Reform's fate a question of trust
By Ben Pershing
The fate of President Obama's health-care reform plan is increasingly dependent on trust: Do lawmakers trust their leaders and the White House, given that they haven't seen a bill yet? And does the House trust the Senate to follow it off the cliff?
"House and Senate Democratic leaders struggled Thursday to stitch together pieces of a final health care bill as rank-and-file Democrats demanded more information about the contents of the bill and its cost," the New York Times reports, adding: "Leaving a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus, lawmakers said they had received few details about what would be in the legislation, on which they may be asked to vote in the next week or two. ... In addition, lawmakers said, they were not given the text of the latest legislation drafted by House and Senate Democratic leaders and the White House to address widespread concerns about the bill passed by the Senate in December." Perhaps because of that uncertainty, the Wall Street Journal writes, "The White House softened its deadline for passing a health-care bill, with House Democratic leaders struggling to bridge differences over abortion and persuade skeptical members that the Senate will approve changes they want once they pass the Senate version of the bill. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said it wasn't a big deal if President Barack Obama's March 18 target for House action on the bill slipped a bit." The Associated Press says, "Even with initial votes possible next week, few were claiming that Democrats had the votes in hand to prevail -- especially in the House, where the roll call is expected to be a cliffhanger. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., conceded that even once details of the package are complete, leaders will need time to sell it to lawmakers."
At least the process is appearing a bit clearer. The Washington Post reports: "Democratic leaders said Thursday that they were increasingly inclined to release a final health-care bill that could accomplish two of President Obama's top domestic priorities: guaranteeing coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans and vastly expanding federal aid for college students. ... Key Senate Democrats initially balked at combining the health-reform bill with a measure that overhauls the nation's student-loan program, but on Thursday they had warmed to the idea." Politico agrees, "The prospects for piggybacking a student loan reform bill onto the Senate health care fixes improved considerably Thursday, with Democrats signaling support for the move and the Senate Budget Committee chairman also giving his assent. The move could deliver twin victories to President Barack Obama, who has pushed to shake up the student loan market. But it also opens Democrats to attacks from Republicans who say Congress and the White House are already overreaching by using fast-track parliamentary rules to finish health care reform - let alone enact major changes to the college lending industry."
Bloomberg writes on the GOP's tricky strategy: "Senate Republicans are sending a self-deprecating message to House Democrats to persuade them to vote against health-care legislation: Don't trust senators. ... Republicans are telling House Democrats they can't rely on the Senate to approve the changes, which congressional leaders are trying to navigate through a process called budget reconciliation. That warning was underlined yesterday, when the Senate parliamentarian said President Barack Obama has to sign a health bill into law before Congress could alter it. Republicans say once Obama signs the Senate bill, Senate Democrats will have little incentive to amend it." Republicans are also linking reconciliation to other issues; Lindsey Graham said Thursday that using this process for health care would imperil the chance for a deal on immigration reform, Senatus notes. (On that note, "Obama on Thursday committed to helping to produce a framework for bipartisan immigration reform legislation by March 21 and vowed to press for Senate action on the issue," Roll Call reports.) The Fix notes that the battle of the airwaves is heating up again, with the conservative American Future Fund and the liberal Americans United are shelling out $500,000 apiece on new health-reform ad campaigns.
As for Bart Stupak and his allies, Politico writes: "House leaders now believe they can't change the abortion language in the Senate bill under the reconciliation process, which is only supposed to be used on budgetary matters. But that would likely mean several House members who think the Senate language doesn't go far enough in banning federal funding of abortions would likely change from 'yes' votes to 'no.' Democratic leaders were nonetheless gearing up for a pair of committee hearings next week that will start the clock on a final, down-to-the-wire vote, which will require House Democrats to swallow their significant distaste for the Senate bill and to vote on faith that Senate leaders can muster the support to change it." Roll Call says "Steny Hoyer said Thursday he believes House leaders can get the votes for President Barack Obama's health care reform package without changing the abortion language in the Senate bill." David Gibson argues against conventional wisdom on the subject: "A close reading of the two bills, however, informed by analyses from a range of experts, reveals that the pro-life claims about the Senate bill and its abortion financing provisions are, in fact, mistaken. Indeed, the Senate bill is in some respects arguably stronger in barring abortion financing and in promoting abortion reduction." Gallup is out with a new analysis showing that "generational differences in support for broadly legal abortion have diminished over the past decade."
