Obama's presidency turns a corner
By Ben Pershing
Whatever else happens in the remainder of President Obama's term -- whether it extends six more years or, as Republicans hope, just two -- future biographers will mark March 23, 2010 as a turning point. That's the date on which Obama went from being a president marked by unfulfilled promise to one who ushered a transformative reform bill into law against steep odds.
The New York Times sets the scene: "With the strokes of 20 pens, President Obama signed his landmark health care overhaul -- the most expansive social legislation enacted in decades -- into law on Tuesday, saying it enshrines 'the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.' Mr. Obama signed the measure, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, during a festive and at times raucous ceremony in the East Room of the White House. He spoke to an audience of nearly 300, including more than 200 Democratic lawmakers who rode a yearlong legislative roller coaster that ended with House passage of the bill Sunday night. They interrupted him repeatedly with cheers, applause and standing ovations." The Wall Street Journal says "the day's events opened an intense White House effort to sell the new law to an often-skeptical public. The president emphasized provisions that take effect right away, such as rules barring insurers from rejecting children who are already sick. He also singled out individual Americans who will be helped, a technique that's likely to be repeated often between now and the November elections." Jonathan Chait writes: "Let me offer a ludicrously premature opinion: Barack Obama has sealed his reputation as a president of great historical import. We don't know what will follow in his presidency, and it's quite possible that some future event--a war, a scandal--will define his presidency. But we do know that he has put his imprint on the structure of American government in a way that no Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson has."
The Washington Times observes that "the high spirits prompted some unscripted remarks. Press microphones picked up Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. employing an unprintable adjective when describing the scope of the achievement in an aside to the president." ABC News adds: "After finishing his introduction of the president, Biden turned to shake Obama's hand and offer a pat on his back. The microphone on the podium picked up Biden leaning in and saying to Obama: 'This is a big f-ing deal.' Perhaps not the most appropriate choice of words, but the White House has not only confirmed Biden's comments but given its stamp of approval to his declaration. 'And yes Mr. Vice President, you're right...,' White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Twitter." The Los Angeles Times offers an explainer: "So what's with all the pens? Why did President Obama use 22 pens to sign the healthcare legislation Tuesday? He was continuing a long-standing White House tradition for approving important legislation. ... Obama kept a pen for himself after signing the bill, and 19 pens were given out as mementos. Two will go to his presidential archives. ... President Lyndon B. Johnson used more than 70 pens to sign the Civil Rights Act in 1964." Politico notes that Obama left a lot of lawmakers off his "thank you" list.
When it comes to public opinion, Biden may have been right. USA Today reports: "More Americans now favor than oppose the health care overhaul that President Obama signed into law Tuesday, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds -- a notable turnaround from surveys before the vote that showed a plurality against the legislation. By 49%-40%, those polled say it was "a good thing" rather than a bad one that Congress passed the bill. Half describe their reaction in positive terms -- as 'enthusiastic' or 'pleased' -- while about four in 10 describe it in negative ways, as 'disappointed' or 'angry.' The largest single group, 48%, calls the legislation 'a good first step' that needs to be followed by more action. And 4% say the bill itself makes the most important changes needed in the nation's health care system." The landscape has changed quickly. Time writes that "the health-insurance industry, which spent months campaigning against Democratic health reform, has shifted focus in the wake of its passage, pivoting from opposition to making sure the new law succeeds beyond most expectations. America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the industry trade group, has agreed to sign on to a new, 50-state health care reform implementation effort, provisionally called Enroll America, which is being organized by Ron Pollack of the pro-reform group Families USA."
Tom Friedman is happy -- sort of: "President Obama's winning passage of national health care is both exhilarating and sobering. Covering so many uninsured Americans is a historic achievement. But the president had to postpone trips, buy off companies and cut every conceivable side deal to just barely make it happen, without a single Republican vote. If the Democrats now lose seats in the midterm elections, we're headed for even worse gridlock, even though we still have so much more nation-building for America to do -- from education to energy to environment to innovation to tax policy. That is why I want my own Tea Party. I want a Tea Party of the radical center." Maureen Dowd describes a surreal Tuesday: "The Democrats were walking around in a state of shock. Holy cow, they were saying to themselves. We're not total wimps! We don't have to sit around and let ourselves be slapped silly by Republican bullies and Tea Party scaremongers. We can actually get something done if we suck it up and find a way to pull together. One minute they were legislative losers, squabbling and scrambling for the off-ramps. The next they were history-makers, sharing chest bumps and goose bumps at the White House. How had the lofty president and the wily speaker suddenly steered them off Jimmy Carter Highway and onto F.D.R. Drive?"
