8 a.m. ET: Two weeks after the House passed its health-care bill and exactly a month after the Senate Finance Committee reported out its version of the measure, the Senate's compromise plan is finally ready for its closeup.
Harry Reid "presented an $848 billion health-care overhaul package on Wednesday that would extend coverage to 31 million Americans and reform insurance practices while adding an array of tax increases, including a rise in payroll taxes for high earners," the Washington Post writes, adding that Democrats were "jubilant" that the measure was projected to cut federal deficits by $130 billion over the next decade. The House and Senate bills "have differences on taxes, abortion coverage and a public-insurance plan and would require considerable work to reconcile," the Wall Street Journal reports. "As with the House bill, the uninsured are likely to be the biggest winners from the Senate bill. It would offer subsidies to help people buy insurance and sharply expand Medicaid, the federal-state health-insurance program for the poor. Losers include the wealthy, who would have to pay higher Medicare payroll taxes, and people with especially generous health-insurance benefits, who would also pay a new tax." The New York Times says "Democrats expressed confidence that they would have the votes needed to move forward when the legislation hits its first test in the Senate, probably later this week."
Crucially, Ben Nelson suggested he was likely to vote to proceed to debate. "Those budget numbers stood out as a bright spot" for Nelson, the Omaha World-Herald notes. But there's no sign that Joe Lieberman is budging, as he complained to Politico that the public option had become "a litmus test. I thought Democrats were against litmus tests.” Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landrieu's intentions remain unclear. "Landrieu said she wanted more information about the bill before making a final decision, while Lincoln, the only one of the three who faces re-election next year, told reporters, 'We'll wait and see,'" the Associated Press reports.
How will this play in the Majority Leader's home state? The Las Vegas Sun tick-tocks the buildup to the bill's unveiling Wednesday, and asserts that Reid "is not much of a policy wonk. For all his years in the Senate, he is not the kind of lawmaker who dwells in the details. If anything, he is more a student of people — someone who studies what it will take to meet each senator’s needs to cut a deal." A trio of stat wonks -- Andrew Gelman, Nate Silver and Daniel Lee -- crunch an array of numbers in a New York Times op-ed and conclude that "there is a disconnect between the electorate and the 535 members of Congress, who seem to be so fixated on Mr. Obama’s standing in their states that they’ve paid little attention to what their constituents might want — or need."
Of the CBO report, Jonathan Cohn writes: "This is precisely the sort of score that Reid wanted and, undoubtedly, it will play well politically. But it's worth remembering that the Washington establishment's priorities don't always match up with the country's. This is a lot less money than the House is proposing to spend. That could reflect aggressive cost control features in the bill. Or it could reflect a decision to cut corners, by covering fewer people and/or providing lesser coverage." Has there been too much focus on the price tag? "Health-care reform is increasingly hostage to numbers that are disconnected from the reality of the bill and its purpose," Ezra Klein complains, adding: "In 10 years, no one will remember whether the bill cost more or less than $850 billion, and I doubt that the public option, if it remains in the legislation, will be particularly relevant either. They'll remember whether the bill worked -- whether it covered people at a price they could afford, and began the overdue and urgent work of cost control."
President Obama, meanwhile, seemed in need of good news as he finishes an Asia trip that yielded few tangible achievements and mostly mediocre press coverage. "White House tries to put positive spin on Asia trip," reads the Los Angeles Times headline, over a story reporting that the administration "was scrambling to combat perceptions that the trip failed to produce concrete results." Obama made frequent reference to his "personal narrative," the Washington Post writes, and in the end "Obama appeared as popular as ever among ordinary citizens in the region. But is his biography-as-diplomacy approach beginning to show its limits?" ABC News has David Axelrod saying Thursday: "This not an immediate gratification business. I understand that Washington's in the immediate gratification business."
Speaking of which, John Dickerson takes an interesting look at Obama's love-hate relationship with deadlines for his various policy goals. "Obama doesn't like it when people point out that he's missing deadlines," Dickerson writes. "He warns against judging him out of context. Obama rails against the media's and his critics' artificial deadlines — why haven't you ended the wars yet, he asks, mockingly. Indeed he has been busy. The problem with all of this is that it is Obama himself who set the deadlines in the first place. Even now, he's setting suspiciously deadline-like expectations on Afghanistan policy as other deadlines on other issues pass."
In Kabul Wednesday, Hillary Clinton "warned Mr. Karzai privately that future civilian aid would depend in part on how his government performed in areas like developing an effective army and curbing cronyism, according to an American official," the New York Times reports. "Publicly, she told reporters that Mr. Karzai had begun to tackle corruption but 'not nearly enough.'” In his inauguratioon speech Thursday, Karzai said " Afghanistan will control its own security within five years and prosecute corrupt officials," and that "he wanted private Afghan and foreign security companies to stop operating in the country within two years," the Associated Press writes. Obama and Gordon Brown "have turned the focus of Afghan war planning toward an exit strategy, publicly declaring that the U.S. and its allies can't send additional troops without a plan for getting them out," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The shift has unnerved some U.S. and foreign officials, who say that planning a pullout now -- with or without a specific timetable -- encourages the Taliban to wait out foreign forces and exacerbates fears in the region that the U.S. isn't fully committed to their security."
On a similarly weighty subject, Sarah Palin complained on Sean Hannity's radio show Wednesday that the "lamestream media" was accusing her of distorting the words of Ronald Reagan, or something like that. John McCain finally weighed in on all the back and forth between Palin and his former campaign aides, complimenting his ex-staffers and saying: "I think it's just time to move on." Ben Smith, meanwhile, notes the tightly organized nature of Palin's trip to Michigan: "The stop in Grand Rapids felt like a political campaign event, not a book tour. For a woman written off as a disorganized celebrity on a tour run by monomaniacal book publicists, Palin and her aides were clearly thinking politics."
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