Bipartisan push faces twin tests this week
By Ben Pershing
A debate over bipartisanship that has been largely symbolic thus far becomes more substantive this week, as Senate Republicans weigh whether to back Democrats' jobs bill and both parties head to the White House for a health-care summit.
President Obama's pre-summit "compromise" reform bill is scheduled to go online Monday morning, and a key provision is already in the news. "Obama will propose on Monday giving the federal government new power to block excessive rate increases by health insurance companies, as he rolls out comprehensive legislation to revamp the nation's health care system," the New York Times reports. The Washington Post writes "the new proposal ... would give Sebelius new authority to oversee, and potentially block, rate increases that are deemed unfair. It would be based, at least in part, on legislation initially proposed last week by Sen. Dianne Feinstein." The Wall Street Journal says "the move raises the ante after two weeks of presidential bashing of rate increases" and explains: "A new seven-member Health Insurance Rate Authority, made up of industry experts, consumer representatives, a physician and others, would issue an annual report laying out what it viewed as reasonable rate increases. Those considered unjustified could be blocked by a federal board. Customers might even qualify for rebates."
As for Thursday's planned gathering, Roll Call reports: "Congressional Republican leaders on Sunday continued to voice skepticism that the bipartisan health care summit scheduled to take place this week will be a good-faith effort by Democrats to get GOP input on a reform plan." Politico examines Obama's balancing act: "He doesn't want political theater, he insists, but a serious effort to forge bipartisan consensus. And yet Obama is unveiling a health care bill just days before the six-hour summit that wouldn't require a single GOP vote, with plans to short-circuit the Senate rules and push it through without Republicans if necessary." The New York Daily News says "many Democrats hope he's determined enough to stick with a tweaked version of his original plan and force passage using a budgetary loophole that needs just 51 votes in the Senate. The question is 'whether the President plans to fight for a good bill, or he plans to settle for just about anything,' said Rep. Anthony Weiner. But Republicans warned Obama to compromise so a health bill can draw enough of their votes to clear a 60-vote threshold in the Senate."
Calling this week "the last, best shot" for reform, Jonathan Cohn writes: "the bigger question, really, is the broader one: Will Democrats, particularly in the House, get past their fear and vote for the bill? Really that's what the summit is all about--convincing nervous Democrats that the Republicans really aren't interested in compromise and that health care reform, despite the poll numbers, is still a good idea." E.J. Dionne argues, "If the summit fails to shake things up and does not lead to the passage of a comprehensive health-care bill, Democrats and Obama are in for a miserable time for the rest of his term. Republicans know this and are doing all they can to undermine, discount, discredit and back away from the encounter." The Los Angeles Times says Obama "is struggling with the consequences of one of his most important early decisions: letting Congress take the lead in designing his signature policy proposal. Leaving it to Congress put an unusually glaring spotlight on how Capitol Hill does business. The spectacle of Congress' horse-trading, secrecy and gridlock has fueled today's virulent anti-Washington mood. ... The way voters saw it, the smoke-filled room was back -- and they did not like it."
Robert Kuttner thinks "March 2010 will either be remembered as the month when the scales fell from Barack Obama's eyes and he realized that the bipartisan fantasy, given the current Republican Party, is a fool's errand. Or it will go down in history as the moment when Obama had a chance to change course and emerge as a leader -- and flinched. Which will it be?" Mike Allen reports that Obama "is putting the finishing touches on a new election-year strategy that replaces sweeping 'change' with incremental reform ... starting with a 'competitiveness' push, a call for tighter campaign finance laws and renewed attention to Obama's open-government agenda." Michael Barone says Obama lacks intuition: "Great leaders have it, though it sometimes fails; failed leaders don't, though their plans sometimes succeed. ... Obama's two predecessors also suffered from failures of intuition. Bill Clinton recovered and got deserved credit for the 1996 welfare reform and the 1997 balanced-budget deal. George W. Bush recovered and deserves credit (though Joe Biden is claiming it now) for the success of the Iraq surge strategy. Obama, too, may develop better intuition than he has shown so far. But first he has to acknowledge that a successful presidency requires more than the confidence conferred by a high IQ and fancy degrees."
Health-care won't be the only headline Monday. CongressDaily writes that Harry Reid "faces a major test today on his initial jobs bill, with Republican support uncertain and at least one Democratic supporter [Frank Lautenberg ] that will not make it for the vote. ... No Republican has announced support for it, putting Reid's first attempt to move Democratic jobs legislation this election year in peril." The Associated Press says Mitch McConnell "told reporters ... that he hopes the measure could advance in a couple of weeks. But to do so means Republicans would have to filibuster Reid's take-it-or-leave-it approach, which could allow them to seek to restore provisions that have been dropped." The New York Times reports, "In a warning to those intending to block the bill, Mr. Reid's aides have let it be known that a Republican filibuster of his jobs plan does not mean that he will then turn around and offer the earlier bipartisan version. But just exactly what he will do is not clear."
The Washington Post notes "Democrats are also targeting newly elected Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), hoping to persuade him to vote for the bill or paint him as a lockstep conservative if he doesn't." The liberal group Americans United for Change is airing a television ad Monday and Tuesday in Massachusetts urging Brown to keep his "promise" to be an independent voice and not take direction from GOP leaders. Roll Call writes that Reid faces a test of his leadership this week as "the anxiety among Senate Democrats is palpable." Critics of Reid's jobs bill abound. the New York Times reports that "governors said Sunday that they still needed assistance from the federal government but urged Congress to focus more on creating jobs in the private sector." And The Hill writes that "unions and liberal groups have dismissed Sen. Harry Reid's $15 billion jobs bill as 'puny' while calling for larger stimulus measures."
On the campaign trail, USA Today does its version of "the new Mitt Romney" story, writing that he "will launch a 19-state, three-month tour next week to promote his new book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. Included are speeches and appearances in the states that hold early contests in 2012, including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The book's subtitle might as well be The Case for Mitt Romney." Politico notes that "Mike Huckabee blasted the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Saturday as outdated, nearly corrupt and unrepresentative of the conservative movement." The Wall Street Journal says "Republicans are adopting a softer vocabulary on immigration and trying to recruit more Hispanic candidates, a response to the party's soul-searching about tactics that many strategists believe have alienated the country's fastest-growing voter bloc."
Newsweek examines the theory that the 2010 results will tell us something important about how Obama will fare in 2012, and judges it "totally wrong." Andrew Kohut tells Democrats to calm down: "With all the gloom and doom these days, the Democrats may be talking themselves into a crisis. While there is every reason to believe that the party is in trouble and will lose seats this year, there is no solid data that would justify a view shared by many here in Washington that the Democrats are destined to lose control of the House. This certainly could happen, but it is really too early to jump to that conclusion."
February 22, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
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