Friday, December 31, 2010

End of a year of change

This has been a year of change, in many unexpected ways. For me, it meant a move to DC, first to work for Congressman Garamendi as his Chief of Staff, and then in the Office of Oversight in OCIIO at HHS. By now you know that Dave has decided to keep Adam on as GC. I hadn't wanted to say anything until he made the announcement.  I'm disappointed, but I've also got plenty more to do at my job in DC.  

All the best for a happy and healthy New Year.  That job has brought some unexpected changes as well; I never imagined that I would be managing the teams responsible for drafting two sets of regulations implementing major parts of health care reform; one on how the requirement that health plans spend 80 or 85% of premium dollars on clinical care or activities that improve health care quality, the other establishing a process for review of "unreasonable" increases in health care premiums.

The process was long and exhausting, including working late into the night. I think that any reasonably objective view would be that we did an excellent job of staying true to the language of the statute (sometimes rather opaque), giving deference to the States as much as possible, while providing a federal "floor" that will protect consumers.

Next year will bring it's challenges, as the political environmental will be, shall we say, less friendly to our efforts. We will persevere.

Happy New Year to you all, I hope that 2011 brings you all the happiness that life can offer.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

At Last

I was filled with so many emotions last night My Dad grew up in NY a Giants fan.  By the time I was old enough for him to take me to games, the Yankees were the only team in town. My Dad took me to see Mantle,  Maris, Tresh, Richardson, Howard, Ford.  When he moved to LA, he became an SF Giants fan, which caused some good-natured conflict with my Stepmom, who rooted for the hated Dodgers.  Who were much more successful, of course.  

We went to some great games together, we saw Barry hit his 71st homer, we were at the tragic Game 6 in Anaheim, when we were six outs away.  But no championship.

After we moved to SF in '85, i took up the team.   That meant freezing at Candlestick with crowds around 5,000, that first year they lost 100 games.  I was in the stands when they beat St Louis in '87 to go up 3-2, only to lose the last two.  I was in the stands when the Thrill beat the Cubs in '89, only to be beaten by the A's and Loma Prieta.  Then there was '93, Dusty's first year, when they won 103 games and didn't make the playlets.

David and Kate were raised Giants fans and I loved the fact they they enjoyed going to the ballpark with me.  By 2000  they won the division, only to lose to the Meta.  Kate and I were there for one of the most exciting moments in sports I've ever seen, JT's 3 run shot in the bottom of the 9th to tie game 3, which they lost in the 10th.

Finally in 2002, we were there to see Kenny Lofton put us in the Series, the year we should have won it all.

And now, at last, we have.  Here I am, 3,000 miles and three time zones away.  How can it be that this team was able to do what all those other teams with all those stars couldn't do?   Better pitching, I guess.   It's a funny game.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Long time, no post

I see that it's been just over month since I last posted here, the reason being the same--there is really very little I can say about the work I'm doing, most of which involves drafting regulations and recommendations to policymakers, none of which is public. I did meet Secretary Sebelius last week, she was very gracious in her appreciation of the work we've been doing and remembered that John Garamendi had spoken to her about me.

The other big thing that has been going on for the past few weeks has been the GIANTS !!!! I've been glued to the TV throughout the playoffs, and have been thrilled by their wins, especially in the first Series game last night. It's hard being so far away while all this is going on . . . .

Here in DC, we've been enjoying a lovely fall, the city looks beautiful, the weather has been great, we've done a lot of walking, sitting on the roof of our building at dusk, etc. I know that winter is coming, but for now it feels like an ideal climate.

We're looking forward to being home for Thanksgivivg, seeing David and Kate, being back in California. We miss them, and it, a lot.

Friday, September 24, 2010

September 23, 2010--The beginning of a new day in health care in America

As I'm sure you know, yesterday was the first day that a number of the new health care insurance market provisions of the Affordable Care Act went into effect. I'm sure you've heard the drill: no more excluding children under 19 with pre-existing conditions, no more deductibles or co-pays for preventive care, no more cancelling your policy when you get sick unless the insurance company can prove that you intentionally withheld important information when you applied, no more lifetime limits on how much your insurance company has to pay for your medical care, and a minimum of $750,000 in annual limits, phasing out to no annual limits in 2014.

On a personal note, these are some of the provisions that it is my job to enforce, along with the Departments of Insurance in the states.

The post to the right, by John Garamendi on Huffington Post, tells some stories about real people who have already been helped by this law. If you make it through almost to the bottom, you'll see some extraordinarily gracious remarks John made about me. It's possible that someone outside my immediate family has said such nice things about me before, but I can't remember when.

Is this law perfect, or is it the end of the need for reform to our health care system? Unquestionably not. Is it a enormous step forward, and will it help millions of Americans get affordable, quality health care? Unquestionably yes.

