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'Serious problems' remain for reform

By Ben Pershing
How close is health-care reform to becoming law? It depends on which negotiators you ask, and which poll numbers you believe in the Massachusetts Senate race.

The Hill writes that Charlie Rangel said Democrats face "serious problems" in finding a bill that is acceptable to both chambers, just a day after Chris Dodd said the reform bill is "hanging by a thread." Politico says that House Democrats lambasted the Senate's proposal for an excise tax on high-cost health plans Tuesday night, "but underlying the complaints is the perception that, despite all the tough talk, most of these lawmakers will back the final bill. And that sense undercuts the leverage liberal Democrats hope to muster for these final negotiations."

While the president's desire for a Cadillac tax is well-known, Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday evening "that she has not given up hope of winning some version of the House's proposed surtax on the wealthy, calling it 'the best pay-for that we've heard so far,'" the Washington Post reports. But the Associated Press writes that negotiators "seem likely to abandon a House-approved surtax on the wealthy even as they consider extending the Medicare payroll tax to investment income of high earners."

All may not be lost for House negotiators. "The White House wants to include a national health-insurance exchange in the health bill, which would give House Democrats one of their top remaining demands," the Wall Street Journal reports, citing "an official involved in the discussions." The AP reports something similar, while other outlets refrain from making that assertion and the White House wants it known that "the reports you're reading from anonymous sources are at best educated guesses, and at worst ill-informed or wishful speculation." The subject will surely arise Wednesday morning, when Obama is scheduled to meet with Pelosi, Reid and other key leaders at the White House.

The Boston Globe reports on the employer mandate: "Democratic leaders negotiating a compromise health care bill appear likely to reject a House provision requiring employers to offer generous coverage to their workers or else pay a steep payroll tax, specialists say. The handful of moderate Senate Democrats who hold the political upper hand in shaping the final bill are expected to insist on hewing much closer to the Senate's relatively lenient approach, which does not include a strong requirement that employers offer coverage." Jonathan Cohn assembled a panel of advocates and experts to rate the House and Senate bills on coverage, cost and quality, and they gave the House measure better scores in two of the three categories.

On the opposing side, National Journal scoops that last summer, "six of the nation's biggest health insurers began quietly pumping big money into third-party television ads aimed at killing or significantly modifying the major health reform bills." The chambers funneled $10-20 million through the Chamber of Commerce, obscuring the source of the ads' funding. While the insurers' opposition to major portions of the reform effort has been clear for months, the report sheds new light on how strongly the industry has fought the bill. The White House jumped on the story "as an important reminder of the powerful forces standing in the way of change and of whose bidding opponents of reform are doing." (Powerful forces? Is Al Gore back on the payroll?)

The health-care issue looms large in the Massachusetts Senate race, where Martha Coakley could be the 60th vote for reform or Scott Brown could be the 41st vote against it. Politico says "It's hard for some Democrats to believe that the candidate running to replace Ted Kennedy is being attacked over health care reform -- in one of the bluest states in the union, no less." The Washington Post writes that Brown "has thrown a major scare into the Democratic establishment," as "a victory, or even a narrow loss, by Brown in the competition for the symbolically important seat would be interpreted as another sign that voters have turned away from the Democrats at the start of the midterm election year." The Note wonders whether Republicans have already won, regardless of Tuesday's results: "The fact that this is a race at all -- or, at least, the fact that it's being treated like a race over the final week -- is itself a victory that tells important tales for both parties.

Rasmussen, whose numbers are viewed skeptically by Democrats and whose autodial methods are controversial within the polling industry, now says Coakley has just a 2-point lead. Democrats still believe the spread is much wider. Nate Silver writes that the latest numbers show "there are still some swing voters here, and there is still some persuasion to do." The Boston Globe examines Coakley's strategy for an accelerated race: "Aware that she has little time for the hand-shaking and baby-kissing of a standard political campaign, she has focused instead on rallying key political leaders, Democratic activists, and union organizers, in hope they will get people to the polls."

