The Note: Draft Day — Is Baucus bill worth the wait, if everyone loves to hate it?

By Gorman Gorman

Sep 16, 2009 8:21am

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: It’s only taken until mid-September to get six members of one Senate committee to not agree on a draft of a health care bill — remind us of why this is difficult again?

The last best hope at bipartisanship on health care reaches bill form on Wednesday, when Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., releases his draft at noon ET.

It’s the fifth and final committee version, probably the one closest to the president’s guidelines, and the product of all those “productive” meetings, produced at last.

Yet, other than Baucus, nobody seems to like it very much.

Baucus won’t have the support of the Republicans he’s been meeting with, or, for that matter, many of the Democrats he hasn’t been meeting with. (Check the math here, but you kind of need one group of votes or the other to get something out of committee, much less off the Senate floor.)

Releasing a bill gives opponents something new to aim at. And the more immediate problem for the White House is that President Obama’s supporters are taking the lead in taking aim at a bill that isn’t even technically public yet. (If this isn’t an argument for a full Sunday talk-show circuit, with Letterman the cheery cherry on top . . . )

Reports ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “As one top Democrat told me, the fundamental problem is that Democrats ‘are being asked to support a bipartisan bill that doesn’t have bipartisan support.’ The compromise without the cover.”

At the starting line — line ‘em up . . . Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.: “There is no way in its present form that I vote for it unless it changes in the amendment process by vast amounts.”

“His comment came just minutes after President Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, met separately with House and Senate Democrats in the Capitol. Mr. Axelrod said it was urgent for Congress to overhaul the health care system, Mr. Obama’s top domestic priority, and he cited public opinion polls to support his contention that Americans shared the president’s view,” Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn write in The New York Times.

David Corn, at Politics Daily: “Are the Democrats about to walk into a Republican trap on health care? As I monitor the latest back and forth, I feel as if I’m watching a cheesy horror flick and some poor unsuspecting person is about to open the wrong door.”

“In trying to lure Republicans, Baucus may be bleeding Dems,” Time’s Jay Newton-Small writes.

Nate Silver, at “Baucus Compromise Bill Draws Enthusiastic Support of Senator Max Baucus (D-MT)”

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a special Democratic caucus for Thursday, but many more liberal Democrats are already lining up against it,” ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports.

Company: “It’s not going to be the bill we’re going to vote on,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., another Finance Committee member.

“For hundreds of millions of people, they’re going to have no more leverage after this bill passes than they do today,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., tells Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus.

Really? “The Senate Is Ready to Act on Health Care,” reads the headline on Baucus’ Wall Street Journal op-ed. “Our plan pays for every cent of new spending without using additional tax dollars. Our plan would lower costs and would not add to the federal deficit. In fact, it would begin reducing the federal deficit within 10 years by containing costs through industry reforms.”

So who’s ready, exactly? For the GOP — ranking Finance member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa (and veteran member of the gang of six): “I’m disappointed because it looks like we’re being pushed aside by the Democratic leadership so the Senate can move forward on a bill that, up to this point, does not meet the shared goals for affordable, accessible health coverage that we set forth when this process began.” (Does he really think more time will help?)

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine: “I do have concerns and I’m not sure they can be addressed before he issues [legislation] tomorrow.”

“The three Republicans in the gang of six — Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Sens. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) — are not participating in [markup] strategy sessions, signaling a commitment to the bipartisan talks even though they are not expected to support Baucus’ bill when it is introduced today,” Roll Call’s David M. Drucker reports.

“Senate Democrats’ most concerted quest for a bipartisan compromise on healthcare collapsed Tuesday,” declare the Los Angeles Times’ Janet Hook and Peter Nicholas. 

What was this all about, then? “Baucus tailored his proposal to win the backing of some Republicans, hoping to keep alive the possibility that Congress would pass a bipartisan bill,” per Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown. “But after months of closed-door talks, none of the three Republicans involved the bipartisan Gang of Six is expected to declare support for the bill Wednesday.”

Why not just get another Democrat? “Legislative leaders on Beacon Hill believe they have narrow majorities in both chambers to give Governor Deval Patrick the power to appoint an interim US senator, in a sign that the controversial measure may pass. But the bill must still survive Republican attempts to delay or kill it through parliamentary maneuvers,” The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser reports. “In a key development, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, who has been publicly noncommittal, made a decision to back the proposal and was privately calling members yesterday to make the case.”

