Wee-Wee’d Up: Health care debate slips further from White House control

By Gorman Gorman

Aug 21, 2009 8:38am

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Fired up, meet wee-wee’d up.

For those seeking definitions, maybe it has something to do with the way that the more President Obama talks about health care reform, the fewer people say they want his version of health care reform.

Or that people think they know far more about the measures being debated than they actually do (evident since they “know” so much that’s flat-out wrong.)

Or that, for all the noise on both sides, the president’s supporters still don’t have the few key details that would give them something to push back with.

Or just that the month set aside to sell health care reform is drifting by — and soon it’s vacation time for the president.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows the slide: “Fewer than half of Americans, 45 percent, support reform as it’s been explained to date, while 50 percent are opposed – with many more ‘strongly’ opposed than strongly in favor, 40 percent vs. 27 percent. Support’s at just 36 percent among independents, the crucial political center,” per ABC polling director Gary Langer.

“Obama’s approval rating for handling health care has fallen steadily from 57 percent in April to 46 percent today, led by a steep a 17-point slide among independents. And expectations he can successfully accomplish reform have dropped further – from 68 percent shortly before he took office to 49 percent now.”

The Post’s Dan Balz and Jon Cohen: “In the survey, 52 percent of Americans said they favor the government’s creation of a new health insurance plan to compete with private insurers, while 46 percent are opposed. That is a big shift from late June, when 62 percent backed the notion and 33 percent opposed it.”

“The drop in support for the public option has been particularly steep among political independents, the closely watched group so critical to the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 and Obama’s victory last year. Two months ago, independents supported the public option by a 2 to 1 ratio. Now, 50 percent are in favor, and 47 percent are opposed.”

As for the left: “There’s a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked,” Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times column. “It’s hard to avoid the sense that Mr. Obama has wasted months trying to appease people who can’t be appeased, and who take every concession as a sign that he can be rolled.”

“So progressives are now in revolt. Mr. Obama took their trust for granted, and in the process lost it. And now he needs to win it back,” Krugman writes.

Those sentiments overshadow some tastes of encouraging news for Democrats. The DNC out-fundraised the RNC by $3 million last month. The temperature at the town halls is down a notch.

Organizing for America got a jump start with the president’s appearance Thursday — more than 270,000 Webcast viewers and counting, with grassroots action to follow, according to a Democratic Party official.

Yet — the president still isn’t offering up much to push back against the misinformation and falsehoods that still abound. The White House strategy remains centered on leaving options open. (“Yes We Can . . . Stay at the Negotiating Table.”)

The start of something more aggressive: “While continuing to argue he wants a bipartisan bill, President Obama today for first time publicly blamed Congressional Republican leaders for seeing health care reform in only political terms. And for the first time he acknowledged Democrats might go it alone,” ABC’s Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report.

“Let’s go get them!” the president told his troops at the DNC.

“Mr. Obama tacked to the left as Democratic allies inched toward trying to pass a health-care bill on their own,” Jonathan Weisman and Naftali Bendavid write in The Wall Street Journal.

Can partisan war make it work? “There’s also a limit to how effective this strategy can be,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reported on “Good Morning America” Friday. “Independents liked Obama because they thought he was going to break this partisan gridlock — not intensify it.”

Now what? “Obama’s radio experience, as well as a later Internet session with supporters from the presidential campaign, demonstrated just how big the communications challenge can be on an issue as complex and controversial as healthcare,” the Chicago Tribune’s Christi Parsons and Mark Silva report. “And even as the president focused on dealing with what he said were misunderstandings, half-truths and outright falsehoods about his strategy for overhauling healthcare, he occasionally ventured into the vast gray area between fact and fiction.”

A glimpse of what might have been . . . President Obama meets with former Sen. Tom Daschle at 11 am ET in the Oval Office, before heading off to Camp David — and then, on Sunday, Martha’s Vineyard.

A glimpse of what might yet be . . . “The situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and Congressional Democrats,” Charlie Cook writes. “Today, The Cook Political Report’s Congressional election model, based on individual races, is pointing toward a net Democratic loss of between six and 12 seats, but our sense, factoring in macro-political dynamics is that this is far too low.”

What got us here: “Obama has delivered mixed messages that have bogged down the debate and sapped momentum from his top domestic priority,” Michael Kranish writes in The Boston Globe. “Now, as he struggles with the messy business of governing, some are hoping for a return of Obama’s campaign-style focus.”

“This year, Harry and Louise are the real voters, showing up to town meetings and venting their fears that they’ll lose their private plans and be dumped into a new Medicare-style government plan. They’re fearful, too, that the government will have a hand in their end-of-life decisions,” Fortune’s Nina Easton writes.

“There’s nothing agreeable about watching a determined attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” Eugene Robinson writes in his Washington Post column. “There’s not enough passion on the Democratic side, not enough heat. There’s some radiating from the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, too little emana ting from the Democratic majority in the Senate, and not nearly enough coming from President Obama.”

“He is semi-advocating two different and, in a sense, contradictory approaches at the same time, and they are in the process of undercutting each other politically at the moment,” Newsweek’s Howard Fineman writes. “Having it both ways is in the American grain, too, I admit. But it’s not selling. Until the president chooses one or the other approach, he won’t end up with either.”