A loss by Coakley would surely be seen as a loss for Obama, regardless of whether she has run a good campaign. In an interview with People, the AP reports, Obama "says he has not succeeded in bringing the country together, acknowledging an atmosphere of divisiveness that has washed away the lofty national feeling surrounding his inauguration a year ago." Politico takes a broad look at Organizing for America, which "has faced criticism on many fronts: Progressives blast OfA as a soulless, top-down machine that's alienating the base, even as some state party officials complain that the group is stepping on their toes. Conservative Democrats, too, grumbled over the summer when OfA ran mild, campaign-style ads in their districts backing health care reform, a violation of political etiquette the group hasn't repeated after complaints from congressional leadership."

Quinnipiac's latest national survey shows the country split on Obama, with 45 percent approving of his performance and 45 percent disapproving. Mark Mellman writes one of the first "Obama's first anniversary" pieces, concluding that it was entirely predictable that the president's approval numbers would be under 50 percent by now, since Obama "is a special and extraordinary talented president, but he is just a man -- buffeted by the same political forces that have afflicted his predecessors and will bedevil his successors." Newsweek has an odd blog item/clarification in which Evan Thomas writes that Joe Biden has in fact "taken on some high-profile assignments for the president," contra a Monday Newsweek item suggesting the vice president "has been relegated to relatively low-profile assignments."

By Ben Pershing  |  January 13, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Health Care , The Rundown  
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Next: A Republican tidal wave in 2010?


Insulting. The "health care reform" is no such thing. It is a tax imposed on all.

Health care has never been denied anyone. If a person had none, then he or she pays cash to the doctor. Simple.

If Americans' budgets are thrown into emergency status by rising gas prices - remember 2008? - what the hell does Congress and our POTUS believe will happen to American budgets when THIS ridiculous bill passes?

You just don't get it - Americans can't stand this. If one gets cancer - and has no insurance - well, hell - it's time to die. That is what Obama and his cronies wanted all along. Ask Rahm. Regulate the insurance industry - and get your house in order first - idiots in Washington. Maybe then we'll talk.

In the meantime, stop demeaning and insulting Americans with your hide-in-the-closet-and-maybe-they-won't-know mentality. Grow the f' UP!

Posted by: easttxisfreaky | January 13, 2010 11:47 PM | Report abuse

There is no moral difference between denying access to medical care for millions of Americans and herding the Jews of Warsaw into a ghetto. Walling people off from essential resources is a crime against their humanity.

Posted by: RaymondGrey | January 13, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

"The AP reports something similar [secret insider one party negotiations on govt-run healthcare], while other outlets refrain from making that assertion and the White House wants it known that "the reports you're reading from anonymous sources are at best educated guesses, and at worst ill-informed or wishful speculation.""

And WP writes all this w/ out commentary or humor and w/ straight face! Democrats, sequestered from the American public -- and the other party -- feasting in first-class privacy as wolves on sheep's carcass, and the media churns out this shallow drivel and dulling our senses!


And gems like this, obama "is a special and extraordinary talented president". On WHAT BASIS??? Was he even extraordinary as a man or lawyer or community organizer or even a senator??? What has he EVER done that is deemed by the media as extraordinary special or talented. WHAT? And stop that childish silliness w/ the two autobiographies; America has grown much in twelve months time.

Posted by: pouran-doukht | January 13, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Team Obama: "First, Do No Harm." End covert Homeland Security-led microwave cell tower torture and impairment of thousands of unconstitutionally "targeted" Americans.


• A government-wide cover up that makes Watergate look like just another black bag job?

See: (Journalism groups -- Reporting): "U.S. Uses CBS News..."
Also -- "U.S. Silently Tortures Americans with Cell Tower Microwaves" and "GESTAPO USA: Fed-Funded Vigilante Network Terrorizes America" OR

Posted by: scrivener50 | January 13, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

What's the problem? The House is getting a deal to scale back the Cadillac tax and something that resembles a public option in return for smaller tax hikes on the rich.

Posted by: parkerfl1 | January 13, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

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