Friday, September 17, 2010

It's been a while

It's been quite a while since I posted here last. The main reason is that there's very little that I can say about what I'm doing at work--we are busy drafting regulations, developing options for how we are going to enforce the Affordable Care Act, and none of it is public just yet. And I don't want to become one of those people you read about in the paper who had to resign because of impolitic comments in a blog.

I can say that the work environment is wonderful--everyone is smart, dedicated, motivated, excited to be doing this work, pleasant to work with, a team player, etc. etc. There is something about our mission and the fact that we are creating something new that so far has enabled us to keep our spirits high despite impossible deadlines, not enough people, many and conflicting demands on our time. The staff that I've put together for the Division of Enforcement has already been recognized for its superb work and work ethic. I am proud to be doing this job with them.

Meanwhile, Liz came out at the end of August, just in time for the weather to turn from the miserable heat and humidity we had for three months. We love the neighborhood and all the places we can walk to easily from our apartment. Liz has started blogging as well, you can follow her at

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Peaches and Herb

Reunited and it feels so good,
Reunited 'cause we understood,
There's one perfect fit
And sugar, this one is it
We're both excited 'cause we're
Reunited, hey, hey

Monday, August 2, 2010

Eastern Shore

I took my first big excursion out of DC on Sunday, to Ocean City on the Maryland Eastern Shore. A lot of driving, three hours each way, but worth it to get out of the city, to feel the cool breeze, to swim in the ocean, to eat those steamed blue crabs off of a piece of brown paper, so sweet and juicy.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hot, Hot, Hot

Eighteen days over 90 degrees in June, another eighteen already in July. Today its over 100. Very tough. Sitting by the air conditioner watching movies on Netflix.

Friday I went to a public meeting held by the National Association of Insuramce Commissioners on implementation of health care reform. Good, but a bit strange, to see old friends now that I'm on the other, other side--not the industry, but the Feds.

There is a lot of uncertainty and a fair amount od suspicion about how this law will be interpreted and how it will work in practice. Some of this is understandable, there are lots of provisions that are unclear and the regulations that will provide some clarity (and undoubtedly raise more questions) haven't all been issued. And of course there will be problems, both with the law and because the law doesn't address much of what is wrong with the health care system.

But there also seems to be a underlying lack of trust, or confidence, or maybe it's just fear of change. Even when the way things are going is bad, the devil you know seems better than the unknown one you can't see up ahead.

For those of us at the Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight the feeling is quite different. We are creating something new, we have very little that "has always been done that way" or "isn't the way we do things here." We have an enormous amount to do, and very little time to do it, and much of it has never been done before. But we believe in what we're doing and in our ability to get it done.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Random Thoughts

Went to see my Giants beat the Nationals 6-2 last Sunday. The stadium a disappointment when compared to the standard set by Camden Yards, PacBell park--no architectural elements to reflect the location in Our Nation's Capital, apart from the relentless red, white and blue. They do have mascots with huge George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt heads who do race from center field to a finish line along the first base line. Live version of the animated cable car race. Seat almost too hot to sit on at 1:00 in 95 degree heat, lucky for me I got tickets on the third base side, in the shade by the third inning. Strong performance by the Giants, good pitching, good clutch hitting.

It's been the best of times and the worst of times (well, not really) at HHS. I've decided that if I do end up in Purgatory I'll just say, "Naah, this isn't anything, I've been through the process of getting a security badge at HHS." After numerous visits to the Security Office, filling out lengthy, repetitious forms for a background check which I'm sure no one actually did, the day finally came when I was supposed to get my badge--when I was told that they had run out of badges. "Badges? We don't have no stinkin' badges."

For the best of times, I attended a meeting of the leadership group at HHS that is coordinating implementation of health care reform. Deputy Secretary Corr presides, Secretary Sebelius attended as well. Very impressive group, very impressive process. You're in good hands.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Week deux

When I was practicing law, I used to imagine that my client could be in my office watching me work, and I'd want them to be satisfied that they were getting good value for their money. Ok, ok, there were some clients whom I was happy to bill for every second I spent, say, in the shower, thinking about their case. Anyway, with the enduring debate over whether the amount of government we have is too little, too much, or just right, and all the hostility expressed toward civil servants (for example, in the budget debate and the campaign for governor in California), I wonder sometimes what the public would think if they could watch their tax dollars at work in the agencies and departments that do the people's work.

Of course at times they would see inefficiency and incompetence at times. More than in your average corporation? I don't know. But they would also see people working long hours to get a web portal running to provide information to people about their options for health care coverage. Check it out. They would be impressed, as I was, by a meeting of brilliant, dedicated people working together to figure out what things that insurance companies spend their money on should count as "improving health care quality." I know we may disagree over whether the government should be influencing how insurance companies spend your money, or whether we should leave that up to them and to "the market." But I think most people would agree that if we are going to have a law that gives the government that job, this was an impressive group of people and an impressive process to be involved in the decision.

