8 a.m. ET: As an unusually eventful August inches toward its end, a health-care debate that has changed markedly this month now appears roughly frozen in place until Congress returns from recess.
Key players in the health-care debate spent Thursday repeating what they had said before. In the Senate, the Gang of Six held a 90-minute conference call and essentially agreed to keep talking (though perhaps about a narrower bill). In the House, Nancy Pelosi made clear yet again that the chamber's initial bill would include a public plan. And President Obama reiterated that a) the public option is not an essential part of his reform plan; and b) his position on the issue hasn't changed. Obama also said Thursday, "I guarantee we are going to get health-care reform done." That's a bold statement to make, but if the reform effort fails, Obama will have larger problems to worry about than the inaccuracy of his predictions.
The new Washington Post-ABC News poll paints the latest sobering picture of Obama's political fortunes. "Public confidence in President Obama's leadership has declined sharply over the summer,' the Post writes, while ABC observes, "Health care reform overall, a political sand trap when last attempted in 1993, looks much the same in 2009." Skepticism on health care seems to be canceling out any benefit Obama could accrue from the improving economy. On the directoion of the country, 55 percent "see things as pretty seriously on the wrong track, up from 48 percent in April," the Post writes. "But there has been a notable increase in optimism about the length of the recession." And Charlie Cook judges that "this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and Congressional Democrats," and that his statistical projection that House Democrats will lose six-to-12 seats next November "is far too low." (Obama meets today with Tom Daschle to talk reform. How might this debate be different if his nomination had survived? Discuss.)
There is no shortage of advice for Obama on how to reverse those trends. Gerald Seib writes that "Obama now will have to choose among three options: small, medium and large," adding that the small and medium options are Democrats' "most likely options." Howard Fineman suggests Obama should model his health-care crusade after Teddy Roosevelt's fights against railroads and other corporate fat-cats a century ago. Most optimistically, Nate Silver argues that "Democrats still face a whole host of obstacles in passing a health care bill, but the odds today look a little better than they did 48 hours ago," partly because they "seem prepared to drop the pretense of collaborating with Republicans" on reform
In Massachusetts, Edward Kennedy's proposal that he be succeeded in the Senate by a gubernatorial appointee has now been public for 24 hours, and the odds that it will become reality don't look good. The Boston Globe says Kennedy's idea "drew little public support from Massachusetts lawmakers yesterday, with the state’s Democratic leaders publicly silent on the proposal and most Republicans attacking it as a partisan power grab." The Boston Herald reports Republican believe Democrats are trying to "rig the process" in their favor, and notes that Kennedy was a prime backer of the 2004 law change that initially took appointment power away from the governor. The Fix writes that Deval Patrick's "own precarious politicial position" is a consideration as he weighs how to handle Kennedy's request.
The cash for clunkers program will end Monday night, so brace yourself for a frenzied weekend of TV ads for car dealers. "After gorging on clunkers this summer, can automakers make it through the fall?" asks the Los Angeles Times, reporting fears that the auto industry -- having ramped up production to deal with sales increases -- is now headed for a crash. The Detroit Free Press notes that "only about 1-in-5 of the cash-for-clunker deals reviewed by federal officials have received approval so far, raising questions about whether dealers have been too loose in enforcing rules or federal officials too strict."
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