8 a.m. ET: An outcome that had been expected for weeks still generated a good deal of drama and post-game analysis, as Tuesday's defeat of efforts to add the public insurance option to the Senate Finance Committee's health-care bill pushed the reform debate into a new stage.
The Finance panel rejected successive amendments from Jay Rockefeller and Chuck Schumer to create a public option, "dealing a crippling blow to the hopes of liberals seeking to expand the federal role in health coverage as a cornerstone of reform," the Washington Post writes. Max Baucus said he wants "a bill that can become law" and did not see enough support for the public option to get it through the Senate. Schumer agreed, for now: "We don't have the 60 votes on the floor for the public option. I will be the first to admit that." The Los Angeles Times reports: "It was the biggest setback to date for liberal Democrats, but did not kill the possibility of a public option being included in final legislation," Public option supporters will get several more bites at the apple: They can offer more amendments on the Senate floor (assuming, as most observers do, that Harry Reid will not include this element in the chamber's combined bill). Or they can fight for it during conference negotiations, since the House is still expected to include some form of public plan in its bill.
Still, backers of the public option were unhappy. Summing up sentiment on the Left, Jonathan Cohn writes: "This is not the slightest bit surprising. But it's still frustrating." Ezra Klein says that moderates should have been forced to sponsor an amendment to strip out the public option on the Senate floor. "Instead, Baucus and Conrad did the work for them, all the while protesting that they didn't oppose the public option," he complains. Conservatives agree that Tuesday's result was unsurprising, but for different reasons. "The public is not as dumb as it's made out to be," Holman Jenkins writes in the Wall Street Journal, arguing that the average Americans rightly see the public option as "a halfway house to a single-payer setup that liberal Democrats have always wanted."
The public option debate may be sidelined, but now the Finance panel must tackle hot-button issues like coverage for abortion and illegal immigrants. Does President Obama have a backup plan in the works? "The White House has been secretly drafting its own health care legislation that it may unveil at some point during the debate if officials believe it would help secure passage of a bill, according to sources familiar with the effort," Roll Call reports, intriguingly, but without details. Obama could help mend fences within his own party by urging liberal and conservative Democrats to stop attacking each other, but he "has never worked too hard to stop these intraparty attacks, and he's not about to start now," John Dickerson writes. The White House can at least take heart that public support for reform appears to be on the rebound. The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll shows the percentages of respondents who "want health care reform now" and think the country will be "better off" with reform have ticked up measurably since August, driven mostly by a shift among Republicans and independents.
In Geneva, diplomats will gather this week to debate how to handle Iran's defiantly active nuclear program. The New York Times writes that the discussion of Iran's ambitions is a reminder of the disastrous debate over Iraq's supposed arsenal of weapons: "Is the uproar over the secret plant near Qum another rush to judgment, based on ambiguous evidence, spurred on by a desire to appear tough toward a loathed regime? In other words, is the United States repeating the mistakes of 2002?" Members of Congress are busy drafting tough new sanctions against Iran. "A parade of bills in both chambers has drawn wide bipartisan support that suggests passage would be a cinch," The Hill writes.
At the same time, "The White House began its review of the Afghan war strategy in earnest Tuesday," the Wall Street Journal reports, with Stanley McChrystal meeting via videoconference with key administration officials. Obama will join the talks Wednesday, and you can view the complete list of expected attendees. The Washington Post paints a hopeful picture of the fight against al-Qaeda, writing that a campaign of better recruitment of spies and targeted airstrikes "has significantly reduced the terrorist organization's effectiveness." David Corn wonders if Obama is "serious about Afghanistan," and points out the administration's seemingly contradictory rhetoric: "What the Obama administration is finding -- or will find -- is that it's difficult to have a limited commitment to a war. After all, if a war is worth fighting, isn't it worth fighting for as long as necessary?"
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