Obama rallies divided Democrats
By Ben Pershing
President Obama is counseling his fellow Democrats to stay aggressive on both the political and legislative fronts, even as the party is divided internally over how to proceed on their biggest priorities.
"In a blunt election prescription for his own skittish party, President Barack Obama on Wednesday implored Democratic leaders to swing big, be honest with an angry public and expose any obstructionism by Republicans," the Associated Press ledes, after the president addressed his former Senate colleagues at the Newseum. The New York Times observes, "At times, the president's appearance took on the air of a pep rally, complete with back-slapping jokes and stinging criticism of Republicans. But at other points it seemed as though the senators had been summoned to the principal's office, with Mr. Obama delivering a stern reminder to do better, work harder and live up to their potential."
"Senate Democrats used an on-camera question-and-answer session with ... Obama on Wednesday to boost lawmakers facing tough re-election fights this fall, an event that showed how the 2010 campaign is already under way," the Wall Street Journal writes, adding: "All but two of the eight questioners who were chosen face stiff challenges, and most of their questions addressed topics central to their campaigns. There was minimal discussion of how to move forward with health care, energy, financial regulation, education or other tough issues stuck in Congress." The Hill says that after the cameras stopped rolling Wednesday, "Democrats expressed their frustration with the lack of a clear plan for passing healthcare reform, according to one person in the room. One Democratic senator even grew heated in his remarks, according to the source."
The Washington Post writes "many Democrats are irritated that the protracted haggling over health-care reform is overshadowing progress on other legislation, including an $81 billion job-creation bill that Senate leaders plan to announce Thursday. The dispute has created tension between Democrats in the House and in the Senate and has revealed increasing frustration within the party toward Obama, who pushed Congress to produce a series of monumental bills last year but has not signed any of them into law." Roll Call looks at the House-Senate tensions: "House Democrats say Reid appears to be trying to get Senate Democrats to move forward with a health reconciliation package to accommodate the House, but Members want him to move more quickly. And Reid's plans to push a series of small jobs packages -- rather than one larger measure -- has worried House Democrats who fret that their priorities will get the shaft."
Will reform negotiations be more transparent going forward? The New York Times reports: "Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, told Congress on Wednesday that she could not guarantee greater openness in negotiations over legislation to remake the nation's health care system. 'I am not a principal in the negotiations,' Ms. Sebelius said in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee. 'Nor is my staff.' Ms. Sebelius said administration officials provided 'technical support' to Congress, but did not control the negotiations. Her comments came about five hours after President Obama affirmed the need for openness in efforts by the administration and Congress to finish work on a health bill intended to expand coverage and rein in costs." Politico writes that "the health care bill is in trouble, but a series of narrow deals -- each designed to win over a wavering senator or key interest group -- is alive and well, despite voter anger over the parochial horse-trading that marked the rush toward passage before Christmas."
Democrats would have preferred to see this report released back when there was momentum behind their bill: "In a stark reminder of growing costs, the government has released a new estimate that healthcare spending grew to a record 17.3% of the U.S. economy last year, marking the largest one-year jump in its share of the economy since the government started keeping such records half a century ago," the Los Angeles Times writes. The Wall Street Journal adds that "for the first time, government programs next year will account for more than half of all U.S. health-care spending, federal actuaries predict, as the weak economy sends more people into Medicaid and slows growth of private insurance. The figures show how federal and state spending is taking a bigger role while Congress hesitates over a health-care overhaul."
On the terrorism front, The Washington Post says the "Obama administration is aggressively pushing back against Republican criticism of its handling of terrorism suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, sharpening a partisan debate about national security policy." ABC News reports the suspect has provided "valuable, sometimes chilling, intelligence. Abdulmutallab has identified his handlers in Yemen, including the man who designed his underwear bomb, and given extensive details about his training. He also said that there are other recruits just like him and emphasized that more attacks against the United States are in the works, sources said." ABC adds that House Republicans "panned the White House for 'hastily' arranging a briefing between reporters and senior administration officials Tuesday to share details about the alleged Christmas day bomber."
Eric Holder mounted "his first public defense of the arrest" of Abdulmutallab Thursday, the Los Angeles Times writes, amid withering criticism of the decision by Republicans. Bloomberg has Jeff Sessions vowing to make this a campaign issue: "If Obama and his administration 'persist in the arguments they're making, which are not sound legally or politically, I think any good candidate is going to raise it,' Sessions said in an interview last week. 'It's a very large, substantive issue.'"
At the Pentagon, the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" got an important boost Wednesday from Colin Powell, who helped develop the policy in the first place. "Powell's opinion ... gives military leaders important additional backing in their push for a nonrestrictive policy," the Washington Post writes. Newsweek notes that on the previous day, John McCain had cited Powell's position as one reason that he remained opposed to changing the policy. Time has a lengthy cover story on Robert Gates, dubbing him "The Survivor."
Joe Klein thinks it makes little sense for Obama to reach out to the GOP, because the current Republican party "is about tactical political gain to the exclusion of all else." Debunking a common theme in advance of next week's Tea Party Convention, Politico writes: "The widely anticipated civil war within the Republican Party is off to a decidedly dull start. Defying predictions from last year, early evidence suggests that party leaders and even most grass-roots activists are more interested in winning elections than in ideological bloodletting." On the fundraising front, "Republicans are stepping up their campaign to win donations from Wall Street, trying to capitalize on an increasing sense of regret among executives at big financial institutions for backing Democrats in 2008," the Wall Street Journal writes.
Scott Brown will be sworn in Thursday afternoon, bringing Democrats' brief supermajority to its official end. The Boston Globe writes that "by being sworn in today, a week earlier than planned, Senator-elect Scott Brown has put himself in a position to help fellow Republicans scuttle a hotly disputed Obama administration nomination to the National Labor Relations Board next week. A vote to appoint the prominent union lawyer, Craig Becker, appears to be the only one in coming days in which Brown's early arrival could make a crucial difference by giving Republicans their 41st vote in the Senate, allowing them to deploy the filibuster to block the nomination." The Boston Herald says Brown "also wants to vote on nominees for the upcoming General Services Administration boss and the solicitor of labor."
February 4, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: The Rundown
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