Health fight continues on the trail
By Ben Pershing
Election Day is more than seven months away but it may as well be tomorrow, as President Obama's signing of a sweeping health-reform bill Tuesday shifts a fight that has raged in the halls of the Capitol onto the campaign trail.
"The vote is over. The fight is just beginning," USA Today ledes, adding: "In the East Room this morning, President Obama will sign the most comprehensive changes to the health care system in American history -- and with that launch a fierce battle leading up to November's elections to define the law as either a crucial, overdue reform or a dangerous, Big Government power grab." On Monday, Politico writes, "both sides in the bitter health reform debate proclaimed victory -- with the confidence of actors who still have a final climactic act in which to sway the audience. Republicans predicted the new law would enact the demise of the Democratic-led Congress in November. President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats began the tough work of flipping the negative polls upside-down -- a goal they say will be realized when the first few benefits of the new law kick in." Dan Balz says "Democrats and Republicans began shifting their focus to November elections that seem certain to become a referendum on the most significant social legislation enacted in half a century. ... As Republicans prepared to campaign on a pledge to try to repeal the legislation, Obama and the Democrats will work to keep voters focused on the new benefits, rather than the size, cost or complexity of the bill."
Having spent months getting the bill passed, the Associated Press writes, "Act II begins Thursday when Obama visits Iowa City, Iowa, where as a presidential candidate he announced his health care plan in May 2007, to talk about how it will help lower health care costs for small businesses and families." David Brooks writes from the perspective of a former Democrat: "For apostates like me, watching this bill go through the meat grinder was like watching an old family reunion. One glimpse and you got the whole panoply of what you loved and found annoying about these people. ... Members of the Obama-Pelosi team have spent the past year on a wandering, tortuous quest -- enduring the exasperating pettiness of small-minded members, hostile public opinion, just criticism and gross misinformation, a swarm of cockeyed ideas and the erroneous predictions of people like me who thought the odds were against them. For sheer resilience, they deserve the honor of posterity. Yet I confess, watching all this, I feel again why I'm no longer spiritually attached to the Democratic Party." Michael Gerson says Obama showed his determination, and that "[i]t is possible for a president to be strong -- and badly wrong."
Looking across the aisle, Adam Nagourney writes: "Passage of the health care legislation challenges the heart of the Republicans' strategy this year: To present a unified opposition to big Democratic ideas, in this case expressed in a stream of bristling anger and occasional mischaracterizations of what the bill would do. From a legislative perspective, the Republican strategy did not work, despite months of predictions from Republicans that the bill would fail and that that would cripple the Obama presidency. ... In political terms, Republicans face strong crosscurrents. Polls suggest that a sizable part of the nation is unenthusiastic about the bill or opposed to it. ... But at the same time, many provisions of the bill that go into effect this year -- like curbs on insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, or the expansion of prescription drug coverage for the elderly -- are broadly popular with the public."
Similarly, Mark Halperin reports: "In the 7½ months between now and November's midterm elections, millions of Americans will be whipped into a frenzy over the purported evils in the Democrats' health care bill, egged on by Fox News chatter, Rush Limbaugh's daily sermons, threats of state legislative and judicial action and the solemn pledge of Republicans in Washington to make the fall election a referendum on Obamacare. But in doing so, they may be playing right into the Democrats' hands." The Boston Herald quotes Republican strategists suggesting that "'a perfect storm' of conservatives and independents outraged over President Obama's partisan health-care win will sweep GOP congressional candidates to sweet victory in November."
The Wall Street Journal notes that "Republicans weren't of one mind on another part of the strategy, that of pushing for a repeal of the legislation. The Republican National Committee raised more than $400,000 off a 'Fire Nancy Pelosi' Internet fund-raising drive. But some Republicans acknowledged it was a long shot or wanted little to do with it. A few questioned the past year's strategy of all-out resistance to Democrats' effort to overhaul the system." Reuters reports that "Republican attorneys general in at least 12 states warned on Monday that lawsuits will be filed to stop the federal government's healthcare reform bill from encroaching on states' sovereignty. ... Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff told Reuters the lawsuit will probably be filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. ... State officials have cited potential commerce clause violations as well as the bill being at odds with the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment says that "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states."
Next stop, the Senate. The New York Times says that "there were no signs of a cease-fire. Senate Democrats said they would take up a budget reconciliation containing the final revisions to the health care measure shortly after Mr. Obama signs the main bill on Tuesday. Far from sounding a conciliatory note, Senate Republicans said they would employ every procedural maneuver available to derail the reconciliation bill, or at least knock out main provisions. At the top of their list of targets are changes to a proposed tax on high-cost employer-sponsored insurance policies." The Hill reports that Harry Reid "wants to bring the reconciliation package to the Senate floor by Tuesday afternoon. A senior Democratic aide said the goal is to pass the bill by Friday or Saturday. Republicans are planning to object to much of the 153-page bill, threatening to make 'Swiss cheese' out of the legislation that Democrats will try to move under the special rules that require only a majority vote."
