8 a.m. ET: During his "combative" interview with 60 Minutes this past weekend, President Obama appeared particularly irritated by Steve Kroft's suggestion that he had simply "turned over" health care -- his top legislative priority -- to Congress.
"That's not true," Obama responded, before agreeing with the idea that he had "set the guidelines" for the congressional debate. Indeed, the White House signaled months ago (but denied it) that it was willing to give up on the public option in order to get a reform bill through the Senate. And now here we sit on Dec. 16, with the last vestige of a public option -- the Medicare buy-in -- gone and chances suddenly good that the chamber will approve a measure before Christmas. After meeting with Senate Democrats Tuesday, Obama said they were "on the precipice" of victory and added that the bill included "all the criteria that I laid out" during his address to a joint session of Congress.
Perhaps the White House was right all along about where the negotiations would end up -- without a public option -- but Harry Reid may have chosen the right way to get there. If the public option had been dropped for good weeks ago, without Christmas and the end of the year looming, would liberal senators have gone along? On Tuesday, the Washington Post writes, "Liberals fumed over the abandonment of a government-run insurance option, but they did not defect, and as a final vote neared, strenuous efforts to win the support of even a single Republican seemed increasingly unlikely to succeed." The Hill's headline: "Liberals grit their teeth and gather behind healthcare reform bill." After meeting with Obama, the Boston Globe writes, lawmakers "said they would rather pass a weaker measure than go home empty-handed and miss a rare opportunity for a historic expansion of health care."
As all reform stories are contractually obligated to do, the Wall Street Journal's report today says that "hurdles remained" to passage in the Senate: Ben Nelson still isn't happy with the abortion language, and everyone is waiting to hear what the Congressional Budget Office has to say about the latest version of the measure. The bill did clear one big hurdle, with an assist from some powerful lobbyists, when it defeated Byron Dorgan's amendment to allow drug reimportation. Howard Dean, who was a big fan of the Medicare buy-in proposal, now hates the bill in its current form and thinks the Senate should kill it. (Now top Democrats who never really got along with Dean -- particularly Reid and Rahm Emanuel -- can go back to ignoring what he says.)
Even if the White House did play this right from a legislative perspective, the politics are still tough. The new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that "after a year of exhortation by President Obama and Democratic leaders and a high-octane national debate, there is minimal public enthusiasm for the kind of comprehensive changes in health care now under consideration. There are also signs the political fight has hurt the president's general standing with the public." Politico writes that "health reform has exposed a get-a-deal-at-any-cost side of Obama that infuriates his party’s progressives." A liberal group is airing an ad in Chicago personally blaming Emanuel for giving up on the public option. Why did it die? Jonathan Chait says "The underlying political problem for liberals remains what it has been for a generation: profound and widespread distrust of government. But polls consistently showed voters thought the public option advocates were right--that, at least when it comes to health insurance, government can be trusted. It was a small victory, but it's on top of such small victories that political movements are built. Someday in the future, that movement may be powerful enough to win more sweeping changes."
Speaking of tough politics, Obama's decision to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay to a prison in Thomson, Illinois drew what could best be described as a mixed response. "Republican lawmakers launched an attack on the Thomson plan that could pose a serious threat" to the transfer idea, according to the Chicago Tribune. The New York Times explains: "Administration officials acknowledged that the move would require Congressional approval, since Congress now bars Guantánamo detainees from being brought onto American soil unless they face prosecution, and some of the detainees may be indefinitely confined without being tried. But one administration official said that Democrats, who control both houses, were planning to lift that restriction if the administration came up with an acceptable plan for closing the military prison at Guantánamo." On the other hand, USA Today reports, "most residents in Thomson itself are pleased with the decision ... saying it will bring jobs to their struggling village."
On the Hill, Congress is handing its year-end crush of legislation by doing what it often does -- punting. "Congressional Democrats are pushing fights over an increase in the federal debt limit and several other tough issues into 2010," the New York Times writes. The House is expected to wrap up its work for the year Wednesday with a host of votes, including on a defense spending bill that has extensions of several other measures attached to it. Many of the extensions end in two months setting up this dynamic, as described by Politico: "Trying to save Christmas, Congress is setting itself up for one wild Groundhog Day of budget woes come February." Perhaps lawmakers are eager to finish because they want to travel. The Wall Street Journal writes on members' publicly-funded junkets, detailing the typical itineraries and luxuries enjoyed by members and their spouses.
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