8 a.m. ET: Wednesday brought a reminder that wonks bearing calculators can be hugely important to the direction of the country, as the Congressional Budget Office's determination that the Senate Finance Committee health bill would cost $829 billion served to give the entire reform effort a shot of adrenaline.
The CBO score means the Finance measure "has emerged as the only one of five bills by various panels that achieves every important goal [President] Obama has set for his top domestic initiative," the Washington Post writes. USA Today leads with a different number: The bill would cover 94 percent of Americans. "After appearing in peril in August, the health-care overhaul has cleared a series of hurdles in recent weeks that have given Democrats increased confidence they will pass a bill," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Lobbyists on both sides of the issue have shifted their focus to what the bill will look like rather than questioning whether a measure can succeed." Ezra Klein observes that, for better or worse, the Finance bill creates a new health-care system that "will look a lot like our old health-care system. Unless you're uninsured, or on the individual market, this bill is not expected to affect you."
Plenty of hurdles to reform remain. Figuring out how to pay for the package has proven to be at least as controversial as the substance of the package itself. The two leading pay-fors -- taxing the rich or taxing "Cadillac" health plans -- both have large blocs of opponents among Democrats, not to mention Republicans. The House is currently preoccupied with those debates, as many members of the majority have made clear they won't accept the latter proposal. And as the cost of the House bill remains unclear, Roll Call writes that moderates "are feeling a new sense of urgency to try to stop Pelosi from bringing a bill to the floor that fails to rein in health care spending and bloats the deficit." And, Time reports, some liberals worry that the reform measure will leave too many decisions up to the states and create an unequal and inconsistent system of coverage across the country. The left is also concerned that even in the House bill, the public insurance option may be watered down.
Karl Rove looks at some recent polls (while ignoring those that contradict his point) and concludes "that voters are turning away from Democrats" because of health care. Finding little to criticize in Wednesday's CBO analysis, Rove says the numbers "are almost certainly overly optimistic," even as he reminds that the office's official score for President Bush's Medicare prescription drug benefit actually turned out to be too pessimistic. David Broder writes on the emerging split on health care between conservative Republicans and their traditional allies in the business community, noting "that while business has no choice but to make its best accommodation with Democrats, congressional Republicans are motivated primarily by a desire to reverse those Democratic majorities." Tim Noah criticizes possible versions of "Public Option Lite," the only kind of public option that would make it into the Senate bill.
The foeign policy agenda, meanwhile, includes a renewed focus on Pakistan, where opposition is growing to a multibillion-dollar assistance plan from the U.S. The Associated Press writes that Obama's "war council is weighing a new role for Pakistan in the 8-year-old struggle in the region," as the president plans to meet Thursday with Vice President Biden and Hillary Clinton to discuss the way forward in the Afpak war. The potential role of Pakistani extremists will surely be examined more in the coming days, in the wake of a car bomb that exploded Thursday morning near the Indian embassy in Kabul.
Obama now has that long-awaited request for more troops from Stanley McChrystal, amid ongoing debate over the propriety of McChrystal publicizing his views and the White House rebuking him for it. (McClatchy says that Obama asked for a copy of McChrystal's request "before top military officials had formally reviewed it so it wouldn't be leaked to reporters." Gee, why would he expect a leak?)
Again seeming to lay the groundwork for a Biden-endorsed middle ground, the New York Times reports, "Obama’s national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States." On the other side, the Los Angeles Times profiles Richard Holbrooke, who has never been media-shy or lacking in confidence, but "has struggled for almost nine months to forge a policy that would stabilize the two fragile states. He has been a leading advocate of a 'go big' policy in Afghanistan." Mort Kondracke worries that Obama "is going to adopt a 'split the difference' policy on Afghanistan that will basically continue current strategy — and likely lead to catastrophe."
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