Obama finally plunges into health-care talks
By Ben Pershing
For much of the health-care debate, President Obama has endured criticism from his fellow Democrats for staying too far above the fray, declining to offer his view as party factions fought through a host of disputes. The White House's response was always that Obama was playing the long game, keeping his opinions and his bully pulpit in reserve until they could be deployed to clinch a final deal.
This week, the long game came to an end. Obama has plunged into the details of the negotiations and, in the process, staked his political livelihood on the idea that a bill is within reach. "Late Wednesday, Obama and senior Democrats emerged from marathon health care talks with a declaration that they had made tough gains -- but no deal just yet," the Associated Press writes. "The same group of leaders was to meet again at the White House on Thursday, pressing for the framework of an agreement within days." The Washington Post reports that "the goal is to submit a compromise package to congressional budget analysts for a final cost estimate by early next week," though "senior Democrats said a final bill is unlikely to hit Obama's desk before early February."
Politico notes a pattern in the coverage of health care: "Reporters will write stories about where the negotiations are headed only to have officials knock them down, usually saying there are no deals. And in a world where nothing's agreed to until everything is agreed to, both reporters and officials can be right." Obama and the White House team are trying to find compromises between the House and Senate positions on two key issues -- whether the bill should be paid for with an excise tax or a surtax on the wealthy, and whether the new insurance exchanges should be national or state-based. The Wall Street Journal reports Wednesday's talks "moved closer to the House position calling for a national health-insurance exchange, rather than state-run exchanges." The New York Times delves into the details of the exchanges, wondering: "Should someone in Idaho or Nevada have significantly different health care coverage from someone in Massachusetts?"
On the tax question, the Los Angeles Times writes, "Democratic congressional leaders are considering a new strategy to help finance their ambitious healthcare plan -- applying the Medicare payroll tax not just to wages but to capital gains, dividends and other forms of unearned income." And CongressDaily adds another potential source of funding: "Congressional leaders are asking the pharmaceutical industry to cough up an additional $10 billion to help pay for the healthcare overhaul as they search for revenue to fund what will likely be a more expensive final bill than the one the Senate produced last month." House Democrats are also pushing for the repeal of the insurance industry's antitrust exemption. While the Senate bill doesn't contain that provision, "Patrick Leahy ... and 18 other senators yesterday sent a letter urging Obama, Reid and Pelosi to repeal the exemption," Bloomberg reports.
Did Joe Lieberman lie to Harry Reid about his health-care vote? The Senate was abuzz with that question after the New York Times on Wednesday posted a lengthy Reid profile by Adam Nagourney. The story says Reid was angered when Lieberman went on "Face the Nation" in mid-December and said he wouldn't vote for the health-care bill if it it lowered the Medicare eligibility age to 55. "He double-crossed me," Reid is quoted as saying of Lieberman. But as Nagourney himself wrote Wednesday evening, "Mr. Lieberman went public with a different take, suggesting that Mr. Reid knew all along that Mr. Lieberman would not support the Medicare proposal." Politico writes that Lieberman is "pushing back hard," releasing a private letter he sent to Reid days before his "Face the Nation" appearance outlining his concerns on the Medicare issue. Does Reid really need to deal with another controversy over his past private comments right now? Reid was hard at work on health care Wednesday, and Roll Call says "Democrats and Republicans said privately it appears Reid has turned the corner" on his Obama/race remarks.
Sadly, health care isn't the only issue on which Obama has been called upon to show leadership this week. The Haiti earthquake and its aftermath have put the administration into full-disaster response, on an issue that has so far been 100 percent free of partisan squabbling (the Fort Hood attack and failed Christmas Day bombing, by contrast, both prompted criticism of the White House from the GOP). "Obama mobilized the U.S. government Wednesday for a massive rescue and relief operation in the devastated capital of Haiti," the Washington Post reports, noting that "Obama canceled a speech on job creation as his top advisers huddled in the White House Situation Room throughout the day." ABC News has Obama being tough with his national security staff, asking: "I want to know why it is we're doing what we are -- and why it is we're not doing more." Time likens Obama's response to Haiti to his (belated) response to the Detroit attacks, as "Obama is again taking the upper hand, heading into the crisis head first and in public. There is reason to think the tactic is good politics as well." And Time notes that the latest Quinnipiac poll found 66 percent of respondents believe Obama has "strong leadership qualities."
A debate over the financial industry is also occupying Obama's time this week. The president "is expected Thursday to propose taxing large banks and other companies based on their exposure to risk," the Wall Street Journal writes. "The plan marks the latest in a slew of proposed fees, penalties and constraints the White House envisions slapping on Wall Street during the cleanup of the U.S. financial crisis, and marks a new stage in the White House's populist assault on the finance industry." Playbook has a "senior administration official" arguing that "the Wall Street fee is a bright line: either you are on the side of making taxpayers whole or you want to protect outsized profits at the big Wall Street banks." Bloomberg adds that "the move may have a bigger political than fiscal impact. By including it in the budget message that he will send to Congress next month, the president is tapping into public anger over the bailouts of the financial and auto industries, executive bonuses as well as the deficit."
In Massachusetts, Martha Coakley is "on the defensive," the New York Times writes, as Scott Brown "is gaining traction with unaffiliated voters and even some Democrats, electrifying a race that had seemed blandly predictable." Howie Carr opines that "the race to replace Ted Kennedy in the U.S. Senate has come down to one issue, and it's not Sen. Ted Kennedy's 'legacy.' It's the misshapen health-care bills that have scared the bejesus out of an ever-growing majority of American voters, even in this bluest of states." Joan Vennochi says that if you "strip away Brown's pretty packaging," you get someone who has flip-flopped on a host of key issues. USA Today notes that "outside groups are pouring millions of dollars" into the race, while The Washington Post observes that many Senate Democrats never bothered to give to Coakley's campaign.
Harold Ford's budding bid for Senate in New York is also drawing more scrutiny. Politico writes that Ford's campaign "would seem to rest largely on a curious strategy - convincing New Yorkers that he didn't really believe in most of the centrist positions that made him a Tennessee political wunderkind. It's harder than it looks." Jill Lawrence reminds us that Ford once "mounted an audacious -- make that presumptuous -- campaign against Nancy Pelosi for the job of House minority leader. He clearly doesn't mind confrontations or stirring the pot." Peter Beinart dismantles Ford's session this week with the New York Times, calling it "the most embarrassing interview I've ever read by a politician not named Sarah Palin." Anthony Weiner was similarly unimpressed with Ford's comments.
January 14, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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