8 a.m. ET: For one night, speaking Wednesday before a rapt and (mostly) captive audience, President Obama had control of the health-care debate. Now it's back into the gears of the legislative grinder, as intraparty divisions and concern over deficits, abortion and immigration have returned to the fore.
The New York Times says Obama's speech "largely succeeded in unifying his own party." The Los Angeles Times says the same. But evidence of disunity remains, particularly over the price tag, and the devil is still in the details. The Washington Post says Obama strugged to specify Thursday "how he would achieve his goal of extending coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans without increasing the deficit." The president met with moderates from his own party, hoping to assuage their concerns about the cost of the proposal. Though Obama says his plan won't grow the deficit, McClatchy writes, "experts say that it would — unless he raised more taxes than he's suggesting he would." Obama's pledge on the deficit Wednesday night was the most adamant element of his speech, potentially putting the fate of the entire package in the hands of the Congressional Budget Office.
In the Senate, reports of the death of the Gang of Six turned out to be premature, though the group may yet require end-of-life counseling. The three Republicans at the table on Thursday offered a long list of proposed changes to Max Baucus' plan, and "the group still appears to be struggling with how to settle the basic questions of how much health coverage should uninsured people be required to obtain, and how much the government should help to pay for it," the Washington Post writes. Harry Reid, meanwhile, made comments in praise of health co-ops, just as House liberals, hearing what they wanted to hear, continued to thank Obama for his strong support for the public option. Despite those obstacles, Reid said Thursday he expects to send a bill to the president "well before Thanksgiving."
For Joe Wilson, the day after Heckle-gate brought swarms of cameras and long looks at the history of combative and colorful South Carolina politicians. There was some sentiment among members of both parties for Wilson to apologize on the House floor Thursday, but the South Carolinian did not agree to do so and the moment for such a gesture now appears to have passed. Wilson appeared to galvanize both sides of the political divide. While Democrats crowed that their candidate against Wilson, Rob Miller, had raised several hundred thousand dollars since the incident, Wilson's campaign released a video Thursday night, declaring that he "will not be muzzled" and asking for donations.
The Wilson incident has also brought renewed focus to the question of whether illegal immigrants would be covered under a new health-care system. Regardless of how many stories and fact-checking segments come down on their side of the argument, the administration can't be happy that the topic is getting so much coverage at this stage of the debate. And the issue is not clear-cut: The Wall Street Journal writes "the truth of the matter is more complicated than indicated by either" Obama or Wilson. Also still percolating: The abortion issue, as activists on the right don't believe Obama when he says abortions won't be covered under his plan.
The somber anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks reminds us that Obama may want to prolong the health-care debate a bit longer, because otherwise there might be more public attention on an even thornier problem -- Afghanistan. The New York Times says that Obama faces "growing skepticism" within his own party of whether sending more troops into the fight makes sense, after both Carl Levin and Nancy Pelosi publicly expressed their wariness. "Simmering congressional frustration could lead to tighter scrutiny and more limited resources, even if Capitol Hill ultimately does approve sending more U.S. troops to the war-torn nation," the Associated Press writes. And as the anniversary brings the security issue to mind, Gallup reports that Americans believe Republicans are better than Democrats "for protecting the country from international terrorism and military threats," by a 49-42 margin.
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