Reform backers appear to gain momentum
By Ben Pershing
Democratic backers of health-care reform had their best day in awhile Wednesday, buoyed by a pair of key vote announcements and consensus in much of the press coverage that momentum is on their side.
USA Today ledes: "President Obama and his chief allies in Congress struggled Wednesday to finish writing historic health care legislation that meets strict fiscal targets in time for a vote in the House of Representatives this weekend. As a year-long process headed toward its final days, staffers tweaked the size of subsidies and taxes. House leaders debated whether to pass two bills by voting on one. And Senate leaders tried to assure skeptical House members that they would follow suit." The New York Times says "Democrats are inching toward the majority they need to pass health care legislation, giving them added confidence as they work out the last details of the bill and gird for a showdown as soon as this weekend. ... [T]hey sought to portray the measure as gaining momentum from the public declarations of support from two Democrats: Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, who had previously opposed it, and Dale E. Kildee of Michigan, who had been among a group seeking tighter restrictions on the financing of insurance covering abortions. Democratic leaders say they have not nailed down the 216 votes they need for passage, but they are pressing ahead in the belief that they can get them."
The Los Angeles Times agrees that "a cascade of developments buoyed supporters of the bill. ... Senate Democrats were preparing a letter, to be signed by a majority of the Democratic caucus, promising to approve the reconciliation bill without change -- a bid to reassure House Democrats nervous that the revisions would fall by the wayside. Under Senate rules, the reconciliation bill cannot be filibustered." But Chris Bowers cautions: "While Dennis Kucinich coming out in support of the bill was a big lift in favor of health reform passage, other news paints a less than rosy picture for those supporting passage." He notes that the bill still isn't out, and Marcy Kaptur and Jason Altmire "don't sound like 'lean yes' votes today." Ezra Klein writes: "If you want to see how Nancy Pelosi gets the votes, Kucinich offers a hint. She unites her left flank, as these folks may not like the bill, but they love what the bill is trying to do and they don't want to destroy Barack Obama's presidency. And then she goes to however many Blue Dogs and strays as she needs and says, basically, that this bill is more to your liking than the original. The cost controls are stronger, the public option is gone and there's even an entitlement reform component. You won! This argument, incidentally, has the virtue of being true."
So when will the votes happen? Bloomberg says, "As the vote count improved for Democrats, the timetable got worse." The Hill writes: "House Democratic leaders on Wednesday night said the long-awaited Congressional Budget Office score of the reconciliation bill will not come out until Thursday, forcing an acknowledgement that a Saturday healthcare vote is likely off the table. But leaders are still hoping for a score on Thursday, and are still preparing for a possible vote before the end of the weekend." Politico reports: "Insiders were buzzing last night that House Democratic leaders are likely to unveil reconciliation legislation today at an afternoon press conference. And Democrats are expected to release preliminary Congressional Budget Office numbers demonstrating that the bill reduces the deficit. A complete score would hit Friday at the earliest. That could set the House Rules Committee up to meet on Saturday with a House floor vote coming Sunday afternoon."
In case you haven't heard, Democrats are likely to use a procedure known as "deem and pass" -- the "Slaughter Solution" to Republicans -- to move the measure. Roll Call notes that "House Republicans leaders will attempt Thursday to force a vote on a resolution that would block Democrats from deeming the Senate health care reform bill as passed. The resolution, which requires the House to take an up-or-down vote on the Senate-passed health care bill, will be introduced by recent party-switcher Rep. Parker Griffith." The Wall Street Journal reports: "Democrats can point to extensive precedent for the 'deeming' maneuver they might use to pass their health-care overhaul, but Republicans--and some legal scholars--say the tactic has never been employed for such a major piece of legislation, and may be unconstitutional to boot." Speaking of legal challenges, Idaho's governor signed a law Wednesday that "directs Idaho's attorney general to sue if mandatory insurance becomes federal law," the Idaho Statesman reports, adding: "But critics claim the state law won't stand up to a federal law and that Idaho is doomed to spend a fortune in court. The U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause says federal law outranks state law."
The "deem and pass" strategy was the primary topic of a somewhat contentious interview Obama did with Fox News Channel Wednesday. "President Obama is not worried -- and doesn't think Americans should worry -- about the 'procedural' debate over whether House Democratic leaders should go ahead with a plan to approve health care reform without a traditional vote," Fox reports, adding: "Obama brushed off concerns about the special deals that helped get the Senate bill passed. ... Obama said the the debate over the deals 'ends up being a little frustrating is because the focus entirely is on Washington process.' Throughout the interview, the president repeatedly deflected questions about process." The president isn't just taking heat from Fox. The Washington Post writes: "Some Democrats in Congress are worrying that President Obama may be making a mistake by traveling overseas next week, just when his year-long push for a health-care overhaul could come up for a final vote in the Senate. ... As planning for the trip races ahead, one top Democratic aide on Capitol Hill said conversations between the White House and lawmakers about his departure have been tense. ... As it stands now, the president and many of his top advisers intend to board Air Force One early Sunday morning. And so the question has been bandied about all over Washington in the past several days: Is he really going, especially if the House vote hasn't taken place?"
