More distractions, more delays for reform
By Ben Pershing
After the health-reform fight is over -- and after House Democrats either have or haven't used the "deem and pass" strategy to get the bill through -- Nancy Pelosi and her allies will have to look back at this week and wonder whether it was worth all the obvious distraction this has caused.
Because the reform bill has been percolating for so many months, many reporters would rather write about something different -- the "deem and pass" debate -- rather than something they've covered umpteen times before, like what the measure would do for Medicare. Obviously Democrats would prefer that the media focus on the latter, but to no avail. "As lawmakers clashed fiercely over major health care legislation on the House floor, Democrats struggled Tuesday to defend procedural shortcuts they might use to win approval for their proposals in the next few days," the New York Times ledes, adding: "At the White House on Tuesday, the debate over procedural tactics proved uncomfortable for President Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs. He sidestepped numerous questions about whether Mr. Obama wanted an explicit, separate vote on the Senate bill and deferred to Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. 'The final decision is the speaker's,' Mr. Gibbs said." Roll Call says "House Republicans had Democratic leaders tied in knots Tuesday trying to defend a special rule to enact the Senate's health care bill without a separate vote, even as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted she had not yet decided whether to use it. The procedural morass, borne of House Democrats' distaste for deals included in the Senate health care bill, overshadowed leadership's efforts to tout the overall package as a history-making endeavor on par with enactment of Social Security or Medicare."
The Washington Post writes that "parliamentary experts of both parties said the tactic has been used with increasing frequency in recent years by Democrats and Republicans alike, usually earlier in the legislative process. ... Legal scholars disagreed about whether it would be a constitutional way to pass the legislation. Yet even critics said they doubt that the procedure would put the measure at risk of being struck down by the courts." House Republicans are expected to offer a resolution today on whether Democrats can use the maneuver, and National Review reports that "the resolution is largely symbolic. ... But one senior staffer told National Review Online that the GOP believes there will be some push-back on the rule from nervous Democrats, and that Republicans believe they have a small but real chance of defeating the rule should Democrats bring it to a vote."
Ezra Klein keeps up his criticism: "[T]he problem with explaining deem and pass is that it's virtually impossible to explain why it's being used. ... This might work if Americans were extremely sensitive to the minutia of congressional procedure. Instead, Democrats have shot themselves in the foot and given themselves many more problems than if they'd just said the Senate bill is a big step forward and our fixes will make it even better and voted to pass both. ... It is impossible for me to understand why Democrats are so resolutely insistent on making this process harder and more stressful for themselves than it needs to be." Marc Ambinder agrees that Democrats "seem to have completely bungled the very legit procedure they hope to use to give wavering moderates some cover. ... I don't think any Democrat is going to claim to have voted against the Senate bill but voted for health care -- and if they do, they'd be lying. The short term benefit of not being forced to take a roll call vote on the Senate bill may be outweighed by the long-term consequences of their fear-based (but, again, legit) tactic." Mike Allen makes the obvious joke that this is "why they call it 'self-executing.'"
Bloomberg covers the timing: "Congressional Democrats, racing to finish work on an overhaul of the U.S. health system, are facing delays as they strive to meet deficit-cutting targets. The Democrats, who had expected a final cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office as early as last week, have to show that a bill amending legislation the Senate passed in December will reduce the federal budget deficit by $2 billion over the first five years and not add to the deficit afterward. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she also wants the two measures together to cut the deficit by $100 billion over the first decade and $1 trillion over the second decade." The Wall Street Journal says "Democrats ran into problems Tuesday locking down details of their health-care bill, prolonging the tense wait for a final plan partly because of a struggle over provisions that would overhaul the federal student-loan program. ... The student-loan provisions would end federal subsidies to banks that make college loans and shift lending responsibilities to the government, while also raising federal support for Pell Grants, which benefit lower-income students. The changes, however, were estimated to save less money than expected--about $65 billion over 10 years, down about $20 billion from last year's estimate."
