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Bay Area lawmakers OK medical device tax repeal

Three Bay Area House members were among the 46 Democrats who joined with Republicans on Thursday to approve repealing the medical-device tax enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act.

As the Associated Press reports, the tax took effect two years ago and was designed to help pay for expanded coverage for millions of people. It’s levied on equipment like artificial hearts and X-ray machines but not on items used by individuals, like eye glasses. Foes of its repeal say that this and other taxes the law imposed on the health care industry were outweighed by added customers the law has created, and that repealing it means paying that $24 billion, 10-year cost with bigger federal deficits.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, which passed on a 280-140 vote. Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton voted for it, while the rest of the Bay Area delegation was opposed.

“I support the Affordable Care Act and policies that improve our ability to conquer illnesses and diseases before they conquer us,” Swalwell said in a statement emailed later Thursday. “Today’s vote will help more start-up bio-innovation companies create devices that have the potential to make us healthier.”

McNerney emailed a statement saying that “medical research and technology contribute significantly to California’s economy with more than 75,000 jobs, and advancements in the field are resulting in new treatments and cures that improve the lives of people across the country.

“We should be doing everything to encourage further innovation by removing unnecessary barriers that hinder new research and job growth – especially in California, the home to more medical device companies than any other state in the nation,” he said. “As I’ve said before, this law is not perfect and we should continue to look at ways to improve it. Doing so will not only benefit medical innovation, but lower costs and improve care for individuals and families as well.”

Speier’s office said she was on a plane Thursday afternoon and couldn’t be reached for comment.

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NJ hedge fund prez bankrolls anti-AB 1266 effort

A hedge-fund manager from New Jersey has contributed another $50,000 to the campaign to repeal California’s new law that gives transgender K-12 students rights such as access to the restrooms and locker rooms that they choose.

Wedding AnniversaryThis latest contribution, made Nov. 1 and reported Monday, brings Sean Fieler’s total contributions to the “Privacy for All Students – Stop AB1266” committee to $200,000 – almost as much as all other contributors to that committee have given so far.

Fieler, of Princeton, N.J., is president of Equinox Partners and chairman of the board of the American Principles Project, a conservative 501(c)(3) “founded to reinvigorate and restore those principles that made our country great. We take pride in leading the conversation, defending and promoting the universal truths that we are all ‘created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’” Fieler also has been a prolific donor to efforts opposing same-sex marriage.

AB 1266 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, requires that a K-12 pupil be permitted to take part in sex-segregated school programs, activities and facilities including athletic teams and competitions, consistent with his or her gender identity and regardless of the gender listed on that pupil’s records. Though the law applies to a wide range of access, conservative opponents have dubbed it the “bathroom law.”

The Assembly approved it 46-25, the state Senate approved it 21-9, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law Aug. 12. The law will take effect Jan. 1, unless its opponents succeed in placing a repeal referendum on the ballot.

We don’t know yet whether they succeeded. Referendum supporters had until Nov. 10 to gather and submit valid signatures from at least 504,760 registered voters in order to put this on the ballot; hitting that mark usually requires gathering about 700,000 signatures to be safe. The Los Angeles Times reported Oct. 20 that they had gathered about 500,000. Southern California Public Radio reported Sunday that supporters said they’d submitted 620,000 signatures.

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NorCal House Dems knock Obamacare repeal vote

The House voted 229-195 today to repeal the “Obamacare” federal health care reforms enacted in 2010 – the 37th time that Republicans have tried to repeal or eliminate funding for the law.

The only two Democrats to vote for H.R. 45 were Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, both of whom represent districts with heavy numbers of Republican voters yet are deemed “lean Democratic” – not “toss up” – by the Cook Political Report. No Republicans opposed the bill.

Like its predecessors, this effort is DOA in the Democrat-dominated U.S. Senate. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, spoke in defense of the vote:

“Today the House is voting to repeal the president’s health care law because it’s increasing the cost of health insurance, reducing access to care, and making it harder for small businesses to hire new workers. This is the third full repeal vote that we’ve had in the last three years, and some critics have suggested it’s a waste of time.

“Well, while our goal is to repeal all of ObamaCare, I would remind you that the president has signed into law seven different bills that repealed or defunded parts of that law. Is it enough? No. Full repeal is needed to keep this law from doing more damage to our economy and raising health care costs.

“But some progress has been made, and Republicans will continue to work to scrap the law in its entirety so we can focus on patient-centered reforms that lower costs and protect jobs. Because jobs is what this is all about.”

Northern California’s House Democrats were – shocker! – having none of it. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, smack-talked the vote at her weekly news conference:

“Here we are, 134 days into the 113th Congress, without one vote on a jobs bill. Fifty-four days after the Senate passed its budget, we still haven’t moved forward to the budget process with this do nothing agenda that does not reflect the priorities of the American people. It is an agenda that only the Republicans are interested in pursuing. So, you see a series of subterfuges, job evasions. Today’s job evasion is that the Republicans have decided to vote on the Patient’s Rights Repeal Act, their 37th attempt to repeal our country’s landmark reform bill. That’s 37 votes, 43 days, $52 million – $52.4 million – on an obvious evasion of our responsibility to work on the priorities of the American people.

“Not only is this a clear waste of time, and of taxpayer dollars, it is a deliberate vote to eliminate the affordable, quality health care benefits millions of Americans are already enjoying.”

Here’s Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton:

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, called it “a shameful waste of time and taxpayer dollars.”

“Instead of spending more than $50 million to repeal a law that is saving lives and money, we should be working to improve our healthcare system and expand on the benefits the law provides,” Thompson said. “It’s time to put these political games aside. By building on the reforms made in the Affordable Care Act, we can make sure every American can afford to go to the doctor. And that’s what matters.”

