By RICK KLEIN Can President Obama spend political capital faster than his health care reforms would spend tax dollars? How do you score sticker shock? Two new polls and one rough week in the Senate hammer down a storyline: If the president wants his health care bill to pass, he’s going to have to come up with a health care bill that’s his. And if the debate over that bill doesn’t move off of spending/taxing/deficits, we may never get that far. The gulf between support for the president’s priorities and his overall approval rating (still-robust 56 percent in WSJ/NBC, and 63 percent in NYT/CBS) hasn’t closed itself. The divisions between Democrats and Republicans (and Democrats and Democrats) hasn’t healed itself. Either something or somebody gets dragged down when a popular president pushes unpopular policies. “After a fairly smooth opening, President Barack Obama faces new concerns among the American public about the budget deficit and government intervention in the economy as he works to enact ambitious health and energy legislation, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds,” the Journal’s Laura Meckler writes.
“These rising doubts threaten to overshadow the president’s personal popularity and his agenda, in what may be a new phase of the Obama presidency,” per Meckler. “A solid majority — 58% — said that the president and Congress should focus on keeping the budget deficit down, even if takes longer for the economy to recover.” “A substantial majority of Americans say President Obama has not developed a strategy to deal with the budget deficit, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, which also found that support for his plans to overhaul health care, rescue the auto industry and close the prison at Guantánamo Bay falls well below his job approval ratings,” Jeff Zeleny and Dalia Sussman write in the Times. Faith: “The poll found a distinct gulf between Mr. Obama’s overall standing and how some of his key initiatives are viewed, with fewer than half of Americans saying they approve of how he has handled health care and the effort to save General Motors and Chrysler,” they write. “A majority of people said his policies have had either no effect yet on improving the economy or had made it worse, underscoring how his political strength still rests on faith in his leadership rather than concrete results.” Sliding toward ownership: “Taken together, these surveys suggest that Obama faces a limited amount of time to convince the public that he is taking the right courses and a finite period before the problems that he inherited become identified as his own political liabilities,” Tribune Co.’s Mark Silva writes. The new polls have little good news for Republicans — unless you count worrisome news for the president as good news for his opponents. These are realities being felt by the hour on the Hill: “Whether or not health care reform actually passes in the end, this may be remembered as the week that the reality of the challenge such a massive overhaul poses finally dawned on lawmakers,” Time’s Karen Tumulty writes. “It’s all about the dollars. Coming up with a bill that doesn’t add to the deficit is turning out to be even harder than members of Congress thought it would be.” Any scenario under which delay is a good thing? “The Senate Finance Committee may postpone action on a health-care overhaul bill until July, a possible delay that comes as the potential costs of a revamp give Democrats pause and hand Republican opponents fresh ammunition,” Bloomberg’s Laura Litvan and Nicole Gaouette report. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.: “It’s too soon to say when we’ll be ready.” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa: “Whether it slipped a day or a week, I don’t really know.” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.: “This is the most incredible markup I’ve ever seen in my entire time at the United States Senate and in Congress.” The legislative path: “The House still appears on track to approve its health care legislation by the end of July. However, delays in that chamber are possible should conservative and centrist Democrats balk at the bill being written by Democratic leaders,” Roll Call’s David Drucker reports. The White House welcomed the contributions from the Bipartisan Policy Center — but this leaves Tom Daschle disagreeing with the folks that would have been his own team. “In a blow to President Obama and many of his Democratic allies in the health care fight, the plan recommends that there be no federal public option, but rather state or regional public-sponsored networks that would compete with private health plans,” per ABC’s Elizabeth Gorman. Republicans can stop something — if they have something to offer, Karl Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column: “The more scrutiny it gets, the less appealing Obama-Care will become. And the more Democrats have to talk about creating a new value-added tax or junk food taxes to pay for it, the more Americans will recoil,” Rove writes. “If the debate is whether to go with costly, unnecessary reforms or with common-sense changes, then Republicans have a chance to appeal to fiscally conservative independents