So many decisions, so little time. I feel as though I'm drinking from the proverbial fire hose while running after the proverbial train that is leaving the proverbial station.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

First week at HHS

I was walking to meet a friend for a drink and it ocurree to me that the Founding Fathers weren't as smart as they are made out to be. I understand that it was important to put the Capitol somewhere in between the North and the South and they found this swamp on which cto build a new city. But as I was trudging through the 95 degree 90% humidity, reaching my destination with my shirt soaked through, I thought, "Why didn't they put the Capitol in Washington in the Spring and Fall, Florida in the winter, and New Hampshire in the Summer?". It would have been even better from the point of view of regionalism, and sure would be a lot more pleasant. Of course as the country grew westward, we could have had capitals in Chicago, St Louis, Denver and SF as well. Perhaps there'd be some benefit in not having the federal government so far away from most of the people . . . .

I just finished my first week at my new job. For those of you who missed it, here's the full job title, for the last time. Take a deep breath: Director, Division of Enforcement, Office of Oversight, Office of Consumer Informarion and Insurance Oversight (OCIIO) Office of the Secretary (OS), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Whew!

I spent a good part of the week interviewing candidates for the fourteen (plus or minus) attorney positions that I'll have reporting up to me. And I'm pleased to say that I've made some excellent progress--including some candidates who were already in progress, I've got one hire and offers out to five others. Not bad for one week! I've got some more interviews scheduled, but if you know any lawyers who want to be a part of history, tell 'em to send me their resumes.

I learned that the Office is moving in July to a commercial office building in Bethesda. At first I was a bit bummed that we will be away from headquarters and Capitol Hill, but that feeling only lasted until I saw where they have me sitting now, about which the less said the better. I've posted photos of the Humphrey Building and of the new digs, across the street from the Bethesda Metro Station. I'm told I'll have a window, and everything.

I'm now immersed in a process that's been going on here for several months now, of figuring out how we're going to interpret and enforce this law. There are countless decisions to be made, scores of people, within our office, elsewhere in the government, in state government, and among "stakeholders" (industry, consumer groups, etc) who are involved in one way or another in making them, and very little time. The law goes into effect September 23, and we've got to be ready to enforce it from Day 1. Much of the enforcement will ultimately be done by the state insurance departments, but we will have some direct enforcement and will also have to be making determinations as to whether the states are "substantially enforcing" the law. It is daunting, exciting. I feel trust I'm in the right place at the right time and that everything I've done until now has prepared me for this moment. I guess we'll see whether I'm right about that, won't we?

Monday, June 7, 2010

The next phase of the journey . . . .

It is with a mix of excitement, pride, anxiety, hope and fear that I report that as of June 21 I will be taking the position as the (first) Director of Enforcement in the Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight in the Department of Health and Human Services. Quite a mouthful, I know. I will be responsible for enforcing the provisions of the health care reform law that impact the insurance companies. I'm expecting a ride every bit as wild as when I went to the CPUC during the energy crisis.

Probably needless to say, but I am extremely pleased and stunned that my move to DC has worked out as well and as quickly as it has. Come visit!

Monday, May 24, 2010

They give you hope for the future

WASHINGTON, DC–The DC office of Congressman John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek, CA), a member of the House Science and Technology Committee, welcomed and congratulated the President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) winners for the southwest region. Since 1971, PEYA is award annually to young Americans for demonstrating excellence in protecting our country’s air, water, land, and ecology. Adarsha Shivakumar, Apoorva Rangan, and Callie Roberts, high school students from Pleasant Hill and Martinez, earned the PEYA by founding Project Jatropha, a biofuel venture that seeks to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate global climate change.
As described by the students, “Project Jatropha Team promotes the cultivation of Jatropha curcas, a perennial shrub with oil-rich seeds, as an ecologically friendly and economically sustainable source of alternative fuel production. To date, the work of Project Jatropha has supported the planting of 13,000 seedlings by more than 50 farm families in Southern India.”
On Wednesday May 19th, Adarsha, Apoorva, Callie, their family members, and their EPA liaison were given a tour of the Capitol complex and Congressman John Garamendi’s office. Chief-of-Staff Gary Cohen spoke with the students about their project, the COMPETES bill to fund scientific research, and the Joint BioEnergy Institute. The Joint BioEnergy Institute is a partnership project that includes Lawrence-Livermore and Sandia National Labs and aims to develop the next generation of biofuels.
“I want to commend Adarsha, Apoorva, and Callie for their ongoing work on Project Jatropha. Unhindered by their young age and the scale of the problem, these students are courageously working to combat global warming. They approach this serious challenge with humility and youthful excitement,” Gary Cohen said.
“This generation’s students enter a globally competitive labor market. Their success depends on the ability to work hard, think creatively, and adapt to quickly evolving market conditions,” Mr. Cohen added “These three Bay Area students display these qualities in spades and serve as an inspiration to the many talented young students of the 10th District.”
On Friday May 21st, the students joined other PEYA winners in meeting President Barack Obama.

