Political Notebook

House Democrats pick Levin over Neal for Ways and Means

December 10, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Representative Richard E. Neal lost his bid yesterday to become the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee after the full Democratic caucus rejected its nominating panel’s recommendation of Neal and chose interim chairman Sander Levin instead.

Neal, a Springfield Democrat, had won the key endorsement Wednesday night from the Steering and Policy Committee, but Levin, a Michigan Democrat, successfully persuaded Democrats to back him. The vote was 109-78.

Levin had been acting chairman of the committee since March, when Representative Charlie Rangel stepped down as he faced ethics charges that led to his censure before the full House. Levin, 79, has more seniority than Neal, 61, who is chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee on select revenue measures.

“I congratulate my colleague Sandy Levin on his victory,’’ Neal said in a statement. “The election for ranking member of Ways and Means was a good reminder of how difficult it is to challenge the seniority system in Congress. But I look forward to continuing my work on the committee and working with the members of the Democratic caucus to regain the majority in 2012.’’

The overall committee has broad oversight of Social Security, Medicare, tariffs, and trade agreements.

Every tax proposal that raises revenue begins in the committee. With Republicans assuming control of the House next session, the committee — led by Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican — could try to strip parts of President Obama’s signature health care legislation.

As expected, the caucus also selected Representative Barney Frank, a Newton Democrat, to be ranking member of the Financial Services Committee.


Bill to delay Medicare cut sent for Obama’s signature
WASHINGTON — An impending sharp cut in Medicare payments that threatened to disrupt care for US seniors will be delayed for a year under a bill that was passed yesterday by the House and sent to President Obama.

The action to prevent a scheduled 25 percent cut to doctors on Jan. 1 will cost an estimated $19 billion, to be paid for by shifting money from the health care overhaul law. The money will come mostly from tightening the rules on tax credits intended to prevent waste. The credits will make premiums more affordable for millions.

The 409-2 House vote came a day after the Senate approved the measure by a voice vote. It now goes to Obama, who had urged quick passage of the measure he said was “an important step forward to stabilize Medicare.’’

The doctor cuts are the result of a 1990s budget-balancing law that tried, but failed, to keep Medicare spending in line through automatic pay adjustments. Congress repeatedly stepped in to waive the cuts. Lately, lawmakers have had to act every few months.

Congress was under tremendous pressure this time, with medical groups estimating that as many as two-thirds of doctors would stop taking new Medicare patients.

The measure also includes a provision that will restore children’s hospitals’ access to a program reducing drug costs to treat children with rare diseases.

The provision corrected an unintentional drafting error that was made in the final days of writing the health care law. This cut these hospitals’ access to the portion of a federal program that offers below-market prices on 347 specific medicines for rare, life-threatening conditions.

Officials at such centers as Children’s Hospital Boston had feared the mistake would cost them millions of dollars in added costs.

Obama, Clinton set for White House talk today
WASHINGTON — An administration official says President Obama is planning to meet with Bill Clinton today at the White House.

The meeting comes as Obama adjusts his tactics to deal with an emboldened Republican Party. The GOP takes control of the House in January.

Clinton had to deal with a similar scenario in the middle of his first term as president and ended up working with Republicans to negotiate and advance his agenda.

The official confirmed the meeting on condition of anonymity because it had not yet been announced by the White House.


Short of votes, Democrats delay action on Dream Act
WASHINGTON — Democrats delayed a showdown vote on a bill carving out a path to legal status for foreign-born children brought to this country illegally.

Facing GOP objections, Democrats put aside the so-called Dream Act. They are short of the 60 votes needed to advance it.

Democratic officials said they’ll will try to move a House-passed version after the Senate acts on funding the government and extending tax cuts. Republicans have said they will not agree to consider anything else until those issues are addressed.

The bill grants hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children a chance to gain legal status if they enroll in college or join the military.


Texas’ Paul takes control of monetary subcommittee
WASHINGTON — Representative Ron Paul, Texas Republican and author of “End the Fed,’’ will take control of the House subcommittee that oversees the Federal Reserve.

House Financial Services chairman-elect Spencer Bachus, an Alabama Republican, chose Paul to lead the panel’s domestic monetary policy subcommittee when Republicans take the House majority next month.

Paul has said he plans hearings on US monetary policy and will restart his push for a full audit of the Fed’s functions.

Paul has introduced legislation to abolish the Fed. His campaign to audit the Fed picked up steam as the central bank deployed trillions in emergency loans during the recession.