Everywhere & Nowhere: Post-ubiquity, health care action returns to the Hill

By Gorman Gorman

Oct 1, 2009 8:23am

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Remember back when President Obama was everywhere?

A president whose new, new push on health care was all about active engagement, and flooding the messaging zone, has now gone two weeks without holding a health care rally.

Since pulling off the full Sunday spin cycle two weekends ago, the health care interviews have ceased. The White House is consumed by Afghanistan, and the president's gaze is about to shift even further, with his trip to Denmark to land the Olympics for Chicago.

In his absence from the debate, an occasionally overheated week has gotten us a health care bill that's just about where it's been before — with just as many question marks. Where his focus has been, on Afghanistan, the war policy is in a roughly similar sort of limbo, deeper on deliberations than decisions.

The health care action is back squarely on Capitol Hill. The Finance Committee chugs along without public guidance from the top. A public option was rejected by committee without major objection.

Liberals are stirring against moderate Democrats, again. And the House — where the vote was supposed to be comparatively easy — is delayed while details get hashed out. Still.

Roll Call's Keith Koffler: "President Barack Obama has recently vacated the health care reform bully pulpit, just as evidence trickles in that the media blitz he waged earlier this month is paying off. . . . Meanwhile, Congress is in town and struggling to position a health bill for passage in the House and Senate. But White House officials are quick to point out that Obama remains engaged behind the scenes, and they insist world events have not thrown him off the health care track."

We're getting close — or closer, at least: "Democratic aides said the House was working on roughly the same timetable, although after months of missed deadlines, neither House Speaker Nancy Pelosi nor Reid would provide a detailed schedule," the AP's David Espo writes. "But even now, two weeks before the projected start of debate, key decisions are yet to be made about elements of the bills."

Remember that the House is the easy part: "Democratic leaders must bridge some big cracks in their ranks, especially over taxes and abortion, to keep their defections to a minimum," Jackie Calmes writes in The New York Times. "With Republicans expected to be unanimous in opposition, Democrats can afford no more than 39 defectors. At present, the factions of the disgruntled and politically nervous add up to more than that, though the numbers overlap among some of the groups."

Just about the numbers: "Answering a challenge laid down by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Congressional Progressive Caucus and several other caucuses have started a ‘whip count' to demonstrate that a public option tied to Medicare rates plus 5 percent can pass the chamber," The Hill's Mike Soraghan reports.

But they're all in 80 percent agreement — right? "No one, however, can offer specifics about what that 80 percent entails, other than to say that everyone agrees on key principles. A lot of lawmakers scoff at the figure, particularly since Democrats disagree sharply on two central elements: Whether to create a government-run health-insurance plan, and how to pay for all the changes under discussion," McClatchy's David Lightman reports. 

Remember Rahm Emanuel's ceasefire? Neither do they: "MoveOn.org, the liberal advocacy group, is ‘likely' to launch a television ad targeting Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., for voting [Tuesday] against not only Sen. Jay Rockefeller's, D-W.Va., public option amendment but also Sen. Chuck Schumer's, D-N.Y., more moderate version," ABC's Teddy Davis reports. "The planned television ad against Conrad comes on the heels of MoveOn's announcement earlier today that it is launching radio ads targeting Conrad and the two other Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee – Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. — who voted against the Schumer and Rockefeller amendments."

Where you will find the president (courtesy of David Axelrod's old firm): "The coalition of industry and liberal groups known as the Alliance for Stable Quality Care — that is, PhRMA, the American Medical Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, and FamiliesUSA — have more or less dropped the pretense of being something beyond a checking account for the White House political operation," Politico's Ben Smith reports. "Their latest ad: 30 seconds of Obama."

Where else you'll find the president (he leaves for Denmark Thursday night): "Some of his critics do have a point when they wonder why he's flying off to the land of Hamlet, Tivoli Gardens and Tuborg beer to make a final plea for the 2016 games the week his military and foreign policy teams are meeting in a marathon session on Afghanistan and Congress is voting on health care," Margaret Carlson writes in her Bloomberg column. "Health care, Afghanistan, Iran and a stubbornly high unemployment rate are burning a hole in the country's psyche no games can cure."

How we got here — without a public option: "Democrats have been far too timid in taking on the right wing's arguments against government. They have been defensive when they should be going on offense by insisting that government can expand human freedom and give people options they would not otherwise have," E.J. Dionne Jr. writes in his column. "As for the Obama administration, it's been too ready to hint that it would throw the option overboard. Its highly public unfaithfulness to the view it purported to hold simultaneously enraged progressives and weakened its bargaining position."

