The Note: Intramurals — Health Care Progress Pits Dems vs. Dems

By Caitlin Taylor

Jul 28, 2009 8:12am

By RICK KLEIN Can you call it one-party control if nobody’s in, well, control? Because of the numbers, the political dynamics, the urgency, and the various complications, the debate over health care reform is and remains an intra-party debate. Save for a few stray Senate Republicans, this is a Democratic discussion — and a growing Democratic problem, as prospects for quick passage dim. Democrats can look for villains (and repeat villainous quotes) but the votes they need reside inside their own caucus. (Which is one thing that complicates the public end of the campaign, as President Obama visits the AARP Tuesday for a “tele-town” hall, and congressional Democrats prep for an event-heavy recess: The pressure needs to come on Democrats’ friends, not their enemies.) In the House, it’s the Blue Dog Democrats who, by themselves, are stalling work in the Energy and Commerce Committee, to say nothing of what they could do on the House floor. As for the flickers of bipartisanship that are left in Congress, careful what you wish for: Senate Finance Committee talks are set to exacerbate tensions inside the Democratic Party — this time, enraging the left. The latest out of that last refuge of bipartisanship will test the Democratic Party’s cohesiveness anew. Senators are seriously discussing dropping the public option, along with the employer mandate: “A bipartisan group of senators is closing in on a health care compromise that omits key Democratic priorities but seeks to hold down costs, as lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol labor to deliver sweeping health legislation to President Barack Obama,” per the AP’s David Espo and Erica Werner.  “Three Democrats and three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee were edging closer to a compromise that excludes a requirement many congressional Democrats seek for large businesses to offer coverage to their workers. Nor would there be a provision for a government insurance option, despite Obama’s support for such a plan.” “[Senate Finance Chairman Max] Baucus said he has been speaking to President Obama almost daily about the talks,” per ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf. “There is no deal yet on any issue, and all negotiators are careful to qualify that ‘we don’t agree on anything until we agree on everything.’ But some themes of what a compromise could look like are starting to emerge.”  Fire up the left: “This compromise does nothing except reform insurance. It is not worthless because it makes it fair, but it is not health care reform,” former DNC Chairman Howard Dean said on MSNBC Monday.  The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel takes on the Blue Dogs: “At this moment — when 72 percent of the nation supports a public plan option and 14,000 people lose their healthcare every day — the House Blue Dogs and conservative Democratic Senators are doing just about everything they can to cripple real health care reform,” she writes for Huffington Post. “They are, in fact, out of touch and out of the mainstream — like the rest of their conservative brethren.”  The emerging choice for the president: “If the three Democrats and three Republicans [negotiating inside the Finance Committee] can pull off a grand bargain, it will have to be more conservative than the measures proposed by the House or the left-leaning Senate health committee. And that could force Mr. Obama to choose between backing the bipartisan deal or rank-and-file Democrats who want a bill that more closely reflects their liberal ideals,” David M. Herszenhorn and Robert Pear report in The New York Times. (And reform is being fueled by chocolate-covered potato chips — “chippers,” from North Dakota.)  Where the opposition party matters: “Having achieved a rhetorical victory with their call to discard arbitrary deadlines in favor of drafting quality legislation, Republicans are now pushing Democrats to dump the treasured policy priorities that make up the HELP bill and various legislative proposals circulating in the House,” Roll Call’s David M. Drucker reports.  Over in the House: “Top Democrats had hoped to bring the legislation to the House floor before lawmakers leave town Friday for a monthlong recess. But House Democrats are sharply divided over core issues, including how to finance the bill costing $1 trillion or more over 10 years and how to contain the rapid growth in health-care costs,” Greg Hitt writes in The Wall Street Journal.  The costs of a large majority: “Even if they won’t acknowledge it publicly, most Democrats in Congress know the truth: It’s their own colleagues who are slowing down progress in both the House and the Senate,” Politico’s Patrick O’Connor reports. “Back in 2005, Democrats made a concerted push to recruit conservative candidates to help them win in Republican-leaning districts. . . . But now Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are grappling with the downside: To get health care reform through Congress, they’re going to have to get it past these new, more conservative members of their party.”  The costs of being in control: “The experience of the 15 years since Bill Clinton failed to win passage of legislation suggests that the price of inaction may be even higher than the cost of Obama’s plan,” Bloomberg’s Matthew Benjamin and Brian Faler report. “Congress refused to touch the issue for a decade after the collapse of Clinton’s 1994 bid. A similar outcome this year would likely add millions to the ranks of the uninsured, boost costs for businesses and workers, and do nothing about what may be the top threat to the government’s long-term fiscal health, proponents of the plan argue.”  