And Rep. Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova, said Americans “want Congress to focus on jobs, not waste time and taxpayer money voting 37 times to take away patient protections from middle class families.

“The Supreme Court has ruled, and ACA is now law. It’s not perfect, and it’s not the law I would have proposed because it doesn’t do enough to address the cost of care, but we don’t want to go back to a time when children faced discrimination due to pre-existing conditions, when students and young adults were kicked off their parents’ insurance, and when women had to pay more for insurance than men just because of their gender,” he said. “Now we need to move past partisan bickering and start working on ways we can drive healthcare costs down. For years, we’ve been paying more and more for healthcare, and getting less and less. As a doctor and former Chief Medical Officer for Sacramento County, I know there are many places we can find savings.”

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Reactions to the Affordable Care Act repeal vote

Here’s what some Northern California voices had to say about today’s symbolic, 244-185 House vote to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

From Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove:

“I should be saying today that the House of Representatives voted for a good bipartisan jobs bill to get Americans back to work … but I can’t. The Republican leadership in Congress would rather waste time on meaningless theater than do something about jobs. Yet again, they scheduled a vote to allow 17 million children with pre-existing conditions to once again be denied coverage and to raise prescription drug costs for more than five million seniors.”

From Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann, Garamendi’s Republican challenger:

“By voting to protect the health care law’s $600 billion tax on American families and small businesses, John Garamendi has proven once again where his priorities lie—and they’re not with the people of California’s new 3rd district. John Garamendi has reaffirmed his support for a law that threatens seniors’ access to care by cutting over $500 billion from Medicare and empowering an unelected and unaccountable board of bureaucrats to make decisions regarding seniors’ health care.

“As small businesses continue to be burdened with new regulations and as health care costs continue to rise, it’s clear that John Garamendi’s health care overhaul isn’t working—and it’s even more obvious that the radical ‘single payer’ Canadian-style government-run system, which John Garamendi is fighting for, is completely out-of-touch with what Californians need. I’ll fight not only to repeal John Garamendi’s healthcare overhaul, but to also implement common sense reforms that increase access to quality care, allow Americans to keep the insurance they like, and protect Americans with pre-existing conditions, while lowering costs and ensuring that patients and their doctors, not government bureaucrats, remain in control of their health care decisions.”

Lots more from Bay Area House Democrats, after the jump…
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Committee OK’s Defense of Marriage Act’s repeal

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 along party lines Thursday to approve Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law defining marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman.

“DOMA was wrong when it passed in 1996 and it is wrong now,” Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement issued after the vote. “There are 131,000 legally married, same-sex couples in this country who are denied more than 1,100 federal rights and protections because of this discriminatory law. I don’t know how long the battle for full equality will take, but we are on the cusp of change, and today’s historic vote in the committee is an important step forward.”

Among other inequalities, married same-sex couples can’t file joint federal income taxes and claim certain deductions; receive Social Security spousal benefits; take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act; get protection from the estate tax when one spouse tries to leave property or assets to the other.

Feinstein’s S.598 has 30 co-sponsors, all Democrats.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee’s ranking Republican, said at the hearing that the vote was a waste of time given the bill lacks enough votes to pass the Senate floor. “This Orwellian bill does not restore anything,” he said. “Restoring marriage would mean restoring marriage as it has existed for thousands of years. The rights that the bill would create for same-sex couples are not a restoration of any rights. They are new rights that same-sex couples have never had under federal law.”

Same-sex marriage equality advocates disagreed.

“For the first time in history, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to make gays and lesbians whole people,” Courage Campaign founder and chairman Rick Jacobs said Thursday. “This truly historic vote today should never have been necessary because this absurd law should never have been on the books. Thanks to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, we have a bill that can move to the Senate floor where fair-minded people who believe in a nation united, not divided, can end federal discrimination against gay and lesbian couples legally married in six states and the District of Columbia. Sadly, the Republicans think this is a partisan issue, but then some thought the same about the other great civil rights issues of this nation. Eventually, America is just.”

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Drive to repeal LGBT education law is faltering

Backers of a proposed measure to roll back California’s new LGBT-inclusive education law “would need a miracle” to get enough signatures to qualify it for the ballot, an organizer said this morning.

Gov. Jerry Brown in July signed into law SB 48, the FAIR (Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful) Education Act by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, requiring that the historical contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as well as the disabled be accurately and fairly portrayed in school curriculums. The law added these groups to the existing list of under-represented cultural and ethnic groups already included in the state’s inclusionary education requirements.

Conservatives immediately launched a ballot-measure petition signature drive to overturn the law. The committee backing the measure has until tomorrow, Oct. 12, to provide valid signatures from at least 504,760 registered California voters in order to get the measure on next year’s ballot.

Pacific Justice Institute President Brad Dacus sent out an e-mail this morning saying “the news is not good:”

Finally with two days in a row of no mail delivery, collection points around the State were able to get a good estimate of how many signatures we have in hand. While we expect to have a large amount arrive today and even Wednesday (the day we need to turn petitions in) it is doubtful we will get the number of signatures we need to qualify.

Unfortunately, the last several deliveries of mail have not been what was expected and a large number of petitions have been pulled out because of errors.

From all appearances, we would need a miracle to qualify this referendum.

But many of those close to the referendum campaign believe in miracles and want to fight until the very last minute. Are you in?

The only possible scenario for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat is a 24 hour petition marathon. But we need more than just 10 people or even a hundred. We need a thousand people or even more that will start this morning and gather every signature they can. 50 signatures. 100. Even more.

We have petition centers around the State and we will be delivering petitions where we can. We will set up delivery points around the State for Tuesday and up until 10:30 am on Wednesday morning for completed petitions.

But we need volunteers to gather signatures and volunteers to gather more volunteers. And we need you to start as soon as you get done reading this.