What's the deadline for health reform?
By Ben Pershing
"If you don't set a deadline in this town, nothing happens," President Obama said last July, and John Dickerson later noted that Obama "has a professor's fondness for deadlines and a writer's lack of respect for them." So it makes sense that the White House appeared to set a deadline for completion of health care Thursday and then revise it the same day.
Early in the day, Robert Gibbs said Obama wanted to get "something done" before his March 18 departure for Indonesia and Australia. Gibbs later clarified that the president simply hoped the House could pass the Senate bill by then, with the heavy lift of reconciliation coming after. The Washington Post says Gibbs "urged lawmakers on Thursday to make substantial progress on his health-care plan before he leaves on a foreign trip in mid-March." But the Associated Press reports that House Democratic leaders "conceded Thursday they may not meet President Barack Obama's challenge for swift action. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the Democrats would like to get a final vote by Congress' Easter break, which begins March 29. But he also said 'the world doesn't fall apart' if that timeline isn't met -- a nod to the many missed deadlines that have characterized the health overhaul effort so far." Whatever the deadline, Marc Ambinder says: "It was a perfect storm that nearly killed health care reform in Congress last year -- an elongated process, weak leadership from the White House, strong Republican opposition and the election of Scott Brown. But now, with no perceptible change to the political landscape, the chances of major legislation passing are greater today than they've been in two months."
USA Today writes: "Some oppose abortion, some are worried about premiums, and some have zeroed in on taxes. But House Democrats do have this in common: They're all being heavily courted to support President Obama's health care legislation. ... A day after vowing to do "everything in my power" to pass the $950 billion, 10-year health care package, Obama ramped up his efforts by meeting with more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers Thursday who could be key to the debate, including two who voted against a similar bill last year." The New York Times says Obama met with "liberals and members of the various minority caucuses, many of whom are uncomfortable with the bill because it lacks a 'public option,' or government-backed insurance plan; and leaders of the centrist New Democrat Coalition. He told the liberals that a public option would never pass the Senate, but said he would be 'personally committed' to pursuing it once the current bill became law." GOP opposition remains unanimous, and Charles Krauthammer complains: "The man who ran as a post-partisan is determined to remake a sixth of the U.S. economy despite the absence of support from a single Republican in either house, the first time anything of this size and scope has been enacted by pure party-line vote. Surprised? You can only be disillusioned if you were once illusioned."
Abortion remains the most divisive issue in the House. "House leaders are facing the possible defection of about a dozen anti-abortion Democrats from a health-care bill just as lawmakers enter their final push for the landmark legislation in Congress," Bloomberg reports, adding: "Abortion policy has delayed -- or killed outright -- past legislation ranging from a rewrite of bankruptcy law to foreign aid and military spending measures. To avoid that fate last year, Democratic leaders in both chambers let anti-abortion lawmakers attach tougher restrictions to the health legislation, President Barack Obama's top domestic priority." The Washington Post says Democratic leaders"are embarking on a delicate strategy to win over abortion opponents, a gambit that could determine whether the legislation becomes law. The effort depends on convincing as many as a dozen antiabortion Democrats in the House that abortion language in the Senate bill is more stringent than initially portrayed. But Democratic leaders must be careful that they don't drive away abortion rights supporters who are increasingly concerned that the measure would prove severely restrictive." The Hill notes that Hoyer "said Thursday that lawmakers could draft separate pieces of legislation with abortion language to earn the support of anti-abortion rights Democrats on healthcare reform legislation."
House Democrats weren't the only guests at the White House Thursday. "Obama dropped in on a meeting among HHS Sec. Sebelius and five chief executives of the nation's largest insurance companies today to read them a letter he received from a woman who saw her premiums increase 40 percent this year," Politico reports, adding that "a meeting that had the potential for some explosive fireworks was a hum drum affair with 'constructive dialogue' as its watchword, according to participants. The meeting called the heads of Aetna, UnitedHealth, WellPoint, Cigna and Health Care Service to the White House, which has become the epicenter of anti-insurer sentiment in Washington these past few weeks. Indeed, even the meeting itself was Sebelius' attempt to force the insurers to justify their double-digit premium hikes. But there was no showdown and politics didn't play much of a role in the discussion, participants said." The Wall Street Journal says Sebelius "summoned health-insurance chief executives to the White House Thursday and told them they need to disclose more data justifying sharp premium increases. The dressing-down, part of which was televised, was part of a campaign by the White House to build support for its health overhaul." Ezra Klein writes on an investment bank's finding that insurer Wellpoint "would be a primary beneficiary" if the reform effort fails.
Politico provides a list of "Ten people who could decide health care reform." Speaking of which, one of the key House committees on health care has a new leader today. The Wall Street Journal writes: "Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.), an architect of Democratic trade policies who has close ties to labor unions, on Thursday was named House Ways and Means Committee chairman, the post formerly held by Rep. Charles Rangel (D. N.Y.). Mr. Levin took the helm after Rep. Pete Stark (D., Calif.) declined the chairman's gavel under pressure from fellow Democrats. Mr. Stark was next in line for the post according to House seniority rules." As The Hill observes, "Democrats on Thursday said ... Stark's personality made it impossible for him to serve as Ways and Means chairman. ... 'Stark was a non-starter for about 95 percent of this caucus,' one Democrat said. 'And it's not about ethics or California or anything else. It's about Stark. He doesn't respect other members or have the respect of other members.'" Roll Call says Chris Van Hollen and Xavier Becerra "made the case to Stark that he would be an inviting target for Republicans and a distraction for politically endangered Democrats if he assumed control."
Joe Conason thinks Rangel's "humiliation stands as a mark of ethical consistency for liberals and Democrats. ... Yet as the Republicans and their media epigones celebrate Rangel's downfall, the contrast with their own typical tolerance of corruption in their own ranks is instructive." Wrapping together the scandals surrounding Rangel, David Paterson and Eric Massa, The New York Times writes that "the ethical woes facing Democrats are piling up, with barely a day passing in recent weeks without headlines from Washington to New York and beyond filled with word of scandal or allegations of wrongdoing." Time says "the synchronized setbacks of two longtime Harlem leaders have prompted a flurry of obituaries for the Harlem dynasty, which for decades has been the unquestioned nerve center of black politics in the U.S." Paterson's communications director quit Thursday, and his entire staff is gathering for a meeting Friday afternoon.
The administration remains vexed by the question of how to handle terrorism suspects. "In a potential reversal, White House advisers are close to recommending that President Barack Obama opt for military tribunals for self-professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four of his alleged henchman, senior officials said," AP reports, adding: "The review of where and how to hold a Sept. 11 trial is not over, so no recommendation is yet before the president and Obama has not made a determination of his own, officials said. The review is not likely to be finished this week." The Washington Post says "the president's advisers feel increasingly hemmed in by bipartisan opposition to a federal trial in New York and demands, mainly from Republicans, that Mohammed and his accused co-conspirators remain under military jurisdiction, officials said. ... If Obama accepts the likely recommendation of his advisers, the White House may be able to secure from Congress the funding and legal authority it needs to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and replace it with a facility within the United States. The administration has failed to meet a self-imposed one-year deadline to close Guantanamo." Politico notes that "civil liberties and human rights advocates are expressing dismay" at the reports of a White House shift.
March 5, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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