Are summit expectations too high?
By Ben Pershing
It's summit day! Have you picked out an outfit yet?
The gathering of President Obama and congressional leaders at Blair House has prompted the media to flood the zone, with wall-to-wall cable coverage and nonstop analysis befitting a history-making event. But does anyone think the substance of Obama's health-care plan or the proposals of Republicans will change significantly at the summit? If they don't, will the mere spectacle of the gathering and the dueling rhetoric be enough cause fundamental changes in the current political pecking order?
The Los Angeles Times says yes: "The healthcare summit that convenes Thursday in Washington has emerged as a high-stakes gambit for President Obama and opposing Republican lawmakers, carrying risks for both sides that could not only alter the outcome of the healthcare debate but also November's midterm elections." The voters say probably not. "Public expectations are low for today's high-profile White House summit on health care: Three of four Americans in a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll predict President Obama and congressional leaders won't reach agreement on a bill," USA Today reports. Congressional Democrats seem to agree; the Washington Post says they "are already looking beyond the White House health-care summit, reckoning that Thursday's session will amount to little more than political theater and focusing instead on a final round of intraparty negotiations that are likely to determine the fate of President Obama's top domestic priority."
Brace yourself, because it's all a "big bipartisan lie," Politico says: "If President Barack Obama really wanted to show he's serious about winning over Republicans on health care reform, he could offer up some key concessions at Thursday's summit, like caps on malpractice awards or allowing insurers to sell across state lines. And if Republicans wanted to reciprocate, they could at least acknowledge the congressional scorekeepers are right - the Democratic plans cut the deficit in the long term and rein in health care costs. But that would assume either side is willing to do this." George Will says the summit "comes at a moment when, as happens with metronomic regularity, Washington is reverberating with lamentations about government being 'broken.' Such talk occurs only when the left's agenda is stalled. Do you remember mournful editorials and somber seminars about 'dysfunctional' government when liberals defeated George W. Bush's Social Security reforms?"
What will the participants actually say? "White House officials said Mr. Obama would use his opening remarks to make the case that Democrats and Republicans are not as far apart as they think on health care, because both parties are concerned about the deficit and rising health premiums -- issues, the president will argue, that can be addressed only by controlling health care costs," the New York Times writes. Across the aisle (or in this case, across the table), the Wall Street Journal reports, "The six-point plan that will be presented by Republicans ... draws from a House bill introduced last fall. Republicans say their plan is aimed at reducing health costs, but unlike the Democrats' proposals it wouldn't seek to provide near-universal coverage to the uninsured. Instead, it would rely on curbing malpractice lawsuits, encouraging states to experiment with their own health-system fixes and modest rule changes to prevent insurers from denying coverage to the sick." Karl Rove writes that Republicans "naturally want to prevent the president from turning it into a PR stunt. This is no easy task. They'll not only have to point out problems with his plan and offer their own ideas, but correct the president when he makes statements that are not true. The GOP participants appear ready for the first two tasks."
The Hill checks in with swing Democrats and finds "centrists said they are feeling less pressure now that Obama has used the Senate bill as the foundation for his proposal and are happy with the president's decision to hold Thursday's bipartisan healthcare summit." The Wall Street Journal says "Obama's decision to unveil his own health-care plan Monday signals a sharp tactical shift. After a year marked by extensive congressional consultation--and little progress--the White House is rolling out policy decisions fully formed after closely held internal deliberations. Mr. Obama faced criticism in the past for espousing broad policy goals and leaving Congress to work out the details. Many Democrats openly called on him to provide more leadership. But the recent shift toward more assertiveness has irked Republicans and Democrats alike, failed to bridge political differences and even threatens initiatives ranging from the 9/11 terror trials to financial regulation."
Time notes that "Democrats and Republicans alike have uttered hardly a word about an issue that could sink the health reform effort unless it is resolved: abortion. The silence is surprising given that disagreements about abortion coverage almost scuttled health reform in the House last fall." ABC News reports Bart Stupak "thinks abortion language in the President's health reform proposal is unacceptable. And how Stupak ultimately decides to vote on the President's plan could have very real consequences for the entire health reform proposal." As for bending the cost curve, Politico points out "Obama has put off a tax on high-cost health plans until 2018 -- long after he's out of office, even if he's a two-termer. And in doing so, he's essentially neutered the last significant Democratic push to control health costs."
