The Note: Ganging Up: GOP shows its hand — and Baucus may yet take the pot

By Gorman Gorman

Sep 17, 2009 8:18am

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: If Sen. Max Baucus’ bill — with its smaller price tag, no employer mandate, and no public option — doesn’t draw at least a few Republicans, what will?

And the bigger question that’s loomed over this debate from the start — a question that’s nudged to the fore with Republicans lining up on the other side: Would liberal voices really kill health care reform when it comes up for a vote in Congress?

We’ve seen shrinking gangs and lonely press conferences, angry Democrats and Republicans, and one highly anticipated bill that isn’t going to change everything.

Here’s one other change worth noting: In the time it’s taken to work through health care reform, Republicans have learned to work as an opposition party. And that means, well, opposition.

Between ACORN and czars, they’ve found some messaging to push — and the missile-defense shift being announced Thursday figures to put some foreign-policy meat on those bones.

Maybe this is where Democrats needed to be, ultimately, to find some clarity on health care.

In the meantime, for all its many critics, the Baucus plan is what’s closest to the vision articulated by President Obama last week. Baucus was alone at the podium Wednesday, though many of the key folks with seats around the table have chosen not to give them up just yet.

“On the surface, it appears that no one is happy with Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) — and that may be the best news President Obama has had in months,” Ceci Connolly reports in The Washington Post. “behind the rhetorical fireworks was a sense that the fragile coalition of major industry leaders and interest groups central to refashioning the nation’s $2.5 trillion health-care system remains intact. As they scoured the 223-page document, many of the most influential players found elements to dislike, but not necessarily reasons to kill the effort. Most enticing was the prospect of 30 million new customers.”

“There will be a lot of horse-trading, and it will not be pretty,” said one White House aide.

“The Baucus bill moves us closer to consensus,” former Sen. Tom Daschle tells Bloomberg News, per Kristin Jensen and Laura Litvan. Daschle, D-S.D., said the plan has “a lot of issues” yet offers “the opportunity to draw moderate Democratic support and perhaps even at the end of the day one or two Republicans.”

There may be fewer partners to trade with: “Republicans said his plan spent too much on insurance subsidies for low-income people, Democrats said it did not spend enough,” Lisa Wangsness writes in The Boston Globe. “Lawmakers in both parties said it was unaffordable, particularly for low- and middle-income people. Republican leaders, who have panned the Democrats’ plans from the start, pronounced it ‘dead on arrival.’ ”

“[Baucus] stood, looking lonely, in front of a backdrop that could have accommodated his entire so-called Gang of Six — if, that is, the talks had worked out. As it was, he showed up as a Gang of One,” Salon’s Mike Madden writes.

“The plan faces two instant hurdles: House Democratic leaders prefer an income tax surcharge on wealthy taxpayers, which would raise an estimated $544 billion over 10 years, and the House legislation has considerably less in Medicare savings,” McClatchy’s David Lightman reports. “In addition, Republicans will oppose almost any tax increase. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky quickly set the tone, saying the Baucus bill would ‘put massive new tax burdens on families and individuals.’ ”

“Changes intended to bring the centrists and conservatives in line could drive away progressives, while any move to draw in the more liberal elements could end up alienating the centrists. There is little margin for error,” Carl Hulse writes in The New York Times.

This is all that’s left? “The major new health-care overhaul bill that landed in the Senate on Wednesday sets the lines for a fall showdown over taxes, spending and coverage for millions of uninsured Americans,” The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Hitt, Janet Adamy and Jonathan Weisman report.

“I’m gettable but not there yet,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., tells ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. He reports: “Wyden’s also expecting a ‘pretty rollicking’ meeting when Senate Dems caucus behind closed doors [Thursday]. Talk about understatement.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.: “I have made clear I cannot vote for this bill in its current form.”

Starting points? “While this draft bill is a good starting point, it needs improvement before it will work for Nevada,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., per the Las Vegas Sun’s Lisa Mascaro.

The messaging memo, from James Carville and Stan Greenberg’s Democracy Corps: “Be on the offensive . . . Reject the status quo . . . Reassure . . . Explain specifically how the Obama plan works to give peace of mind and keep costs down.”