More information about Project Jatropha is available at
Contact: Adarsha Shivakumar at
More information about the President’s Environmental Youth Award and the 2009 winners is available at

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Look Who Stopped By (3)

No, I'm not in the picture, and this doesn't truly qualify as a "Look who stopped by" because Don Cheadle and Jame Goodall didn't come to our office, but they did speak at a briefing on the Global Conservation Act of 2010. It was fun to see Don Cheadle and to hear him apeak on the need for the US to have a global conservation strategy with meaningful benchmarks to measure its success. But to hear and then meet Jane Goodall was inspirational. When she was introduced we were told that it was 50 years ago that she first went to the Gombi in Tansania to study chimpanzees, so young that the British Government wouldn't permit her to travel there alone, insisting that her mother go with her. I remember vividly those National Geographic stories with the pictures of that slight young woman living with those apes, our closest relatives. (I confess that I didn't learn as much as I might have, because unlike Playboy, which I read only for the articles, I looked at National Geographic for the pictures).
Dr Goodall has gone on to do amazing things, not only for conservation of animal habitat, but much more which you can read about at
After she spoke, we talked about one of her programs and what could be done to expand its presence in Israel and Palestine. More on that if and as it develops. Amazing woman, such a privilege to have heard her and met her.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

They just don't care about what's good for the country

The Republicans defeated a bill in the House today called COMPETES, which is a jobs bill, an innovation bill and a science and technology education bill. The US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the National Associatiom of Manufacturere and many, many other Business and.academic organizations urged passage of this bill. The Republicans defeated it by means of a nasty parliamentary trick, which is described here

The Republicans are willing to throw the economic recovery, American competitiveness, and the wishes of the business community under the bus in order to stop something that the Democratic majority wants to do. Their lust to return to power knows no limits, even at the expense of their biggest supporters. I mean, why be a Republican if you're not going to support what the Chamber of Commerce wants?

I'm convinced that the only way to stop this is for the business community to make it known that it's not going to work; opposing everything, no matter how meritorious, is not the path back to the majority. It needs to make clear that they will not support Members who vote against measures needed to keep the country moving out of recession and to enable it to compete in the global economy.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Old Town Alexandria

I took a trip to Old Town Alexandria yesterday. Very charming, lots of old buildings, lots of newer buildings made to look like old buildings. Looking at them, it is difficult to imagine the lives that were led by the people who lived there in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. But then I saw this statue, a soldier gazing toward the south, as the plaque reads, toward the places where his comrades fell during the War Between the States. It is erected on the spot from which in 1861 the Confederates fled the occupying Union Army to join the rebel forces.

Alexandria is also the boyhood home of Robert E Lee, the son of Harry "Light Horse" Lee, who was a hero of the American Revolution and a Governor of Virginia.

What does it mean that Robert E Lee, who served in the US Army for 32 years before he took up arms against it, was not tried for treason and shot after the war, and that he is venerated today? What does it mean that this statue honoring those who fell seeking to preserve a society based on the right to own other human beings retains its place a short subway ride from the Capitol?

I know that I can't help but think that like those who put up this statue, the members of the Tea Party and their ilk are longing for a lost world, one that if it ever existed, can never exist again, and that a key part of that world is that its benefits belong to "people like us" not "people like them."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

No More Spill, Baby, Spill

The Congressman introduced his first bill today, The West Coast Ocean Protection Act of 2010, which would ban all new oil and gas drilling in federal waters off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. We expect that it will get substantial support in light of the disaster in the Gulf.

The other news today was that he has been put on the House Armed Services Committee, which is a big deal for a new member. It will be interesting to see how that plays out, since he is a strong opponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lots going on, yesterday we met with Transportation Secretary LaHood, who had good things to say about the prospects for High Speed Rail in California.

Don't let anyone tell you that change isn't happening, because it is. It's slow, sometimes, and sometimes not as much as we'd like, but it is happening.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Guess who stopped by (2)

Today the Congressman met with President Saakashvili of Georgia, who was accompanied by the Deputy Interior Minister, Eka Zghuladze and the Georgian Ambassador to the US. The most interesting point during the meeting to me was when the President said that at age 41, he is the oldest member of his Government. Which means that no one is in the government who was older than 22 when the Soviet Union fell.

Next week we have the Transportation Secretary coming in.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Guess who stopped by?

One of the nice things about working for a Congressman is that all sorts of interesting people come by to meet with us. Yesterday it was three astronauts from the Space Shuttle Endeavour, who just returned in February from a vision to the International Space Station. They are wondering how anyone is going to get back there once the Shuttle fleet is retired at the end of this year.

They brought a plaque for the Congressman with patches that had flown in space, needless to day we were all gaga and had our pictures taken.