Daniel Gross picks apart "the Republican canard that the current health care reform proposal constitutes a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy. ... First, the proposed health care reform does not take over the system in any sense. ... Second, such statements reveal how pathetically little many of our policymakers and pundits understand American health care spending. We're already halfway toward socialized medicine, but not because of Obamacare." Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen offer a sobering warning to Dmocrats: "First, the battle for public opinion has been lost. Comprehensive health care has been lost. ... Second, the country is moving away from big government, with distrust growing more generally toward the role of government in our lives. ... Unless the Democrats fundamentally change their approach, they will produce not just a march of folly but also run the risk of unmitigated disaster in November."
Paul Krugman is much more optimistic: "Health reform is back from the dead. Many Democrats have realized that their electoral prospects will be better if they can point to a real accomplishment. Polling on reform -- which was never as negative as portrayed -- shows signs of improving. And I've been really impressed by the passion and energy of this guy Barack Obama. Where was he last year?" Jonah Goldberg mocks: "The time for talk is over. So proclaimed the most talkative president in modern memory. I can't remember when Barack Obama said that. Maybe it was during the first "final showdown" on health care. Or maybe it was the third. The fifth? It's so hard to tell when pretty much every week since the dawn of the Mesozoic Era, either Obama or Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid has proclaimed that it is now Go Time for health-care reform. So you'll forgive me if I'm somewhat skeptical about the possibility that the health-care reform debate is about to come to an end."
AP looks at the big White House picture: "President Barack Obama's intense juggling of domestic issues reflects all the realities he faces: a vast agenda, a smaller window for results this year and a need to keep promises to constituencies that will have a huge say in the fall congressional elections. Obama is in the heart of a period in which he has pledged to do everything in his power to make the case for health reform, a time-consuming blitz that he hopes will end in a final vote in Congress this month. That's on top of his commitment to make jobs his top priority. Yet his agenda this week alone signals that Obama is moving -- or at least trying to move -- Congress on other matters affecting most every American. The coming months likely amount to his best shot to pass the heavy legislation that defines his domestic agenda and that will help drive the midterm elections in November."
Peter Baker revisits the Desiree Rogers story, finding: "Rogers began to understand she was in trouble when David Axelrod summoned her to his office last spring to scold her. Ms. Rogers had appeared in another glossy magazine, posing in a White House garden in a borrowed $3,495 silk pleated dress and $110,000 diamond earrings. But if the image was jarring in a time of recession, Mr. Axelrod was as bothered by the words and her discussion of "the Obama brand" and her role in promoting it, according to people informed about the conversation. ... The confrontation that day between Ms. Rogers, the White House social secretary, and Mr. Axelrod, the senior adviser to President Obama, put at odds two longtime Chicago friends of the first family. And it foreshadowed a deeper, wrenching conflict that would eventually cost Ms. Rogers her job and tear at the fabric of the close-knit inner circle around Mr. Obama."
On a key non-health agenda item, Chris Dodd is pushing forward with a financial regulatory reform bill without waiting for agreement from any Republicans. Bloomberg writes that "Dodd, whose talks with Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee ended yesterday, now plans to introduce his own bill March 15. A lack of bipartisan backing may diminish the bill's chances in a Senate where Republicans are needed to advance legislation." The Washington Post adds: "Although Dodd said he will continue bipartisan talks, unveiling the measure on Monday puts pressure on GOP senators by creating a sense of urgency and forcing the debate into the open. Republicans opposed to key elements of the bill, such as new protections for consumers, would have to make their case publicly."
The game of one-upmanship over earmarks continues. The Hill writes: "Seeking to trump Democrats, House Republicans on Thursday approved a moratorium on all earmarks for the rest of the year. The Republicans' moratorium appears to be more extensive than the ban instituted by House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) on Wednesday. The Obey earmark ban applies to for-profit companies, while the GOP moratorium is for all types of earmarks. But it remains unclear how long these moratoria will last." The New York Times gets the K Street reaction: "Jolted by a sudden tightening of the rules, lobbyists and military contractors who have long relied on lucrative earmarks from Congress were scrambling Thursday to find new ways to keep the federal money flowing." The Washington Post says "private companies and lobbyists defended their work in securing federal money for what they deemed worthy projects. The private interests said that much of their work -- what amount to no-bid grants secured through Congress -- was unfairly being lumped in with earmarks that were obtained through well-timed donations to key lawmakers."
March 12, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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