The Note: Divided and Conquered: Dems Set Diminished Goals in Health Care Push

By Caitlin Taylor

Jul 27, 2009 8:11am

By RICK KLEIN In this moment of farewells — to Sarah Palin, and to a week’s worth of White House distractions that may only be solved over beers — we also bid farewell to the core of the old legislative strategy on health care. Divide-and-conquer works somewhat less effectively when you’re stuck on the “divide” part. The White House strategy for keeping things moving on health care has been predicated on two tracks that could move, more or less, independently. That meant working separate bills in the House and Senate, and aiming to cobble it all together in a conference committee down the road. But those tracks converged earlier than anticipated: House members don’t want to take tough votes if they’re not sure the Senate will be doing the same. Bipartisanship just isn’t there. The Senate pace has left everyone involved frustrated — and not sure how exactly to get to 60. That means diminished goals: Action in the House and Senate before August is no longer possible. Instead, the best Democrats can hope for is getting the House bill out of the Energy and Commerce Committee this week; if Senate Finance can reach agreement, too, that will would count as a major success at this point. It’s movement — but the endgame is murky. Defining bipartisanship — maybe not quite how the White House would: “There are not the votes for Democrats to do this just on our side of the aisle,” Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” Sunday.  “No, it is not possible,” Conrad added, “and perhaps not desirable either. We’re probably going to get a better product if we go through the tough business of debate, consideration, and analysis of what we’re proposing.” Secret weapon? ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., is tracking negotiations via TV and news clippings — and has spoken twice with President Obama by telephone over the past two weeks. “Even as he battles brain cancer, he could make one final, critical push for his lifelong goal,” Karl said on “Good Morning America” Monday. “Ted Kennedy’s vote could be the difference between success or failure.” Democrats are looking for legislative victories whenever they can find them — and the possibility of a House vote of significance before the August recess (even if that recess is delayed) remains. House Majority Leader Steny “Hoyer said the House could stay in session on Saturday and perhaps until Aug. 4 to give Members time to review a joint bill before voting on it on the floor. But the Majority Leader also said Democrats may wait until September to merge bills from the Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor committees,” Roll Call’s Steven T. Dennis and David M. Drucker report.  Confidence: “When I take this bill to the floor, it will win,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “This will happen.” The Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane: “The speaker, who has struggled to overcome a series of recent setbacks, raised the stakes by planning to restart talks Monday among bickering Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee, one of three House panels with jurisdiction over health care and where the bill stalled last week. Democratic leaders are newly confident that these differences can be resolved, possibly in time to bring a House bill to the floor before lawmakers depart Friday for the August recess, although Pelosi did not commit to a timetable.”  “The diverging assessments show what a tough sell Obama-style health reform is proving to be for some in Congress — particularly among moderates and fiscal conservatives in Obama’s own party,” Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown reports. “Last week, Obama was still pushing for both the full House and Senate to move bills before going on summer vacation. Now, reform advocates are down to hoping for committee action in each house, and even that isn’t certain.”  Contours of compromise: “A proposal to tax insurance companies on their most-expensive policies appears to be gaining momentum in Congress and the White House, as lawmakers search for politically acceptable ways to fund a health overhaul,” Naftali Bendavid reports in The Wall Street Journal.  Making it happen: “The White House does now seem to realize that a series of press conferences or political speeches across the country, or even an historic address of a joint session of Congress (as Clinton tried), will not be enough to get over the finish line,” Time’s Jay Newton-Small reports. “Health care reform is so politically fraught that it needs a strong White House presence in the room, something that only happened late last week in the House when Emanuel became personally involved in the talks with the Blue Dogs, but has yet to start with the Senate.”  Is failure a real option? “A defeat would be a killer for Democrats,” Bloomberg’s Al Hunt writes. “The trademark of Obama’s first year in office would be failure; the reputations of the president and his celebrated White House staff would be decimated. Less evident, though equally true, it would almost certainly cost congressional Democrats seats in next year’s elections, striking especially hard at some of the same centrist Blue Dogs who are resisting a health-care bill.”  Seeing blue: “Following a week in which the Blue Dogs challenged several key planks of the Democratic plan, most lawmakers agree a delay in the House legislation is likely. The House is set to adjourn next week, and unless lawmakers decide to stay in Washington for a few extra days, a decision would be put off until after Labor Day,” Naftali Bendavid writes in The Wall Street Journal.  