The Note, 6/11/2009: Table Hopping — As groups choose sides, Obama chooses venues in health care push

By Caitlin Taylor

Jun 11, 2009 8:07am

By RICK KLEIN Those seats around the table are getting warmer. They’re not as comfortable as they looked in February. By the time dinner is served, they’re going to be downright hot. (There might be a few empty chairs by then, too.) And so President Obama moves the table on Thursday — to Green Bay, Wis., as American as cheddar cheese and football, with the waistlines to match — and a few health care stories to tell. The president is taking the debate outside of Washington to use a rhetorical device he used repeatedly during the campaign: personal story as political argument.  One reason? The public option won’t be an option unless the public is on board.  Between town-hall meetings, e-mailed testimonials, and Organizing for America pressure and events, the president is building the public argument for health care reform at a time that the opposition has taken firm shape.  With the big boys choosing sides — now it’s the Chamber of Commerce and the American Medical Association voicing major concerns — we know what the other side will say about the Obama plan even before we know what the bill itself would do: that it taxes too much, that it costs too much, that your health care will be affected, that it’s the road to — wait for it — socialized medicine.   Now the White House aims to beat the big arguments with small ones: personal tales, local examples, tugs at emotional heartstrings. And getting out of town means the biggest voice is all his own. The hope for change begins in Green Bay: “Today’s town-hall-style meeting, his first as president to promote health reform, is intended to spotlight one city’s strategy for squeezing out waste without hurting quality,” Ceci Connolly reports in The Washington Post. “What Obama is likely to hear in Green Bay is testimony to the value of digital records, physician collaboration, preventive care and transparency, say those most involved in Wisconsin’s innovative approach.”    “In Green Bay, Obama is likely to note the widespread variation in how medicine is practiced and the huge variation in costs, after adjusting for demographics, among different parts of the country with no clear difference in quality,” Guy Boulton writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Wisconsin’s health care system overall is among the most efficient in the country. But cost variations can be seen in the state.”    The town-hall event, at Green Bay’s Southwest High School, starts at 1:10 pm ET.    (Plus another tragedy — one that can’t be divorced from politics — Wednesday’s shooting at the Holocaust Museum. “Time to Apologize to Janet Napolitano?” asks Ryan Sager, at TrueSlant.com.)    (If this does re-start the culture wars, how long before guns become part of the battle?)    Choosing sides: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it will spend $100 million in an effort to stem the ‘rapidly growing influence of government over private-sector activity,’ in a major new move by the powerful business group to counter the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda,” Christopher Conkey reports in The Wall Street Journal. “Meanwhile, the Service Employees International Union launched a campaign to counter the Chamber’s effort, including an online ad that juxtaposes a businessman stuffing cash in his pocket with a child who has no health insurance.”  Can a public option survive? “The American Medical Association is letting Congress know that it will oppose creation of a government-sponsored insurance plan, which President Obama and many other Democrats see as an essential element of legislation to remake the health care system,” Robert Pear writes in The New York Times. “The opposition, which comes as Mr. Obama prepares to address the powerful doctors’ group on Monday in Chicago, could be a major hurdle for advocates of a public insurance plan. The A.M.A., with about 250,000 members, is America’s largest physician organization.”    (The president gets to play in-person pushback Monday, when he’ll address the AMA’s policy-making House of Delegates, per the Chicago Tribune’s Bruce Japsen.) Rallying the troops (but what about the votes?): “The public option is just phony. It’s a bait-and-switch tactic meant to reassure people that the president’s goals are less radical than they are. Mr. Obama’s real aim, as some candid Democrats admit, is a single-payer, government-run health-care system,” Karl Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. “Defeating the public option should be a top priority for the GOP this year. Otherwise, our nation will be changed in damaging ways almost impossible to reverse.”    “Even the optimists in the White House acknowledge privately that it will be hard to collect more than a handful of GOP votes in the House, where most of their efforts focus on negotiating agreements between liberal and conservative Democrats,” David Broder writes in his column. “The time may come — either before or after the House votes on its bill — when Obama may have to demonstrate his flexibility on the issue of a government-run option.”    A compromise? “Senators drafting health-care overhaul legislation, seeking to win Republican support, are weighing whether to create nonprofit cooperatives to expand insurance coverage,” Bloomberg’s Laura Litvan writes. “The potential appeal to Republicans is that the cooperatives would not be federally managed. Instead, the programs would be operated by their premium-paying members.”    “The compromise offered by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., would create health care cooperatives owned by groups of residents and small businesses, similar to how electric or other cooperatives operate,” the AP’s Erica Werner reports. “They’d be nonprofit, and without the government involvement that troubles Republicans and business groups about the public plan options.”    That might not even be the biggest fight: “The prospect of new taxes, new fees for businesses and cutbacks in other government spending has set off a furious behind-the-scenes struggle that is reviving the old maxim attributed to the late Sen. Russell Long of Louisiana: ‘Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree,’ ” Noam N. Levey and Janet Hook write in the Los Angeles Times.    “The jockeying is expected to become public soon,” they write. “And it’s already worrying Democrats on Capitol Hill, where there is little consensus about how to come up with hundreds of billions of dollars. It also provides an indication of how hard it may be to maintain broad support once it gets down to specifics.”   Forget bipartisanship — how about getting one party on board first? “President Barack Obama’s plan for a government health insurance program has touched off an increasingly fierce Democratic civil war on Capitol Hill, as liberals fearful about squandering the chance to achieve that goal are taking aggressive steps to keep moderates in line,” Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown reports.    One at a time, now: “Democratic leaders appeared to clear the way Wednesday for passage of a $100 billion war supplemental, even as they worked furiously to repair internal rifts over health care and climate change legislation,” Steven T. Dennis and Emily Pierce write for Roll Call.    “The deal also includes $5 billion in aid to the International Monetary Fund, despite the strong opposition of House Republicans. It is likely to omit a provision giving the administration additional authority to withhold photos of detainees who have been abused, which is opposed by many liberal Democrats,” Naftali Bendavid writes in The Wall Street Journal.    And this won’t solve Gitmo: “On Wednesday night, they gave in to White House concerns and softened that language to allow detainees to come to the U.S. for up to four months for trial — but not to be imprisoned in the U.S. for the long term.”   Better to win ugly than lose: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is fiercely lobbying fellow anti-war Democrats, crossing off the names of converts from a whip list as she seeks to build support for a troubled supplemental war-spending bill,” CQ’s Jonathan Allen reports. “Pelosi’s hands-on effort to flip the votes of her liberal base is indicative of the difficulty Democratic leaders have had in bringing their caucus together in support of Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan.”    Not ideal for either side: Congressional leaders are “expected to accept language that will allow Guantanamo prisoners to be brought into the United States for the purposes of prosecution 45 days after the administration has submitted certifications to Congress,” Politico’s David Rogers writes. “But the administration will have to live with the Senate’s insistence that none of the detainees be transferred more permanently to maximum-security facilities in the United States.”    Also fueling Republican arguments: “Despite repeated questioning, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs refused to answer whether the Obama administration will free Ahmed Ghailani if he’s found not guilty in court,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports.    “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about how certain cases may or may not play out,” Gibbs said.  More agenda woes: “More and more Democrats are ready to vote against Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s climate change bill, according to a congressional committee chairman who opposes his leader,” The Hill’s Jared Allen reports. “The House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said Wednesday that he’s at an impasse with the lead sponsor of a climate change bill strongly backed by Pelosi (D-Calif.), and that his list of Democratic members who would join him in voting against the measure is growing rather than shrinking.”    The GOP energy plan: “The centerpiece of our American Energy Act is a commitment to increase the production of our abundant domestic natural resources, and not to punish traditional energy producers and consumers,” Reps. Mike Pence, John Shimkus, and Fred Upton write in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “The cleanest way for utilities to control CO2 emissions is to increase the supply of carbon-free nuclear energy. This is obvious and simple, but in the thousand-page Waxman-Markey bill nuclear power is hardly mentioned.”    It’s enough to make a Republican optimistic: “I really believe we’ve got a shot at taking back this House because you see what’s gone on here with the unfettered ability of this administration and Nancy Pelosi to run this Congress,” House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., told ABC News. “The American people see that this agenda is way far out of the mainstream. They want a check and a balance on this power. And I think at the end of the day that’s what rules come November 2010.”    