All of which caused me to reflect on a subject I think about from time to time," interest group democracy." We spend a lot of time meeting with people who want something from the federal government, sometimes legislation but more often, money. And the government had untold sums to dole out. Let's leave aside for the moment the crazy way we finance campaigns. As messy as it is, there is something glorious about the way people are able to come to their elected representatives, tell them their concerns, and seek help. I'll say this, too: if it weren't for those people coming to see us, we'd have precious little idea of what is going on in the real world, because the perspective from Capitol Hill is very narrow.

So while I know that there are big problems about who gets access and whose voice gets heard, I don't really know a better way of getting the concerns of the people to their representatives. And besides, it means that every now and then I feet to meet an astronaut.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Settling in

I moved into my new apartment on Monday night after a long, delayed flight from SF. Oh, joy, to open the fridge to find that the owner had left behind 4 Bass Ales and a wheel of Bon Bell cheese. Next morning, after the cable guy left, I headed up to Bethesda to pick up the things I'd left with my friends Julie and Mark while I was back in CA. A word about friends--What a blessing they are! Julie and Mark took me in, sheltered me from the storms (quite literally), fed me, transported me (literally and figuratively) and made me feel absolutely welcome every second. They made the first part of this adventure possible, and I am enormously grateful.

I went up to Bethesda by Zipcar, my first experience, and it is very cool. A Toyota Scion is parked across the street from my building; reserve it, press your card against the windshield, and you're in and on your way. Two hours, pick up my stuff, do a big shop at the grocery, $18.

Back at work and lots to do. Most fun so far was the other night, after "Special Orders" (see earlier post for definition), I went to dinner with the boss and three other Congressmen, from Iowa, Wisconsin and NY. Great camaraderie, talk of what it was like back home during the recess, politics, policy, more politics. These Members are part of what they call the "Populist Caucus," about which more to come in future posts. It was great to be welcomed as part of the "club," very relaxed, no pretension, just an earnest but good-humored desire to figure out how to get things done.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Early adopter

It won't surprise many of you that my iPad arrived at my door Saturday, having been ordered the first day Apple started taking orders. Fortunately, it rained hard all day Sunday, so that I had plenty of time to put it through it's paces. Though I still have plenty more experimenting/playing with the various apps vie loaded on it.

Initial impressions: will it change my life? Nope. Will it replace my laptop? Nope, esp because I can't log into VPN for work using it. Will I turn to it at home as opposed to my iPhone, laptop or desktop? Absolutely.

Reading Kindle books, Barnes & Noble ebooks and now iBooks, is fantastic. (I've given my Kindle to Liz). Reading the newspaper, a magazine or Marvel comics is way easier and more fun than on a laptop or iPhone. The right amount of the text shows on the screen, and you can easily zoom in to make it bigger.

Probably the coolest thing so far is watching movies. With the Netflix app tou can watch any of the "watch instantly" movies they have anytime you're in a wifi network. The quality of the picture is terrific, and the screen is large enough so that it doesn't look silly.

Nothing too original here, just my immediate thoughts.

On a related topic, I now have both an iPhone (personal) and Blackberry Curve (work). And my question is: why would anyone get a Blackberry if they could have an iPhone? I used to be a big fan of Blackberry, i helped introduce it to my firm when it first came out, but the keys on this thing are so small there's no way to type with it--plus it doesn't correct your mistakes. My aging eyes can't even read the keys. And web browsing, etc is a joke compared to the iPhone. Not to mention the fact that the iPhone is an iPod Just my opinion.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Back in the District

I must say it's wonderful to be back in California, despite the rain. It's Easter recess and a District Work Week, so I'm working out of our Walnut Creek office and getting out and about as much as possible. On Tuesday I spoke at a Livermore Chamber of Commerce luncheon honoring "Dream Makers and Risk Takers," and although they didn't realize it, that's a pretty good description of me for the past couple of months--going out to DC without any certainty about what I'd be doing, whether I'd be paid, and finding that the risk paid off and the dream of health care reform came true. I feel very fortunate to be where I am.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

At last, a victory

It's 1:00 am, and I just got home from the Capitol, where I sat in the gallery for over five hours as the House debated and then passed the health care bill. There were moments of soaring rhetoric, there were moments of low comedy. My personal favorite was when one speaker compared the bill to the failed Soviet experiment of a planned economy. Since the result was preordained, and no one's mind was going to be changed, it seemed as though it took an awfully long time for it to get done. Yet there is something majestic about seeing one of the great issues of the day debated publicly, for anyone who is interested to watch, and then seeing the elected representatives of the people vote.

Nancy Pelosi was greeted by a roar from the Democrats when she rose to speak in favor of the bill. She and the rest of the Democratic leadership deserve enormous credit for bridging the differences between the House and Senate bills.