Or another new messaging campaign: “Facing a near-daily barrage of attacks from conservative opponents, White House officials are engaged in an internal debate over how hard to hit back, even as they have grown increasingly aggressive in countering allegations they deem to be absurd,” Anne Kornblut reports in The Washington Post.

“In private, Obama has developed what his advisers say is becoming a familiar response to new allegations, rolling his eyes in disbelief and asking how his staff plans to counter them. Several senior advisers said in interviews that they are more focused on getting legislation passed than trying to manage the ‘right-wing noise machine,’ convinced that voters will react most positively to measurable improvements in their lives.”

Back on health care — don’t forget the House: “House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel said Tuesday that health-care proposals generated by the White House and by Senate negotiators are skimping too much on coverage in an effort to lower the price tag,” Patrick Yoest reports in The Wall Street Journal.

Said Rangel, D-N.Y.: “I have to admit the restrictions that the president has given in his speech, as well as the proposed discussions in the Senate, has caused us more problems than among our three bills.”

Did last week’s speech make health care reform more difficult?

The AP’s David Espo: “Caught off guard, congressional Democrats are grappling with President Barack Obama’s unexpected call for immediate access to insurance for those with pre-existing medical conditions, as well as richer Medicare drug benefits than envisioned in early versions of health care legislation.”

AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, at Huffington Post: “The Senate Finance Committee is getting ready to debate a health care bill that does not come close to meeting the needs of America’s working families. Nor does it meet the standards President Obama laid out in his address last week to Congress. There is no employer mandate, no public option, no help for retirees.”

Since David Axelrod asked for it — maybe a touch of good news in the new Bloomberg News poll. “The poll conducted Sept. 10-14 finds that 48 percent of respondents favor Obama’s plan, while 42 percent oppose it. A Sept. 9 speech the president made to a joint session of Congress didn’t change most minds, as slightly more respondents say it made them more likely rather than less likely to favor the plan,” Kristin Jensen reports.

Gallup: “Thirty-eight percent say they would advise their member to vote for a bill, 40% would advise a ‘no’ vote, and 22% do not have an opinion. When the leanings of those without an opinion are taken into account, 50% of Americans favor or lean toward favoring a bill, while 47% oppose it or lean toward opposition.”

Got a new plan, Stan? “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will join House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, musical legend, Paul Simon, Dr. Irwin Redlener, and Jane Pauley of the Children’s Health Fund (CHF), and child health advocates at a press conference [at 11:30 am ET] to highlight the need for health insurance reform. CHF, co-founded by Simon and Dr. Redlener, provides free health care services to children who otherwise lack access to care.”

Senators get a 10 am ET private briefing on Afghanistan Wednesday.

The White House strategy into next week: “President Barack Obama will appear on five news programs on Sunday, followed by a comedy show Monday night, in what is turning into a wall-to-wall bid for support of his embattled effort to overhaul the U.S. health-care system,” Elizabeth Williamson writes in The Wall Street Journal. “The president’s heavy media schedule raises questions about whether his ubiquitous presence will dilute his effectiveness as a pitchman. Previous administrations have reserved presidential appearances for big occasions, compared with the current White House, which views Mr. Obama as its strongest policy advocate.”

“You almost can’t escape this president,” GOP strategist Kevin Madden said on’s “Top Line” Tuesday. “Whenever you put one of your candidates or your principal on a Sunday show, the reason that you do so is because you want to be able to drive one message across all of the other shows.”

ABC’s Jake Tapper, on “Good Morning America” Wednesday: “Asked for a comment from ABC News for this story, the White House said they would be happy to deny all ABC News interview requests for the president for the rest of the year. They were joking — I think.”

And will there be another high-profile vote this easy, this session of Congress?

Carl Hulse, in The New York Times: “Representative Joe Wilson was formally rebuked by the House on Tuesday for his outburst during President Obama’s health care address. The vote came after a Congressional clash over civility that showcased the deep partisan divisions in the House.”

“Even after the vote, Wilson was defiant,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl reported on “GMA.” “Condemned or not, the controversy has turned the once unknown Wilson into a hero for many on the right.”

