The Note: Waterloos & Welcomes: Is Opposition Just What Obama Needs?

By Caitlin Taylor

Jul 21, 2009 8:04am

By RICK KLEIN Whatever we think we’ve learned these past six months, we’ve got to be prepared to forget these next three weeks. And the Obama White House wants those memories to be good ones. As committees hash out health care, as Democrats fight Democrats and Republicans find a way to fight themselves, it’s just possible that President Obama has just what he’s always wanted: real opposition. Yes, it’s late, and yes, opponents growing organized seldom marks a welcome development. But a political operation that’s long been compared to itself now has something to position against (something that isn’t fully made out of straw, at least). Political energy is much easier to channel when it’s got someplace to go. At this point, the White House wants and needs the big stakes (and the “Waterloo” quotes), as it seeks to engage the public during a lazy summer. It’s time to get more aggressive. (This time, we presume, he means it.) Bring it: “President Barack Obama and his aides for the first time are directly targeting the GOP and specific Republicans, characterizing them as spoilers hoping to delay and sink the legislation for their own political gain,” Roll Call’s Keith Koffler and David M. Drucker report. “Top Obama aides have privately calculated that highlighting what they say is the nakedly political motivation behind the Republican Party’s assault on Obama’s health care plans will cause public sentiment to ricochet against the GOP.”  “Leaving little doubt that his popularity and political capital are on the line, Obama has scheduled a stream of public appearances this week to push his top domestic priority — including television interviews, a town hall meeting and a prime-time news conference set for Wednesday night,” the Los Angeles Times’ Christi Parsons and Noam N. Levey report. “The White House was pushing forward with a strategy developed on the campaign trail last year and honed in the early legislative battles over the federal stimulus package and global warming: Obama will take his case directly to the American people.”  A threat, if things don’t look like they’ll be done by October: “If I think that is not possible, then we are going to look at all of our options, including reconciliation. Not because that is my preferred option but because what I think would be unacceptable for the American people is inaction,” the president told progressive bloggers, per The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein.  “We’ve talked this problem to death, year after year,” the president said Monday, per ABC’s Jake Tapper. “This isn’t about me. This isn’t about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking American families.”  “If there’s no deadlines, nothing gets done in this town,” the president said PBS’ Jim Lehrer. If it’s a weekday, that must mean presidential remarks on health care reform: This time they’ll come at 1:05 pm ET, followed by a White House meeting with Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee — the private piece of a week of public and private pushes.  “If there was ever a come to Jesus moment on health care for wobbly Democrats, this may be it,” Politico’s Martin Kady II writes. He can’t just call out Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and call it a day: “The problem: It’s not just Republicans asking to slow the process down,” Newsweek’s Holly Bailey writes. “Plenty of key Democrats have suggested the process is moving too quickly, including Sen. Ben Nelson, who met with Obama last week at the White House, and Blue Dogs in the House who are concerned about the plan’s cost. So what will that do to the president’s message? Is Obama willing to publicly call out members of his own party in order to get the bill through Congress quickly?”  Why this is a race against the clock: “The public’s confidence in President Obama’s ability to handle the economy is eroding amid concern about higher federal spending and expanding government power, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds — a development that could complicate his efforts to push a health care plan through Congress in the next few weeks,” USA Today’s Susan Page writes. “In the survey, taken Friday through Sunday, Americans by 49%-47% disapprove of his handling of the economy, and by 44%-50% disapprove of his handling of health care.”  His approval rating is down to 55 percent: “That puts Obama 10th among the 12 post-World War II presidents at this point in their tenures. When he took office, he ranked 7th,” Page writes. “Trust in President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies to identify the right solutions to problems facing the country has dropped off significantly since March, according to a new Public Strategies Inc./POLITICO poll,” per Politico’s Andy Barr. “Just as Obama intensifies his efforts to fulfill a campaign promise and reach an agreement with Congress on health care reform, the number of Americans who say they trust the president has fallen from 66 percent to 54 percent. At the same time, the percentage of those who say they do not trust the president has jumped from 31 to 42.”  “This is the time of testing,” Bill Galston, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, tells Bloomberg’s Nicholas Johnston and Kate Andersen Brower.  Why the White House is still working Democrats — with the House just two weeks away from summer recess: “Unless you’re a veteran from a rock-solid liberal district, it’s a bit scary these days to be a Democrat in Congress. There’s political risk in delivering the sweeping changes President Obama promised on health and energy policy, but there’s also political risk in failing to deliver them,” Jill Lawrence writes for Politics Daily.  Also Tuesday — business engages: “U.S. Chamber of Commerce to announce a multi-million dollar advertising, media, and grassroots campaign to promote health care reform that protects employer-sponsored health care today during a press conference call at 2:00 p.m. The campaign will include newspaper and online ads in the beltway beginning today.” Holding the Mayo . . . The Mayo Clinic’s reaction to the House Democrats’ bill, per ABC’s Jake Tapper: “Although there are some positive provisions in the current House Tri-Committee bill – including insurance for all and payment reform demonstration projects – the proposed legislation misses the opportunity to help create higher-quality, more affordable health care for patients. In fact, it will do the opposite.”  Ready for the assault: “Emboldened by divided Democrats and polls that show rising public anxiety about President Obama’s handling of health care and the economy, Republicans on Monday launched an aggressive effort to link the two, comparing the health-care bills moving through Congress to what they labeled as a failed economic stimulus bill,” Perry Bacon Jr. and Michael A. Fletcher report in The Washington Post. “And the news Monday that the Obama administration would delay release of a congressionally mandated report on the nation’s economic conditions only stoked the rhetoric, spawning GOP speculation that the White House is trying to avoid bad news amid the health-care debate.”  “It’s time to put this experiment on the shelf,” said RNC Chairman Michael Steele, per ABC’s Elizabeth Gorman.  Dana Milbank hears Alex Castellanos’ work in Steele’s words: “Led by Steele, the Republicans are making no secret of their aims: kill health reform this year, leaving the millions of uninsured to wait for another day and another proposal. And one way to do that is to make it appear that the Democrats are heedlessly hurrying,” Milbank writes in his “Washington Sketch” column.  Sausage check: “Democratic Congressional leaders, bowing to unease among lawmakers and governors in their own party, on Monday suggested scaling back a plan to tax top earners to pay for the sweeping legislation and signaled a retreat from their ambitious timetable,” David M. Herszenhorn and Robert Pear write in The New York Times.  “Democrats are considering scaling back proposed taxes on the rich, reconsidering taxing employer health benefits, and possibly trimming the total cost of the package to make subsidies for the uninsured less generous than advocates have sought,” The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Hitt and Laura Meckler report. “Meanwhile, Mr. Obama is stepping up pressure on lawmakers. He has made a personal, public pitch for the legislation on seven of the last eight days.”   Are taxing health benefits off the table? “Not for me,” said House Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., per ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf.  Can the president wrest health care back from his own party? “Every cliché Ann Coulter throws at the Democrats is gloriously fulfilled by the Democratic health care bills. The bills do almost nothing to control health care inflation. They are modeled on the Massachusetts health reform law that is currently coming apart at the seams precisely because it doesn’t control costs,” David Brooks writes in his New York Times column. “Nancy Pelosi has lower approval ratings than Dick Cheney and far lower approval ratings than Sarah Palin. And yet Democrats have allowed her policy values to carry the day — this in an era in which independents dominate the electoral landscape.” Then again — why even be concerned? “Obama hasn’t even showed his hand yet,” writes Ezra Klein, in his Washington Post blog. “He hasn’t stepped into the process aggressively or given a big speech. He hasn’t activated his grassroots network or begun making threats on Capitol Hill. He hasn’t pushed.”  “I’m not about to go out on a limb with some sort of prediction that health care is going to pass this year,” Nate Silver writes at “It could very easily fail. But it’s not going to fail without the White House fighting like mad for it, and with most or all of its options being exhausted. . . . there are still a lot of news cycles ahead before ObamaCare can be put to rest.”  