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TMCNet:  Beltway Confidential [Examiner, The (Washington, DC)]

[February 09, 2014]

Beltway Confidential [Examiner, The (Washington, DC)]

(Examiner, The (Washington, DC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) ECONOMY Obamacare will cost $2 trillion and cut 2.5 million jobs by 2024 President Obama's health care law will cost slightly more than $2 trillion over the next decade, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office.


The CBO report also said the nation will lose the equivalent of 2.5 million full-time jobs by 2024, as workers respond to the incentives in the Affordable Care Act that discourage work and make it easier to get health insurance without a job.

When Obama sold the health care law to Congress in 2009, he said it would cost "around $900 billion," but that was because the major provisions were delayed until 2014. Now that they have been implemented, the cost of expanding Medicaid and subsidizing individuals to purchase insurance on the exchanges will be just over $2 trillion from 2015 to 2024, the CBO said.

The health care law includes taxes and cuts to Medicare that previous CBO estimates have said would more than offset the costs, though the new report doesn't include a full deficit analysis incorporating the offsets.

According to the report, 6 million individuals will obtain insurance through the exchanges in 2014, down slightly from the CBO's earlier estimate of 7 million but still much more optimistic than would have been expected in the fall, when technical problems plagued the law's rollout.

The CBO also said that the "risk corridors" program -- which has been billed as a "bailout" for insurers -- would actually generate a net savings of $8 billion from 2014 through 2016, though it cautioned there were "many uncertainties" due to limited government experience with such programs.

On the jobs front, the CBO said its projection of hours worked showed a drop in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of 2.0 million in 2017 and 2.5 million in 2024.

Obamacare will reduce the number of hours worked by 1.5 to 2 percent over the years 2017 to 2024 "almost entirely" because workers -- particularly low-wage employees -- will choose to work less, according to the CBO.

The decline in employment is a consequence of expanding health care coverage through exchange subsidies and Medicaid, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf said. If recipients earn more money, they could lose their subsidies or Medicaid coverage.

Elmendorf also noted that Obamacare's penalties for employers who do not offer employees insurance coverage will reduce hours worked, as will the tax increases included as part of the law.

Philip Klein, Senior Writer, and Joseph Lawler, Economics Writer JOBS Senate rejects extension of long-term unemployment benefits Senate Republicans blocked proposals to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, again foiling Democratic attempts to advance the issue.

"I'm beginning to believe there is nothing that will get Republicans to 'yes,' " said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D- Nev.

A vote to temporarily extend benefits for three months, retroactive to late December, fell one vote shy of the 60 needed to clear a key procedural vote. Four Republicans voted for the legislation, while all 53 Democrats and two independents supported it.

Immediately after, a bill that called for extending long-term benefits for the rest of the year failed 55-43. The measure would have fully paid for itself by extending sequestration cuts for another year, a move expected to save about $25 billion. Republicans opposed the measure after demanding, among other things, an open amendment process.

About 1.4 million fewer Americans are receiving unemployment benefits after a five-year-old emergency federal program expired Dec. 28. The program provided up to 47 extra weeks of unemployment aid paid for by the federal government after the jobless had exhausted their state benefits.

A White House statement called the vote "disappointing" and blamed Senate Republicans for denying suffering Americans a "vital lifeline to support their families as they actively search each and every day for a job." But Republicans said the emergency unemployment compensation program, which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2008, was never meant to be permanent. And they blamed the Obama administration for failing to do more to put jobless Americans back to work.

"We can get Americans back to work and our economy booming again, but this is not achieved by Washington turning a temporary federal benefit into another welfare program," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R- Okla.

Sean Lengell, Congressional Correspondent ENTERTAINMENT White House calls Leno's exit 'end of an era' White House press secretary Jay Carney called the departure of Jay Leno from NBC's "The Tonight Show" the "end of an era." "The president wishes him well -- we all do," President Obama's top spokesman said of Leno, who left the late-night show after 22 years behind the desk.

Obama has a long history with the comedian, having appeared on Leno's show six times -- including four as president.

The president has used the late-night forum to spread his message far more than any of his predecessors.

Media analysts have noted that Leno was often able to extract answers from Obama on a range of serious subjects. The last interview between the two in August touched on the uproar over National Security Agency surveillance techniques and the U.S. relationship with Russia.

Leno made 1,011 jokes about Obama through Jan. 24, according to the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University. Former President Bill Clinton topped the list of Leno's targets, with 4,607 jokes.

Jimmy Fallon will take over the show beginning Feb. 17.

Brian Hughes, White House Correspondent DEBT CEILING Boehner: Mother Teresa couldn't help Congress right now House Speaker John Boehner says his Republican conference is having trouble coming up with a plan to avoid hitting the government's fast-approaching debt limit, suggesting that even heavenly intervention wouldn't help.

