Dems' Support of Mukasey Slips Ahead of Panel's Vote

By Manu Raju

The Hill

Friday 02 November 2007

Opposition in the Senate to President Bush's attorney general nominee continued to grow Thursday, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) signaled the Senate would not consider the nomination if it does not clear a crucial vote next week in the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.), a senior Democrat on the committee, said he would oppose the choice of Michael Mukasey to succeed Alberto Gonzales. "This is a nomination I hoped to support," Kennedy said on the floor Thursday.

Kennedy now joins three other Judiciary Committee Democrats - Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Joseph Biden (Del.) - who have announced their opposition to Mukasey. The nominee has seen his support evaporate after he declined to state whether he believes waterboarding constitutes torture, saying that he had not been briefed on U.S. interrogation techniques.

The Judiciary Committee meets next Tuesday to consider the nomination, which will need 10 votes to advance to the floor.

Kennedy's opposition puts more pressure on Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to decide whether to join the chorus of Democratic opposition or vote for Mukasey, whom he recommended and endorsed for the position. On Thursday, Schumer faced a barrage of questions about his intentions, but repeatedly refused to discuss how he will vote at the Nov. 6 Judiciary Committee meeting.

"When I make a decision, I will let you know," an agitated Schumer said. "I'm not going to have a public discussion on it."

Reid, coming to Schumer's defense, said there are a number of senators whom he spoke with who "have not made up their minds." Other Judiciary Committee Democrats are equally mum, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

Republicans hope they can win over Feinstein, given that she broke ranks and sided with committee Republicans in August to send the nomination of Leslie Southwick as an appeals court judge to the Senate floor. Southwick was later confirmed over strong Democratic objections.

If the Judiciary Committee had not approved Southwick, Reid would not have scheduled a floor vote on the nomination, the senator said Thursday. By the same logic, Reid said, if Mukasey does not muster majority support in committee, the nomination will not come to the floor for consideration.

Mukasey would likely be confirmed if he received an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.

"I believe in the committee process," Reid said.

The majority leader did not announce a position of his own regarding the nominee, saying he did not want to interfere with committee consideration. But he did not hide his concerns over Mukasey's legal analysis of waterboarding, which simulates drowning.

"I don't think it's much of a secret how I feel about this," Reid said. "I'm a lawyer, OK? If there ever was any indication why people dislike lawyers, read the letter he wrote. It was so lawyer-like no one knew what he was saying."

Meanwhile, Bush launched a public defense of his nominee Thursday in an effort to persuade wary Democrats to support the nomination.

"As a price for his confirmation, some on that committee want Judge Mukasey to take a legal position on specific techniques allegedly used to interrogate captured terrorists," said Bush.

Bush said Mukasey could not state more than what he already has said, arguing that the program is classified and that his statements could impact professional interrogators in the field.

"He does not want any statement of his to give the terrorists a window into which techniques we may use and which ones we may not use," said the president.

Mukasey did find some support in the Senate Thursday, including backing from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who pleaded with the Judiciary Committee to "look at his entire record. Don't turn him down and deprive the nation because of one opinion."

But Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined the opposition Thursday, arguing that U.S. standing in the world would deteriorate and the practice would persist in violation of domestic and international laws unless it disavowed waterboarding.


Klaus Marre contributed to this report.


By Eric Haas

t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Sunday 04 November 2007

Last April, President Bush told members of American Legion Post 177 that "We owe the families and the soldiers the best health care possible."

That debt is still unpaid. According to a new report by Harvard Medical School researchers, published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Public Health, millions of veterans and their family members have not been getting the medical care they need.

People assume that veterans automatically get health care from the Veterans Administration (VA). They don't. Despite their military service, the Bush administration requires most veterans to pay additional money for insurance in order to get care. But many veterans don't earn enough money to be able to buy health insurance. At the same time, they aren't poor enough under Bush administration guidelines to get VA care or to qualify for Medicaid. Abandoned, these veterans struggle alone to find health care. In the insurance marketplace, our veterans remain in harm's way - their service, and our debt, forgotten.

Why haven't we made good on our obligation? Our moral debt to our veterans, based on mutual need and shared responsibility, goes unpaid in the current health insurance system because it is based upon corporate self-interest. An insurance company's responsibility is to maximize profit, even when that means denying care to veterans. Clearly, our national moral responsibility is not the same as an insurance company's corporate fiduciary duty to maximize profits. (This concept is discussed further in our Rockridge Institute paper, The Logic of the Health Care Debate).

In fact, as the veterans' predicament demonstrates, these obligations can be quite contradictory. A vet is a national hero. Soldiers risk their lives. Many will be injured. Some will die. In return, we promise to support our troops in whatever way possible - both on the battlefield and when (or if) they return as veterans. Certainly, our support includes medical care.

There is no price that can be put on the risks a soldier takes. Nor is there a way to estimate the care a veteran will need during their lifetime. Our mutual obligations are easily understood, but impossible to quantify.

But a health insurance company's duty is to its shareholders. Its legal and contractual obligation is to maximize profits. The companies do that by quantifying likely health costs, and selling the policies for more than they will pay out in benefits. If you cannot afford their policies, then they will not sell you one. Simply put, a veteran is just another potential customer.

The national failure to meet our shared obligations to veterans - who risked life and limb on our behalf - is a disgrace. It betrays the moral vacuum at the center of our current health care system.

Let's simplify to make this ugly circumstance as clear as we can. Imagine a town. Inside the town live health insurance executives and the politicians who serve their interests. Soldiers risk life and limb to protect the town. Later, a soldier gets sick. "Sorry, you don't earn enough to afford our insurance policies. Try the next town," say the insurance executives. Except, in America, there is no "next town."

One way that we could meet our national obligation to support our troops is for the government to provide or guarantee medical care for all veterans. A version of this idea occurred through the Veterans' Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-262). The Act opened VA care to all veterans, with copays for those veterans considered to be "non-poor" (generally those making $30,000 and higher). In January 2003, however, the Bush administration ordered a halt to the enrollment of "non-poor" veterans. The VA facilities were "full." To date, it's no better. As a result, according to the Harvard Medical School study, millions of vets and their family members cannot afford health insurance; they go every day without needed medical care. That is tragic. Something must change.

The authors elegantly summarize the central role that veterans and health care play in our national community:

"The disturbing scene of returning soldiers left without care is a stark reminder that America is a nation bound by mutual obligations and shared responsibility. We owe veterans care not because they can pay for it nor because they are heroes, but - as their sacrifices remind us - because members of a society are obligated to serve and protect each other."

In America, we don't have a health care system; we have an insurance marketplace. Until we understand the difference, no reform will work. To our low-income veterans, that is a daily hardship. We should make their hardship our problem too, and one we solve together. Now. We owe that to our veterans.




Eric Haas is a senior fellow with The Rockridge Institute.