Dana Perino’s advice: “It strikes me that he should consider asking the State Department to make him a new button — one that would allow him to hit pause. Then he could regroup and encourage a bipartisan healthcare reform bill that could perhaps go somewhere besides the potential for it to go down in flames,” Perino writes for “My advice is to stop pounding…we’re all getting headaches. Pull back and either square the circle or circle the square before trying again.” Pulling back — in other areas: “While President Obama has been pushing Congress to meet his deadline of August recess to pass health care reform legislation two of his task forces in charge of reviewing the administration’s policies in the war on terror — the Special Task Force on Interrogation and Transfer Policies and the Detention Policy Task Force  — will not meet the Tuesday, July 21, deadline issued by the President last January, and have asked for and been granted two month and six month extensions, respectively,” ABC’s Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report.  “Obama administration officials said Monday they would not meet self-imposed deadlines for deciding what to do with scores of detainees too dangerous to release from the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” the Los Angeles Times’ Greg Miller and David G. Savage report. “The delays, involving those who cannot be tried, raise questions about whether the White House can close the prison by January, as President Obama pledged when he took office.”  Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke outlines the Fed’s “exit strategy,” in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “Overall, the Federal Reserve has many effective tools to tighten monetary policy when the economic outlook requires us to do so. As my colleagues and I have stated, however, economic conditions are not likely to warrant tighter monetary policy for an extended period. We will calibrate the timing and pace of any future tightening, together with the mix of tools to best foster our dual objectives of maximum employment and price stability.”  What he’s up against: “As Mr. Bernanke heads to Capitol Hill today for two days of testimony on the economy, the central bank is fending off attacks on many fronts from critics who want to rein in its power and autonomy,” Jon Hilsenrath and Sudeep Reddy report in The Wall Street Journal.  What might it cost to fix the nation’s financial system? “The total potential federal government support could reach up to $23.7 trillion,” says Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, in a new report obtained Monday by ABC’s Matthew Jaffe, on the government’s efforts to fix the financial system.  This is going to get ugly: Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was locked out of his own house — and ended up in handcuffs on his own porch: “The scene – two black men on the porch of a stately home on a tree-lined Cambridge street in the middle of the day – triggered events that were at turns dramatic and bizarre, a confrontation between one of the nation’s foremost African-American scholars and a police sergeant responding to a call that someone was breaking into the house,” The Boston Globe’s Tracy Jan reports. “It ended when Gates, 58, was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct in allegedly shouting at the officer; he was eventually taken away in handcuffs. But the encounter is anything but over. Some of Gates’s outraged colleagues said the run-in proves that even in a liberal enclave like Harvard Square, even with someone of Gates’s accomplishments, a black man is a suspect before he is a resident.”  Looks like California will have a budget after all: “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders reached a tentative budget compromise Monday to plug a $26.3 billion deficit by making hefty cuts in education, health and welfare services, and taking billions of dollars from county governments,” Matthew Yi reports for the San Francisco Chronicle.  Another entrant in the GOP gubernatorial race in Michigan: “Businessman Rick Snyder is expected on Tuesday to jump into the race to become Michigan’s next governor and join a crowded field of Republicans looking to take the state’s top elected post next year,” per the AP. “Snyder, an Ann Arbor venture capitalist and former president of computer maker Gateway Inc., has media events scheduled for Dearborn, Flint, Lansing and Grand Rapids.” 
The Kicker: “Yes. Next question.” — RNC Chairman Michael Steele, asked if President Obama’s health care plan represented “socialism.”
  “The reforms we seek would bring greater competition, choice, savings and inefficiencies to our health care system.” — President Obama, earning himself a “[sic]” in the official White House transcript. 
Today on the “Top Line” political Webcast, live at noon ET: Linda Douglass, communications director for the White House Office of Health Reform; and Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. 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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