8 a.m. ET: When it comes to health-care reform, the world's greatest deliberative body is living up to its name.
With Republican negotiators urging that the pace of talks in the Senate slow down, Max Baucus announced Thursday night that his Finance panel would not mark up a bill next week, robbing Democrats of the ability to brag that health-care reform will at least clear committee in both chambers before recess. (In a move that surely will further endear him to liberals, Baucus mentioned Thursday that he had "no idea" how he would vote on Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination.) Mike Enzi said a race to finish a bill by next weekend would result in a "train wreck," and the six primary negotiators plan to keep talking through August.
In the House, a coalition of liberals denounced the deal between Henry Waxman and Blue Dog Democrats as unacceptable, but don't appear to have the votes within the Energy and Commerce Committee to derail the bill. That panel worked steadily through a draft of the measure Thursday, defeating an amendment to remove the public insurance option and approving an amendment setting forth guidelines on funding abortions. The committee hopes to finish its markup today or tomorrow.
While the Senate will stay in Washington for another week, the House recess begins just hours from now. The Fix reports, "the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is planning an August offensive against more than two dozen Republican House members that aims to paint them as roadblocks to reform." Note that the campaign involves e-mails and robocalls, not paid advertising. Republicans are sending their lawmakers home with talking points on how Democrats' health reform plans could make the economy worse. (GOP members are also encouraged to criticize Obama for planning to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Remember that issue?) Democrats, meanwhile, are heading home for August with a plan to villify insurance companies -- Nancy Pelosi got that ball rolling Thursday -- and to emphasize the idea that America's current subsidies for the uninsured already represent a "hidden tax."
As for that slew of polls released in the last 48 hours, Ben Smith notes that Obama's average support of 52 percent "now neatly matches the number of voters who elected him," that "Republicans are acting like Republicans again ... and disapproval among independent voters is growing steadily." John Dickerson observed a focus group with independents this week from which he divined this message: "We're behind you, Barack, but slow down." Mark Blumenthal concludes that while the recent surveys show significant opposition to Obama's health-care plan, the response was more positive once pollsters started providing descriptions, which "tells us that more Americans might support the reform proposals if they knew more about them." Paul Krugman identifies a larger problem: "It’s not just that many Americans don’t understand what President Obama is proposing; many people don’t understand the way American health care works right now."
Did the Henry Louis Gates controversy help send Obama's poll numbers downwards? Jon Cohen points out that Obama's approval numbers among white respondents in a Pew survey went down after Obama first waded into the controversy. Yesterday's "beer summit" was designed to reverse that trend. The Washington Post called it "an extraordinary scene that Obama's aides hoped would convey a hopeful message about race relations," though Dana Milbank suggested it wasn't "a cure for what ales us."
Ever the professor -- or perhaps the host of an after-school special -- Obama said the entire affair provided "a positive lesson" for America about race.E.J. Dionne expressed disdain Thursday for the way Obama had framed the event: "The problem with 'teachable moments' is that the term sets up one group of people as teachers while another group is consigned to the role of pupils."
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