8 a.m. ET: The 2010 campaign began in earnest Monday, and with it the fight for the fate of President Obama's first term.
Republicans had nibbled at the edges of Obama's popularity before, testing for weakness by voting against the stimulus bill, mocking his efforts to change America's image abroad and peddling the argument that a campaign based on change had instead brought forth more of the same. But those small skirmishes were only prelude, as the GOP mounted a full-fledged assault on Obama's signature initiative -- health care -- on the six-month anniversary of his inauguration. At the same time, the president is heeding the wishes of fellow Democrats by engaging personally in the debate and mounting a series of events this week to highlight the need for action. This argument will shape the narrative of the midterm election, which could well hinge as much on Obama's ability to deliver his promised reforms as it will on the state of the economy.
Violent metaphors abound this morning. Jim DeMint started things off last week by saying that a defeat on health care would be Obama's "Waterloo." (Mixing wars, DeMint also said "this health care issue Is D-Day for freedom in America.") The Los Angeles Times reports Michael Steele "escalated" his "assault" Monday as Republicans are "smelling blood." It's a "political street fight," Politico declares. William Kristol drew attention by advising Republicans: "Go for the kill." John Boehner urged that Democrats be "torn apart by wild dogs and left to rot." Okay, he didn't. But would you have been surprised if he had?
Amid all the destruction and mayhem, it's easy to forget that Obama still doesn't have a health care plan, just a set of general principles from which congressional Democrats are attempting to extrapolate one. And Republicans don't seem to have a better idea -- at least, not one that will accomplish Obama's twin goals of cutting costs and vastly reducing the number of uninsured at the same time. So while Obama, Steele and other party leaders fight at the philosophical level, negotiators on the Hill are plowing through the actual details. "Democrats are considering scaling back proposed taxes on the rich, reconsidering taxing employer health benefits, and possibly trimming the total cost of the package to make subsidies for the uninsured less generous than advocates have sought," the Wall Street Journal reports.
A pair of liberal groups is launching an ad in Montana urging Max Baucus to include a public insurance option in the Finance Committee's plan, while America's Health Insurance Plans is running a spot in Washington vaguely calling for Congress to "fix" health care. Lots of Washingtonians' beach vacations this summer will be financed by this fight: AARP spent more than $5 million on lobbying in the second quarter of 2009, while PhRMA spent $6.2 million and the American Medical Association shelled out $4 million.
As for that August deadline, Roll Call's headline says, "Health Timeline on Life Support," but the White House is trying to keep it breathing. "If there are no deadlines, nothing gets done in this town," Obama said Monday in an interview with Jim Lehrer, though he added it wouldn't be the end of the world if "it's going to spill over by a few days or a week." The New York Times says "it was increasingly clear the Senate would not be ready to vote on its bill before its recess begins on Aug. 8, and that House Democrats seemed unwilling to vote to raise taxes without knowing where the Senate stood."
This morning also brings more shaky poll numbers for Obama. A new Public Strategies Inc./Politico poll found that 54 percent of respondents said they "trust" the president, down 12 points since March. The poll showed Democrats were trusted by 42 percent (down 10 points), and Republicans by 36 percent (down 4 points). Gallup found that Obama's approval rating gradually trended downwards in the second quarter of his presidency. Republicans see the same numbers, and that's why they've decided to go to war. The winner of this fight will be crowned next November.
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