The New York Times: "As Congress continues to debate the new health care law, health insurance costs are still rising, particularly for small businesses. Republicans are seizing on the trend as evidence that the new law includes expensive features that are driving up premiums. But the insurance industry says premiums are rising primarily because of the underlying cost of care and a growing demand for it. Across the country, premiums have more than doubled in the last decade, with smaller companies particularly hard hit in recent years, federal officials say" (Pear 3/5).
The Hill: "The staunchest supporters of healthcare reform say President Obama’s challenge this week for states to pitch their own reforms is a crafty political move that bolsters the case for the so-called individual mandate. They say a viable alternative to the healthcare reform law’s requirement for individuals to purchase insurance is unlikely to emerge from a proposal to allow states to opt out of the law within three years, which Obama endorsed under certain circumstances. ... Failure to develop an alternative to the individual mandate could be bad news for centrist Senate Democrats facing tough elections in 2012. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) – all up for reelection in 2012 – have expressed considerable interest in finding alternatives to the individual mandate" (Millman, 3/5).
National Journal: "House Republicans weren’t able to cut much mandatory funding under the health care reform law in their continuing resolution that funded the government for the rest of the fiscal year and slashed spending, but they are pushing forward on a new effort to cut billions of federal dollars out of automatic spending. ... Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he would not attempt to amend H.R. 1, the 2011 spending bill passed in the House last month, to defund the health law further. But King promised to push somewhere else if the House is forced to work out another 2011 spending bill to compromise with the Senate: an estimated $105 billion in mandatory health care funds, as estimated by the Congressional Research Service. ... But the Energy and Commerce effort to defund the health law doesn’t mean the tea party’s push to do so is over, especially as the House and Senate struggle to find a long-term solution to 2011 funds (McCarthy, 3/4).
The Associated Press: "Restrict abortion or cut spending? The Republicans' 'Pledge for America' says the new majority will do both. But negotiations over the federal budget threaten to force the GOP, including its 87 House freshmen, to choose between them. It's a lesson in congressional reality that has Republicans struggling with how to vote — and what to do — when a divided government pits pledge against pledge. ... The House last month passed its version of the budget that would fund the government through September. The measure would cut spending by $61 billion and prohibit federal dollars from going to Planned Parenthood as long as the organization performs abortions. It also reinstates restrictions, lifted by President Barack Obama, on government money for any organization that funds abortions in foreign countries. The abortion restrictions have almost no chance of being included in the spending plan that the Democrat-dominated Senate ultimately passes. That could be weeks from now despite a March 18 deadline that carries with it the threat of a partial government shutdown" (Kellman, 3/5).
Politico: "Senate Democrats have given up on confirming Don Berwick as CMS administrator in the wake of a letter from 42 Republican senators opposing the nomination, sources tell POLITICO. Citing the GOP letter, a person familiar with the situation said Senate Democrats and the White House 'can do the arithmetic' and now see that there's no way for Berwick to get the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate. At a meeting with health care lobbyists Friday, Democratic Senate Finance Committee staffers indicated that the nomination is dead, that there will be no confirmation hearing, and that they'll soon be discussing 'next steps' for CMS, sources said. ... If he is not confirmed by the Senate, Berwick will have to leave by the end of 2011" (Coughlin, 3/4).