Friday, October 3, 2008

House Passes Revised Bailout Plan!

The House votes to pass historic legislation providing $700 billion in government money to bring stability to reeling financial markets.

Before the 263-171 vote, member after member went to the well of the chamber to voice discomfort and displeasure with many aspects of the bailout legislation. But they also said they would vote for it anyway.

Congresswoman Heather Wilson voted yes today in favor of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, HR 1424.

After the vote Rep. Wilson released this statement:
It continues to be important for Congress to act to stabilize our financial markets. A failure of our financial system will hurt every American who has a 401(k) or needs a car loan or can't close on the house they want to buy because banks are stopping lending to banks.

There are also some important tax provisions in this bill that will also help boost our economy. For example, the package includes an extension of the patch of the Alternative Minimum Tax. Congress recognized that the failure to act would unacceptably drag twenty-one million additional families into the AMT’s clutches based on their 2008 income, with the total tax increase on American families exceeding $62 billion.

It also extends the now-expired research and development tax credit, which encourages cutting edge research – and the good jobs it supports – to be conducted here in the U.S. This provision is particularly good for New Mexico.

U.S. Senators Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) today praised final House passage of legislation that includes their bipartisan mental health parity agreement that will improve mental health coverage for an estimated 113 million Americans.

In approving the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (HR.1424) Friday, the House also agreed to a tax extenders package that includes the mental health parity legislation. The package will now be sent to President Bush, who has indicated his support for the measure.

Final passage of the parity legislation and its expected enactment culminates years of effort by Domenici, Kennedy, Enzi and Dodd. The Senators made it a priority to enact new legislation in the 110th Congress to build on the 1996 Mental Health Parity Act authored by Domenici and the late Senator Paul Wellstone, who died in 2002.

“We are ushering in a new era of health care for those with mental illnesses. No longer will we allow mental health to be treated as a stepchild in the health care system. If you have insurance, then your mental health care must be equal to the benefits you get for any other disease,” Domenici said. “I appreciate all the partners I’ve had in this long, long effort but most especially Senator Kennedy, who has been remarkable and stepped up to this work after Paul Wellstone’s tragic death. This has been a labor of love for us.”

“Today’s historic passage of mental health parity legislation will make a huge difference for the one in five Americans facing mental illness. The miracles of modern medicine make mental illnesses just as treatable today as physical illnesses,” said Kennedy. “After 10 years of debate, Congress has finally agreed to end the senseless discrimination in health insurance coverage that plagues persons living with mental illness for so long. It will now be the law of the land that people with such illnesses deserve the same access to affordable coverage as those with physical illnesses. It’s a great day for everyone who believes in fairness and fundamental justice for all.”

“Final passage of this mental health parity legislation is a watershed moment for millions of Americans with mental illness and their families. This landmark achievement unites the mental health advocacy, health care provider, employer, and insurance communities to bring fairness and relief to individuals and families who need help. The bill is years, if not decades, in the making, and reflects countless hours of sweat and negotiation. I want to thank Senator Domenici, Senator Kennedy, and Senator Dodd for their invaluable leadership to bring an end to the legislative paralysis on this important issue,” Enzi said.

“Today, Congress has given hope to the millions of Americans and their families who live with mental illness,” said Dodd. “No longer will they have to suffer alone. Instead, they will be treated with the same level of care, dignity and respect as those with physical ailments. It has been a long, hard struggle, but knowing that this bill will help millions of our nation’s citizens, it was well worth the fight.”

Domenici, Kennedy and Enzi authored the Mental Health Parity Act of 2007 (S.558), which was passed in the Senate by unanimous consent in September 2007. That bill had 57 cosponsors, including Dodd who has been instrumental in moving the parity legislation forward. The lawmakers reached a subsequent agreement with parity advocates in the House of Representatives and have since worked to find suitable offsets to pay for the legislation.

The new Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act would require health insurance plans that offer mental health coverage to provide the same financial and treatment coverage offered for other physical illnesses. The legislation was developed in talks with mental health, insurance and business organizations to craft compromise legislation. It does not mandate that group plans must provide any mental health coverage.

The 1996 parity law, authored by Domenici and Wellstone, only provided parity for annual and lifetime limits between mental health coverage and medical-surgical coverage.

The new parity legislation expands parity by including deductibles, co-payments, out-of-pocket expenses, coinsurance, covered hospital days, and covered out-patient visits. The measure also includes a small business exemption for companies with fewer than 50 employees, as well as a cost exemption for all businesses.

Nearly 30 U.S. Representatives who voted against it on Monday said they had changed their minds. President George W. Bush was ready to sign it into law, and the Dow Jones industrial average on Wall Street was up in early trading in anticipation of the climactic vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it a vote for "Mr. and Mrs. Jones on Main Street."Republicans and Democrats alike said appeals from credit-starved small businessmen and the Senate's addition of $110 billion in tax breaks had persuaded them to drop their opposition.But, some votes appear to have also changed to a likely "no."A handful of Republicans who voted for it on Monday appeared less likely to do so Friday.

Enticing Tax Breaks

Virtually all the tax breaks added to make the bill more palatable to the House already exist. But many expired Jan. 1. Others will expire in three months.The largest group of beneficiaries is about 20 million mainly upper-middle income taxpayers. Without congressional action, the Alternative Minimum Tax, or AMT, would add about $2,000 in taxes this year for people mostly earning under $200,000 a year. It originally was supposed to affect only the very rich.Thousands of businesses are anxiously awaiting renewal of the research-and-development tax credit.Still, the outcome is far from assured. Vote-counters in both parties need to come up with a dozen or so supporters to reverse Monday's stunning defeat of the $700 billion measure.

Fallout Reaching Main Street

The financial system rescue plan may save parts of the financial industry, but it's not likely to help hundreds of thousands of homeowners who are behind on their mortgages avoid foreclosure.It only requires the Treasury Department to "maximize assistance for homeowners," and to write up monthly progress reports.It's estimated that within 12 to 18 months, about 40 percent of U.S. borrowers will owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

That's almost the same number of American households that are spending 30 percent or more of their income on housing, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.And as Congress considers the rescue plan, some consumer advocates are upset that it would help the same Wall Street banks that gave funding for the explosion of subprime loans -- without any definitive relief for homeowners.Even if the government were to push aggressive efforts to modify troubled loans, it could take months to put such an effort in place.

Meanwhile, current financial turmoil is also hitting stores nationwide.In order to attract more shoppers, they've posted sale signs on everything from fall sweaters to furniture, and are getting out the Christmas goodies even earlier than last year.One industry analyst said holiday items are already starting to flow into stores and are expected to be discounted immediately.

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