Health-care fight centers on message
By Ben Pershing
In one corner, we have "government takeover" and "arcane parliamentary procedure." In the other corner, "skyrocketing insurance costs" and "simple up-or-down vote." With the substance of the health-care bill and the process for moving it largely determined, the battle over reform now turns largely on message.
The New York Times reports: "President Obama this week will begin a climactic push to rally restive Congressional Democrats to pass major health care legislation by hammering the argument that the costs of failure will be higher insurance premiums and lost coverage for individuals and businesses. While Mr. Obama prepared for a speech on Wednesday to outline 'the way forward' and to flesh out the substance of his proposed compromise based on the bills passed by the House and Senate, the two parties on Monday stepped up their battle to define the Democrats' legislative strategy." The Wall Street Journal writes: "The White House said Monday the leading tactic to win passage of the health-care bill was nothing extraordinary, rehearsing a key argument in the final public-relations battle over the bill. For their part, Republicans accuse the Democratic majority of trying to ram through legislation using a parliamentary trick that Republicans say was never designed for such a big bill. ... Mr. Obama and his aides have argued that Americans will warm to the health measure if they look at the substance of it, not the legislative sausage-making. And they say there is nothing unsavory about reconciliation, portraying it as enabling a simple "up or down vote" on the legislation."
The vote-counting focus this week is on the House. Politico looks at the math: "Pelosi passed the bill with just two votes to spare. If she took the same vote today, she'd have the bare minimum of votes she would need, after the death of Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, three House resignations and the defection of the only Republican to vote yes. Pelosi's job is holding the line -- or converting some earlier opponents from no to yes if she gets any defections. The good news for Pelosi is that there are at least a half-dozen 'no' votes that are open to voting yes, maybe more. But who? And what would it take to flip them?" The Associated Press gets more specific: "A small number of House Democrats who opposed health overhaul legislation on the first go-round may be President Barack Obama's most important constituency when he unveils a revised proposal on Wednesday. At least nine of the 39 Democrats who voted "nay" when the House passed sweeping overhaul legislation 220-215 in November are now undecided or withholding judgment until they see Obama's final product, according to an Associated Press survey." Tim Noah also breaks down the numbers and is pessimistic: "This is why I wrote the pope to request he give health care reform a papal dispensation. Without one, the bill will almost certainly fail."
Across the aisle, Roll Call writes: "Senate Republicans are preparing to wage a unified floor and message war to block this 51-vote strategy -- and lay the groundwork for what they hope will be big electoral gains in November. Senate Republicans have already set the messaging component in motion, saying reconciliation would subvert the will of the American people. Still under development is the legislative strategy, which Republicans hope will tie the majority party in knots and force vulnerable Democrats to take politically damaging votes -- if it doesn't derail reconciliation altogether." Orrin Hatch writes: "This use of reconciliation to jam through this legislation, against the will of the American people, would be unprecedented in scope. And the havoc wrought would threaten our system of checks and balances, corrode the legislative process, degrade our system of government and damage the prospects of bipartisanship." (Listen closely: That's the sound of Democrats all over town gathering Hatch's past comments -- and votes -- on reconciliation.) Thomas Sowell has a theory about Democrats' real intentions: "Politicians who want a government monopoly on health insurance can easily get it, just by making it impossible for private insurance companies to charge enough to cover the costs mandated by politicians. The 'public option' will then be the only option -- which is to say, we will no longer have any real option."
The Washington Times writes that "advocacy groups that oppose the health care overhaul bill are taking aim at House Democrats who support President Obama's signature policy item, pouring money into television ads attacking vulnerable lawmakers in conservative-leaning districts." Politico reports that Health Care for America Now this week "will issue a report that Kirsch said will refute the insurance industry's claim that its premium increases are a result of rising medical costs. The group will also begin radio, television, print and online ads promoting a rally to shut down the March 9 policy conference industry trade group America's Health Insurance Plans is hosting." The Sacramento Bee explores the situation in the Golden State: "While intense scrutiny is being focused on Anthem Blue Cross for proposing rate hikes of up to 39 percent on hundreds of thousands of Californians who buy insurance on their own, other insurers are delivering some equally jolting rate increases."