Would you move to the center, or to the left? “Baucus has no Republican votes for his legislation,” Ezra Klein writes at his Washington Post blog. “Conceding so much in return for so little isn’t just bad politics — it’s bad precedent. Why should Republicans sign onto Baucus’s proposals in the future if they can simply adjust the bill to their liking and then withhold their support at the end?”

Markos Moulitsas, on his Twitter page: “Only Democrats ‘compromise’ and get zero in return.”

Is it time for Democrats to be Republicans? “Whatever makes it to the Senate floor, it would be exhilarating to see Democrats present a united front and get it done. It is so rare that they show the kind of discipline that Republicans are famous for,” Jill Lawrence writes for Politics Daily. “Simply put, stick together in the crunch. It’ll pay off for the party and the country.”

Too late for that, writes Karl Rove, in his Wall Street Journal column: “It’s now becoming clear that Mr. Obama’s speech failed to rally voters and failed to inspire Democrats to follow their president’s lead. And while the fissures are small now (Mr. Dean’s worry seems to be that triggers would give too much away to Republicans), they will likely widen unless the president shows that his policies will do what his campaign did expand the pool of voters in favor of Democrats.”

(Seriously?) “Mr. Obama will appear on five news shows on Sunday. His time might be better spent praying for more public support,” Rove writes.

From the left: MoveOn.org calls the Baucus draft a “dream come true for the insurance industry.” Health Care for America Now says the bill “gift to the insurance industry that fails to meet the most basic promise of health care reform.”

Back on the road (though barely outside the Beltway) for the president Thursday. He holds “a rally on health insurance reform” at 11:40 am ET at the Comcast Center at the University of Maryland in College Park. “The White House will stream the rally live through an innovative Facebook application that will allow students nationwide to both watch the event and discuss it with others as it is happening.”

New weapon in health care wars: “Pushing for health care reform didn’t turn out so well for the last first lady in a Democratic White House. But with a retooled staff, and an under-the-radar summer behind her, Michelle Obama plans a packed autumn that aides say will include a ‘dedicated focus’ on health insurance reform — the same issue that brought such headaches to Hillary Clinton,” Politico’s Nia-Malika Henderson reports.

What the White House really doesn’t want to be talking about (but can’t avoid, thanks to former President Jimmy Carter):

“President Obama has long suggested that he would like to move beyond race. The question now is whether the country will let him,” Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg report in The New York Times.

Said senior adviser and longtime friend Valerie Jarrett: “He could probably give a very powerful speech on race, just as he did in the course of the campaign. . . . But right now his top domestic priority is health care reform. It’s difficult, challenging and complicated. And if he leads by example, our country will be far better off.”

“Barack Obama, the man who broke through America’s final racial barrier to become the nation’s first black president, has been unable to escape the country’s awkward dialogue about race during his first months in of fice, a conundrum that has been imposed by members of the political left and right who increasingly appear to feel comfortable using the race card to score political points,” Joseph Curl reports in the Washington Times.

“At the White House, the official line is: Race issue? What race issue?” Anne Kornblut and Krissah Williams write in The Washington Post. “On Wednesday, [Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs told reporters that Carter’s remarks did not merit a broader discussion about why protesters had grown so hostile toward the nation’s first African American president. And in the Oval Office, Obama declined to respond to a reporter’s question about Carter’s comments.”

Firing back: “There is not a racist bone in my dad’s body,” said Alan Wilson, who is running for attorney general of South Carolina, told the New York Daily News’ Brian Kates. “He doesn’t even laugh at distasteful jokes.”

Another dose of Joe Wilson fallout: “Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., hammered President Obama on Wednesday for announcing over the weekend that he would not only block health care subsidies from flowing to undocumented workers, he would also block them from using their own money to purchase health coverage through the proposed health insurance exchange,” ABC’s Teddy Davis reports.

ACORN’s falling: “In the wake of a series of embarrassing hidden-camera exposes and mounting congressional pressure to cut off its federal funding, ACORN announced on Wednesday it would immediately stop accepting new clients at its offices across the country,” Politico’s Michael Falcone reports.

“I must say, on behalf of ACORN’s Board and our Advisory Council, that we will go to whatever lengths necessary to reestablish the public trust,” said ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis, per ABC’s Jake Tapper.