and Democrats and win this one. It is still possible to stop ObamaCare in its tracks. If Republicans can do that, they will win public confidence on an issue that will dominate politics for decades.” Of course this isn’t criticism of his successor . . .”I know it’s going to be the private sector that leads this country out of the current economic times we’re in,” former President George W. Bush said in a speech in Erie, Pa., Wednesday night, per the Washington Times’ Joseph Curl. “You can spend your money better than the government can spend your money.” At what point to Democrats give it a go on their own? “Most Democrats believe that fixing the system will require increased government intervention to guarantee universal coverage and to contain costs. Most Republicans oppose an expansion of government’s role and believe an even more market-oriented system would pave the way to health-care nirvana,” E.J. Dionne Jr. writes in his column. “Trying to achieve full bipartisanship by squaring those two views is a recipe for incoherence.” Republicans are trying giving it a go on their own — sort of. ABC’s Dean Norland: “House Republicans unveiled an outline of their healthcare reform plan at a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday. The broad-stroke plan, given to reporters as a three-and-a-half page summary, lacked details or a cost estimate.” “The plan — and the four others introduced by Republicans in the House and five more in the Senate — is indicative of how the GOP is handling Democratic efforts to pass universal health care: death by a thousand paper cuts,” Time’s Jay Newton-Small reports. Organizing for America sends out a new “real person” video Thursday: “Cathy Miller, an Apple Valley, MN resident, telling a health care story that is emblematic of the need to reform health care this year, as President Obama has pledged to do.” Also from the video world: A new DCCC Web ad out Thursday — in time for the president’s Thursday fundraiser for the party committees — featuring Rush, Newt, Dick Cheney, Eric Cantor, and Mike Pence. “Tell the GOP that you stand with President Obama,” the video says. “Sign our hope card today.” Just a $3 million haul for the dinner at the Mandarin Oriental in Washington — and some creative rule interpretations are thrown in for free: “President Barack Obama’s strict ban on lobbyist contributions will limit the haul from Thursday night’s fundraising dinner for congressional Democrats, but organizers have found a way around it: a morning-after event at the same hotel where lobbyists — and their money — will be welcomed with open arms,” Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports. “Invitations for the $5,000-per-person Issues Conference don’t say it’s an effort to skirt Obama’s lobbying ban, but they walk right up to the edge.” Watching the left: Domestic partnership benefits (but not health care) for same-sex spouses of federal workers. “Obama said the law doesn’t allow him to go as far as he’d like and announced his support for legislation in Congress that would guarantee ‘all rights’ including health insurance and pension benefits for domestic partners of federal employees,” Newsweek’s Holly Bailey reports. “As he spoke, Obama was surrounded by representatives of many gay rights groups who have criticized his administration’s stance on equality issues in recent days, including the Human Rights Campaign.” Is this really close to enough? “Some federal workers say that what the White House is calling new benefits, such as use of sick leave to care for a domestic partners, is already available to federal employees,” per ABC’s Yunji de Nies. “Many gay activists also question the timing of the president’s action, which comes as the administration is under increasing criticism for the lack of movement on changing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and a recent Department of Justice memo, which in defending DOMA, compared gay marriage to incest.” “The memorandum he signed Wednesday was a far cry from the frontal assault on the 1996 marriage law, which denies federal benefits to same-sex partners, or the 1993 ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ ban on gays in the military that Obama the candidate talked about,” writes the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carolyn Lochhead. The move “failed to quell growing anger in the gay community that gay rights issues were getting short shrift at the White House,” Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Ben Smith report. “In fact, Obama’s promise to offer ancillary employee benefits — such as long-term-care insurance and the right to use sick leave to care for domestic partners — while still denying more valuable benefits, such as health insurance and retirement funds, may have further agitated gay and lesbian activists who were already fuming over other perceived snubs.” National Journal’s John Mercurio: “We’re starting to see a theme in the early days of the Obama era: Pushing allies away in the short term is fair game, as long as it suits the long-term goals of all sides.” Another fight — with left and right: A lukewarm response to the president’s financial regulatory reforms. ABC’s