In the Capitol, the Washington Post writes that "the Senate began a debate on another piece of the package, giving Republicans one last chance to alter the bill before it begins to transform insurance coverage for millions of Americans. In the short term, GOP senators are aiming to gut the 'fixes' package, a 150-page addendum to the new health-care law. Because the fixes bill was written under special budget reconciliation rules, it cannot be filibustered. But Republicans vowed to take full advantage of their right to offer unlimited amendments, intending to sabotage the package and create turmoil among Democrats who are counting on its passage." Bloomberg reports: "The fight in the Senate 'will make last August look like a love fest,' New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg has said, referring to town hall meetings that drew sometimes angry protests. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said Democrats are determined to turn back any attempts to slow down the legislation."
Remember when Republicans were trying to convince the House that the Senate would be an unpassable gauntlet? Politico writes: "So much for the 'nuclear' Senate showdown. After President Barack Obama's showy Tuesday signing ceremony, the Senate's cleanup work this week on health care is looking more like a political strategy session, as each party tries to cement public impressions of the bill. 'It's going to pass here,' Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said matter-of-factly. 'It's a matter of what amendments [Democrats] want to be for and what they're not.'" Roll Call agrees: "While far from dull, the Senate's final stretch in the health care debate is anything but a nail-biter. Democratic Senators already had to take tough votes on unsavory provisions such as the 'Cornhusker Kickback' that covered Medicaid costs for Nebraska when they approved the original reform package. Plus, the House has already voted on the Senate-passed bill, which the president signed into law Tuesday. And there is little doubt that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has the 51 votes needed to pass the budget reconciliation package of fixes the House passed late Sunday."
In the words of another Democratic president, what's next? USA Today writes, "President Obama had a good time today celebrating health care with his allies but reminded them 'our journey is far from over.' Unemployment remains high. 'There's still the work to do to rebuild this economy,' Obama told health care stakeholders at the Interior Department. 'There's still work to do to spur on hiring.'" ABC News reports that "over the past year, the Obama administration has frequently talked about "pivoting" back to the country's economic problems. But now, with health care reform (almost) in the bag, the talk may be for real." The Hill writes: "Democrats are debating whether to spend political capital earned by passing healthcare reform or hoard it so it pays dividends in the midterm elections. Liberals argue the new momentum offers a rare opportunity to pass top priorities, such as immigration reform and climate change legislation, and warn that the party is likely to see its large majorities in the Senate and House diminished next year. ... But conservative Democrats, many facing tough reelection fights, say the time has come to rein in the ambitious agenda and focus on creating jobs and spurring the economy."
What will Republicans do going forward? The Wall Street Journal reports: "The Obama administration's passage of a sweeping health-care revamp has scrambled Republicans' strategic calculations on Capitol Hill, forcing the GOP to decide whether to maintain its largely unified opposition to Democratic proposals. On key pieces of legislation, including a revamp of financial rules and a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind education law, some Republicans are either explicitly on board or could soon be so. For most of the Obama presidency, the party has moved in lock-step opposition, which has helped coalesce a revitalized conservative movement in recent months. But some Republicans feel these two issues in particular--education and financial regulation--are harder to oppose for political reasons." In the Bay State, the Boston Herald writes that "Republican folk hero Sen. Scott Brown is being taunted by triumphant Democrats - and slammed by irked conservatives - after the historic health-care bill he was elected to kill was signed into law by President Obama yesterday. 'If he were a milk carton, he would be expired,' said Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman John Walsh. Brown's backers from the insurgent Tea Party movement want to know if they've been had. ... In fact, Democrats now say Brown's election as the so-called "41st vote" to block Obama's health-care overhaul inspired them to seek procedural means to bypass GOP efforts to derail the bill."
Amid all the focus on domestic matters, the White House was preoccupied by Middle East politics. The Washington Post reports: "Amid high tensions in U.S.-Israeli relations, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with President Obama for a total of two hours in two meetings at the White House Tuesday night under a virtual news blackout. No reporters or photographers were invited to record the scene or even a handshake between the two leaders, who met one day after Netanyahu, in a speech to a pro-Israel group, rejected the administration's plea that he halt construction in a disputed area of Jerusalem claimed by Palestinians as their capital." Bloomberg adds context: "Obama and Netanyahu met at the White House in an attempt to smooth over a dispute about Israel's approval of plans to build new apartments in east Jerusalem. The action was announced during a March 9 visit by Vice President Joe Biden, prompting immediate and public U.S. criticism. The meeting was held 'in a good atmosphere' and advisers for Obama and Netanyahu will meet today to discuss the ideas they raised, the prime minister's office said in a text message to reporters." Politico writes: "The Obama administration shifted this week from red hot anger at Benjamin Netanyahu to an icier suspicion toward the Israeli Prime Minister, who made clear in a marathon of meetings with U.S. officials that he would give ground only grudgingly on their goal of stopping the continued construction of new Israeli housing units on disputed territory."
March 24, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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