New on ACORN Thursday, a research document from House Minority Leader John Boehner’s office, asking whether Democrats will support efforts to deny funding for ACORN: “ACORN’S ENABLERS: HOUSE DEMOCRATS’ LENGTHY RECORD OF PROTECTING A TROUBLED ORGANIZATION.”

New on Czars Thursday, from the Democratic National Committee: a Web video, featuring Glenn Beck, counting up President Bush’s czars. (It’s called “Dancing with the Czars.”)

Reports ABC’s Jake Tapper: “At the AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh, President Obama referred to what has been called in the past a Manufacturing Czar as his ‘new point person to jumpstart American manufacturing.’ The presidential change in diction — from joking about it to almost pulling a muscle to avoid using the term, in just one Summer — morphed into White House combativeness today.”

Driving the foreign policy day: “The Czech prime minister says President Barack Obama has told him that the U.S. is abandoning plans to put a missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland,” per the Associated Press. “Czech Premier Jan Fischer told reporters in Prague on Thursday that Obama phoned him to say that Washington has decided to scrap the plan that had deeply angered Russia. Fischer says Obama confirmed that Washington no longer intends to put 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates briefs on the strategic shift at 10:30 am ET. (And the race is already on to define this as more about security or appeasement.)

“Among the options being considered are the construction of missile launching pads or radar installations in Turkey or the Balkans, while developing land-based versions of the Aegis SM-3, a ship-based anti-missile system,” per The New York Times’ Judy Dempsey and Nicholas Kulish. “The changes, they said, would be intended not to mollify Russia, but to adjust to what they see as an accelerating threat from shorter-range Iranian missiles.”

Senator Dukakis? The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser reports that former Gov. Michael Dukakis, D-Mass., was uncharacteristically silent when asked about whether he’d be filling Ted Kennedy’s seat on an interim basis: “I’m not commenting,” he said. “Why not? ‘Cause I don’t want to comment.”

“Meanwhile, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Election Law passed the bill last night by an 11-to-6 vote, sending it to the House floor today with a favorable recommendation,” Viser reports.

New leadership for Big Labor: “Union members say Richard L. Trumka will bring excitement and a new, more aggressive approach to broaden the labor movement and make it more relevant to workers young and old as the new president of the nation’s largest labor federation,” Joe Napsha reports for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. ” Trumka, 60, a third-generation coal miner from Nemacolin in Greene County and the former president of the United Mine Workers, was elected Wednesday by 700 delegates to the AFL-CIO’s annual convention at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.”

From the fact-check desk, The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman: “President Barack Obama, seeking to make a case for health-insurance regulation, told a poignant story to a joint session of Congress last week. An Illinois man getting chemotherapy was dropped from his insurance plan when his insurer discovered an unreported gallstone the patient hadn’t known about. ‘They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it,’ the president said in the nationally televised address.”

“In fact, the man, Otto S. Raddatz, didn’t die because the insurance company rescinded his coverage once he became ill, an act known as recission. . . . Obama aides say the president got the essence of the story correct. Mr. Raddatz was dropped from his insurance plan weeks before a scheduled stem-cell transplant.”

From the investigative annals: “The Justice Department is investigating whether former Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton illegally used her position to benefit Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the company that later hired her, according to officials in federal law enforcement and the Interior Department,” Jim Tankersley and Josh Meyer report in the Los Angeles Times. “The criminal investigation centers on the Interior Department’s 2006 decision to award three lucrative oil shale leases on federal land in Colorado to a Shell subsidiary. Over the years it would take to extract the oil, according to calculations from Shell and a Rand Corp. expert, the deal could net the company hundreds of billions of dollars.”

From former Vice President Dick Cheney’s office Thursday: “Forme r Vice President Cheney went to The George Washington University Hospital this morning for elective surgery to deal with lumbar spinal stenosis. Dr. Anthony Caputy, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery, will perform the operation.”

The Kicker:

“Use that picture properly.” — First Lady Michelle Obama, fearing a YouTube moment when her husband picked up a foam sword in an attempt to get his wife to spar with him.

“Washington needs fresh faces, it needs some new blood.” — Pro wrestling executive Linda McMahon, announcing her Senate candidacy in Connecticut.

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

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