Jake Tapper and Matthew Jaffe: “In a move spurring controversy and criticism, President Barack Obama today proposed the biggest financial regulatory overhaul since the Great Depression, recommending new executive powers and a new government regulatory agency.” “Banks and other Wall Street firms that earn billions of dollars on consumer financial products quickly attacked the proposal, setting the stage for what is likely to be a hard-fought legislative battle,” Walter Hamilton and Jim Puzzanghera report in the Los Angeles Times. “The administration has made passage of the regulatory reform plan a priority and tried to roll it out as quickly as possible, hoping Congress could pass it this year. But supporters are concerned that the issue has lost momentum as the economy has shown signs of improvement.” “Critics who wonder about the wisdom of the move say the Fed failed to use its authority to address loose lending practices and the housing bubble that pushed the U.S. into a recession,” Sudeep Reedy writes in The Wall Street Journal. “A movement is spreading in Congress to force the Fed to disclose the identity of institutions that borrow from the bank, a move officials say would discourage firms from seeking needed emergency funds. A large group of House members is pushing to audit the Fed.” Sen. John Ensign’s “tumble”: “A former aide to Sen. John Ensign confirmed through her attorney that she had an extramarital affair with Nevada’s junior senator, whose once thriving political career took a further tumble Wednesday when he quit his Senate Republican leadership position,” Steve Tetreault reports in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Why this isn’t going away just yet: “According to Ensign’s aides, Doug Hampton had approached a television news network about the affair, prompting Ensign to go public. This could not immediately be confirmed,” Tetreault reports. “A Washington source said Doug Hampton approached Ensign earlier requesting money, with the implication that it would ensure the couple’s continued silence as the senator sought to continue his climb in the ranks of the Republican party.” The Las Vegas Sun reports: “Neither the FBI nor Metro Police in Las Vegas is investigating any claim that Sen. John Ensign’s former mistress or her husband tried to blackmail the senator for hush money about the affair, spokesmen for the agencies confirmed Wednesday.” Sounds of silence: “I’m late,” said Sen. David Vitter, R-La., per The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank. “Whazzat?” said Sen. McCain. Moving up the ranks: “Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is maneuvering for the GOP leadership opening left by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who resigned the post Wednesday,” The Hill’s Reid Wilson and Aaron Blake report. Movement in Illinois? “The Obama White House is pushing to have Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan run for the U.S. Senate; last week she was at the White House meeting with President Obama, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett,” Lynn Sweet reports in the Chicago Sun-Times. “Madigan’s spokesman, Robyn Ziegler, told me about Madigan’s White House visit, designed to persuade Madigan to make the Senate contest rather than run for governor.” Less movement from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (any other injuries suffered on the way to the White House?). Statement from Cheryl Mills, State Department counselor and chief of staff: “On the way to the White House late this afternoon, Secretary Clinton fell and suffered a right elbow fracture. She was treated at The George Washington University Hospital before heading home. She will undergo surgery to repair her elbow in the upcoming week. Secretary Clinton appreciates the professionalism and kindness she received from the medical team who treated her this evening and looks forward to resuming her full schedule soon.” John Edwards doesn’t rule out a return to politics (Al Gore of poverty?). Plus, this: “Did it make sense to run and stay in the race? Time will tell,” Edwards, D-N.C., tells The Washington Post’s Alec MacGillis. Newsy nugget: “Meanwhile, in New Orleans, residents who had been foreclosed on after Hurricane Katrina by subprime lenders owned by Fortress Investment Group, a hedge fund that Edwards worked for and invested with, have not received the special assistance that Edwards promised after their troubles were reported by The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal in 2007,” MacGillis reports.
The Kicker: “Our current system is a combination of Adam Smith, Darth Vader and the ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers.’ ” — Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., after Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said the plan looked like it was written by Rube Goldberg, Karl Marx and Ira Magaziner. “We support giving insects the benefit of the doubt.” — Bruce Friedrich, vice president for policy at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, after President Obama swatted a fly (without due process) during a televised interview.
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