom deal was announced with union bosses to modify the “Cadillac tax” solely for their members.

Massachusetts has the highest health insurance premiums in the country – just under $14,000 for a family, and nearly $1,500 more than the national average – meaning a disproportionate share of Massachusetts residents would likely be hit by the tax, except for the select few in a politically favored union constituency.  The evidence therefore suggests that Massachusetts voters thought this latest backroom deal with labor bosses was, like the rest of Democrats’ government takeover of health care, a raw deal for them.