The scramble for votes continues. Politico writes: "As health care lobbying heats up, some members are getting calls from President Barack Obama, like the three Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) got in the past two weeks. ... Others in the House said the lobbying can be much less friendly. Aides to conservative Democratic lawmakers describe intense pressure tactics, including one who said his office has received calls from donors. Those calls are taken as a thinly veiled threat to withhold future financial support if the member doesn't vote as the donor wishes." The Boston Globe says "pressure is building on dozens of uncertain Democrats in the House this week. ... House leaders said they were continuing to round up votes -- signaling that they did not yet have a majority -- but asserting they will by the weekend. Abortion remained a potential sticking point. Representative Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, told reporters that he has 12 allies in the House who would vote against the plan if abortion language contained in a Senate-approved measure is not changed."
The Wall Street Journal reports on the final lobbying efforts: "Liberal groups and some labor unions are coming off the sidelines and pressuring wavering Democrats to get behind President Barack Obama's health-care legislation, despite their misgivings about the package now awaiting a House vote. ... But labor unions, a critical Democratic bloc, remain divided, complicating the White House's drive to get the health-care bill passed by this weekend. Some big industrial unions are still irked by the bill's tax on high-cost insurance plans, or its lack of a government-run insurance plan. Amid deep divisions among its member unions, the AFL-CIO officially remains uncommitted." Roll Call examines the final push by groups like retirement homes, Catholic hospitals and generic drug makers. Time surveys the airwaves: "Across the country, groups on all sides of the health care reform debate have been targeting swing members of Congress with costly ad campaigns. Over the coming week, as the House gears up to take a final, deciding vote on reform, issue-ad spending by corporations, trade groups, unions and advocacy organizations may top $24 million, adding to the estimated $200 million that has already been spent on health care advocacy ads." Politico says PhRMA has approved a $6 million pro-reform ad campaign in 38 House districts.
On the Hill, activists staged a protest Tuesday to urge Congress to reject the health bill. ABC News writes: "Tea party protestors gathered once again on Capitol Hill today to denounce the bill. Holding signs and chanting 'Kill The Bill,' the riled-up attendees took their protests into the halls of Congress, even though many lawmakers were not in their offices. 'It seems they're hiding,' said Bonnie Oleksa of Plymouth, Ohio, who tried to speak to Ohio Democratic Rep. Zack Space but was not allowed to." CNSNews reports that "Republican House members joined the chants of "Kill the Bill" and "U-S-A" as they rallied the small but enthusiastic crowd and encouraged the conservative activists to contact their representatives to tell them to oppose Democrats' final push to make government-run health care the law of the land." The Washington Post writes that "hundreds" of activists gathered for the rally, where the words of Michelle Bachmann and Joe Wilson were particularly well-received. The Hill reports on a separate lobbying effort: "House phone lines were nearing capacity on Tuesday as conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh encouraged fans to call in their objections on healthcare legislation. The House e-mail system was also deluged in what the House's technology office called 'a very significant spike' in traffic."
Public opinion, meanwhile, doesn't seem to be budging. The Wall Street Journal writes: "The pending health-care overhaul remains unpopular with a broad swath of the public, but core Democrats the party needs to show up and vote in November are strong backers, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds. The survey found that opinions have solidified around the health-care legislation, with 48% calling it a 'bad idea' and 36% viewing it as a 'good idea' when presented with a choice between those two. That gap is consistent with surveys dating to the fall. ... The survey found a 21-point enthusiasm gap between the parties, with 67% of Republicans saying they are very interested in the November elections, compared with 46% of Democrats." Mark Murray adds that "the American public is evenly divided about whether the legislation should be passed or rejected, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Americans are also split on which would be worse for their congressional representative's re-election chances -- a vote for the overhaul bill or a vote against it. And they're divided on Obama's overall job performance, as well as --for the first time in six years -- whether the Democratic Party or the Republican Party better handles the economy. But they overwhelmingly agree on this: The nation is on the wrong track, the economy has negatively affected the country, and Congress is broken." Gallup reports: "Americans' ratings of the job President Barack Obama is doing in three key areas are much less positive than their expectations were for him shortly after he took office. Americans give Obama the best review for protecting the environment and the worst for making America prosperous."
March 17, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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