Seeing red over the blue: “So what do the Blue Dogs want? Maybe they’re just being complete hypocrites,” Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times column. “Now, however, they face their moment of truth. For they can’t extract major concessions on the shape of health care reform without dooming the whole project: knock away any of the four main pillars of reform, and the whole thing will collapse — and probably take the Obama presidency down with it.”  Seeing red vs. blue: “Fifteen months before the midterm congressional election, health care is appearing in candidate stump speeches and interviews,” USA Today’s John Fritze reports. “That dynamic helps explain why a $1 trillion-plus health care bill stalled last week in Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is negotiating with skeptics in her own party, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said his chamber would not meet an August deadline to vote.”  Fun to explain: “The health care reform plan proposed by House Democrats would create at least a dozen new federal programs, boards and task forces, contributing to the proposal’s hefty price tag that has drawn criticism from Congress’ official scorekeeper,” Jennifer Haberkorn writes in the Washington Times.  Jousting with the CBO: “Following a blow from the Congressional Budget Office, Democratic leaders in Congress likely will make the case this week that the healthcare reform plan has multiple benefits and cost savings that cannot be scored by independent congressional accountants,” the Hill’s Roxana Tiron reports. “Democrats are going to seek to convince skeptics that the healthcare overhaul has other provisions, such as prevention and wellness measures, that will provide benefits and save money, a House leadership aide told The Hill on Sunday.”  (Watch this meme develop: “[CBO director Doug] Elmendorf has established a pattern of analysis on the negative side when it comes to evaluating costs of congressional legislation,” writes a blogger at Daily Kos.)  Ghosts of Clinton care: “Republicans are fixated on what worked for them in the last health-care battle, and Democrats are overly concerned with what contributed to their failure. Just as Clinton’s plan was weighed down by the impression that it would change too much, history may leave Obama’s effort vulnerable to the charge that it is changing too little,” Ezra Klein writes in The Washington Post.  “We talk about everything,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told NBC’s David Gregory Sunday. “I think he’s making a very strong case.  And what’s important here is that people are always for change in general, and then they begin to worry about the particulars.”  July heat: on Monday launches a new TV ad, “Political Football,” to air “in both Republican and Democratic districts while lawmakers are home, reminding them of the urgency of addressing our nation’s health care crisis and the political and economic cost of inaction. The ads will be accompanied by a month-long grassroots offensive where MoveOn members will lobby their representatives and Senators and educate their communities about the urgency of passing strong health care reform.”  Americans United for Change crushes a snail (but not really) in its latest ad, a DC cable, five-figure buy. From the script: “The Republicans claim the health insurance reform debate has been moving at lightning speed. In fact for 15 years, it’s hardly moved at all. Meanwhile premiums have gone up 3 times faster than wages, health insurance profits have soared and 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance every day. Now the Republicans say Congress should slow down? That’s because when something goes slow enough it’s easy to kill it dead in its tracks.” August heat: “Health Care for America Now, a coalition of labor and progressive groups supporting Obama, will at least match the $2 million in TV ads it’s run this month and send members to lawmakers’ town hall meetings, said Richard Kirsch, its national campaign manager,” per the AP’s Alan Fram. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a foe, will run print ads in Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine and North Carolina criticizing Obama’s proposal for optional government-run insurance coverage, place newspaper op-eds and stage events around the country.”  “August is both a peril and an opportunity,” White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told a group of reporters last week, per Bloomberg’s Kristin Jensen and Edwin Chen. “The peril is that the interest groups will come out and change course. The opportunity, which I think it is, is there’s not a group in the middle saying, ‘don’t do this.’ They’re saying, ‘do it right.’ “  So the media won’t have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore (and if you believe that one, we’ve got a bridge to Ketchikan to sell you). Palin “went out with a bang, delivering a fiery 15-minute long speech to a crowd of supporters in Fairbanks, Alaska, in which she lambasted the media and touted Alaska’s history of energy independence,” ABC’s John Hendren, Neal Karlinsky, and Kristina Wong report.  “Midway through her speech, it sounded as if Palin was back on the vice presidential campaign trail, stumping for fiscal conservatism, the development of natural energy resources, and moral conservatism. Yet she gave no hint as to her future in politics, saying only she stepped down in order to spare Alaskans ‘politics as usual’ from her governorship turning into a ‘lame duck session,’ with a year-and-a-half to go.” The now-former first dude, Todd Palin, told ABC: “It’s been an awesome experience and she’s very happy to serve the residents of Alaska and onto the next chapter of life. . . . I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”  “She’s a good poker player,” Palin’s father, Chuck Heath, told Politico’s Jonathan Martin. “She never divulged what she’s going to do.”  