Friday, January 30, 2009

Senate passed SCHIP, Obama to sign soon?

news about children's health...

The Senate has passed their version of the SCHIP bill, including health coverage for over 4 million uninsured children and legal immigrant kids. The final vote is posted here so you can thank or not thank your Senator as you are inclined. The House and the Senate have to reconcile their versions, but this is a big step forward and Obama might get to sign this one in next week. Here is a Washington Post article about it posted below which does note that it could have been done in a more bipartisan manner. The last line "once the program is fully implemented about 5 million youngsters will remain uninsured" calls attention to the fact that the work is not completely done to insure all children!
Senate Passes Health Insurance Bill for Children
Immigrant Clause Opens Rift

By Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 30, 2009; A01

The Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation yesterday to provide health insurance to 11 million low-income children, a bill that would for the first time open the program to legal immigrant children and pregnant women.

The State Children's Health Insurance Program, which is aimed at families earning too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance, currently covers close to 7 million youngsters at a cost of $25 billion.

Lawmakers voted 63 to 32, largely along party lines, to renew the joint state-federal program and spend an additional $32.8 billion to expand coverage to 4 million more children. The expansion would be paid for by raising the cigarette tax from 39 cents a pack to $1.

The House approved similar legislation on Jan. 14, and President Obama is expected to sign a final version as early as next week.

Democratic lawmakers, noting that President George W. Bush twice vetoed similar legislation, praised the vote as evidence of the changing Washington landscape.

"Low-income, uninsured kids all across America have been waiting for Congress to fulfill the promise of the Children's Health Insurance Program for them," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.). The program "works to get low-income, uninsured kids the doctor's visits and medicines they need to stay healthy, and approval of this bill opens the door of the doctor's office to millions of children who live without proper health care today."

But the political victory may come at a price. The rancorous debate -- on a program that once basked in bipartisan popularity -- raised doubts about whether the two parties can unite to pass broader health reform later this year, said several moderate Republicans.

"This is a very unfortunate beginning," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa). The top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, a stalwart supporter of the program, said he was "disgusted" by the way Democratic leaders handled the debate. "It does not bode well for cooperative work in the coming months," he said.

As the vote came just one day after the House passed an $819 billion economic stimulus package without a single Republican vote, some longtime lawmakers questioned the president's ability to forge a new era of cooperation in the capital.

"If they wanted a nice signing ceremony that showed bipartisanship and carried through on the president's language, this would have been a good vehicle to do it on," said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

Since its creation in 1997 under a Republican-led Senate, the children's health program has enjoyed broad bipartisan support.

"Few government programs in our time have enjoyed such great success, as acknowledged by members of both parties and all bipartisan health-care experts," said Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Governors, business executives and consumer advocates lobbied for the expansion, arguing that more and more families have sought the assistance in this weakened economy.

"During this economic turmoil, it is critical that we maintain and strengthen this important lifeline to our nation's children and that we help financially strapped states respond to the growing need for affordable health-care coverage," said Cindy Mann, executive director of Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families.

In 2007, prominent Republicans such as Grassley and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah) bucked Bush to support renewal of the program.

"We carried a lot of water and took a lot of flak" for that stand, Hatch said. To push through a different version now is "not only unfair," he said, "but a slap in the face to those of us who worked so strongly with our friends on the other side."

The bill approved last night closely resembles the versions many Republicans supported in the past, countered Democrats.

GOP lawmakers objected to the new provision allowing states to enroll legal immigrants. Until now, immigrants' families have been forced to wait five years for coverage.

"The bottom line is: This is a debate about children's health coverage," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). "This is not a debate about immigration."

In two-plus days of debate -- in unusually personal and emotional language -- Republicans expressed a sense of betrayal that Democrats had dropped the 2007 compromise.

"We could have had 95 votes," Hatch said. "That would have sent a tremendous, tremendous message that hasn't been sent around here for a long time."

Both sides had hoped, and even predicted, that early bipartisan action on children's coverage would demonstrate that Washington's elected officials can cooperate on critical issues such as health care.

"This is on something for which there is so much agreement and something that almost no one argues about," said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, which represents 300 large employers. "For the tough things like real national health-care reform, it unfortunately portends a really rocky road."

Compared to the daunting task of overhauling the entire U.S. health system, the debate on the children's health program should have been easy, said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine).

"You would have thought this issue would have been clear sailing on both sides," she said.

Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, agreed that "we're not seeing bipartisanship" but said she is optimistic that the public's overwhelming desire for improvement in the health system will force the two parties to the bargaining table. "People are talking about how to do it as opposed to whether to do it," she said.

During the presidential campaign, Obama pledged to provide coverage to every American child. Experts estimate that once the program is fully implemented about 5 million youngsters will remain uninsured.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

House Passes American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

from Bread for the World...
Late last night, the House of Representatives passed the $819 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. An unprecedented recession demands bold action; and the House bill provides that.

Roughly half of the funding in the $819 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is for programs that benefit low-income people, such as SNAP (food stamp) benefits, unemployment insurance, and refundable tax credits. This bill provides support to people hit the hardest by the recession and will help low-income families put food on the table.