Will the bill do all that its proponents claim it will? Almost certainly not, just as it certainly won't wreak all the havoc its opponents warn against. But it will establish a principle--that everyone is entitled to a way to pay for the health care they need--which I hope will be hard to defeat in the future.

Another roar went up as vote number 216 appeared on the electronic tally. I would have had goose bumps, but they were too tired to raise up.

Student council

If you ever served in student government, you know that there was usually one person who mastered Robert's Rules of Order and knew how to use them to promote his/her goals. Sitting in the office watching CSpan this afternoon, we saw an example of a (failed) attempt to prevent a vote through parliamentary maneuvers by the Republicans. I suppose that there have to be rules, and they can always be used to try to prevent the majority from acting, but the main thing that is being accomplished is that we will be here late this evening.

Jesse Jackson Jr is doing a great job in the Chair.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Drudge work

The phones have been ringing pretty constantly over the past week as we move closer to the vote on the health care bill. A young woman on our staff came close to her 15 minutes of fame when an angry caller submitted a blog that got picked up by the Drudge Report and at least one other right wing site.

The guy called 8 or 10 times, and although his call was handled politely and professionally, he apparently felt that his views were not being heard adequateley. Finally he began to become abusive, and made some profane and insulting remarks. The next time he called, we transferred him to the Capitol police. (He didn't five his name and his number was blocked, ao we couldn't block his calls). Even after all this, one of our staff members spent another 15 minutes hearing him out.

He felt as though his right to express his opinion to the Congressman had been infringed. My view was that we should respect everyone's right to have their say, the staff doesn't have to put up with abuse, and he doesn't have the right to disrupt the work of the office (including by preventing us from answering calls from other constituents).

There were protestors at the Capitol all day today, both outside and roaming the halls, stopping in to ask the Members to vote their way (mostly no). Emotions are running high. we had a women get down on her knees in our office this afternoon, asking us to tell the Congressman that she was begging him to vote against the bill. People seem to sincerely believe that this bill will start the country down the road to ruin, and that it represents a grievous infringement of their liberty. It's strange to me, because of course it's unlikely that their lives will change in any way whether or not it passes. I realize that this has just become the focus of their anger--at Obama, at the Democrats, at life.

The protestors are overwhelmingly, perhaps entirely, white.

Tomorrow will be quite a day.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Today we met with a Brigadier General assigned to the National Nuclear Security Agency, within the Deoartment of Energy. They are responsible for assuring the safety, security and reliability of the nation's nuclear stockpile. In other words, making sure that we're the only ones who get to use it to blow mankind to smithereens, and only if we mean to do it, but if we do, that we actually can pull it off.

I know that you're imagining General Buck Turgidson, the George C Scott character from "Dr Strangelove," who advised the President that we just might be able to "catch the Russkies with their pants down." It actually wasn't like that at all. It's interesting to note that the senior military officers who are responsible for this stuff have spent at least half of their careers since the end of the Cold War.

We were there to talk about the mission of the Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Labs, which are in Congressman Garamendi's district. We went on to meet with Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, who used to run the Lawrence Berkeley lab. There's a guy who knows a thing or two.

Two more days until the vote on health care . . . .

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, Special Orders don't upset us

After the votes are finished for the day, the House frequently remains in session for Special Orders. Which means that the Dems and the Reeps take turns for up to an hour at a time to give speeches on the issues of the day. A member volunteers to organize three or four others who are interested in speaking, and distributes talking points on the topic chosen.

Then, on the House Floor, they have at it. To an empty chamber. No one is listening. True, CSPAN is there, all-seeing, unblinking. I'm not sure what it's viewership is, but I don't imagine that Idol's producers are losing sleep over the competition.

The Congressman has been taking every opportunity to speak in favor of the health care bill, and last night I sat in the House Gallery to watch the boss do his thing. He does a great job--articulate, passionate, persuasive. Once again, it's difficult to be cynical while sitting in that room where so many momentous events have occurred. If only all those seats weren't empty.

It looks as though the House will be voting on the health care bill on Sunday evening. I'm sure that the seats will be filled then.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dear Colleague . . . .

One of the ways business gets done around here is by means of the "Dear Colleague" email. Members send these out seeking support for a bill they've introduced, a resolution they'd like passed, or a letter they'd like to send (most often to the leadership, asking that a particular measure be scheduled for a vote, or to a federal agency, asking that it spend money in a particular way). The idea is that having more supporters, and the right supporters, will make it more likely that the member will be successful in achieving his/her objective.

Fair enough. But we get scores, perhaps hundreds of these a day. (And I only see the ones sent by Democratic members). They all seem worthy; I mean, who doesn't want money to go to America's poison control centers? Who's not for the AANAPISI program? (Oh, you don't know what that is? The Asian American and Native Pacific Islander Serving Institutions program). Who wouldn't like to commend Lance Mackey (a cancer survivor) on mushing his way to a fourth straight victory in the Iditarod?