Paging some deal-makers: “In big-time politics, personalities matter. If you want evidence, just look at the wrangling over health care,” Gerald Seib writes in his “Capital Journal” column. “In this case, it’s the absence on the front lines of four big personalities — Rep. John Dingell, Sen. Ted Kennedy, former Sen. Tom Daschle and Sen. John McCain — that helps explain why Congress and the Obama administration are having such a hard time getting something done.”  Time’s Mark Halperin has five relationships holding up health care reform (and notice how many involve intramural action): “1. House Democrats-Senate Democrats. 2. Blue Dogs-Henry Waxman. 3. Harry Reid-Max Baucus. 4. Grassley/Snowe/Enzi-other Republican Senators. 5. The media-the story of Professor Gates.”  Gearing up for August’s health care ad wars: “So far, two dozen groups have spent more than $46 million on TV ads in an effort to influence policymakers, says Evan Tracey, president of the nonpartisan Campaign Media Analysis Group,” per ABC’s Devin Dwyer. “That’s nearly double what Tracey estimates stakeholders spent on ads during the failed health care reform effort of the early 1990s.”  Still at the table — for now: “We’re going to continue to talk about the areas where we do have concern. We’ve been very clear that we do not support a government-run insurance plan,” Robert Zirkelbach of America’s Health Insurance Plans said Monday on ABCNews.com’s “Top Line.”  More tough lessons from Mass.: “As the debate in Washington heats up, local executives warn that two goals of the Obama administration — expanding insurance coverage and controlling spending — may prove incompatible,” The Boston Globe’s Robert Weisman reports. “And as Massachusetts strains to deal with the increasing costs of its successful healthcare program, they raise questions about who will pay for the projected $1 trillion cost on the federal level.”  Obama works the outside-inside thing Tuesday, while inside the Beltway. He travels to AARP headquarters in Washington for a “tele-town hall” meeting at 1:30 pm ET. It keeps a key stakeholder close: “The president knows the support of the 50-plus community will be critical for health care reform,” said AARP Chief Communications Officer Kevin Donnellan. The forum will stream live.  Also Tuesday: Elizabeth Edwards testifies on medical bankruptcies in front of a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee, at 11 am ET.  Judge Sonia Sotomayor gets her Senate Judiciary Committee vote Tuesday, with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the only Republican on the panel saying he plans to support her Supreme Court nomination. (Chief Justice John Roberts got the votes of three Democrats on the committee, in 2005.) If you need evidence that the confirmation process has changed, probably forever, what does it say that senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are opposing a nominee for the first time in their careers? “The lineup signals Sotomayor will win confirmation in the Senate by a comfortable margin and become the first Latino justice, but she will do so without much Republican support,” David G. Savage writes in the Los Angeles Times.  Said Grassley: “I think it’s a whole new ballgame, a lot different than I approached it with [Justice Ruth Bader] Ginsburg and [Justice Stephen G.] Breyer.” “I think I’m led to believe that [Sotomayor's] personal views may play a more prominent role than I think they ought to by justices of the Supreme Court,” Grassley tells the Des Moines Register’s Thomas Beaumont.  Plus, happy hour (or something like it) is set at the White House: Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley will have beers with President Obama Thursday at 6 pm ET, per ABC’s Jake Tapper. (Two of the three participants will be off-duty, presumably.)  Think they’ll listen to the tapes? “The material indicates that Crowley was unaware Gates was black when he reached the scene. But the often indistinct recordings leave vexingly unanswered most questions about the incident that has captured worldwide attention,” Peter Schworm and John Ellement report in The Boston Globe. “The tapes fail to establish whether blame for escalating the encounter falls at the feet of Gates, who Crowley said called him a racist cop, or of Crowley, whom Gates later labeled a ‘rogue cop.’ They leave unreconciled sharply divergent accounts of the incident offered by the two men.”  “In the radio dispatches, a police officer identifies Gates as the man inside the house, saying he is uncooperative,” per ABC’s Huma Khan and Jake Tapper. “Except for vague noises in the background, the conversation between Gates and the officers is mostly unclear. Since Gates cannot be heard on the police tapes, the tapes do not settle the differing accounts between Gates and the arresting officer.”  Surely this will quiet the birthers: “I, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, director of the Hawaii State Department of Health, have seen the original vital records maintained on file by the Hawai’i State Department of Health verifying Barrack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii and is a natural-born American citizen,” reads the new statement put out by state officials Monday.  Per Dan Nakaso, of The Honolulu Advertiser: “A congressional resolution introduced by Hawaii Rep. Neil Abercrombie commemorating the 50th anniversary of Island statehood was postponed today apparently because of a ‘whereas’ clause noting Obama’s Hawaii birthplace. The line ‘Whereas the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961;’ has been construed by some who believe Obama is not a U.S.-born citizen as a thinly veiled attempt to get Congress to affirm Obama’s U.S. Citizenship, Abercrombie spokesman Dave Helfert said.”  