“The sniping isn’t likely to end with the vote,” per ABC News. “Both Wilson and his political opponents have used the outburst as part of fundraising appeals over the past week. Democrat Rob Miller, who ran against Wilson last year and is planning another challenge in 2010, has raised about $1.5 million in the last six days, according to party officials, while Wilson himself has brought in nearly $2 million.”

“The record will show that Democrats prevailed in Tuesday’s party-line vote to reprimand Wilson. But it would be difficult to describe what happened on the House floor as a victory for the majority,” The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes. “The energy was all on the Republican side, where more than 50 lawmakers sat and watched and applauded — double the number sitting on the Democratic side. One after another, Republicans rose to defend Wilson and to declare the Democrats ‘childish’ and ‘partisan,’ while on the Democratic side, not a single rank-and-file member was willing — or, perhaps, allowed — to join party leaders in speaking in favor of the resolution.”

Unless there’s a bigger picture: “When House Democrats, and a handful of Republicans, reprimanded the congressman on Tuesday evening for refusing to apologize to his colleagues for breaking the rules, it was quite a wonderful way to improve America,” Maureen Dowd writes in her column. “It was a rare triumph for civility in a country that seems to have lost all sense of it — from music arenas to tennis courts to political gatherings to hallowed halls — and a ratification of an institution that has relied on strict codes of conduct for two centuries to prevent a breakdown of order.”

Why it’s a bit uncomfortable for all: “Some Black Caucus members said that Wilson’s outburst is but the latest in a long string of ugly events rooted in racism, such as last week’s flap over Obama addressing the nation’s schoolchildren, protesters showing up outside Obama events carrying licensed firearms, and ‘birthers’ questioning Obama’s citizenship,” McClatchy’s William Douglas reports.

Former President Jimmy Carter, in a discussion at his presidential center in Atlanta: “I think it’s based on racism. . . . There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president.”

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Barbara Lee, D-Calif., on’s “Top Line”: “Hate speech can turn into hate crimes. And of course we have to recognize the fact that there are many in our country who did not want to see an African-American elected as president — but more did.”

The latest from Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Iraq: Biden Wednesday is “meeting Iraqi leaders on the second day of a visit to Baghdad, where on his arrival he was greeted with a barrage of rocket fire that killed two people,” per AFP. “Biden was holding talks with Nuri al-Maliki and would later in the day issue a joint statement with the Iraqi premier, a US embassy spokeswoman told AFP. He would also meet with American troops.”

Politico’s Jonathan Martin has what you need to know about the president’s support for Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa.: “Obama administration officials say it’s only a matter of time before the president returns to the state for Specter — and they say he’s even willing to do TV ads for the incumbent. The Senate Democratic leadership is also moving mountains for the Specter reelect, ending votes early Tuesday so that Specter and Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) could be in Philadelphia in time for the early-evening fundraiser.  In return, Specter has embraced the administration’s efforts to reform health care, coming out for a public option, and has altered his position on a bill to make it easier for unions to organize workers.”

Excerpts are out from former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer’s new book, in the new GQ.

43′s alleged take on 44, per Latimer: ” ‘This is a dangerous world,’ he [Bush] said for no apparent reason, ‘and this cat [Obama] isn’t remotely qualified to handle it. This guy has no clue, I promise you.’ ”

A publishable response: “Disloyal is one word; unkind is another,” a former Bush aide told Alex Hazlett of the New York Daily News. “These relationships are based on trust, period. This is an act of betrayal.”

Dana Perino, writing at National Review: “I’m pretty sure that almost everyone who worked in the White House could not pick Matt out of a lineup, and I doubt that’ll change much after this book. Speechless should have been called ‘Shameless.’ ”

The Kicker:

“it’ll take more than that to keep me off the dance floor!” — Tom DeLay, on his Twitter feed, on a possible stress fracture in his foot. (Tests came back negative, and he’s set for his “Dancing with the Stars” debut next week.)

“Oh, yeah, I think he’s very dangerous in terms of his politics.” — Former Bush adviser Mark McKinnon, on former Sen. Rick Santorum, after Santorum told reporters McKinnon had apologized to him for a similar remark.

For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day.

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