AP examines Obama's appeal, or lack thereof, on the trail: "Obama likes campaigning. And it shows. He relishes the chance to shed his jacket, roll up his sleeves, dust off his rhetoric and energize a political crowd. During this week's health care push on Capitol Hill, Obama and senior advisers have been telling lawmakers that they will not be left standing alone in a difficult election year if they cast a tough vote for the health care overhaul. But with Obama's popular support at its lowest level since he took office, it's unclear which Democrats will want to wrap themselves in his presidency as the party heads into the midterm election campaign. ... In interviews with more than a dozen Democrats in Washington and in competitive races across the country, the overwhelming sense is that Obama will be most useful in races that depend on big turnouts of the Democratic base that rallied to his cause in 2008 -- contests like the one to fill Obama's former Senate seat in Illinois. He is far more popular there than he is nationally; home-state Democrats still identify with the president." Politico says "President Barack Obama had exhausted most of his health care reform arguments with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus during a White House meeting last Thursday when he made a more personal pitch that resonated with many skeptics in the room. One caucus member told POLITICO that Obama won him over by 'essentially [saying] that the fate of his presidency' hinged on this week's health reform vote in the House."
At least one divisive issue may be losing its bite. "Roman Catholic opposition to the health care overhaul package is crumbling, with some church officials and lawmakers concluding that their long-sought goal of health care overhaul trumps the desire to adopt the severest restrictions on abortion funding," writes the Boston Globe, adding: "A coalition of 59,000 nuns released a letter yesterday calling on Congress to approve the overhaul, defying the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which opposes the measure. The Catholic Health Association, which represents 1,200 Catholic hospitals, has endorsed the package, as have Catholics United and Catholic groups promoting social justice. That split mirrors a division among some antiabortion US representatives." The Hill reports: "Leading a revolt against President Barack Obama's healthcare legislation over abortion has been a "living hell" for Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). The telephone lines in his Washington and district offices have been "jammed" and he's gotten more than 1,500 faxes and countless e-mails -- most of which he says don't come from his constituents. The fight has taken a toll on his wife, who has disconnected the phone in their home to avoid harassment."
As for the bill's offset provisions, the Associated Press writes: "Democrats are seeking to make sure the legislation would reduce federal deficits annually over the next decade and are revisiting details of a planned tax on high-cost insurance plans that's been a sticking point for organized labor. Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, met with Obama at the White House on Wednesday, and officials said the labor leader raised concerns. Obama has proposed significantly softening the tax in keeping with an earlier deal with organized labor, and labor leaders want to preserve that accord, at a minimum." The Wall Street Journal reports that "a proposal that would ban patent-settlements between brand-name pharmaceutical companies and makers of generic medicines won't be included in legislation overhauling the U.S. health-care system. The proposal had the support of the Federal Trade Commission and would have made it difficult for brand-name companies to settle patent challenges to their drugs brought by makers of cheaper, generic alternatives. The legislative amendment was dropped Wednesday from consideration as part of a broader health-care bill because of concerns it wouldn't pass muster with congressional rules."
The Washington Times sympathizes with the number-crunchers: "President Obama's agenda has so overloaded Congress that its legislative gatekeepers - the analysts who score each bill and the auditors who weed out waste and fraud - can't keep up. Repeated requests from lawmakers seeking to have their health care reform plans evaluated have overwhelmed the Congressional Budget Office, where some health analysts are putting in 100-hour workweeks. ... With about 20 percent of its staff dedicated to health care, the past year has been brutal for CBO. And [Douglas] Elmendorf said whether a bill passes or not, they expect the workload to remain high since lawmakers will continue to offer new bills on the subject. And if a law does get signed, the agency will have to monitor its effects on health care and the economy. He said they expect to submit roughly 600 official cost estimates to Congress in fiscal 2011."
Looking ahead to the next step, Politico says "Democrats might like to think that health care reform is all but a done deal if it clears the House, but the Senate is where Republicans have been plotting for months to sentence it to a painful procedural death. Republican aides have been mining the Senate's arcane parliamentary rules for an attack that aims at striking elements both broad and narrow from the bill, weakening the measure and ultimately defeating it. Their goal is to force changes that leave Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) without 51 votes to pass it, or at the very least, that drive it back to the House for a second vote that drags out the process and saps Democratic resolve."
Marc Sandalow focuses on the Speaker: "This is Nancy Pelosi's moment. There is no way for the public to know what is going on behind closed doors at the Capitol this week, or whether enough votes will emerge to enact health care reform. But if the House Speaker were Barry Bonds, this would be like a high fast ball over the plate. This is Pelosi's power zone. Pelosi is not speaker because of her oratorical skills, liberal ideology, sweeping vision or even her magnificent district. She is speaker because of her mastery of the inside game." Jacob Hacker says the time is now: "Those attacking the health care bill are fond of medical metaphors: 'assisted suicide,' 'dead on arrival,' 'the wrong prescription.' But the best metaphor for the current situation is "emergency treatment" -- beginning the essential, long-overdue task of fixing an ailing health system before it fails. Nothing that could be done to improve American health care right now is more important than passing the current legislation." Fred Barnes somehow manages to construct a lede comparing the health-care fight to Pearl Harbor (really), writing: "America will be in a constant health-care war if ObamaCare is enacted. Passage wouldn't end the health-care debate. Rather, it would perpetuate ObamaCare as the dominant issue for decades to come, reshape politics, create an annual funding crisis in Congress, and generate a spate of angry lawsuits. Yet few in Washington seem aware of what lies ahead."
March 18, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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