After the summit, health endgame begins
By Ben Pershing
In the end, it is as it was in the beginning.
The morning after The Big Summit, coverage is mixed on the question of which side won and which side lost the substance and the symbolism of the debates. There is broad agreement, though, that nothing fundamental changed about the trajectory of health-care reform. Democrats have the same opinions and plans as they did before the summit, and so do Republicans.
"If there was any question about how deeply divided Republicans and Democrats are about how to reshape the American health care system, consider that they spent the first few hours of President Obama's much-anticipated health care forum on Thursday arguing over whether they were in fact deeply divided," the New York Times ledes. The Washington Post finds that "the remarkable session at Blair House ranged from dull to pointed as it revealed the deep divide between the two parties over health care. It was the same philosophical gulf that led to the collapse of bipartisan Senate negotiations last summer, and the primary reason Congress has resorted to changing the health-care system piecemeal, rather than in broad strokes, over the years." USA Today writes, "If the cold morning began with any hope that common ground might be found -- always a long shot -- the mood by the end of the day was testy and unyielding."
David Brooks thought the "event was more meaningful than" he expected and praises both sides: "Most of the credit goes to President Obama. The man really knows how to lead a discussion. ... If you thought Republicans were a bunch of naysayers who don't know or care about health care, then this was not the event for you. They more than held their own." Politico writes that "in this case, the tie goes to Republicans, according to operatives on both sides of the aisle -- because the stakes were so much higher for Democrats trying to build their case for ramming reform through using a 51-vote reconciliation tactic." Marc Ambinder says the exact same thing: "It was a wash -- and the tie goes to the Republicans." The Fix concludes: "What's clear is that the summit was not the clear win for the White House that President Obama's recent appearance at the House Republican retreat was seen as -- a fact not all that surprising given that Republicans knew they had been rocked back on their heels and were determined not to let that happen again." John Dickerson's scorecard: "President Obama won. So did congressional Republicans. Democrats in Congress need another act. This is not because Obama is such a better speaker and advocate for the legislation than his allies, though he is. It's because Democrats didn't get much political benefit from the event."
What's next? The Washington Times writes that Obama ended the summit "by vowing to pass the overhaul with or without Republicans, signaling his willingness to force the bill through Congress using controversial tactics." David Herzenhorn says, Democrats' "most viable path seemed to be an effort to attach revisions to the health care bill to a budget reconciliation measure, which the Senate could adopt by a simple majority. ... But doing so would require mustering the support of centrist Democrats in the House and the Senate who have expressed apprehensions about both the health care bill and the reconciliation process, which Republicans are portraying as an unfair parliamentary tactic to skirt the normal rules. It was unclear if the event had won over any of those votes, especially among House Democrats who opposed the bill in November, and whose support could be critical to reviving it." Time says the reconciliation route is "a big and risky bet, and the Democrats are going all-in." How this process gets covered will be crucial to its success or failure; note that the Associated Press calls reconciliation "a seldom-used Senate shortcut."
Bloomberg writes, "Almost every Republican told Obama that lawmakers should start over and draft a new bill, an idea that White House officials have ruled out. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin summed up the chance of agreement during a midday break in the more than six-hour meeting: 'It's a long shot.'" Jonathan Cohn says the GOP's message was, "Rip up the bill and start over. That's not a plea for compromise. That's a demand for capituation. And it frames the choice for Democrats pretty clearly. Either they will act alone, or they will not act at all." Ezra Klein finds that like George W. Bush, "Barack Obama has his absolutist side, too: Some arguments are right, and some are wrong. Some are legitimate, and some are not. And on health-care reform, Obama believes that his arguments are right. The basic structure of his plan is sound. The Republicans' alternatives are inadequate. The problem is too serious to entertain thoughts of inaction. Comprehensive works better than incremental. Compromise only makes sense if the other side is willing to give something up in turn. Good policy will be electorally defensible even if it's not obviously popular."
One of the key drafters of Democrats' reform plans is in trouble. "Facing potential midterm election losses and a stuck-in-the-mud legislative program, Democrats can now add to their worries the ethics problems of chief House tax writer Rep. Charles Rangel," AP writes. "The House ethics committee accused Rangel on Thursday of accepting corporate money for trips to Caribbean conferences in violation of House rules. The committee said it couldn't determine whether Rangel knew about the financing, but found that his staff did -- and concluded Rangel was responsible for learning the truth." The Hill recounts Rangel chastising a reporter for asking whether he would step down from his chairmanship, and adds "Rangel was seen Thursday evening approaching the chairwoman and ranking Republican on the Ethics committee -- Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) -- on the House floor, angrily addressing the two members and waving a finger in Lofrgen's face." The New York Post reminds that "Rangel remains under investigation by the Ethics Committee, which is conducting a wide-ranging probe into whether he failed to pay taxes on rental income from his Dominican villa, as The Post reported; whether he failed to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets and income, also reported by The Post; and fund-raising he did for a CUNY center named for him."
Of course, Rangel isn't the only New York Democrat going through a rough patch. "Gov. David A. Paterson's administration on Thursday faced new revelations about its intervention in a domestic violence episode involving a chief aide, and growing dismay among fellow Democrats about the governor's political future," the New York Times reports. "The governor's top criminal justice adviser, Denise E. O'Donnell, resigned, saying it was 'unacceptable' that Mr. Paterson and the State Police had made contact with a woman who was seeking an order of protection against the aide, and that she could not 'in good conscience' remain in the administration. As calls grew for the governor to end his candidacy, Mr. Paterson said he would consult with party leaders over the next few days and reflect on his future." The New York Daily News writes, "His political career imploding spectacularly around him, Gov. Paterson insisted Thursday night that he's still running, but for the first time said he'll consider calls to step aside." Fred Dicker thinks "Paterson bought four more weeks in office -- at best -- by asking Andrew Cuomo to probe his involvement in a scandalous effort to intimidate a battered single mom. But when the AG's pack of former federal prosecutors finishes with Troopergate II, it'll be curtains for sure for our accidental governor."
February 26, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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