The first part of the GOP's plan already appears to be off the rails. Bloomberg reports: "The Senate parliamentarian dealt Republicans a setback in their bid to derail the Democratic health-care overhaul package, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. Parliamentarian Alan Frumin issued informal guidance to Republicans yesterday that he doesn't agree with them that a proposed tax on high-end health insurance plans violates Senate budget rules." CongressDaily calls Frumin's decision a "clear victory" for the majority, adding: "'Clear precedent prevailed,' a Democratic aide said, and even Republicans conceded their argument had little chance. But GOP aides said there would be other opportunities to bring down the bill on points of order. 'They have to win them all,' one GOP aide said. 'We only have to win one.' But another GOP aide conceded Democrats could clear the package quickly. 'It could be done by Friday,' the aide said." McClatchy writes: "Republicans plan a two-pronged effort to stop the Democratic plan, through parliamentary challenges and amendments. ... Amending the reconciliation bill is expected to be difficult, but Republicans see political gain from forcing Democrats to go on the record on controversial issues. Republican leaders are discussing amendments that would reduce the size of proposed cuts to Medicare , cut back the Medicare tax increase and scale back the bill's $938 billion price tag."
As the bill moves forward, the media is still reconstructing what happened Sunday. Roll Call breaks down the whip strategy: "House Democratic vote-counters started their calculus about cobbling together a majority for a sweeping health care overhaul with a reasonable assumption: that the four lawmakers who had announced their decisions to retire since voting on the original House version back in November were ripe targets. Leaders were facing the seemingly impossible task of persuading House Democrats to pass a Senate bill stocked with provisions they viewed as politically toxic. The retirees, freed of worry about their re-elections, should have an easier time coming aboard and giving leadership a much-needed, if narrow, cushion. But in the late-night 219-212 vote for the bill March 21, only two of those members -- Brian Baird (Wash.) and Bart Gordon (Tenn.) -- voted in favor, while Marion Berry (Ark.) and John Tanner (Tenn.) were opposed. And Baird only announced his support the day of the vote."The Wall Street Journal looks again at the dealmaking: "For many of the lawmakers who helped pass the historic health-care bill Sunday, the measure meant insurance coverage for 32 million people. For several who were last-minute converts, it was also about more-parochial concerns, such as almonds, heart stents and winning re-election."
The Washington Post offers a lengthy reconstruction of "the drama that unfolded behind the scenes in the effort to pass legislation that will extend insurance coverage to 32 million Americans and dramatically alter how health care is provided," leading with a dramatic meeting between Obama, Pelosi and Reid the night of Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts. Joshua Green focuses on the Speaker: "Last night's Democratic triumph may have saved Barack Obama's presidency, but it's Nancy Pelosi's moment right now. Glowing profiles of her appeared in The New York Times and Politico, even before the vote. History will remember her as the Speaker who ushered in this era's landmark social reform, and did so against great odds. And yet for all that, she's an enigmatic figure. ... I thought [Pelosi and Reid] lacked the salesmanship to rally the broader public behind the Democratic agenda. In hindsight, my mistake is clear. I made the common media error of placing too much weight on public relations, and too little on legislative skill. Obama took care of the salesmanship, and Pelosi's underappreciated experience as whip has proved instrumental to her success. The interesting thing now is understanding how she's operated in Congress." Pelosi sat down for an interview with Diane Sawyer, telling the anchor it was "ridiculous" to suggest that she had put the "steel" behind Obama's push for reform.
One lingering mystery from Sunday has been solved -- Randy Neugebauer admits he was the one who yelled "baby killer" at Bart Stupak on the House floor. Neugebauer claims he said "it's a baby killer," referring to the health bill, not Stupak himself. Stupak said on Larry King Monday night that he doesn't "buy it."
Roll Call sees a bigger problem: "House Democratic leaders may have succeeded in passing health care reform but somewhere along the way they lost control of the chamber, where the traditional rules of decorum appear to be crumbling. Between dozens of Republican Members cheering on a heckler in the gallery as he was being arrested, photos of Democratic Members defeated in 1994 being placed on Democrats' seats prior to the health care vote, and conservative lawmakers egging on tea party protesters outside the Capitol who hurled racial and homophobic slurs at Democratic lawmakers, the House of Representatives has sounded more like the British House of Commons." Politico writes: "The only thing worse than winning ugly is losing uglier. The Democrats' ungainly march toward a victory on health care reform Sunday night provoked a graceless response from angry House Republicans, who shouted insults across the chamber, encouraged outbursts from the galleries, brandished "Kill the bill" placards from the Speaker's Balcony and, apparently, left veiled threats of electoral retribution on the benches of undecided Democrats. And that all came before Texas Republican Rep. Randy Neugebauer shouted "baby killer!" as anti-abortion Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) spoke on the House floor."
March 23, 2010; 8:10 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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