Vice President Joe Biden joins Attorney General Eric Holder on the stimulus salesmanship trail Tuesday. At 10:15 am ET at Philadelphia City Hall, per the White House, “they will make a major American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding announcement for law enforcement agencies across the nation. They will be joined by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and City of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey.” It’s $1 billion in aid going out — but not everyone’s getting a share. Not the best of frames: “Four major cities — New York, Seattle, Houston, and Pittsburgh — will get no money from a $1 billion economic stimulus program to help cities avoid laying off police officers, officials told The Associated Press on Monday,” per the AP’s Devlin Barrett. “The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details publicly, said about 7,000 state and local agencies applied for aid under the COPS program that is part of the $787 billion stimulus package passed earlier this year. Only about 1,000 were approved.”  (Paging Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, Bob Casey, and Arlen Specter . . . ) Double-sided copies, the deficit, and you: “Ninety-eight days ago, at President Obama’s first Cabinet meeting on April 20, the president asked his Cabinet to come up with $100 million in spending cuts within 90 days. Today the administration made that list public, with $102 million in cuts that would be realized in FY 2009,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports.  Old business: “More than eight months after President Barack Obama won the White House, the remnants of his campaign organization is struggling to deal with some unfinished business: returning about $669,000 in tainted or illegal campaign contributions to a motley assortment of donors, among them a convicted murderer, Washington lobbyists and a number of foreign nationals, including his own aunt,” Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel reports. “But the 11 Chicago-based staff members still on the campaign’s payroll are finding it was a lot easier to rake in a record-shattering $750 million than to identify and return donations that ran afoul of federal election laws or Obama’s own strict fundraising standards.”  New business — China summit, Day Two: “President Obama [Monday] kicked off senior-level talks in Washington between the United States and rising world power China to tackle economic and foreign policy issues,” ABC’s Matthew Jaffe and Kirit Radia report. “One point of emphasis for U.S. officials will be making it clear to the Chinese that they should not count on U.S. consumer spending to help rescue their export-heavy economy from recession.”  Rough news day for Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.: “According to excerpts from a deposition obtained by ABC News, Democratic Senators Christopher Dodd and Kent Conrad knew they were receiving preferential treatment on loans from Countrywide Financial, the nation’s formerly-largest home lender,” ABC’s Kristina Wong reports. “Robert Feinberg, a former loan officer for Countrywide, testified to a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigator that Dodd and Conrad knew they were getting special ‘VIP’ discounts on personal mortgages, in 2003 and 2004 respectively.”  Does he need or want friends like these? “As Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut assumes a central role in the debate over health care, the pharmaceutical industry has helped finance efforts to bolster his image back home as he braces for a potentially bruising re-election contest,” Raymond Hernandez writes for The New York Times. “The industry’s campaign-style push for Mr. Dodd, part of a larger effort to highlight the work of certain lawmakers around the country, portray him as a defender of ordinary citizens in brochures sent to more than 100,000 homes in Connecticut and in a 30-second television spot that ran for three weeks.” 
  The rare case when the GOP establishment be could not be happier to lose an incumbent: Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., “announced Monday that he’s ending his bid for a third term, bringing to a close a multimonth-long saga that pitted the 77-year-old Hall of Famer against a Republican leadership that sent strong signals that he should step aside for the good of the party,” McClatchy’s Halimah Abdullah reports.  Waiting game in New York: “Call her Hamlet-on-the-Hill. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) can’t seem to decide when – or even if – she wants to launch her primary challenge against U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand,” David Saltonstall reports in the New York Daily News.  Is it just possible there will be an interesting mayor race after all? “New York City Comptroller William Thompson, the top Democratic challenger, trails Mayor Michael Bloomberg 47-37 percent among New York City voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. This 10-point gap is less than half of Mayor Bloomberg’s 54-32 percent lead June 16.” Down in Texas, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison staffs up for her primary challenge against Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas: Terry Sullivan will serve as campaign manager; Jennifer Coxe-Baker as senior communications advisor; Jeff Sadosky as press secretary; and Joe Pounder will leave Rep. Eric Cantor’s, R-Va., office to serve as deputy communications director. 
The Kicker: “If I had some DNA it wouldn’t assuage those who don’t believe he was born here.” — White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, responding to the “birthers” from the podium.  “Over the past year, some of the leaders of the Republican Party in the Senate have done everything in their power to dry up my fundraising.” — Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., making his last pitch a high, hard one. 
Today on the “Top Line” political Webcast, live at noon ET: Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.; Republican consultant Kevin Madden. 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:

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