8 a.m. ET: Before this year's health-care debate began, President Obama made an important decision about what he didn't want -- Hillarycare, The Sequel.
Aside from pursuing a fundamentally different reform plan than the one Hillary Clinton unveiled during her husband's first term, Obama also wanted a different strategy. Rather than dictate to Congress exactly what he desired, the president instead decided to sketch the broad outlines of his plan and let the House and Senate work out the details. And so we were treated to stories about how this administration, unlike Clinton's, really knew how to handle Congress, how its upper echelons were packed with Capitol Hill veterans and Rahm Emanuel practically kept a toothbrush and change of clothes in Harry Reid's and Nancy Pelosi's offices.
Then a funny thing happened -- the strategy didn't work. Or rather, it hasn't worked yet. And as polls showed public support dropping for Obama's proposals (the ones he hasn't really made) and members of Congress got pummeled at town hall meetings over August recess, critics began calling for Obama to do something a bit more like what Clinton did: Tell Congress exactly what he wanted. Now, we learn from multiple reports -- all of them notably thin on details -- Obama is considering doing just that. The Associated Press writes that Obama "is weighing a shift in strategy that would offer more details of his goals for overhauling the nation's health care system." Politico reports that administration aides "are putting the final touches on a new strategy" that may involve a major speech on health care "as soon as next week."
It's normal for any White House to sell the idea of what Bloomberg calls "a new offensive" when the political chips are down. But aside from being more clear about whether he does or doesn't want a public insurance option included in reform, how much more detailed should Obama be? And given the broad differences between the plans currently waiting on the runway in the House and the one being haggled over in the Senate Finance Committee, how much difference would more specific requests from Obama make now, rather than later during conference negotiations? Would they bring Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi definitively into the "aye" column? If not, what's the point?
The administration does appear to be taking a tougher line with Grassley and Enzi. The Wall Street Journal says David Axelrod "doubts" the two Republicans "are negotiating seriously." As for conservative Democrats, the New York Times reports, after surveying Blue Dogs, that "many of the lawmakers still believe approval of some form of health care plan is achievable and far preferable to not acting at all." The latest CBS News poll, meanwhile, has more bad news for Obama: His "approval rating on health care has dropped six points since July to 40 percent, and now more Americans, 47 percent, disapprove of his handling of health care."
On Afghanistan, The Washington Post reports that the Taliban has become "a much more potent adversary" than U.S. forces expected, making Obama's task harder as he "faces crucial decisions on his war strategy and declining public support at home." Adding a new phrase to this blogger's lexicon, the Los Angeles Times writes, "U.S. officials are planning to add as many as 14,000 combat troops to the American force in Afghanistan by sending home support units and replacing them with 'trigger-pullers.'" Perhaps instead of "trigger-pullers," we should have sent election monitors. The New York Times details more allegations of ballot-box stuffing by Hamid Karzai, whose campaign operation "faces a deluge of fraud complaints from around the country."
In Massachusetts, Martha Coakley took out nomination papers to run in the January special election to succeed Ted Kennedy. Though Coakley says she will run no matter what, the rest of the field appears frozen until Joseph Kennedy II decides whether he will run. The Boston Globe writes of Kennedy: "Some associates say he is sounding like a candidate; others say he is expressing some reservations." On the Republican side, Jane Swift has considered the race "but is now leaning against it," the Globe says.
Elsewhere on the special election front, meet the likely new congressman from California's 10th district -- John Garamendi. The current Lt. Gov. was one of 14 candidates on the ballot Tuesday in the special election contest to succeed Ellen Tauscher, who took a job in the State Department. Garamendi took 26 percent of the vote in the Bay Area seat, besting a pair of Democratic state Legislators and an Iraq War veteran, among others. Because no one received 50 percent of the vote, Garamendi will advance to a Nov. 3 contest against the top vote-getters from each party, including Republican Dave Harmer. But because of the district's partisan tilt Garamendi will be a heavy favorite to win the seat.
September 2, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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