Decisive week begins for health reform
By Ben Pershing
Four months after the House got the health-reform ball rolling with a narrow vote to pass its version of the measure, the chamber is set this week to decide the fate of the bill -- and Democrats' near-term political future -- once again.
As Democrats fanned out across the Sunday talk shows, the majority's tone was marked by guarded optimism. Bloomberg writes: "Democrats say they are poised to move forward with legislation calling for the broadest changes to U.S. health care in more than four decades after a year of partisan wrangling and missed deadlines. White House senior adviser David Axelrod predicted the House of Representatives will approve the overhaul by the end of this week in what would be a victory for President Barack Obama, who has made the legislation a top priority. ... Still, a close vote is certain, with Republicans vowing to do all they can to stop the bill and House Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina saying yesterday that 'as of this morning' supporters don't yet have the votes." The Los Angeles Times says "senior White House officials predicted Sunday that President Obama's healthcare initiative would pass the House this week and warned Republicans that if they made it an issue in November elections, they did so at their own political peril. ... Despite the White House bravado that healthcare legislation will pass the House, most political odds-makers predict it will be close and could go either way." The Washington Post reports that "Republicans pressed ahead Sunday with a battery of arguments against the Democratic plans, saying that polls show firm public opposition to the legislation and that Senate leaders are using parliamentary gimmicks in an attempt to win final passage."
Is a shift underway at the White House? "Still seeking votes for his proposed health care overhaul, President Barack Obama appears ready to reverse his position and allow unpopular deal-sweetening measures in the hopes of finding Democratic support for legislation whose future will be decided in coming days," the Associated Press writes, adding: "Taking a new position, Axelrod said the White House only objects to state-specific arrangements, such as an increase in Medicaid funding for Nebraska, ridiculed as the 'Cornhusker Kickback.' That's being cut, but provisions that could affect more than one state are OK, Axelrod said." Politico examines the "five largest potential pitfalls" that could prevent Democrats from reacing the finish line: abortion, bending the House rules, the parliamentarian, House-Senate distrust and immigration. Jonathan Cohn lays out the procedural twists the House is considering -- including the one that would prevent an actual vote on the Senate bill -- and decides "that seems utterly pointless to me. Come November, the distinction between voting for a bill directly and voting for a bill indirectly, via "deeming," isn't going to make much difference." Ezra Klein notes that the House could also wait until the Senate passes reconciliation before it "deems" the Senate bill passed, and he agrees with Cohn that these are "bad, bad, very bad ideas. Indeed, the fact that they're under consideration suggests the House has let its anger at the Senate drive it temporarily insane."
USA Today looks at the undecideds: "After all the presidential speeches and high-level negotiations, the fate of President Obama's health care legislation now rests with a handful of House Democrats whose names few will recognize outside their districts." The paper provides capsules on six swing votes -- Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Bart Stupak, Raul Grijalva, Jim Cooper, Jason Altimire and Michael Arcuri. The Hill says that "[f]or most members, the indecision is genuine. For others, it's a leverage game to parlay their votes into getting something they want." The Wall Street Journal sees two blocs: "First are moderates who voted against the House bill because they found it too liberal. Some of those members could be won over by the latest version of the legislation, because it's expected to cost less than the $1.05 trillion House bill, goes further to reduce the deficit and doesn't contain government-expanding provisions like a public health-insurance option. Second are the antiabortion Democrats who voted for the House version in part because it prevented anyone who got government-subsidized insurance from enrolling in a plan that covers the procedure. ... The size of each camp is unclear. Congressional aides from both parties suggest Democratic leaders are starting with a little more than 200 firm supporters. Democratic leaders expect some undecided lawmakers to swing their way once the final details of the bill come out."
The New York Times focuses on the airwaves: "The yearlong legislative fight over health care is drawing to a frenzied close as a multimillion-dollar wave of advertising that rivals the ferocity of a presidential campaign takes aim at about 40 House Democrats whose votes will help determine the fate of President Obama's top domestic priority. The coalition of groups opposing the legislation, led by the United States Chamber of Commerce, is singling out 27 Democrats who supported the health care bill last year and 13 who opposed it. The organizations have already spent $11 million this month focusing on these lawmakers, with more spending to come before an expected vote next weekend. An alliance of groups supporting the health care plan, which works closely with the White House and Democratic leaders, had been spending far less and focusing on fewer districts. But after pharmaceutical companies made a $12 million investment for a final advertising push, spending by both sides for the first time is now nearly the same." The pressure campaign goes beyond advertising. Politico writes that "MoveOn is sending an email to its members today asking them to pledge to support a progressive primary challenger to House Democrats that vote against reform. MoveOn has shown it can effectively raise money for progressive candidates. In the two weeks since Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter announced his race against moderate Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, the group raised $1.3 million for Halter."
