8 a.m. ET: The Senate Finance Committee begins its slog through the chairman's health-care bill Tuesday, as the effort to pass reform looks healthier but still in need of intensive care.
Max Baucus spent the final hours beforehand revising the bill to make it easier for people to afford the insurance that they would now be mandated to buy. Baucus' revisions "have left insurance executives anxious while continuing to trouble liberal groups that want even more federal assistance for some individuals," writes CongressDaily. Baucus sought simultaneously to appeal to concerned liberals and wary Republicans. "All of his changes, though, would add billions to the cost of a bill whose chief accomplishment was its relative austerity," the Washington Post writes. And senators are seeking even more alterations to the bill that would further reduce taxes and boost subsidies, with the potential result being a measure that is much more generous to consumers but does not meet Obama's requirement that it be deficit-neutral. Politico notes that among the 564 amendments are politically expedient GOP proposals to ban ACORN from getting federal funding from the health bill and prevent the measure from being administered by a "czar" unconfirmed by the Senate.
Many of the most important amendments come from Olympia Snowe, who has come to play a unique and vital role in the process. Even Chuck Grassley, who is far less likely than Snowe to back the final package, acknowledged Monday that the bill "has been put together with some Republican input," an important quote that Democrats will revive whenever the GOP accuses them of going it alone. It's entirely possible that Baucus and the committee will accept several Republican proposals, and not necessarily attract any of their votes. "Couldn't a Republican reasonably conclude that the legislation, even with these concessions, moves the health-care system in the wrong direction? And if so why should he vote for it?" Ramesh Ponnuru asks.
Overall, proponents of reform see the start of Finance action as a reason to be optimistic. With Baucus busy making the bill more palatable, and legislators in Massachusetts taking steps to give Democrats their 60th Senate vote soon, Ezra Klein writes that the effort sits "incredibly, incredibly close to the finish line. Closer, by far, than we have ever been before." Reminding readers that the remaining legislative process will be long and unpredictable, Nate Silver warns that the chances of passage "are higher now than they have been in some time. But the Democrats still have a couple of first downs to achieve before it's goal to go."
After a mostly serious appearance on the "Late Show" with David Letterman Monday, President Obama will speak to a UN session on climate change in New York Tuesday morning, an appearance that will highlight the current stalemate on the issue in Washington. At the UN and at the G-20 later this week, Politico writes, "Obama’s inability to point to concrete action at home" on climate change and financial regulatory reform "is likely to undercut his bargaining power, and his authority to press other nations to act." The New York Times says it will difficult for UN negotiators to build "momentum for an international climate treaty at a time when global temperatures have been stable for a decade and may even drop in the next few years." Obama also faces challenges on the human rights front, the Washington Post reports, as his administration's actions on Israel, Sudan and Sri Lanka have upset some rights advocates.
On Afghanistan, the leaked memo from Stanley McChrystal warning of potential "failure" continues to reverberate, and two things are clear -- Obama is unsure whether to send more troops, and his administration has grown increasingly divided on the subject. The Wall Street Journal reports: "The Pentagon has told its top commander in Afghanistan to delay submitting his request for additional troops, defense officials say, amid signs that the Obama administration is rethinking its strategy for combating a resurgent Taliban." The Washington Post says McChrystal's memo has "opened a divide" between military leaders who back its recommendations and civilian leaders who are more wary and are seeking solutions other than more troops. As has been reported before, Vice President Biden is the leading voice among administration skeptics, and the Los Angeles Times adds that Rahm Emanuel is also in that camp.
On the electoral front, the White House has been doing what White Houses always do -- asserting the president's position as leader of his party by endorsing and prodding candidates. Team Obama claims to the Washington Post that it's less focused on electoral politics than Team Bush was, with the evidence being that "there is no single figure playing the kind of politics-first role that Karl Rove occupied." That may technically be true, but it's hard to imagine that Emanuel, the former DCCC chairman, isn't watching races as obsessively as he ever did. The New York Times says "the intense involvement reflects the tactics and style" of Emanuel, and that "the actions are drawing alarm from some Democrats who believe they cross a line and run contrary to Mr. Obama’s often-stated pledge to rise above partisan battles."
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