Thank you for your phone calls, letters, and emails. They make a difference.

However, our work is not yet finished. The Senate will start debating their version of the economic stimulus plan on Monday, Feb. 2, 2009. All of us can contact our senators and urge them to act boldly. Encourage them to speedily pass a similar economic stimulus bill that will protect hungry and poor people who are suffering the most from the current recession as well as stimulate the economy to produce and retain jobs. You can find out how to contact your Senator at our Web site,

Grace and peace,

David Beckmann

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bill Gates' Next Big Thing

Op-Ed Columnist
Bill Gates' Next Big Thing

Article Tools Sponsored By
Published: January 24, 2009

The New York Times
Nicholas D. Kristof

Here's a paradox: In these brutal economic times, one of the leading
advocates for the world's poorest people is one of the richest.

Bill Gates will publish his first "annual letter" on Monday outlining
his work on his twin passions — health and development in the poorest
nations and education in America — and calling for the United States
to do more even during this economic crisis. I came here to Seattle
for an advance peek at the letter and to ask how he is adjusting to
his transition from tycoon to philanthropist.

Mr. Gates ended his full-time presence at Microsoft last July and
since then has thrown himself into work at his foundation. He is now
trying to do to malaria, AIDS, polio and lethal childhood diarrhea
what he did to Netscape, and he just may succeed.

He does seem to be going through withdrawal, for software engineering
was his passion. "I miss that," he said, but added that he is becoming
equally maniacal (that's his word) about poverty and education.

Mr. Gates and his wife, Melinda, are already having an effect on the
developing world that is simply transformative. Just one of their
investments, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, has
saved more than three million lives since 2000.

That's a down payment.

In 1960, almost 20 million children died annually before age 5, Mr.
Gates notes. There are more children today, yet the death toll has
been halved to under 10 million annually. Now his goal is to see it
halved again, saving an additional five million children's lives annually.

"We're on the verge of some big advances," Mr. Gates said. In
particular, a promising malaria vaccine will enter its final phase of
human trials this year, with others behind it. Mr. Gates said he is
"absolutely confident" that a successful malaria vaccine will be
achieved, probably within a half dozen years, and an AIDS vaccine 10
or more years from now.

Look, I'm a cynical journalist, and I don't want to sound too
infatuated. I think the Gates Foundation has missed the chance to
leverage the revolution in social entrepreneurship, hasn't been as
effective in advocacy as it has been in research, and has missed an
opportunity to ignite a broad social movement behind its issues.

But if Mr. Gates manages to accomplish as much in the world of
vaccines, health and food production as he thinks he can, then the
consequences will be staggering. Squared. In that case, the first few
paragraphs of Mr. Gates's obituary will be all about overcoming
diseases and poverty, barely mentioning his earlier career in the
software industry.

Mr. Gates said he got the idea for an annual letter from Warren
Buffett, who writes such a letter ruminating about investments and the
business world. (You can sign up to get Mr. Gates's letter, or read it
beginning Monday, at

In the letter, Mr. Gates goes out of his way to acknowledge setbacks.
For example, the Gates Foundation made a major push for smaller high
schools in the United States, often helping to pay for the creation of
small schools within larger buildings.

"Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve
students' achievement in any significant way," he acknowledges. Small
schools succeeded when the principal was able to change teachers,
curriculum and culture, but smaller size by itself proved
disappointing. "In most cases," he says, "we fell short."

Mr. Gates comes across as a strong education reformer, focusing on
supporting charter schools and improving teacher quality. He suggested
that when he has nailed down the evidence more firmly, he will wade
into the education debates.

"It is amazing how big a difference a great teacher makes versus an
ineffective one," Mr. Gates writes in his letter. "Research shows that
there is only half as much variation in student achievement between
schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want
your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more
important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school."

Mr. Gates told me he was optimistic that President Obama would make
progress on these issues, notwithstanding the economic crisis, and he
noted that the downturn had only added to the need for foreign
assistance and education spending. "The poorer you are, the worse the
impact is," he said.

I asked Mr. Gates what advice he had for ordinary readers who might
want to engage in micro-philanthropy.

"The key thing is to pick a cause, whether its crops or diseases or
great high schools," he said. "Pick one and get some more in-depth
knowledge." If possible, travel to see the problems firsthand, then
pick an organization to support with donations or volunteer time.

So try it. The only difference between you and Mr. Gates is scale.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Let's Talk Bread mtg: 2/24

The Let's Talk Bread discussions about Foreign Aid Reform have been very successful and are going deeper on the topic every time. Therefore, we'll dedicate at least one more session to it. Here are the details!

The next meeting will be Tues., Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. The location is the same: United Lutheran Church, 409 Greenfield St, Oak Park, IL.

We have agreed to continue the conversation on foreign assistance reform during the next meeting. If you have not done so, please read the informative 2009 Hunger Report from the Bread for the World Institute, found at: If you would like, you can order a hard copy from the website at (cost is $25). Or you can simply view it online. Please also look over the Study Guide, found by clicking the link at the top of the page. We will use the Study Guide as a springboard for our next discussion.