Whose fault is it that Democrats are in this mess? The Washington Post examines a "contrarian narrative" emerging on Rahm Emanuel: "Emanuel is a force of political reason within the White House and could have helped the administration avoid its current bind if the president had heeded his advice on some of the most sensitive subjects of the year: health-care reform, jobs and trying alleged terrorists in civilian courts. It is a view propounded by lawmakers and early supporters of President Obama who are frustrated because they think the administration has gone for the perfect at the expense of the plausible. ... When health-care reform became the administration's focus, Emanuel's public persona was that of a partisan field marshal. But before Obama and his advisers settled on a policy of expansive scope, Emanuel back in August suggested a smaller bill that would be easier to pass, according to another administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. When the larger measure stalled, Emanuel harangued Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and later argued to Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to strike the public option from the legislation to expedite passage, the source said. Reid insisted on putting it in."
Meanwhile, "the federal government Monday began to furlough workers, while hundreds of thousands of jobless Americans nationwide braced for an end of their unemployment checks and health insurance benefits -- the result of a one-man roadblock for a Senate spending bill," the Los Angeles Times reports. The man in the center of the drama is Jim Bunning, who is not necessarily enjoying all the media attention -- as evidenced by his unhappy reaction to questions from ABC News Monday. Dana Milbank suggests the Hall of Fame pitcher "is apparently down to only one pitch: the screwball. ... This left people puzzling over Bunning's motives. Was he taking revenge on his senior colleague from Kentucky, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who helped to push Bunning into retirement? Or was he just being, well, crazy? This second possibility cannot be dismissed out of hand." Roll Call says "Harry Reid and the White House may want to send a few dozen roses to [Bunning] for throwing them a lifeline last week. By blocking a short-term extension of unemployment and health insurance benefits, highway funding and Medicare payments to doctors, Bunning has unwittingly given Democrats measurable evidence that the much-maligned Republican filibuster is the real reason for Washington's gridlock."
Education -- a subject that has gotten little attention relative to health care and the economy -- was the topic of the day Monday, as Obama went to Savannah and "addressed the nation's school dropout epidemic, proposing $900 million to states and school districts that agree to drastically change or even shutter their worst performing schools," AP writes. The New York Times says Obama's "proposal, which was included in his 2011 budget request to Congress, is his latest criticism of America's failing public schools. In a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Obama said federal aid would be available for the districts that are home to the 2,000 schools that produce more than half of the nation's dropouts." The Washington Post ledes with a different tidbit: "President Obama voiced support Monday for the mass firings of educators at a failing Rhode Island school, drawing an immediate rebuke from teachers union officials whose members have chafed at some of his education policies."
Deep in the heart of Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchison appears likely to fall short Tuesday in her quest to oust Rick Perry from the governor's mansion. The Wall Street Journal writes: "After making steady gains in the polls in recent weeks, Gov. Rick Perry is the overwhelming favorite in the Republican gubernatorial primary over U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison--but maybe not by enough to prevent an April runoff. ... But whether Mr. Perry can garner 50% of the vote and avoid a runoff may depend on some unpredictable voters: independents, including many who voted as Democrats in 2008. Based on early voting returns, analysts say, these hard-to-predict voters are likely to account for a big slice of the primary turnout." The Austin American-Statesman says "A Perry victory would demonstrate that Texas Republicans are far angrier at the federal government than their state government , and it could cause other members of Congress from around the country some hesitation before running for state offices." The Fix looks ahead to observe that "a Perry win would almost certainly ensure that Democrats target the state this fall. Former Houston mayor Bill White is a very likely winner today on the Democratic side and the Democratic Governors Association has already given him $500,000 -- a significant commitment in a state where the party has had almost no success in the past 15 years."
In New York, David Paterson's days as governor seem numbered. The New York Times' latest: "Gov. David A. Paterson personally directed two state employees to contact the woman who had accused his close aide of assaulting her, according to two people with direct knowledge of the governor's actions. ... These accounts provide the first evidence that Mr. Paterson helped direct an effort to influence the accuser." The New York Post cover calls it, "SMOKING GUN." In the wake of this story, Politico writes that "Paterson appears to have moved from worrying about his political future to facing the possibility of criminal charges. ... Depending on the details unearthed by investigators, the actions laid out in the story, several New York lawyers said, could run afoul of criminal prohibitions against witness tampering and obstruction of justice." Elizabeth Benjamin notes that the Times' revelation "comes just hours after Paterson proclaimed to a room full of business leaders and reporters that AG Andrew Cuomo's probe into the Johnson case 'is a separate issue that really involves the problems of someone that worked for us and not me.'" Also in the Empire State, Harold Ford explains why he's not running for Senate.
March 2, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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