“Bearing the brunt of some of the criticism is Obama himself – once viewed as a sure-fire closer, now facing grumbling on the left for letting critical months slip by without a constant, coherent and consistent argument. Think ‘change’ and ‘hope’ from the campaign, catchwords that Obama practically trademarked,” Carrie Budoff Brown reports for Politico. “In this fight, his key messages have shifted, from fixing health care to fix the economy, to ‘stability and security’ for people who already have insurance.”

Dana Perino, former Bush White House press secretary, pens some words for the president to deliver: “What we have seen this summer is not change — it is business as usual. And it’s not getting us anywhere,” she writes for Obama. “If it’s true that we all believe we need reform to improve the health care system — and despite partisan attacks from both sides, I believe that most people do want to achieve changes that will help provide coverage for more people and reduce costs — then I am willing to ask Congress to tear up the current bill and to work with me to rewrite one that will accomplish our goals.”

The options from here, per the AP’s Chuck Babington: “Some are blunt. Some are complex and technical. All are problematic.”

“President Barack Obama and leaders on Capitol Hill will face a tough tactical choice among lesser options. But while the options may have shrunk in size, the consequences actually have grown,” Gerald Seib writes in his Wall Street Journal column.

The statement from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., after a Thursday night conference call with Senate negotiators: “As we travel our states, our work on health care reform continues. Tonight was a productive conversation — we discussed our progress and remain committed to continuing our path toward a bipartisan health care reform bill.  Our discussion included an increased emphasis on affordability and reducing costs, and our efforts moving forward will reflect that focus. We have come a long way, will continue our work throughout August and plan to meet again before the Senate returns in September.”

The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery and Anne Kornblut: “Senate health-care negotiators agreed late Thursday to ignore the increasingly strident rhetoric from Republican and Democratic leaders and to keep working toward a bill that can win broad support from the rank-and-file in both parties.”

Air wars: Conservatives for Patients Rights is meeting the Obamas at the beach in Martha’s Vineyard, with a new ad titled, “Surf’s Up.”

“The beach is nice this time of year. But while President Obama vacations, concerns mount about his health care plan,” the group’s new ad, to air in Boston markets (and during the Red Sox-White Sox series next week at Fenway Park) says, with video that juxtaposes sand and raucous town halls.

From the other side — Americans United for Change is launching a new ad — with a five-figure buy — in DC and on national cable. The ad opens with pictures of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. “Unfortunately, there are REAL death panels in America,” the ad says (and yes, they’re talking about health insurance companies).

Another former DNC chairman, ready to jump in the fight? “Terry McAuliffe thinks it is time to ‘insist’ on the public option. We couldn’t agree more. Terry’s agreed to host a fundraiser with Virginia and national bloggers who are insisting on a public option for the first Virginia Congressman who will take our pledge!” Ben Tribbett blogs at NotLarrySabato.com.

Not so fast, in Mass.: “A personal plea from Senator Edward M. Kennedy to grant the governor power to appoint an interim successor in the Senate drew little public support from Massachusetts lawmakers yesterday, with the state’s Democratic leaders publicly silent on the proposal and most Republicans attacking it as a partisan power grab,” Frank Phillips and Matt Viser report in The Boston Globe.

Restart in Virginia: “Sen. Creigh Deeds, the Democratic nominee for governor, will deliver a major campaign at 11 A.M. Friday to supporters and students at George Mason University in Fairfax. . . . After the speech, the Deeds campaign will release its first television advertisement, which will begin airing in markets across the state tomorrow evening.”

Figuring out why Tom Ridge isn’t running for Senate: “The darkest possibilities of the politics of terrorism became obvious in the summer and fall of 2002 as the midterm elections approached,” Ridge writes in his new book, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s James O’Toole. “Members of my own party carried out a campaign of shameless character assassination.”

“Top advisers to George W. Bush pressed for a politically-motivated terror alert a few days before the 2004 election, ex-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge charges in a new book,” James Gordon Meek reports in the New York Daily News. “Exhaustive research by the Daily News in 2004 found that Ashcroft’s Justice Department rolled out terrorism announcements frequently to give Bush a boost in the polls against Democrat John Kerry.”l

What happens to a junked clunker? The Washington Post’s Mike Rosenwald finds out: “Dead clunkers embark on an odyssey through family businesses nearly as old as the car industry. Auctioneers in Elkridge in Howard County shout ‘$25, $25, $25, do I hear $50?’ to salvage buyers who then take their winnings to junkyards to be picked over for parts. Junkyards eventually sell what’s left of the clunkers to processors, who use mammoth shredders to chew the cars into tiny pieces of scrap metal that are later recycled into steel. Almost nothing is wasted.”

The Kicker:

“We don’t do politics in the Department of Homeland Secu rity.” — Then-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, in August 2004, when the nation went to “Code Orange” just after that summer’s Democratic National Convention.

“There’s something about August going into September where everybody in Washington gets all wee-wee’d up.” — President Obama, adding to the political lexicon.

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