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Republicans Should Allow Stalled Nominees To Move Forward, Obama Says

President Obama on Wednesday criticized Republican senators for using legislative tactics to delay confirmation votes on several nominees for reasons unrelated to their qualifications, the Washington Post reports. During a Senate Democratic Conference question-and-answer session, Obama said there is "a huge backlog of folks who are unanimously viewed as well qualified -- nobody has a specific objection to them -- but end up having a hold on them because of some completely unrelated piece of business." According to the Post, Senate rules allow members to place a hold on nominees at any time for any reason, effectively blocking the chamber's consideration of the nominee.

Questionable Health Insurance Plans Cause Concern

Officials worry that people with no insurance will be drawn in by questionable health insurance plans. ABC News reports: The "[h]ealth care overhaul is stalled, resulting in a proliferation of plans that don't fully protect people, officials said. Watchdogs worry about two kinds of plans in particular." They point to the health discount cards "that say they get you cut rates on medical services but are not widely accepted." Also of concern "are limited-benefit plans that offer such skimpy coverage that a serious medical problem could still leave you stuck with enormous bills. ... Critics said it's hard to find providers that participate in these programs, and that the discounts are tiny" (Leamy, Weber and Evans, 2/2).

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Lawmakers Sound Off On President's Budget And Health Costs

While White House Budget Director Peter Orszag testified on Capitol Hill about President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget, some members expressed concern about health costs, McClatchy reports. "Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., wanted more attention paid to how curbing health care costs could cut budget deficits ... Orszag, who showed no emotion during his testimony, calmly said that Obama had a long-term plan to reduce the deficits, notably an as-yet un-appointed bipartisan commission to recommend remedies and a renewed push for changes in the nation's health care system." A recommendation to bring down Social Security and Medicare costs and to raise taxes would face big resistance, however, Orszag said (Lightman, 2/2).

Lobbying, Ads Slow Down On Health Reform

"Drugmakers, business organizations and other interest groups in the health care battle have dialed down expensive lobbying campaigns as they assess how last month's stunning Republican capture of a Senate seat from Massachusetts has altered Washington's political landscape..., " The Associated Press reports. "Absent evidence that Obama and Democratic leaders are willing to aggressively revive the health package, some question whether they should push hard for a stalled measure that may never become law if all that achieves is annoying Republicans." But lobbyists are watching closely to see if a bill can be revived, "and even a small version could have an enormous impact.

States Consider Their Own Health Reform Ideas

The Associated Press/Boston Globe: "Supporters of a bill that seeks to bar lifetime and annual payment caps on health insurance plans in Maine say they expect a large crowd at a legislative committee's hearing on the proposal." The same topic has been considered by the U.S. Congress as part of Democrats health overhaul (2/3). The Baltimore Sun: "Major insurance trade groups in Maryland say the state doesn't need a new [insurance exchange] program, like the one Massachusetts created ahead of federal reform to help provide universal coverage there." Insurance agents and brokers are bracing to fight such proposals, even though Congress's bill is stalled and no local version is expected in the state legislature during this session (Cohn, 2/3).

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Democrats Work To Restart Health Bill

Health care reform legislation "has a heartbeat, " Roll Call reports, adding that Democrats are hoping a "breather" helps cool emotions, but that their focus will continue to be on eventually passing legislation. "Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said a reconciliation package is under development by staff - apparently despite the opposition of moderate Senate Democrats. ... 'We're going to be working on this for the next couple weeks. I hope we have some movement on this before we leave here (for the Presidents Day recess), ' Harkin said. 'And then after we come back after that week, I hope we'll put the finishing touches on it and get it done'" (Drucker, 2/1).

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