Tracking the political fallout of tragic events: “Gun-control advocates seized on the Holocaust Museum shooting Wednesday to call on Congress to reverse its drift toward loosening firearms restriction,” S.A. Miller writes in the Washington Times. “They said it highlights the need for lawmakers to reconsider efforts to ease the District’s tough gun laws and allowing firearms into national parks.”    How not to get your call returned by the president: “President Obama’s fiery ex-minister Jeremiah Wright is now blaming ‘them Jews’ for keeping Obama from giving him a call these days,” the New York Daily News’ Ken Bazinet reports.    “Them Jews aren’t going to let him talk to me. I told my baby daughter that he’ll talk to me in five years when he’s a lame duck, or in eight years when he’s out of office,” Wright told the Daily Press in Newport News, Va.   “They will not let him talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is …. I said from the beginning: He’s a politician; I’m a pastor. He’s got to do what politicians do,” Wright continued.   Greeting Vice President Joe Biden in Kansas: “Vice President Joe Biden will be in Kansas on Thursday to praise the use of federal economic stimulus funds on the U.S. Highway 69 project,” McClatchy’s David Goldstein writes. “But Biden, the stimulus’ chief cheerleader, also recently acknowledged that the some of the nearly $800 billion being spent around the country on jobs and growth ‘is going to be wasted.’ And that prompted Sen. Pat Roberts, his former Republican colleague from Kansas, to add his two cents to the multibillion-dollar pot: ‘I’ve got a good example.’ “    Greeting Ken Lewis on Capitol Hill: “Just saw an internal memo for a congressional hearing tomorrow with Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis. Looks like he’s in for tough questions on the Merrill deal,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reports. “Lewis, whose bank has accepted $45 billion in U.S. financial rescue funds, will appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Thursday. . . . The hearing may shed light on an investigation into whether government officials pressured Bank of America to withhold details about the deal from investors.”   On Judge Sonia Sotomayor — another take from Jeffrey Rosen: “An examination of Sotomayor’s career supports the idea that on the bench, she has been a racial moderate, not a radical,” Rosen writes for Time. “At the same time, her opinions and speeches suggest that her views about race, multiculturalism and identity politics are more nuanced, complex and provocative than either her critics or her supporters have allowed. And for that reason, if confirmed, she could influence the racially charged issues the Supreme Court will confront over the next few decades in unexpected ways.”    The New York Times’ Charlie Savage checks the videotapes: “Judge Sonia Sotomayor once described herself as ‘a product of affirmative action’ who was admitted to two Ivy League schools despite scoring lower on standardized tests than many classmates, which she attributed to ‘cultural biases’ that are ‘built into testing.’ On another occasion, she aligned with conservatives who take a limited view of when international law can be enforced in American courts. But she criticized conservative objections to recent Supreme Court rulings that mention foreign law as being based on a ‘misunderstanding.’ “    Next from the GOP: “Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, still smarting at what they say is a rushed schedule for Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination hearing, sent Sotomayor a letter Wednesday asking her to clarify what they say are omissions from her questionnaire,” ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf and Sunlen Miller report. “Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, blasted the White House in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday for racing to get the nominees questionnaire to the committee and failing to complete it.”    The up-side of GOP chaos? Margaret Carlson, in her Bloomberg column: “The good news for Republicans is that when Gallup asked last month who speaks for the GOP, more than half the respondents couldn’t name anyone. Those who could most often cited Rush Limbaugh. If Republicans can’t take back the party from a talk show host, they don’t deserve to run the country.”    Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., isn’t a fan of having Limbaugh or Dick Cheney representing the GOP, he tells ABC’s Jake Tapper. 
The Kicker:  “It’s obviously a transformation process because we’re built for a basketball game and not a presidential visit.” — Green Bay Southwest High School Principal Bryan Davis.    “Laughter incited by sexually-perverted comments made by a 62-year-old male celebrity aimed at a 14-year-old girl is not only disgusting, but it reminds us some Hollywood/NY entertainers have a long way to go in understanding what the rest of America understands.” — Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, posting a statement on Facebook responding to David Letterman.     Today on “Top Line,” ABCNews.com’s daily political Webcast: Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; and Politico’s Jonathan Martin. Noon ET.   Follow The Note on Twitter: http://twitter.com/thenote   For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day: http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/

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