Health reform fight shifts to the campaign trail
By Ben Pershing
The health-care reform fight on Capitol Hill is really, truly, genuinely over (for now), giving both parties roughly five minutes to rest before they take their debate to the campaign trail.
The Senate and then the House finished with the reconciliation package, giving reporters one last chance to break out their synonyms for historic. "Congress completed its work Thursday night on the broadest social legislation in almost a half-century, as the House capped the year-long legislative saga over health reform by signing off on a package of fixes to the newly minted law," Politico ledes, adding: "In the end, the titanic battle over remaking the American health care system drew to a close on a pair of votes drained of suspense - after the Senate approved the clean-up bill earlier Thursday. The House approved the same bill, 220 to 207." The Los Angeles Times says "congressional Democrats approved the last piece of their healthcare overhaul Thursday night, sending President Obama a package of changes to the landmark legislation he signed Tuesday ... formally concluding the tortuous 14-month drive to move major healthcare legislation through Congress for the first time since Medicare's creation in 1965."
Hill Democrats are relieved to be done with the combined measure, and Obama is defiant. The New York Daily News writes: "Congress wrapped a bow around the landmark health care package and President Obama dared Republicans vowing to repeal it: 'Go for it.' ... An energized Obama, who signed the main bill on Tuesday, hit the road to sell his health-care vision. Exulting in his hard-won victory, Obama couldn't resist mocking his vanquished foes, saying they're still describing the health bill in apocalyptic terms." The Associated Press adds: "With emotions raw around the nation over this week's Democrats-only vote to approve the nearly $1 trillion redesign of the health care system, Obama took the opposition to task for 'plenty of fear-mongering, plenty of overheated rhetoric.' ... No Republican lawmakers voted for the 10-year, sweeping package that Obama signed Tuesday and will shape how almost every American will receive and pay for medical treatment. Many in the GOP are predicting it will prove devastating in November for the Democrats who voted for it. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the GOP won't give up 'until this bill is repealed and replaced with common-sense ideas' that won't dismantle the current system and increase the debt."
John Dickerson notes the new tone: "President Obama's allies have occasionally been irritated that he won't do away with all his bipartisan talk and treat his opponents as they deserve to be treated. These allies/critics must be happy with his speech today in Iowa City, the same place he unveiled his health care proposal in December 2007 and where today he mocked his opponents with the thoroughgoing enjoyment he displayed during the campaign. ... Since taking office, Obama has dashed between two postures. When he has made overtly partisan shots, he has pretty quickly returned to his posture as the post-partisan bridge builder. ... Now, in the last week leading up to the health care vote and in the days since the bill's passage, Obama has stopped bothering with the bipartisanship. He's been forceful, relaxed, and just the kind of fellow Democrats hope can save their fortunes in November. Conservatives might not like this. And they might think it's unbecoming of a president of all the people. But Ronald Reagan was even better than Obama at tweaking his opponents like this. This is a fine presidential tradition--even down to the detail of daring your opponents to run on repealing your reforms, as Obama did Thursday and Reagan did in 1982."
Joe Klein thinks "Obama became a very different President in the process. After a first year in office that promised consequence but never quite delivered on it, he had done something huge. The comparisons with Jimmy Carter would abruptly come to an end. He was now a President who didn't back down, who could herd cats, who was not merely intellectual and idealistic but tough enough to force his way. This is bound to change the landscape of American politics. It makes significant progress on other issues -- financial reform, immigration, perhaps even the reduced use of carbon fuels -- more plausible." Byron York asks, "Did the world really change overnight? If you listen to some Democratic spinners, you might think that the same American people who opposed Obamacare for many, many months now support it. ... It's not a new day. 'The margin prior to the vote was basically people disapproving of the bill by 10 to 12 points,' says Republican pollster David Winston. 'What I've now seen is that the gap has closed a bit, but that you still have more negative than positive.' And that is after the White House has had most of the week to drive a positive message. 'Even after this significant push, they still can't flip the numbers,' says Winston."
The Wall Street Journal cautions that "the people [Obama] says his policies are targeted to -- the middle class -- are the ones he appears to be losing. Mr. Obama is on track to secure passage of three out of the four pillars of his New Foundation, an economic edifice that the president's economists say will stabilize a middle class that has been falling behind for two decades. In a campaign-like rally at the University of Iowa, the president urged his supporters to stay the course. ... He urged the crowd to respond in the spirit of a campaign theme: 'Yes, we can.' Among a segment of the middle class, another response has brewed: Please don't." Bloomberg says that "the partisan rift created by the health-care debate promises to be a central issue in the November elections to determine control of Congress. It also threatens to thwart cooperation between the two parties on Obama's other legislative priorities, such as immigration, energy and climate change." For supporters of the bill, help is on the way. Politics Daily reports: "The Democratic National Committee announced it will begin running ads Thursday praising House Democrats who voted for the health care reform bill and calling out Republicans who opposed it. The ads -- 25 on television and 10 on radio -- will run in markets across the country."
