The Note: Summer Heat — Shouting It Out Over Health Care

By Caitlin Taylor

Aug 6, 2009 8:03am

By RICK KLEIN If the first 100 days was about the arrival of hope, the second 100 days has been about how to shout it out of the building. We’re now at the point where rudeness rules the debate — where both sides are shouting, and not a lot of listening is going on. National discussion, meet national mayhem. Yes, it’s August, but health care reform is going to require a lower temperature. How’s your summer going? If you’re Judge Sonia Sotomayor, it’s going to be getting much better after Thursday. If you’re former President Bill Clinton, it just got a whole lot better after Wednesday. If you’re former Rep. William Jefferson, it just got a whole lot worse. If you’re a Democratic lawmaker, it’s going to be noisy and nasty. (And these next four weeks will depend a whole lot on these next two days.) And if you’re a Republican, you’re watching President Obama reach the realm of mere political mortals. A major national poll has the president’s job approval at 50 — yes, five-oh. From Quinnipiac: “After 199 days in office, President Barack Obama has a 50-42 percent job approval rating from American voters, down from 57-33 percent July 2 to its lowest level since Inauguration Day, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Voters disapprove 49-45 percent of the way the President is handling the economy and disapprove 52-39 percent of the way he is handling health care, but approve 52-38 percent of the way he is handling foreign policy.” New CNN numbers have his approval rating at 56: “As President Barack Obama approaches 200 days in the White House, a new national poll suggests his approval rating has dropped 10 points since the 100-day mark in April.” (And that’s 20 points in six months.) In the meantime — something we haven’t seen in a while in the health care debate: optimism. We’re now at the point where expectations for progress are such that any movement out of the Finance Committee will be hailed as a major achievement, even as that panel strays from President Obama’s stated goals. (Public option, anyone?) Movement is the White House goal, and this is the kind of meeting we wouldn’t know about unless they’re close: “The six Senate Finance Committee members who have been holed up in closed-door negotiations for weeks, trying to find middle ground on health care reform, will travel to the White House to meet with President Obama on Thursday,” ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports.  We feel like we’ve read this headline this before, but this time for real (maybe): “Senate negotiators are inching toward bipartisan agreement on a health-care plan that seeks middle ground on some of the thorniest issues facing Congress, offering the fragile outlines of a legislative consensus even as the political battle over reform intensifies outside Washington,” Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery write in The Washington Post.  “Still, as the six senators continue their talks, the political debate over health-care reform has become increasingly polarized. Liberal Democrats are incensed that the Finance Committee has rejected a government-run health insurance plan in favor of a network of member-owned cooperatives — a needless concession, they believe, given the Democrats’ 60-vote majority in the Senate. Meanwhile, many Republicans view blocking health-care reform as a smart political strategy that will help their party draw a sharp line with congressional Democrats in the 2010 elections,” they write. “Call me an optimist, in spite of all the evidence,” Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., said Wednesday, per The New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn and Robert Pear. “But I think the chances are better than 50-50 that we’ll get this done.” (That’s an optimist?)  A good handicapping: “Just saying, ‘Look, we don’t have a bill yet’ leaves the field to those who want to accuse us of killing older people and nationalizing health care with a government-run plan,” said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. How about these prospects? “At some point, sometime in September, we are just going to have to make an assessment” about continuing the quest for bipartisanship, the president said Wednesday.  Speaking of optimism: “President Barack Obama is no longer shaping the public dialogue on health-care reform. Instead, he is losing control of his agenda and resorting to rhetorical tricks and evasions,” Karl Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. “If some version of ObamaCare is passed, the president will break his tax pledge several more times while adding trillions to the deficit, dismantling the best elements of our health-care system and slashing Medicare by hundreds of billions of dollars.”  Handling the constituencies: “Pressed by industry lobbyists, White House officials on Wednesday assured drug makers that the administration stood by a behind-the-scenes deal to block any Congressional effort to extract cost savings from them beyond an agreed-upon $80 billion,” David D. Kirkpatrick reports in The New York Times.  “The new attention to the agreement could prove embarrassing to the White House, which has sought to keep lobbyists at a distance, including by refusing to hire them to work in the administration. The White House commitment to the deal with the drug industry may also irk some of the administration’s Congressional allies who have an eye on drug companies’ profits as they search for ways to pay for the $1 trillion cost of the health legislation.” It’s about to get louder. The RNC Thursday is launching radio ads (complete with a funny voice and sound effects) targeting four Blue Dog House members who voted for the health care bill — and, per the ad, supported “Nancy Pelosi’s radical big government health care plan” in the Energy and Commerce Committee.  “He folded like a lawn chair,” the voice-over says. “He flipped. He flopped. He rolled over.” Not that it isn’t loud enough already: “The Rockwellian ideal of neighbors gathering to discuss community issues in a neighborly way is gone, replaced by quarrelsome masses hollering questions downloaded from activist websites, as video cameras record every word of the squirming lawmaker’s response,” The Boston Globe’s Lisa Wangsness reports.  “There were no lobbyist-funded buses in the parking lot of Mardela Middle and High School on Tuesday evening, and the hundreds of Eastern Maryland residents who packed the school’s auditorium loudly refuted the notion that their anger over the Democrats’ health care reform plans is ‘manufactured,’ ” ABC’s Steven Portnoy reports. Plenty to deal with: “Representative Tom Perriello said he was approached by two senior citizens who were trembling with fear. The source of their terror, he said, was their belief that President Barack Obama supports euthanasia for the elderly,” Bloomberg’s Heidi Przybyla reports.  “An unruly Little Rock crowd heckled and shouted at two Arkansas Democratic congressmen Wednesday, accusing them of supporting a government-backed health plan that would take away Americans’ personal choice and freedom,” the AP’s Jill Zeman Bleed reports. “At one point, U.S. Rep. Mike Ross sat with his head in his hands while the crowd shouted.”  “Much of the fiercest opposition has been fanned by talk radio and conservative advocacy groups. But the bitter intensity is a pointed reminder of how hard it will be for Democrats to sell voters on a broad reworking of the healthcare system, even though they hold commanding majorities in the House and Senate,” The Los Angeles Times’ Janet Hook reports.  “The earth-scorching August firefight over health care has given rise to questions about the point at which stifling civil discussion damages the democratic process,” CQ’s Jonathan Allen reports. “All across the country, conservative opponents are clamoring to disrupt town-hall meetings about the proposed overhaul of the nation’s health care system, using GOP-generated talking points and stalking tactics to shout down Democratic congressmen who attempt to explain the plan.”  Labor gets back in the action. From the memo going out Thursday morning from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney: “The question for us is: will we let them make health care ‘Obama’s Waterloo’ or will we make it the next big step in our march to Turn Around America? August will tell!  And that’s why we’re launching a ‘Thirty Day Campaign’ in support of the President’s health reform proposal.  I urge you to commit to this campaign, just as you have to our push for the Employee Free Choice Act!” Pre-recess positioning: “Senate Republicans believe the week before the break is serving their goals well. They argue that while they are holding tele-town-hall meetings with voters back home on health care, Senate Democrats have been focused on trying to convince the Capitol Hill press corps that the Republicans are standing in the way of passing a bill,” Roll Call’s David M. Drucker reports.  President Obama campaigns Thursday evening with Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds — as polls in the state show the president’s standing slipping. Per the Richmond Times Dispatch: “Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, N.C., reports that 51 percent of Virginia voters disapprove of Obama’s job performance, while 42 percent approve. Seven percent are not sure.” (Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., is our guest on “Top Line” Thursday — live at noon ET, streaming at ABCNews.com.) Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation vote is scheduled for 3 pm ET Thursday — and the political recriminations are scheduled for 3:01. (Will she get more than or fewer than 30 no votes?) Senators Kit Bond, R-Mo., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H., make it eight and counting Republican “yes” votes (isn’t retirement liberating?). “Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor won more GOP support in her drive toward near-certain Senate confirmation Thursday as the first Hispanic justice, even as a growing chorus of Republicans called her unfit for the bench,” USA Today’s Kathy Kiely reports.  Looking ahead: “Republicans say the show of party unity will discourage Mr. Obama from choosing a more liberal candidate in future picks and that the arguments they developed against Judge Sotomayor set a precedent for rejecting what they see as ‘activist’ judges,” The Wall Street Journal’s Kristina Peterson reports.  About those recriminations: “When you say that such a person with such ability is not going to receive the support, it says to the Hispanic community that this is a party that has a real challenge in finding ways to be supportive of this community,” Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said on ABCNews.com’s “Top Line” Wednesday.  Counters Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas: “I think that’s just Democratic cheerleading,” Cornyn said, per ABC’s David Chalian.  Democratic teamwork: “All the diplomacy of the Obama administration failed to move North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to release two American journalists. In the end, it was the reclusive tyrant’s desire to be seen with former president Bill Clinton that created a deal to let them go free,” per ABC’s Kirit Radia, Sunlen Miller, and Yunji de Nies.  How things work: “They need a prop.  This was the prop,” former US envoy Jack Pritchard tells ABC’s Jake Tapper.  “This is a propaganda success for Kim Jong Il and the North Korean regime,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on “Good Morning America” Thursday. Tapper reports: “A source briefed on their meeting tells ABC News that when the subject of North Korea’s nuclear program was raised — almost certainly by Kim Jong Il — former President Bill Clinton conveyed to the North Korean leader the same message he tried to express throughout the 90s: that North Korea’s nuclear program will not make that country safer and more secure, but rather will continue to lead to further international isolation.”  As for the team: “For their TV moment on Wednesday, Prince Albert and the Big Dog played it as though the grudges were gone and they liked each other again,” the New York Daily News’ Richard Sisk reports.  “What we do know is that Democrats are one big happy family for the moment,” Jill Lawrence writes for Politics Daily.  “Finally we get two for the price of one,” Margaret Carlson writes in her Bloomberg News column.  The New York Times’ Adam Nagourney: “Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore did not linger together in public on Wednesday. They have had relatively little contact after their unhappy parting nearly nine years ago, according to associates of the two men. Still, over eight years, they have both built post-White House identities and reputations that seem to have left them at peace with their shared pasts and, it would seem, with each other.”  New role for Bill Clinton? “There will probably be other things like this that he can do,” Al From, the founder and former head of the Democratic Leadership Council, tells ABC.  Book time for former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass.: “Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and an early likely contender for the 2012 Republican nomination for President, has signed a deal with St. Martin’s Press to publish his book next March,” The New York Times’ Motoko Rich reports. “Titled ‘No Apology: The Case for American Greatness,’ the book outlines what appears to be a campaign platform: Mr. Romney’s views on how to create a stronger economy, military and families, and his vision on jobs, education, health care, energy and citizenship.”  Speech time for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn.: He’s on for the Republican Party of Florida’s Statesman’s Dinner August 22, and the 2009 Leading Ohio Dinner in September, Real Clear Politics reports. 
The Kicker: “People say they don’t spend a lot of time together — well, they live in different cities.” — Mike Feldman, Democratic strategist, on the relationship between Bill Clinton and Al Gore.  “His game is severely handicapped, as is mine.” — White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, to Time’s Michael Scherer, on the presidential golf game.
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