You get the idea. The first problem we face is not letting the need to look at these and make decisions on whether to sign on to them take up so much time that the staff can do little else. But what sort of criteria to apply to decide what's worth our time and attention?

I guess that's why members have a Chief of Staff ....

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Inside Scoop

I went to a briefing this morning give
by the Speaker's and Majority Leader's staffs on the plans for voting on health care reform next week. I won't repeat any specifics, check out the reports of Speaker Pelosi's press conference today. I can say that once again, I was impressed by the openness, collegiality and cooperation that prevails within the Democratic caucus.

I have also been very pleased by the response I've gotten from staff for other members and for committees when I've offered suggestions or assistance on bills (generally having to do with insurance issues). Everyone has been very welcoming and has offered to help me learn the ropes. What I need most, though, is a guide to keep me from getting lost. I walked through the tunnels between our building, the Capitol, and the other House office building a couple of times today, and I think I'm going to give one of those Peypes avalanche receivers to mt office so that if I disappear for more than a couple hours they can track me down.

Next week will be a big week for the Congress and the country--let's hope for the best

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Today's Congressional Quarterly

March 10, 2010 – 9:36 p.m.

People on the Move

Gary Cohen has been named chief of staff for Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. Cohen has previously served as general counsel for both the California Department of Insurance and the California Public Utilities Commission.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What a glorious day in Our Nation's Capitol

When I left here a couple of weeks ago, there was still snow everywhere, we were still diggng out from the record-breaking twin blizzards of mid-Feb. Today it's 60 degrees, the snow is gone, and visions of cherry blossoms are dancing in our heads. Along with the change in the weather there has been a change in my role: Congressman Garamendi has made me his Chief of Staff. I'm excited by the opportunity and grateful for the confidence he's placed in me, especially considering how little I know about how the Hill works. But then those of you who have worked with me before know that's never stopped me--or slowed me down, even. So I plan to dive right in.
The next few weeks should be crucial to whether the President's and the Congressional leadership's agenda will get through. Of course we've thought that before, more than once. But clearly time is running out before the mid-terms, and everyone expects (fears) that the Congress will look quite different come January. So it certainly feels as though now is the time for Democrats to pull together and do some big things. We wait with great anticipation.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

In a line-up in Vancouver

I know you've been thinking, yeah, it's fine to tell us about the events but we can see those on TV (tape-delayed), but what's it like in Vancouver? I'm taking advantage of being in a line-up to write a bit, not withstanding the raindrops on my iPhone. No, we haven't been arrested, a "line-up" is what they call any line you stand in here. Which happens frequently. Sometimes you don't know what the line-up is for, you see other people in it and figure there might the something worth waiting for.

Actually, the lines haven't been too bad. The wait at security to get into the events, for example, seem quite a bit shorter than at Salt Lake City.

A word about the transportation system they have here. Awesome. Prompt. Efficient. And during the Games at least, essentially free. I say essentially because in theory you're supposed to pay if you don't have a ticket to an event that day. But we haven't seen anyone checking, and a local told me they decided that the cost of checking tickets wasn't going to be worth it. But at all times, it is an honor system--no turnstile, just buy a ticket and get on board. That's Liz pointing at the sign that tells you when you've gotten to the point where you're supposed to have paid your fare.

Friday, February 26, 2010


No pictures today, I went up to Whistler for the Ladies' Slalom and it was all wet snow and fog. I've given you a link to the replay on the NBC Olympics website (a video which I can't play here in Canada, thought CTV (which broadcasts the events live, by the way) has it as well. It was fun but difficult conditions for athletes and spectators today. Just glad I'm not in the Northeast for the latest blizzard, I suppose this is payback for all the folks who scoffed that it was no big deal when we had 3+ feet in DC.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Vancouver 2010

It may not look like much, but that is Kim Yu-Na skating off the ice while several young ladies pick up all the stuffed animals and flowers that showered down from the crowd after her wonderful performance. Grace, style, strength--she blew away the rest of the field. It was a great night of figure skating, with Joanne Rochette providing the inspirational story in getting the bronze medal less than a week after her mother died unexpectedly.

We're having a great time here, I've got to get to bed to leave very early for women's slalom up at Whistler tomorrow.

Back in the world, the bill to repeal the antitrust exemption for health insurers passed the House 406-19. Congressman Garamendi played a major role in making it happen.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Back in the Bay Area

It's been a quiet week in Our Nation's Capitol, the House was in recess to enable the members to go back to their districts to begin reminding the voters who they are and what they've done in advance of the election in November. For me it was a great time to catch up with old friends and to make some new ones.

Things will pick up this coming week, but I'm back here for a few days and then heading up to Vancouver for the last four days of the Olympics, a trip that was planned more than a year ago. So I'll be blogging from there.