The Fix quotes his former boss: "Despite the wild predictions of political victory or defeat that have followed hard on the passage of the health care bill, political handicapper Charlie Cook is sticking to his pre-passage prediction that Republicans are in position to win 25 to 35 seats because the effects of the bill becoming a law are 'potentially offsetting.' For Democrats, having a health care bill is not only a 'major policy victory' but also a 'badly needed psychological boost' for a party that was growing increasingly desperate for a major accomplishment with the November election looming, according to Cook. But Cook also argued that the number of targeted Democrats who voted 'yes' last Sunday ensured a tougher road to reelection for themselves." Mort Kondracke sums it up: "The victory came ugly and it was narrow. But it was also sweet. It was historic and, politically, it was big. The question is, will the passage of health care overhaul also prove a Pyrrhic victory for Democrats -- one that will devastate the winners in the 2010 elections? Almost certainly, Democratic voters will be energized by their party's achievement of the long-sought goal of near-universal insurance coverage -- for sure, compared to the demoralization that failure would have produced. ... The chances are, with unemployment remaining high, Republicans will score major gains in the November election. Moreover, seniors, who vote, remain opposed to health care reform, while young and poor people, who favor it, don't vote. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had it right in one major argument that she used to sway wavering members: You're going to get attacked whether we win or lose, and if we lose, you'll have nothing to show for it."
The health-reform story also took a dark turn this week, as reports of threats against lawmakers gave way to partisan sniping over which side was trying to exploit the situation. On Thursday, the Washington Post reports, "Eric Cantor angrily lashed out at Democratic leaders for their handling of reported threats against members of Congress Thursday, accusing them of 'dangerously fanning the flames' by blaming the GOP and confiding that he has also been the recipient of threats." Politico says: "As the threats against members of Congress and incidents of vandalism mounted, charges of bigotry, lying, hypocrisy and incitement coursed Thursday through the Capitol and around the political universe. ... Democrats say Republicans have incited the acts by firing up fringe activists with heated rhetoric about the health care bill and they've accused GOP lawmakers of blaming the victims in the wake of verbal and physical acts of intimidation." Paul Krugman writes: "I admit it: I had fun watching right-wingers go wild as health reform finally became law. But a few days later, it doesn't seem quite as entertaining -- and not just because of the wave of vandalism and threats aimed at Democratic lawmakers. For if you care about America's future, you can't be happy as extremists take full control of one of our two great political parties."
Jonathan Cohn examines the difficulty of "putting the existing plan into action," placing the challenges ahead into four categories: delivering the deliverables, educating the public, handling the insurers and bending the curve on costs. Cohn concludes: "Much as the Iraq war wasn't over when American forces conquered Baghdad, so health care reform didn't end when President Obama signed the bill. If carrying out the legislation doesn't get the same sustained attention that passing it did, then this week's historic victory will lose much of its luster." Phil Gramm warns that "if Republicans don't want America to follow Britain and Canada down the road to socialized medicine, they must change the system so that families have more power to control their own health-care costs. This will entail real changes like tax deductions for health insurance, not for prepaid medicine; refundable tax credits for families to buy their own insurance; freedom to negotiate with insurance companies; rewarding healthy lifestyles; tort reform; and reforming Medicare and Medicaid so every consumer has deductibles and copayments based on their income. This system will require Americans to make choices in health care--just as they do in every other area of their lives."
Huffington Post's banner Friday morning focuses on the student aid bill: "COOL AID." The New York Times writes: "Ending one of the fiercest lobbying fights in Washington, Congress voted Thursday to force commercial banks out of the federal student loan market, cutting off billions of dollars in profits in a sweeping restructuring of financial-aid programs and redirecting most of the money to new education initiatives. ... Democrats celebrated the legislation, a centerpiece of President Obama's education agenda, as a far-reaching overhaul of federal financial aid, providing a huge infusion of money to the Pell grant program and offering new help to lower-income graduates in getting out from under crushing student debt. Still, the final bill is less ambitious than the original proposal. Congressional allies of the student-loan industry attacked the overhaul as an overreaching government takeover."
The Chronicle of Higher Education asks: "So, in the end, how much was really accomplished? .... [F]or all the drawn-out battle over the landmark student-loan bill, the measure will result in limited gains, providing only a portion of the money the president had sought for some of his key higher-education goals. Pell Grants, the government's main aid program for financially needy students, got billions of dollars less than expected. Community colleges, seen by the president as key to his hopes for a broad expansion of college attendance and graduation rates, also got a fraction of the intended amount. Other programs fared even worse in the final legislative compromise."
March 26, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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