"We are still looking for the pieces to this puzzle," the Ohio lawmaker told reporters. "But we do not want to default on our debt, and we're not going to default on our debt." Republicans are opposed to a "clean" debt limit increase without conditions, as Democrats prefer. House Republican leaders reportedly have considered attaching favored GOP measures to a debt limit bill, such as a provision to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and a measure to eliminate so-called risk corridors in the Affordable Care Act. But despite those proposals, Boehner says he still doesn't have the 218 Republican votes needed to pass legislation without Democratic support.

"Mother Teresa is a saint now, but, you know, if the Congress wanted to make her a saint and attach that to the debt ceiling, we probably couldn't get 218 Republican votes," Boehner joked.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has warned that the federal government likely will exceed its self-imposed ability to borrow money, or "debt ceiling," by the end of February unless Congress acts. If that happens, the federal government will default on some of its loans, which economists say could trigger a recession, or worse.

"We've got time to do this," Boehner said. "We're going to continue to work at it. No decisions have been made." Sean Lengell, Congressional Correspondent CONGRESS House Democrats rev up climate initiative A group of House Democrats said they will amplify calls to combat climate change this year through an increased House floor and media presence.

The lawmakers, all of whom are part of the Safe Climate Caucus, noted that advancing legislation through the GOP-controlled House isn't likely at the moment. And they noted that getting the Republican leadership to hold hearings on climate science amounted to a dead end.

But Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who leads the group, argued that persistence could change the perspectives of some of his Republican colleagues.

"I've been very careful in saying very precisely that Congress is not going to act at the present time. But the present time can be changed, even with some of the present members when the public pressure grows," Waxman, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, told reporters in the Capitol.

To increase their visibility, Safe Climate Caucus members will write a weekly climate change opinion piece in the Huffington Post when the House is in session. They also will speak more often on the floor and take their message to YouTube.

"We've been stopped from any action in the House of Representatives to deal with this serious threat," said Waxman, who is retiring this year. "We are going to move, however, to a new strategy in expressing how to draw attention to the climate change issue." The effort underscores the Democrats' belief that climate change is a winning issue for them, especially in the 2014 midterm elections. The House initiative comes in the wake of a revved-up effort in the Senate led by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

Waxman said that one of the group's goals is to provide support for some of the environmental regulations coming from the White House -- including greenhouse gas emissions rules for new and existing power plants -- that have faced stiff opposition from Republicans, centrist Democrats and industry.

"The president is going to make decisions that don't require approval by Congress, but we're going to have to stand here in the Congress and back him up," he said.

Zack Colman, Energy & Environment Writer HEALTH Obama hails CVS move to stop selling tobacco President Obama hailed the decision by CVS Caremark to become the nation's first large retail pharmacy chain to stop selling tobacco products.

"I applaud this morning's news that CVS Caremark has decided to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in its stores, and begin a national campaign to help millions of Americans quit smoking instead," Obama said.

The pharmacy chain CVS announced that it would stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in its more than 7,600 stores by October.

While CVS is the first nationwide pharmacy chain to take the step, other retail outlets have previously dropped tobacco sales -- most notably Target department stores in 1996.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also praised the decision, tweeting: "I applaud CVS Caremark Corp. for their leadership in helping to make the next generation #Tobaccofree!" President Obama, a former smoker, kicked his own nicotine habit after the 2008 presidential election. In an interview last year, Obama joked that he quit smoking because he was "scared of my wife." Meghashyam Mali, Assistant Managing Editor ENERGY Salazar says Keystone XL pipeline should be built Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who served under President Obama, said the Keystone XL pipeline should be built.

Salazar, speaking at the North American Prospect Expo, said the pipeline would be beneficial for the country, since the U.S. would be using that oil regardless of whether it's built.

"At the end of the day, we are going to be consuming that oil," Salazar said. "So is it better for us to get the oil from our good neighbor from the north, or to be bringing it from some place in the Middle East?" Salazar also praised hydraulic fracking, pointing out that there has not been "a single case where hydraulic fracking has created an environmental problem for anyone." This is not the first time that Salazar has praised fracking as "safe." In September 2013, he and Obama's former Energy Secretary Steven Chu praised the process of extracting oil and natural gas.

Salazar's remarks came less than a week after the State Department released a report saying the Keystone XL pipeline would not significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions. The department must determine whether it thinks the pipeline is in the national interest before Obama makes a final decision.

Ashe Schow, Commentary Writer ENVIRONMENT Administration 'climate hubs' to combat extreme weather Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced executive actions to combat climate change, saying extreme weather is already harming farmers and livestock producers.

"The climate is changing and its going to have its impact," Vilsack told reporters. "There are ramifications today.

"If we are not proactive, we will find ourselves five, 10, 15 years down the road wishing we had done what we did today," he added.

The administration announced the creation of regional "climate hubs," which are designed to give agriculture workers more resources to address climate change.

Vilsack said the centers would be funded through additional Department of Agriculture research funding but did not provide specific figures.

The agriculture secretary pointed to both extreme heat and wintry conditions as symptoms of the issue.

"Some of the livestock producers in the Dakotas, for example, couldn't make it," he said pointing to frigid Northern temperatures.

