8 a.m. ET: Will President Obama get an important symbolic victory before the Senate leaves town?
The Washington Post reports, "Senate negotiators are inching toward bipartisan agreement on a health-care plan that seeks middle ground on some of the thorniest issues facing Congress." That raises the prospect that key senators will at least reach a handshake deal on a measure before recess, and the House has already moved its own bill through three committees. Each chamber's bill has some of what Obama wants; neither measure has both. The Senate version would, its supporters say, help "bend the curve" of future health-care spending. But it does not establish a public insurance option to compete with private providers. The House bill doesn't do the former but does the latter (though not as assertively as liberals would like). Add all that up, and Obama may be able to spend August at least arguing that the tide is finally turning in the right direction.
Even some of the poll numbers are looking a bit better for Obama; a new Ipsos-McClatchy survey found 46 percent of Americans believe the country is on the right track, up 6 points in the last three weeks. But his performance on health care still gets mixed reviews. The latest Quinnipiac survey showed 52 percent disapproval for Obama's handling of the subject, and the poll also found that a majority of Americans "are more worried that Congress will spend too much money and add to the deficit than it will not act to overhaul the health care system."
The "Gang of Six" (the Senate loves gangs) will head to the White House today to huddle with Obama. And the administration is working to reassure drug companies that it will honor the deal it made on how much money the industry will have to shell out, even though the House's reform bill would allow the government to extract more cash from the firms. "Who is ever going to go into a deal with the White House again if they don’t keep their word? You are just going to duke it out instead," Billy Tauzin told the New York Times.
Even if reform is moving in the right direction for Democrats on the Hill, what about all those protests outside the Beltway? John Cornyn said Wednesday that Republicans' anger over Democrats health proposals will help the GOP in Senate races next year. And the Republican National Committee blasted out a sheath of news clips this morning making the case that Democrats have themselves used many of the same tactics about which they now complain. Democrats, for their part, continued their offensive against Republicans and their allies in the insurance industry, accusing them of saying nothing but "slow down, stop and no" on reform. Jonathan Cohn worries that there is a "lack of passion and organization on the left" on health care.
With the two American journalists and Bill Clinton now safely back home from North Korea, the debate is on over What It All Means, both in terms of our relationship with the Asian regime and in U.S. domestic politics. The Los Angeles Times judges the mission to have "redefined -- and in some cases, reinvigorated -- several relationships at the heart of American politics." Specifically, the paper says Clinton overshadowed his wife, made up with Al Gore and had "a coming in from the cold of sorts for a man who has had a fractious relationship with the current president." The Washington Post suggests Clinton's role "once again cast a spotlight on his vast web of financial and political contacts," many of whom aided his mission. Daniel Drezner writes: "My visceral reaction to Clinton and his delegation sitting with Kim Jong Il posing for a formal photograph was one of complete and utter revulsion. I don't think Clinton apologized, but in many ways this looks worse."
The Senate, meanwhile, is looking to wrap up work today and get out of town after it votes to approve $2 billion for the cash for clunkers program and confirms Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Three more Republicans endorsed Sotomayor Wednesday, and in a neat illustration of the politics of the issue, all three -- Mel Martinez, Kit Bond and Judd Gregg -- are retiring in 2010. The Sotomayor vote is really all about the next court pick, according to the Wall Street Journal.
William Jefferson was convicted on 11 federal counts in an Alexandria courtroom Wednesday, and now faces up to 150 years in prison. Now would seem to be an appropriate time for a movie-style, slow-motion montage, one that starts with Jefferson as a mild-mannered lawmaker, then shows the cash in the freezer, the controversial raid on his House office and all the other twists and turns in his bizarre saga. Ironically, the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes, Jefferson wasn't actually convicted for allegedly planning to use that freezer cash to bribe foreign officials. Still, the paper says, "The verdict brings a bitter end to the political career of Jefferson, who rose from hard-scrabble beginnings in Lake Providence to become the first black congressman from Louisiana since Reconstruction and the most important African-American political figure in the state in modern times."
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