Is the White House preparing a "Plan B"? Huffington Post writes: "Administration officials with knowledge of current health care negotiations pushed back Wednesday evening against a report that the White House is readying a paired-down version of reform should the current proposal fail to win sufficient congressional support." Jonathan Cohn is encouraged: "When Senators like Bernie Sanders or Sherrod Brown say Democrats need to finalize health care reform through the budget reconciliation process because of Republican obstructionism, that doesn't mean much. When Senators Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, and Ben Nelson say their more liberal colleagues may be right, that means a lot." Mike Madden says "the real audience for Thursday's summit isn't the voters -- and it's certainly not the Republicans, who are, at this point, not exactly likely to be suddenly persuaded by Obama's presentation to change their minds. The main audience is Obama's own fellow Democrats, who, by now, must have realized they're going to have to finish things up on their own if they want to move on from healthcare."
Ezra Klein has a viewer's guide to the summit. The Fix tells us what to watch for, and so does Politico. Time has five things to watch, and The Hill answers 10 major questions about the gathering. Tim Noah provides "A glossary of health reform words, phrases, and slogans."
No, health care isn't the only game in town this week, though it certainly seems that way at times. The Senate approved a $15 billion jobs bill Wednesday with the help of 13 Republicans. The New York Times calls it "a vote that lawmakers hoped would show that they were taking steps to improve the nation's employment outlook." The Washington Times focuses on paygo rules: "It took less than two weeks for lawmakers on Capitol Hill to vote to break rules requiring that new spending be offset elsewhere in the budget, waiving the requirement just minutes before a strong bipartisan majority pushed through a $15 billion job-creation bill in the Senate on Wednesday." The Los Angeles Times looks ahead as "the Senate plans a flurry of other measures designed to jump-start hiring across the nation. Those efforts will include a series of business-friendly tax breaks, a bill intended to boost tourism, extensions of unemployment compensation and COBRA insurance, and a bid to modernize the nation's air-traffic-control system."
Obama, meanwhile, went into the lion's den Wednesday, addressing an audience of skeptical industry leaders at the Business Roundtable. The Washington Post writes that Obama "tried to rally business leaders Wednesday to support the administration's goals of health-care reform, climate legislation and financial regulation. In a speech to members of the Business Roundtable, Obama sought to strike a balance between his recent populist rhetoric -- aimed mainly against banks and the financial industry -- and an appeal to the business community to remember that their corporate interests and the country's broader economic interests are linked." The Washington Times says Obama rejected "criticism that his agenda amounted to 'socialism,' [and] said the business leaders needed to get past ideological battles and stop exaggerating the effects of his new regulations, arguing he's trying to achieve not liberal or conservative government, but 'smart' government." Bloomberg notes that "on executive compensation, an issue where Obama has appointed a government official to oversee pay packages at companies that received taxpayer money, Obama said he doesn't 'begrudge reasonable rewards for a job well done' and that after bailout money is fully repaid, government will no longer set pay limits."
Up in New York, David Paterson might just be wishing he was anything other than governor, because the New York Times isn't letting up. The paper focuses Thursday on allegations of domestic abuse and political interference surrounding one of Paterson's top aides: "Many details of the governor's role in this episode are unclear, but the accounts presented in court and police records and interviews with the woman's lawyer and others portray a brutal encounter, a frightened woman and an effort to make a potential political embarrassment go away. The case involved David W. Johnson, 37, who had risen from working as Mr. Paterson's driver and scheduler to serving in the most senior ranks of the administration, but who also had a history of altercations with women. On Wednesday night, in response to inquiries from The New York Times, Mr. Paterson said in a statement that he would request that Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo investigate his administration's handling of the matter. The governor also said he would suspend Mr. Johnson without pay." Elizabeth Benjamin says, "I think it's fair to call this one a bombshell." Ben Smith thinks the story "appears likely to end the governor's tottering political career."
February 25, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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