A publication note: This is the last edition of the Political Browser as a standalone daily feature. Thanks to everyone who has read this page since it first launched 15 months ago, and a special thanks to producer John Amick, whose heroic early-morning efforts and discerning eye for news have (we hope) made this feature worth reading each weekday morning. This column -- The Rundown -- will return in January in its regular slot on the "44" blog. Until then, happy holidays, and thanks again for reading.
8 a.m. ET: Here's a vivid illustration of how bad things have gotten in the Senate: It took an anticipated act of God to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on something.
With the threat of a snow and ice storm marching across the country Christmas Eve, the majority and minority struck a deal to vote on final passage of the health-care reform bill roughly 24 hours from now. The cliché about Chuck Schumer is that you should never get between him and a camera; this deal proves that you should never get between a senator and the airport, particularly when the legislative outcome is all but assured. "Jubilant Democrats are ready to push President Barack Obama's health care overhaul past one last 60-vote hurdle to final Christmas Eve passage, and Republicans concede they're powerless to stop it," the Associated Press writes, as one more key procedural vote remains Wednesday afternoon before the final tally Thursday. The Senate will also vote on an increase in the debt limit that will put the issue off until February, and the GOP extracted a pledge that they would be allowed to offer amendments then. "Beyond practical concerns, Republicans said the agreement allowed them to use what remaining 'leverage' they had from their ongoing filibuster of the Christmas bill to help set the stage for next year’s political battles, particularly on the national debt," Roll Call reports.
That deal means the Senate won't have to return to session next week, as had been envisioned. The Wall Street Journal puts December's action in perspective: "Convening on Christmas Eve would mark the 25th straight day of debate, bringing the Senate just short of the record for most consecutive days in session. That was set in the winter of 1917 in the run-up to U.S. entry into World War I, when the chamber met for 26 consecutive days." The Washington Post looks at the effect the bizarre senate schedule has had on Robert Byrd, who has been present at all hours of the night to cast the 60th vote despite being 92 and afflicted with numerous health problems. (Note Susan Collins' rejection of the idea that it was cruel for Republicans to make Byrd show up, contending that Democrats "can produce 60 votes whenever they want.")
David Leonhardt provides a guide to the coming House-Senate negotiations, and says the Senate bill is "pretty strong" but "the House bill, on the other hand, fails to attack high costs and spotty quality." Politico has bold words from House Democrats, who "insisted Tuesday they have no plans to roll over for the Senate in upcoming negotiations on a health reform bill, even as they acknowledged it would be all but impossible to reinsert a public insurance option or force the so-called millionaire's tax on the Senate. ... Aides said they would still like to pass a bill by the State of the Union at the end of January or the beginning of February. But leadership staff in the House said that that doesn't mean they're prepared to just accept the Senate bill." The Los Angeles Times says "Nancy-Ann DeParle, Obama's health advisor, acknowledged that many liberal House Democrats feel they already have compromised too much on the public option. But, she added, she was encouraged by signs that they do not see the matter as nonnegotiable."
Whither the public option? During an interview with the Washington Post, "Obama rejected criticism that he has compromised too much to secure health-care reform or turned over too much authority to congressional leaders in pursuing his broad legislative agenda." And he pointed out that he "didn't campaign on the public option," a contention that further irritated liberal critics. "Could that possibly be true?" Huffington Post asks. "Is it possible the political world was, by-and-large, confused when they assumed this was what candidate Obama had wanted? Not entirely." Huffpo adds that it's "fair to say that a public option for insurance coverage was a component of the Obama health care agenda" but on the campaign trail, "Obama spoke remarkably infrequently about creating a government-run insurance program." The Daily Beast notes that while some groups on the left are playing "realpolitik" about what they can get in conference, "a group of outspoken netroots bloggers and activists are engaged in a seemingly quixotic bid to pressure progressive legislators to 'kill the bill' unless the conference committee reinserts the public-insurance option spiked by the Senate, a highly unlikely outcome." Firedoglake is leading that campaign, while Nate Silver and Jonathan Cohn are among those pushing back.
In the business world, "companies are alarmed at potentially costly provisions in the Senate health-care bill, many of which they hope will be scrapped during a final round of negotiations early next year," the Wall Street Journal reports, adding that most groups are trying "to massage the hefty measure, instead of pushing to kill it," with the notable exception of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The drug industry, meanwhile, "is bracing for an increase in its share of the cost of the proposed health care overhaul beyond the $80 billion over 10 years that it had negotiated with the White House," the New York Times writes, as industry lobbyists acknowledge that "liberals appear poised to lose on so many other issues — including a proposed government-run insurer, a so-called Cadillac tax on expensive health plans and an independent Medicare-cutting commission — that the drug makers have come to accept that their deal may have to be modified."
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