8 a.m. ET: The biggest day so far of President Obama's tenure is over, giving way to two questions: Was his address to a joint session of Congress worth giving, and how will it impact the health-care debate going forward?
Vice President Biden was certainly a fan, saying this morning that the speech had "re-centered debate" and making a prediction on timing: "I believe we will have a bill before Thanksgiving." The bar for success was high but expectations weren't in some quarters. Marc Ambinder judges that "by calming down his own party -- without alienating moderates -- and by making a moral case for health care, he has unsettled the status quo," and that might just be good enough. No one expected Obama to turn the issue entirely on its head last night, given that the contours of his plan and the broader debate have been known for months.
Taken, as always, with a grain of salt, the CNN/Opinion Research snap poll found a 14-point gain in favor of Obama's proposals among those who watched the speech. Afterwards, 67 percent of viewers supported the plan Obama laid out and 29 percent opposed, though CNN observed (cue the ominous music): "Those figures are almost identical to a poll conducted immediately after Bill Clinton's health care speech before Congress in September, 1993." Noting the same, Dan Balz writes, "Obama's key to success is to use the space created by this moment to drive Congress, particularly his Democratic allies, toward consensus and action. The longer the debate continues, the more his gains from the speech will dissipate."
Over at The New Republic, Jonathan Cohn found the speech to be "a pretty clear defense of government -- at a time when defending government is pretty controversial," even though "none of this will affect the outcome of the health care reform debate." Noam Scheiber goes further, dubbing the address "the best speech I've heard Barack Obama give as president -- possibly the best since January of 2008." Ezra Klein writes that Obama "needed to bring health-care reform down to earth rather than launch it into orbit. He needed to make it seem less dramatic and unknown. He needed to cast it not as change, but as improvement. All of which he did," though "the vaunted specifics are not all that specific, and they seem to be getting less so by the second."
On the right, Fred Barnes says "Obama's speech to Congress last night can be summed up rather easily. It was 40 minutes of boilerplate followed by a socko, emotional finish exploiting the death of Senator Teddy Kennedy." Bill Kristol believes Obama painted a more dire picture than was necessary in order to whip up support for his plan: "The real 'public option' is to scrap the current grandiose plans and to start over. There is no health care crisis, and doing no harm is far preferable to doing real damage to a good health care system." (Did Kristol think how easy it would be for liberals to throw that argument back at him? Um, Iraq?)
And then there was Joe Wilson, whose heckling of the president will likely dominate the discussion today. Watch the video: The look on Nancy Pelosi's face pretty well sums up the reaction of the political class. More than one observer after the speech suggested Wilson's outburst was the "Henry Louis Gates moment" of Thursday night, the relatively small twist that served to change the trajectory of the whole event. But while the Gates incident threw Obama off his game, Wilson did the opposite by forcing Republicans to criticize one of their own. (Though does the White House really want a whole round of stories and fact-checking items today on the illegal immigrant issue?)
Wilson apologized quickly Wednesday night but, The State writes, "By that time, the congressman's Web site had crashed, he had taken a beating on his Twitter page and Democrat Rob Miller had raised thousands of unexpected dollars online for a possible rematch with Wilson in next year's midterm elections, according to Lachlan McIntosh, Miller's campaign manager."
So, in the words of a shorter, fictional president, what's next?
The Senate Finance Committee plans to release its bill next week and consider it the week after. "If Baucus can't produce, Democratic leaders will be forced to contemplate procedural maneuvers to bring reform legislation to the floor on a party-line vote," the Washington Post writes. "But if the Finance process unfolds smoothly, the committee would approve the legislation -- with or without Republican support -- by the end of the month." Will any Republicans go along? Roll Call observes, "Bipartisan health care talks appear to have transformed into a high-stakes game of chicken, with neither Democrats nor Republicans willing to abandon negotiations even as the two sides acknowledged Wednesday that their differences may be insurmountable."
In the House, meanwhile, Politico writes that the relationship between Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer "is coming under strain," and they "have chafed against each other during the tense, tiring negotiations over health care reform," most recently by offering different assessments of the importance of the public option. But the effort to find daylight between the positions of Hoyer and Pelosi -- a constant activity during their tenure in leadership -- seems like a useless exercise in this case. Why? Because the initial health-care bill that passes the House will include a public option, the eventual conference report won't, and Pelosi and Hoyer will both vote for both bills. Hoyer has simply come closer to acknowledging that reality than Pelosi has.
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