The president has called climate change a centerpiece of his executive agenda, bypassing Congress to develop stricter regulations on carbon emissions from power plants. Such action stoked GOP charges of executive overreach, a theme conservatives have picked up again in the wake of a series of new directives from the White House.

The hubs will be in Ames, Iowa; Durham, N.H.; Raleigh, N.C.; Fort Collins, Colo.; El Reno, Okla.; Corvallis, Ore.; and Las Cruces, N.M.

Brian Hughes, White House Correspondent LABOR Biden: Unions keep the 'barbarians at the gates' Vice President Joe Biden praised labor unions, saying they were "keeping the barbarians at the gate" by opposing forces weakening America's middle class.

"The truth of the matter is you built the middle class. Labor built the middle class. And there's a reason why the middle class is shrinking," Biden said in an address to the United Automobile Workers Community Action Program Conference in Washington, D.C.

"I know I got in trouble for saying this before, but I'm going to say it again. You guys are the only guys keeping the barbarians at the gate, man. That's the deal," he added.

Biden lamented the setbacks faced by the labor movement in recent years and said unions should be heralded by the American public for the benefits they helped win for all workers.

"Every worker in America, whether or not they've been a member of a union," has benefited from labor unions' efforts.

"Every company in America changed their work rules, raised salaries, moved in a direction of better conditions for workers because you were there." Biden, though, said there was now a "war" on labor.

"This is a concerted, full-throated, well-organized, well- financed, well-thought-out, long-term effort, waging a war on labor's house," he said, citing the number of states with right-to- work laws.

Biden also touted the auto industry bailout, saying that management and labor had worked together "to save an iconic industry." Meghashyam Mali, Assistant Managing Editor CAMPAIGNS Former 'Idol' Aiken to run for Congress Clay Aiken, a singer best known for his second-place finish on the show "American Idol," is running for Congress.

Aiken, a Democrat, will challenge two-term Rep. Renee Ellmers, R- N.C.. He will campaign on unfriendly terrain: Mitt Romney won the solidly Republican district by 16 points in 2012.

In a five-minute video announcing his decision, Aiken introduces himself in a living room where his mother, seeking refuge from an abusive relationship, brought him to stay as a child.

"So much of who I am was shaped in those early years, and it's part of why I decided to run for Congress," Aiken said.

Aiken focuses in his introduction on his work outside of music as a former special education teacher, referring only in passing to his television fame.

Aiken says in the video, "For most Americans, there are no golden tickets -- at least, not like the kind you see on TV." Based on his introductory remarks, Aiken will focus his long- shot candidacy on attacking Ellmers for defense cuts -- an issue of extreme importance in a congressional district adjacent to Fort Bragg. And, as Congress faces its lowest public approval ratings ever, Aiken will seek to run as a Washington outsider.

"I'm not a politician. I don't ever want to be one," Aiken said in the video. "But I do want to help bring back, at least to my corner of North Carolina, the idea that someone can go to Washington to represent all the people, whether they voted for you or not." Rebecca Berg, Political Correspondent EDUCATION Obama: Coffee shops shouldn't have better Internet than schools President Obama, outlining his push to bring high-speed Internet access to more U.S. schools, said Americans should demand the same level of technology in learning facilities as they do in coffee shops.

"In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools," Obama said in Adelphi, Md., highlighting $750 million in new commitments from private companies to put digital learning labs in schools.

Under his plan, the Federal Communications Commission will spend $2 billion to connect 20 million students to wireless technologies. Obama did not get into the details of the new spending, but White House officials have said funds will be shifted into the FCC's E- Rate program.

"It won't require a single piece of legislation from Congress. It won't add a dime to the deficit," Obama insisted.

The sales pitch continues the central theme of Obama's State of the Union address: that he will bypass Congress if necessary to implement his agenda.

As part of the "ConnectEd" program, a number of tech companies including Apple, Microsoft, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint are pledging free goods or services.

Obama lamented that just 30 percent of American schools have high- speed broadband connections. In comparison, he said, South Korean schools employ the technology universally in institutions of learning.

"We shouldn't give that kind of competitive advantage over to over countries," Obama said, adding, "I'm gonna act." Brian Hughes, White House Correspondent SUPREME COURT Scalia says World War II-style internment camps could come back Justice Antonin Scalia predicts that the Supreme Court eventually will authorize another a wartime abuse of civil rights such as the internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II.

"You are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again," Scalia told the University of Hawaii law school while discussing Korematsu v. United States, the ruling in which the court gave its imprimatur to the internment camps.

The local Associated Press report quotes Scalia as using a Latin phrase that means "in times of war, the laws fall silent," to explain why the court erred in that decision and will do so again.

"That's what was going on -- the panic about the war and the invasion of the Pacific and whatnot," Scalia said. "That's what happens. It was wrong, but I would not be surprised to see it happen again, in time of war. It's no justification but it is the reality." Joel Gehrke, Commentary Writer (c) 2014 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.

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