8 a.m. ET: Speaking on 60 Minutes Sunday night, President Obama recalled an adviser telling him that health-care reform "will be pronounced dead at least four or five times" before finally succeeding. This week could be one of those times, or it could be the rare moment in the debate so far when Obama's fellow optimists have the upper hand.
Max Baucus said Monday that he was very near unveiling the Finance Committee's reform proposal, and that it would address "a host of GOP concerns, including blocking illegal immigrants from gaining access to subsidized insurance, urging limits on medical malpractice lawsuits and banning federal subsidies for abortion," the Washington Post writes. The plan represents Baucus' last, best effort to attract Republican votes, and if it doesn't work, the chairman will likely claim that he did his best to meet members of the minority halfway. The early indicators are that Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi won't get on board, as the two Republicans "have requested numerous major changes" and "catalogued their concerns in documents sent to" Baucus, the New York Times reports. Jonathan Cohn points out that "regardless of which Republicans sign on, affordability is going to be a major source of controversy, both within the Finance Committee and outside of it."
Baucus' fellow Democrats have concerns of their own, the Wall Street Journal writes. Ron Wyden fears that the plan's subsidies would be too small to make coverage affordable. And John Kerry doesn't like the new taxes being used to pay for reform, including a levy on the most expensive health plans. They and other Democrats will likely offer numerous amendments to Baucus' bill during markup. Politico writes that the coming fights over issues like Medicaid, abortion and illegal immigrants aren't just about policy details, they're about fundamental philosophical differences between the two parties.
As was the case with the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, a new USA Today/Gallup Poll taken over the weekend found that Obama's address to a joint session of Congress didn't give him or his health reform plan much of a boost. The survey pegged his approval rating at 54 percent, exactly where it was in August, and found that 50 percent of respondents believed their member of Congress should vote for the plan, and 47 percent against. John Dickerson notes that polls taken after Obama's speech showed "mixed, if not contradictory, results," and suggests some of the contradictions are "another example of the well-documented divide between the way people think about reform in general and reform as it applies to their situation."
Beyond Baucus' bill, the health-care subplot of the day is Joe Wilson, and his collision course with the opprobrium of his House Democratic colleagues. Party leaders met Monday evening and decided to bring a resolution to the House floor today admonishing Wilson for his outburst during Obama's speech last week. The debate over Wilson's behavior has ignited a debate over whether racism was a factor in his actions and those of some other conservative activists, the Washington Post writes, noting that the House's senior black lawmaker, James Clyburn, is leading the charge to admonish Wilson.
Roger Simon calls the controversy a useful distraction for the majority: "It is far easier for the Democrats to deal with Joe Wilson than it is to deal with health care reform, so they will deal with Joe Wilson." Wilson's moment has become a rallying cry for the activist bases of both parties. The Daily Beast makes an odd connection, claiming that the Wilson affair "has moved Democrats in the Massachusetts legislature" to support allowing a temporary Senate appointment, and that Michael Dukakis could get the nod.
On the Hill, Michael Mullen will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, as he is under consideration for another term chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. He can expect to face pointed questions on progress, or lack thereof, in Afghanistan, as both lawmakers and the public have voiced increasing doubts about the effectiveness of the U.S. mission there. A new CNN/Opinion Research poll "indicates that 39 percent of Americans favor the war in Afghanistan, with 58 percent opposed to the mission," with support for the conflict at an all-time low and hovering near Iraq-levels. In the Senate, Russ Feingold has assumed the familiar position of going against the grain, calling on Obama to set a flexible timeframe for withdrawing troops.
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