Inching in committee: "On the sixth day of a marathon debate in the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) declared that his panel has the votes to approve a package of reforms that would extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans who lack insurance. He and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the panel, said they expect to finish the bill by Friday," Ceci Connolly reports in The Washington Post.

Triggers may wait: "I am told [Sen. Olympia] Snowe is considering the possibility of withdrawing that amendment from the Finance Committee deliberations, and waiting instead to offer it when the bill reaches the Senate floor," Time's Karen Tumulty reports.

New ad push from Health Care for America Now: the "Sick of It" campaign against insurance companies continues Thursday with a new TV ad — "Mansion" — juxtaposing the home of UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley with that of a middle-class family.  It's a $1 million ad buy, airing for two weeks on national MSNBC, and on local TV in DC, Maine, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis.

Where do you go to heat up your rhetoric?From Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., not the sort of apology that makes this all go away: "I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven't voted sooner to end this holocaust in America," Grayson said on the House floor Wednesday afternoon. 

Later, on CNN, on his Republican critics: "These are foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who think they can dictate to America by being stubborn," Grayson said on CNN.

Per the Orlando Sentinel's David Damron: "In an interview afterward, Grayson said he would not apologize to Republicans. ‘They were whining,' he said. ‘That's what they do. They're Republicans.' "

More, well, wrangling: "The House GOP is planning a new resolution to ask Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) to step aside as Ways and Means Committee chairman — in the wake of revelations he underreported his assets," Politico's Glenn Thrush reports. "GOP aides say they have been working on the draft for weeks — long before Rep. Joe Wilson bellowed ‘You lie!' and earned his own resolution of disapproval."

Responsibility, on Afghanistan: "The responsibility for the outcome of the war in Afghanistan rests squarely with Mr. Obama. Until now, he seems to have treated the conflict as a distraction from his efforts to nationalize our health-care system," Karl Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. "It was easy in 2008 to criticize Mr. Bush's war leadership. But winning a shooting war requires a commander in chief's constant, direct and deep involvement. Mr. Obama could show he understands this if he uses his trip to Denmark this week (where he will serve as pitchman for Chicago to get the 2016 Olympics) to make a surprise visit to Afghanistan."

And new partnerships: "With much of his party largely opposed to expanding military operations in Afghanistan, President Obama could be forced into the awkward political position of turning to congressional Republicans for support if he follows the recommendations of the commanding U.S. general there," Scott Wilson writes in The Washington Post.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen: "Basically I share [McChrystal's] view," Rasmussen said. The right policy, he added, "is definitely not an exit strategy. It's of crucial importance to stress that we will stay as long as it takes to stabilize the country."

Underway Thursday morning: "Diplomats from Iran and six world powers began talks Thursday morning on Iran's nuclear program at an 18th century villa in the Geneva countryside, a high-stakes encounter that may include the first high-level bilateral meeting between Washington and Tehran in years," Glenn Kessler reports in The Washington Post. The president holds his first fundraiser for the Democratic Governors Association, speaking at 1:50 pm ET at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington. Per a Democratic official, the DGA is expecting to raise $500,000 from individual contributions capped at $5,000. In town: Governors Brian Schweitzer of Montana, Martin O'Malley of Maryland, Jack Markell of Delaware, Jay Nixon of Missouri, Chet Culver of Iowa, Steve Beshear of Kentucky, Mark Parkinson of Kansas, Bev Perdue of North Carolina, and John de Jongh of the US Virgin Islands.Gov. O'Malley (a guest on ABCNews.com's "Top Line" Friday) holds a 10:30 am ET DNC conference call "to discuss the positive budget impact of the President's plan for health insurance reform on state budgets, reducing their share of Medicaid cost."

The president meets with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner separately on Thursday, before leaving for Copenhagen at 6:35 pm ET.

Already working it: "From the moment her feet touched the ground here in Denmark, first lady Michelle Obama was in campaign mode, lending her clout to Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympic Summer Games," ABC's Yunji de Nies reports.

"Barack and I have looked at this — this is like a campaign. Just like Iowa," the first lady said. "The international community may not understand that, but Iowa is like a caucus, and you can't take any vote for granted. Nobody makes the decision until they're sitting there."

"I'm sort of an ambassador," Oprah Winfrey tells de Nies, on "Good Morning America" Thursday.

Sort of a lobbyist: "Two of Chicago's heaviest hitters arrived Wednesday, and first lady Michelle Obama wasted no time in captivating some of the International Olympic Committee members who will decide a 2016 Summer Olympic host-city race considered too close to call," Philip Hersh and Kathy Bergen report in the Chicago Tribune.