For now it is wonderful to be home and to be reunited with Liz (and Zorro).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Those who remember the past are condemned to repeat it

Yes, I know that this is the opposite of Santayana's famous quote (OK, I admit I didn't know whose quote it was and had to Google it). But after two weeks in ONC (Our Nation's Capital), I am beginning to feel as though it is at least as apt this way.

It seems as though every discussion about an idea begins with a description of how that idea was proposed (and in most cases, failed) in bills introduced in [fill in the blank - the 1980's, '90's, 2000's]. Institutional knowledge is coin of the realm around here, and since I have none, it is natural that I should be somewhat impatient with it.

I'm not suggesting, mind you, that it's not a bad thing to know what happened in the past; clearly it would be foolhardy and ineffective to try to do anything without an understanding of what's been done (or in most cases, not done) before. I am saying, however, that it is all too easy to be trapped by what happened (or in most cases, didn't happen) in the past.

It reminds me of someone who worked for me who would respond to every idea that I presented by saying, "We tried that in [fill in the blank--the 1980's, '90's], and it didn't work, was unpopular, etc." Finally I took to replying, "Yes, well I wasn't there then, so we're going to try it again."

There is a variant of this which I think of as "Round up the usual suspects." (Epstein, Epstein & Koch, 1942). Which is to say that the steps that are taken by everyone involved in response to any particular proposal are so well-ingrained that it seems that no one seems to recognize how bizarre they are or able to imagine that things might be done differently.

And of course when the other guy is using the rules to stop things from getting done, it is always unfair and an abuse of the system. Should we think about changing the rules to make it harder (or impossible) to use them to gum up the works? But wait, one day we're going to be "the other guy," and what then?

"Round up the usual suspects!"

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes

Beautiful blue sky. Wind starting to die down. Road plowed. Still no bus service, federal government still closed, but I can foresee the day when I will no longer be writing about snow. Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Gods Must Be Crazy

Now it's officially a blizzard. Whether you call it Snowpocalypse or Snoverkill, enough is most definitely enough.

Monday, February 8, 2010

More snow days

With the DC metro area still digging out from the Blizzard of 2010 and federal government offices closed, what was there for us to do but go skiing. We had a great day, but it reminded me a bit of what the Genie says in Aladdin about having unlimited cosmic power and teeny-weeny living space: We had beautiful blue sky, great snow, teeny-weeny ski hill. But you won't hear me complaining, it was lots of fun.

The government is closed again tomorrow and we are expecting another 10-20 inches of snow from tomorrow afternoon into Wednesday, so it could be a while before the People's House is open for business.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Snow Day

Big snowstorm has begun, everyone is hunkering down. The Congressman is co-sponsor of a bill to eliminate the antitrust exemption for health and medical malpractice insurers, introduced today and to be voted on next week. Q: Will House and Senate Republicans vote to allow health insurers to conspire to fix prices? Time will tell.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The hits keep on coming

On Day 3, I attended a meeting with a couple of Senators and a couple of Members to discuss . . . well, that would be telling. If you're interested, keep your eyes out for a bill that should be introduced in the House tomorrow. This time the boss wasn't there, so you won't be surprised to hear that I spoke up to say what I thought he would have said. All of which was well-received. I am finding that the tone of all of this is extremely collegial and constructive; I actually think that if people could see what goes on behind the scenes, rather than the Kabuki show on CSPAN, they would be impressed with how seriously their representatives take their business. But then again, I've only been in meetings with Democrats.

The boss heads back to CA tonight or tomorrow and we're expecting a big snowstorm Friday night, so there may not be much news from here for a few days.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

First real day

When Liz and I last lived in DC, from 1979-81, it struck me (probably not an original thought) that Washington and Hollywood are a lot alike. Company towns, with a hierarchy made clear by who you know, who will return your calls, what meetings and parties you're invited to.

It still feels that way, only now it's as if Rupert Murdoch has to agree before HBO or Showtime can put a new show on the air. As you can imagine, his main interest is not in their increasing their audience share.

Today the Congressman took me to a meeting in the Speaker's Office, in attendance were the Majority Leader and a number of Members, as well as staff. I won't go into what was discussed, other than to say that Speaker Pelosi solicited everyone's views and reached a consensus on what should be recommended to the Democratic Caucus with respect to a particular bill. While saying that she would welcome Rupert Murdoch's support (ie, any Republican votes), she isn't counting on it.

My thoughts contributed to the discussion as expressed by the boss, but I promise, I am not letting it go to my head.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

First Impressions

Walking toward the Rayburn House Office Building, the Capitol looks huge.....down the wide halls, offices of members on either side, wooden doors flanked by flags-US, State, POW/MIA.  Wonder if that will always be there.  How about a flag for those MIA from the American Dream, from health care, from a decent job?

Already feel the contrast--huge problems and issues, minutia of the legislative process.  Need to be master of both.  One of the "young people" called me "the expert in all things complex."  I'll take it as a compliment on my first day.