Options narrowing for reform
By Ben Pershing
The saga of health-care legislation over the last six months has included plenty of near-death experiences for the reform movement. Now, one way or the other, the story is nearing its end.
Under the headline, "Dem health care talks collapsing," Politico writes that "House and Senate leaders struggled to coalesce around a strategy to rescue the plan, in the face of growing pessimism among lawmakers that the president's top priority can survive. The legislative landscape was filled with obstacles: House Democrats won't pass the Senate bill. Senate Democrats don't want to start from scratch just to appease the House. And the White House still isn't telling Congress how to fix the problem." The most obvious solution -- House passage of the Senate bill -- isn't faring well. The Washington Post writes that Nancy Pelosi "described her members as vehemently opposed to a provision that benefits only Nebraska's Medicaid system. ... Also problematic are the federal subsidies the Senate would offer to uninsured individuals, which some House liberals view as insufficient, and the excise tax it would impose on high-value policies, which could hit union households." The Washington Times notes "Pelosi left open the possibility that the House could pass the Senate's bill along with another bill to serve as a "patch" to fix what the House doesn't like in the Senate's plan. But she called that plan 'problematic.'"
What's Plan B? "There is growing consensus in the House Democratic Caucus that comprehensive healthcare legislation is dead and the only option is to pass a series of piecemeal measures," The Hill writes. "Congressional Democrats said they were focusing on toughening regulations on the health-insurance industry in a bid to assemble a scaled-down, more populist health-care bill after the party's defeat in Massachusetts," the Wall Street Journal reports. The New York Times (channeling Rahm Emanuel?) plays up the idea "that a smaller bill would have a better chance. ... The consensus measure would be less ambitious than the bills approved last year. It would extend insurance coverage to perhaps 12 million to 15 million people -- and provide political cover to Democrats, who said they could not simply drop the issue after spending so much time and effort on it. The pared-back approach would cover fewer than half of those who, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would gain coverage under the House and Senate bills. But it would not put the government on the hook for what critics say is a new entitlement, a change that would appeal to some Republicans."
No fan of the idea of a slimmed-down bill, Paul Krugman pens "A message to House Democrats: This is your moment of truth. You can do the right thing and pass the Senate health care bill. Or you can look for an easy way out, make excuses and fail the test of history." But the latest USA Today/Gallup poll finds "a majority of Americans say President Obama and congressional Democrats should suspend work on the health care bill that has been on the verge of passage and consider alternatives that would draw more Republican support. ... 55% call for Democrats to go back to the drawing board for a more bipartisan proposal while 39% say they should continue to work on the current bill. One in four Democrats say lawmakers should draft a new bill, as do 56% of independents and 87% of Republicans."
As for the administration's next step, John Harris writes that Obama could learn something from the last Democratic president: "It is an irony of the Obama administration -- given that it is staffed with so many people with high-level experience during Bill Clinton's presidency, including one Cabinet member named Clinton -- that its basic attitude toward Clinton-style governance is hostile. ... The people around Obama are romantics. They dream of Obama as a transformational figure, looming large on history's stage. They see Clinton as at best a transitional figure, whose poll-tested pragmatism and incremental policies loom small." Gerald Seib uses the exact same lede as Harris: "What would Bill Clinton do? ... More specifically, the question is whether this president can learn anything from the way President Clinton recovered from a much bigger electoral disaster for Democrats in 1994, setting himself up for a big comeback re-election win two years later. In the president's early reactions to Massachusetts, there are at least a couple of hints that he might take a cue from the previous Democratic president--as well as some conflicting indications he might ultimately choose to walk a different path." But Lou Cannon suggests Obama should follow the example of another predecessor -- Ronald Reagan -- and "stay the course."
Meanwhile, the quest to divine the "real meaning" of Scott Brown's victory continues. Jill Lawrence writes that post-election polls show Brown's win "was not a wholesale rejection of President Obama, his policies, or his health care plan. ... So far there are Republican, Democratic and independent telephone polls of Massachusetts residents who voted Tuesday. In the GOP poll, 38 percent said they voted in opposition to Obama's policies and the direction he is taking the country. Another 32 percent said they were voting in support of his policies and 27 percent said his policies were not a factor in their vote. The majority, in other words, were not trying to tell Obama to change course. ... All three polls confirm that health care mobilizes voters on both sides." But Charles Krauthammer says "Democrats are delusional: Scott Brown won by running against Obama, not Bush. He won by brilliantly nationalizing the race, running hard against the Obama agenda, most notably Obamacare. Killing it was his No. 1 campaign promise." Brown himself got plenty of coverage for visiting the Capitol Thursday, earning color stories from the Washington Post, New York Times, Boston Globe and others. Cosmopolitan has some advice for the centerfold-turned-senator.
Brown's race appears to have been the last one to occur under the old campaign finance regime. "Overturning a century-old restriction," the Los Angeles Times reports, "the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that corporations could spend as much as they wanted to sway voters in federal elections. In a landmark 5-4 decision, the court's conservative bloc said that corporations had the same right to free speech as individuals, and for that reason the government could not stop corporations from spending to help their favored candidates." The Associated Press writes that the court "has opened the door to a new era of big and possibly shadowy election spending, rolled back anti-corruption laws and emboldened critics of fundraising limits to press on. In the middle of it all will be voters, trying to figure out who's telling the truth. ... The opinion represents the latest development in the cycle of scandal-law-loophole that has typified the United States' approach to campaign finance regulation."
The Wall Street Journal talks to big donors and finds "corporations, labor unions and other political entities are gearing up to play a larger role in influencing elections in 2010 and beyond." The New York Times writes "the Supreme Court has handed a new weapon to lobbyists. If you vote wrong, a lobbyist can now tell any elected official that my company, labor union or interest group will spend unlimited sums explicitly advertising against your re-election." Roll Call reports "Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill pledged to explore legislative alternatives" to counteract the ruling.
The Washington Post says the court's "first major decision of the current term might signal a new willingness to act boldly" as the conservative majority "overturned two of the court's past decisions -- including one made as recently as six years ago." Rick Hasen agrees, "It is time for everyone to drop all the talk about the Roberts court's 'judicial minimalism,' with Chief Justice Roberts as an 'umpire' who just calls balls and strikes. Make no mistake, this is an activist court that is well on its way to recrafting constitutional law in its image." National Review says "Americans have cause to rejoice" that the court struck "a decisive blow against the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance restrictions, one of the worst abridgments of the First Amendment since the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798."
On Thursday, "Obama proposed new limits on the size and activities of the nation's largest banks, pushing a more muscular approach toward regulation that yanked down bank stocks and raised the stakes in his campaign to show he's tough on Wall Street," the Wall Street Journal reports, adding that "administration officials said they weren't trying to resurrect the Depression-era law--known as Glass-Steagall--that strictly divided commercial banks from the business of underwriting securities. Nor would their proposals force existing financial firms to downsize, officials said." The Washington Post calls it a clear indication that Paul Volcker's influence in the administration is on the rise and "Obama's most visible break yet from the reform philosophy that Geithner and his allies had been promoting earlier." Bloomberg reports "the global quarterly poll of investors and analysts who are Bloomberg subscribers finds that 77 percent of U.S. respondents believe Obama is too anti-business and four-out-of-five are only somewhat confident or not confident of his ability to handle a financial emergency."
January 22, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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