"As she passed through the lobby of the Copenhagen Marriott, where the IOC members are staying, she gave two thumbs up and a hug to one of the first members she encountered, Nicole Hoevertsz of Aruba. Not only that, Hoevertsz said later, but the first lady congratulated her on having been named Tuesday as secretary to Aruba's council of ministers."

Domestic reverberations: "An early warning system introduced after the disastrous Christmas 2004 tsunami worked as planned, U.S. officials say, but failed to prevent the deaths of more than 100 people in Samoa and American Samoa on Tuesday because of the proximity of the originating earthquake," Joseph Weber and Audrey Hudson report in the Washington Times. "It was the first practical test of the system, set up in response to the 2004 wave that killed more than 220,000 people in the Indian Ocean region, primarily in Indonesia."

Democratic messaging preview — from a memo making the rounds on the Hill: "With Saturday marking the one-year anniversary of the passage of TARP, Democrats will be reminding the public that it was the Bush Administration who proposed a three-page, $700 billion bill granting unprecedented, and expansive authority to the Treasury Secretary with no taxpayer protections, no oversight or transparency measures, and no authority for the courts to review the Secretary's decisions. But, thanks to Democratic leaders in Congress who insisted that strong taxpayer protection and oversight provisions be included in the final bill, 30 percent of the funds invested by the government in financial institutions have already been repaid to taxpayers, at a 17 percent rate of return."

Payback: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is now so much of a Mitt Romney fan that he's getting himself listed as a sponsor on his fundraisers: "Yesterday, McCain's gesture helped Romney's political action committee raise about $80,000. It also consummated an 18-month rapprochement between two competitors who battled for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination," Sasha Issenberg reports in The Boston Globe.

Said McCain, in an interview: "He has more respect and appreciation within the party because he has a very strong financial background."

The T-Paw team — plus a new PAC and Website up Thursday: "[Gov. Tim] Pawlenty, who previously has had little political infrastructure, is now being advised by a trio of GOP consultants with presidential experience: Terry Nelson, Sara Taylor and Phil Musser," Politico's Jonathan Martin reports. "And in formally opening his political action committee, Freedom First, Thursday, Pawlenty will also announce two co-chairmen, William Strong, a Morgan Stanley vice chairman, and former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), both of whom are heavyweight GOP figures, along with a list of prominent Minnesota donors."

"Helping to coordinate the governor's GOP outreach in the nation's capital is Sam Geduldig, a well-connected lobbyist and former senior aide to Reps. John Boehner and Roy Blunt. Serving as the PAC's counsel is Michael Toner, a veteran campaign lawyer in Washington. Alex Conant, a native Minnesotan and former Republican National Committee spokesman, will serve as communications director.  The governor has also inked political technology consultants Patrick Ruffini, Mindy Finn, Patrick Hynes and Liz Mair to develop what Pawlenty advisers hope will be the most sophisticated new-media presence of any Republican in the nation. Pawlenty launches a new website, www.timpawlenty.com, Thursday."

Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., in the health care fray: "Gov. Bobby Jindal sent a letter to Louisiana's congressional delegation urging them to oppose any national health care overhaul that would require states to pick up part of the tab," per the AP. "Jindal sent the letter Wednesday, echoing the concerns of several governors who say they worry about a possible expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the needy and disabled."

So that's say no, until it's time to say yes: "I think now is the perfect time to pivot and to say, not only here's what we're against, and not only here's how we're going to contrast ourselves, but here's what we're for," Jindal told Politico's Jonathan Martin.

If you can't get enough of John Edwards — Politico's Ben Smith is up with a fascinating profile of Andrew Young: "First he was the fall guy, and now he's the sellout, peddling his story in a tell-all book. But the real story of Young is about the passions of politics and the classic political triangle of the candidate, his wife and the sometimes sycophantic aide. The consuming devotion that politicians command from a small handful of loyalists is familiar — and not just in presidential campaigns."

New numbers, in Pennsylvania: "The seesaw 2010 Senate race in Pennsylvania tips to Republican Pat Toomey, who has 43 percent to recently converted Democrat Sen. Arlen Specter's 42 percent, too close to call, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. . . . The good news for Sen. Specter, who was first elected to the Senate as a Republican in 1980, is that he remains far ahead of his Democratic primary challenger, U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak from southeastern Pennsylvania, 44 – 25 percent.&quot ;

(Sestak, D-Pa., is a guest on ABCNews.com's "Top Line" Thursday, live at noon ET.)

The Kicker:

"I kind of like being a president." — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a lighter moment at the UN Security Council.

"And you know why they haven't asked me? Because I'm saying what everyone else has been thinking." — Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., on why House leaders haven't asked him to apologize for saying Republicans want Americans to "die quickly" if they get sick.

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


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