The Washington Times looks at the Senate GOP strategy: "Capitol Hill Republicans are crafting hundreds of amendments in hopes of tripping up the health care overhaul if Democrats scrape up the votes needed to resuscitate the long-stalled measure by week's end. Even though Democratic leaders on Sunday conceded they didn't yet have the votes to pass President Obama's overhaul out of the House, Senate Republicans are threatening to put up hundreds of amendments -- one of the few weapons in their limited arsenal -- to force Democrats to take difficult votes on politically sensitive subjects." In the House, Paul Ryan complains about the process: "Today, the House Budget Committee is to mark up a "reconciliation" vehicle, initiating the greatest expansion in government and entitlement spending in a generation through a partisan process to push 'health-care reform' across the finish line. Despite claims of transparency and calls for a "simple up-or-down vote," there is nothing simple about this process. This convoluted legislative charade demonstrates how far the Democratic majority has wandered from real health-care reform and cost control, employing any means to achieve political victory."
Peter Beinart thinks "whether health care reform passes or not, Obama has embraced polarization over triangulation. He has chosen Karl Rove's politics of base mobilization over Dick Morris's politics of crossover appeal, with consequences not merely for how he campaigns for Democrats in 2010, but for he campaigns for himself in 2012. ... From top to bottom, Democrats have decided to bet the party's future on the belief that Americans prefer bold liberals to cautious ones. Now it's up to the bear." Peter Baker asks: "Would passing health care devastate Democratic chances in the fall? Would rejecting it devastate a Democratic presidency? ... If Mr. Obama falls short on health care, his hopes of passing other ambitious legislation like an overhaul of immigration and a market-based cap on carbon emissions to curb climate change would seem out of reach, at least for the rest of this year. ... At the same time, passing it has its risks too. While a bill-signing ceremony in the Rose Garden would provide at least a short-term boost to a beleaguered president, Republicans have made clear that the legislative procedure Democrats are using to avoid another filibuster would so anger them that they would not cooperate on other major initiatives this year."
Believe it or not, there are subjects on the agenda other than health care. The Washington Post writes that "Obama will focus the next few months on two issues that could help his party in November: stronger financial regulations and ways to mitigate a Supreme Court ruling that allows direct corporate spending on behalf of candidates. Those priorities, although still difficult to achieve in a partisan Congress, are highly popular with the Democratic base and could force Republicans to choose between supporting the president or defending Wall Street when much of the country blames big business for the economic decline." That focus, the story adds, "will also push energy and immigration reform, two of Obama's most far-reaching campaign pledges, into the next Congress." What about judicial nominations? The Los Angeles Times reports: "An early chance for the Obama administration to reshape the nation's judiciary -- and counter gains made in the federal courts by conservatives -- appears close to slipping away, due to a combination of White House inattention and Republican opposition. During President Obama's first year, judicial nominations trickled out of the White House at a far slower pace than in President George W. Bush's first year. ... Moreover, Obama nominees are being confirmed at a much slower rate than those of his predecessor, largely because of the gridlocked Senate."
Obama's push for financial reform takes a key step forward today. The Wall Street Journal reports: "The political battle over rewriting the rules of Wall Street will intensify Monday when Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd is expected to introduce legislation tougher on financial companies than was expected just a few weeks ago. The shift follows a push from the Obama administration, which sees a political advantage in pushing legislation taking aim at Wall Street. Mr. Dodd's bill would allow the Fed to examine any bank-holding company with more than $50 billion in assets, and large financial companies that aren't banks could be lassoed into the Fed's supervisory orbit. This came after Treasury officials pushed Mr. Dodd to bring more companies under the Fed's purview." Reuters says, "In a turnaround for the central bank after months of public criticism ... Dodd was poised to release a bill that leans heavily on the Fed to fix the U.S. financial system, sources said on Sunday. ... With Republicans and bank lobbyists working to weaken and block new rules, the push for reform could fail in the Senate. That would hurt Democrats and President Barack Obama as they head into November elections already short on achievements. But the release on Monday of Dodd's bill will move the Senate closer to a decisive vote."
March 15, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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