Morning Fix: Six Senators To Watch On Health Care
For all of the attention President Obama's Monday speech to the American Medical Association received, the true battle ground over whether or not significant health-care reform will become law this year is in the Senate.
Knowing this, the president and his inner circle have been working the issue for months -- seeking to identify strong, and, more important, weak spots among senators as well as testing out what sort of compromises are possible.
Passage of a bill so fraught with so many sorts of political peril for so many senators is a gargantuan undertaking that requires a keen understanding not just of where each member of the world's greatest deliberative body stands on the issue but also who they stand with and who they listen to.
The Fix spoke with a variety of close observers of the Senate, seeking guidance on the linchpins to keep an eye on in the coming debate. From those conversations we derived a list of six of the most important pieces to any bipartisan health-care bill.
• Utah's Republicans: Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch may hail from one of the most Republican states in the country but both men are seen by Democrats as critical to their efforts to sell the bill. Bennett has co-sponsored health-care legislation with Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D) that has drawn considerable bipartisan support while Hatch is close personally to Sen. Ted Kennedy who, ailing with a brain tumor, has his best chance ever to see his dream of universal health care achieved. Bennett's support is complicated by political reality -- he is facing a serious fight for the Republican nomination from his ideological right in 2010. Playing a key role in some sort of health care compromise would not sit well with GOP activists in the Beehive State.
• Olympia Snowe: The Maine Republican sits on the Finance Committee and will likely be under considerable pressure -- given Maine's Democratic leanings -- to support some sort of compromise bill. Snowe was the only one of the ten Republicans on the Finance committee who chose not to sign a letter to the president opposing the so-called "public option"; Senate Republicans badly want a united front in opposition to the public option and Snowe holds the key.
• Bob Menendez: Mendendez, more so than any other Democratic senator, has one eye on the policy of the legislation and one eye on the political implications. If the possibility of raising taxes is floated -- Obama has said the plan can't grow the deficit and there are only so many available funding sources -- Menendez is likely to raise concerns about what voting for a tax increase could mean for targeted Democratic senators and aspiring Democratic candidates. How loud does he make his case and will it change any minds?
• Mitch McConnell: Can the Senate minority leader hold his conference in line? McConnell was unable to keep Snowe as well as Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Arlen Specter (then R-Pa.) from supporting the economic stimulus package, defections that gave Democrats the magic 60 votes. With Specter having switched parties in the interim, McConnell has even less wiggle room if he wants to block the bill. The question before the Kentucky Republican is whether he can convince senators who are up for reelection in 2010 in targeted races to oppose a bill and, if so, what will the message be for that opposition be? Simply saying no is not an option.
• Ted Kennedy: The Massachusetts senator is not likely to play a major role in the coming debate due to his illness but his presence looms over the chamber and could have real influence with wavering members. Kennedy has made it his life's work to pass universal health care and brought low by a brain tumor may not get another chance to see that vision realized. Given all of that, the symbolic import of passing some sort of legislation is considerable -- particularly on Democrats who might otherwise be inclined to take a pass.
Tuesday Fix Picks: After a long weekend and two 5+ hour plane flights, the Fix has lots of recommendations.
1. Things are getting worse in Iran.
2. The Leon Panetta interview that is causing so much controversy.
3. Jim DeMint is for Marco Rubio.
4. The New York state Senate drama drags on.
5. Czech Republic, Nurses and Breast Implants. Weird.
Steelman Still Pondering: Former Missouri state treasurer and 2008 gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman is still considering a run for the Show Me State's open Senate seat, she confirmed in an e-mail exchange with the Fix Monday night. "I have not ruled out a run for U.S. Senate," Steelman wrote, pushing back against an article in The Hill newspaper that suggested she was all but out and considering a run for the seat being vacated by Rep. Roy Blunt (R) who is running for the Senate. Steelman, however, has yet to file official paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to form an exploratory committee; she said that she postponed the exploratory while waiting to see what Thomas Schweich, a law professor at Washington University, would do. Schweich dropped from the race and endorsed Blunt last week. If Republicans are able to clear the primary for Blunt, it would significantly strengthen their chances at holding the seat although Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) still has to be considered the favorite.
Meek Clears Field: Florida Rep. Kendrick Meek received the endorsements of Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ron Klein on Monday. Wasserman Schultz is an emerging power in the House while Klein was seen as a potential candidate himself for the opening caused by Sen. Mel Martinez's (R) retirement. The twin endorsements -- coupled with state Sen. Dan Gelber's decision to step aside recently and run for attorney general -- means that Meek is almost certainly the Democratic nominee. Whether that nomination is worth much, given the candidacy (and wide poll leads) of Gov. Charlie Crist (R) is another question.
Obama for Deeds: In an e-mail appeal aimed at recruiting volunteers for Creigh Deeds' candidacy for governor in Virginia, President Obama praises the Democratic state senator's "ability to bring people together, build consensus and deliver results." The e-mail, which was sent to the Organizing for America list, demonstrates the importance national Democrats are attaching to holding the Commonwealth governorship this year. Obama and his political inner circle have been reluctant to use the president as aggressively as many House and Senate strategists would like; will that change in gubernatorial contests in Virginia and New Jersey this fall?
Say What?: "Does Senator Dodd think we were born yesterday?" -- Former Connecticut Rep. Rob Simmons (R) in a fundraising appeal seeking to draw attention to a new appraisal of Sen. Chris Dodd's (D) Irish cottage that doubled its value.
June 16, 2009; 5:26 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , Morning Fix
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