Obama's summit seizes spotlight
By Ben Pershing
Never underestimate the White House's ability to command the news cycle. On a Sunday otherwise dominated by snow, the Super Bowl and the Saints, President Obama managed to add a fourth s-word to the front page -- "summit."
"In the first major move to revive his health care agenda after his party's loss of a filibuster-proof Senate majority, Obama on Sunday invited GOP and Democratic leaders to discuss possible compromises in a televised gathering later this month," the Associated Press reports. Obama made the offer during a pre-Super Bowl interview with CBS, saying he wanted to "go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward." The Washington Post writes "the invitation to meet together on Feb. 25 -- and to do so live in front of the American public -- represents an effort by Obama to hit the reset button on the top domestic priority of his first year in office. It also reflects a recognition that he must have at least some Republican support if he hopes to see health-care reform pass." The New York Times says the idea for the summit "was reached in recent weeks, aides said, as part of the White House strategy to intensify its push to engage Congressional Republicans in policy negotiations, share the burden of governing and put more scrutiny on Republican initiatives."
Beyond the symbolism, will the meeting actually make a substantive difference? The Wall Street Journal observes "it's unclear how the bipartisan health-care event will move the issue ahead in Congress, as the parties have very different ideas about how to reshape the system. Democrats want to spend upwards of a trillion dollars over a decade to provide subsidies for some 30 million uninsured Americans, while Republicans want a much less expensive and expansive solution." GOP leaders welcomed the meeting but also "said they want to start over -- tossing out the measures that passed the Senate and House last year," the Los Angeles Times writes, a step that Democrats surely won't agree to take. Politico says "the announcement of the televised meeting comes as Democrats have expressed growing confusion about how the White House plans to deliver a health care reform bill this year, after two weeks of inconsistent statements and little hands-on involvement by Obama. Democrats on Capitol Hill and beyond said last week they had no clear understanding of the White House strategy and were growing impatient with Obama's reluctance to lead the way toward a legislative solution." E.J. Dionne says "if Democrats are that intimidated by Republicans, they should just give up their majority. And this fear is politically shortsighted. Right now, every Democrat in the Senate has to defend a vote for the health-care bill anyway, with nothing to show for it -- and this includes defending the Nebraska deal."
Health care isn't the only issue on which Republicans are unsure whether to offer specific solutions. Roll Call writes that Paul Ryan's "audacious plan to balance the budget by reinventing slimmer versions of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the tax code is forcing Republicans to determine how specific they want to be about taking on the enormous federal debt. Republicans hope to use the exploding debt to their advantage in the fall elections. But so far, Ryan is one of few Members on either side of the aisle willing to dive into the details." The New York Times looks at hypocrisy on spending issues: "Every federal program has a constituency, and even lawmakers who profess to be alarmed by rising deficits will go to the mat to preserve money that provides jobs and benefits to their constituents." Paul Krugman complains the current partisan stalemate is "so bad that I miss Newt Gingrich. Readers may recall that in 1995 Mr. Gingrich, then speaker of the House, cut off the federal government's funding and forced a temporary government shutdown. It was ugly and extreme, but at least Mr. Gingrich had specific demands: he wanted Bill Clinton to agree to sharp cuts in Medicare. Today, by contrast, the Republican leaders refuse to offer any specific proposals."
Unlike on most other issues, the jobs bill currently being hashed out in the Senate might actually bring the two parties together. "Senate Democrats this week will try to muster enough support for an initial package worth at least $80 billion in tax breaks, unemployment benefits and other items intended to create jobs or protect those out of work," CongressDaily writes. As for Republicans, they "have, at least for now, held their fire on a pending Democratic jobs creation bill, hedging their bets should a bipartisan deal come together," Roll Call reports. But when will that happen? Politico says "Senate Democrats will miss their self-imposed deadline for bringing a jobs bill to the floor Monday, and they're hoping that the weekend's epic snowstorm will give them some cover. Senate votes scheduled for Monday evening have been pushed back to Tuesday on account of the storm, but it seems unlikely that Democrats would have been ready to proceed Monday, anyway."
Obama was one of two newsmakers to grant a high-profile interview Sunday. Sarah Palin sat down with Chris Wallace, ensuring another day of headlines for the former Alaska governor following her speech to the Tea Party Convention. "Sarah Palin said Sunday that President Obama will not be re-elected unless he radically alters his policies, and she declared that she might -- just might -- consider running for his job in 2012," the Washington Times writes. The Washington Post notes that "Palin said President Obama could improve his reelection chances if he 'played the war card' by declaring war on Iran or expressing stronger support for Israel." (She also managed to mix up mix up Rand Paul with Ron Paul.) Rich Galen compares the coverage of Obama and Palin: "Over [the] weekend the losing candidate for Vice President was, for all intents and purposes, treated as the political equal of the President of the United States. This, if you are in the political shop at the White House, is not good."
Liberal blogs chose to focus on something else -- Palin's hand. Huffington Post excitedly reports: "Closer inspection of a photo of Sarah Palin, during a speech in which she mocked President Obama for his use of a teleprompter, reveals several notes written on her left hand. The words 'Energy', 'Tax' and 'Lift American Spirits' are clearly visible. There's also what appears to read as 'Budget cuts' with the word Budget crossed out." Joe Klein says "It doesn't matter what you crib. It matters what you say. And that's where I have a problem with Palin: what she said was drivel. No, let me amend that: it was anti-intellectual drivel." Steve Benen agrees, writing that "her conspicuous unintelligence should be obvious to anyone above the age of 4. There hasn't been a more ridiculous figure to hold American political prominence in a very long time. She's simply an embarrassment." But Matthew Continetti thinks Palin's speech "showcased all of the former Alaska governor's strengths. She was confident, funny, down-to-earth, at times emotional--and she took a scalpel to the Obama administration and congressional Democrats. ... The media are playing into Palin's hands. They've used her celebrity as an excuse to cover her relentlessly even though she holds no office--and yet the attention helps her communicate to her supporters and reach out to audiences who may be giving her a second thought."
Palin aside, the Wall Street Journal writes that "Tea Party activists gathered in Tennessee this weekend grappled with a central question looming over the burgeoning political movement: Where does it go from here? Organizers here seek to shift the focus from staging political rallies to winning elections. ... But the movement--guided by thousands of independent and conservative activists who organize mainly through online social-networking sites--is prone to infighting over its leadership and ties to the Republican Party. There are also tensions between those who think the Tea Partiers should remain a grassroots organization, and those willing to partner with more-established groups who can offer guidance on how to organize and run campaigns." Kathryn Jean Lopez wonders whether Rick Santorum could be the Tea Party candidate for president, noting that Glenn Beck is a fan of the former Pennsylvania senator. Joe Queenan thinks the movement "presents a huge problem for Democrats, because they haven't been able to figure out a way to hold spontaneous tea parties of their own."
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