Writes Martin: “It was widely thought that Palin would appear at the Reagan Presidential Library next month in California for a Republican women event, but Heath and Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton said Sunday that her appearance there was not confirmed.” The Anchorage Daily News’ Sean Cockerham: “Palin didn’t disappoint her supporters, tossing out rhetorical grenades at the federal government, the news media, animal-rights activists and the people whose ethics complaints she has said helped to drive her from office. Palin launched the first salvo of her speech at the media, saying democracy depends on it.”  The Washington Post’s Dan Balz: “Palin’s resignation has freed her to begin another phase of her life. Whether it has put additional limits on her ability to rise further will be answered in the coming months. She has an opportunity to step back, to regroup and to start again — but not necessarily to start fresh, given all that has happened since she burst on the scene less than a year ago.”  Tucker Eskew: “Substantive second acts in American politics are reserved for those who stake a claim and defend it. . . . By resigning, she limits her chances for public office and expands her chances for personal good fortune. Somewhere in between public office and personal standing lies her apparent — but elusive — goal of influence.” Next battle, in absentia: “The Legislature is scheduled to meet in special session Aug. 10 in an attempt to override Palin’s parting veto of $28.6 million in federal energy conservation funds, part of Alaska’s share of the economic stimulus package,” the Los Angeles Times’ Kim Murphy reports.  New role for T-Paw: “The Republican Governors Association will name Tim Pawlenty as its vice-chair Monday, giving the Minnesota governor a national leadership post he can use to advance his presidential ambitions,” Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports. Will the beer be flowing at the White House soon? “It’s our hope we’ll get it done. Sgt. Crowley told the president he was game, and I read that Professor Gates is the same way. So hopefully we can get that done in the next several days,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on “Fox News Sunday.” Was the president ever racially profiled? “Not in any major way, say those close to him, but he certainly feels there have been times he was treated differently because of his race,” per ABC’s Jake Tapper.  New wrinkle, from The Boston Globe: “The woman whose report of a possible house break-in led to the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. said she never mentioned race during her 911 call and is ‘personally devastated’ by media accounts that suggest she placed the call because the men she observed on the porch were black. . . . The woman, identified in a police report on file in Cambridge District Court as 40-year-old Lucia Whalen, saw the backs of both men and did not know their race when she called 911, said Wendy J. Murphy, a Boston lawyer from New England School of Law.” The damage: “First, it suggests he is an uninformed busy-body,” Jennifer Rubin blogs at Pajamas Media. “Second, he sucked the oxygen out of the health care debate at the very moment Democrats were pleading for him to become more involved.”  A day before the committee vote, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., lays out the case against Judge Sonia Sotomayor: “I don’t believe that Judge Sotomayor has the deep-rooted convictions necessary to resist the siren call of judicial activism. She has evoked its mantra too often. As someone who cares deeply about our great heritage of law, I must withhold my consent,” Sessions writes in a USA Today op-ed.  Coming Monday night: the first of three broadcasts featuring Jim Lehrer’s interview with Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, filmed in Kansas City with a studio audience and online participation Sunday.  “I’m as disgusted by it as you are,” Bernanke said, of the Fed’s efforts to rescue big banks. “Nothing made me more angry than having to intervene, particularly in a few cases where companies took wild bets.”  “Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Sunday said he engineered the central bank’s controversial actions over the past year because ‘I was not going to be the Federal Reserve chairman who presided over the second Great Depression,’ ” The Wall Street Journal’s Sudeep Reddy reports. “Speaking directly to Americans in a forum to be shown on public television this week, Mr. Bernanke pushed back against Kansas City area residents who suggested he and other government officials were too eager to help big financial institutions before small businesses and common Americans.”  Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in the Middle East: “U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Obama administration hopes Iran will respond to an offer for talks on its nuclear program soon,” per Voice of America. “Gates spoke in Israel, where he is discussing Iran’s nuclear ambitions with top officials. He said Washington hopes Iran will answer the diplomatic overture in time for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in September.” 
The Kicker: “So, how about, in honor of the American soldier, quit making things up.” — Sarah Palin, now the former governor of Alaska, on her fiery way out.  “Maybe a little moose hunting, what do you think?” — Todd Palin, on what’s next for the couple.
Today on the “Top Line” political Webcast, live at noon ET: America’s Health Insurance Plan’s Robert Zirkelbach; Time’s Jay Newton-Small. Follow The Note on Twitter: For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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