ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: What was history waiting for before calling Olympia Snowe? (Was she screening history’s calls until the day of the committee vote?) And is someone at the White House working on getting history the direct-dial for Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman?
One vote made the wait worthwhile for Democrats: Sen. Olympia Snowe’s decision to support the Finance Committee health care bill gives the White House its Republican (and very possibly its only Republican) to tout a bipartisan process with.
Perhaps more importantly, this keeps open the front legislative door, since it makes 60 votes a real possibility again. Centrist Democrats in both the House and the Senate have the cover they need to support a bill (and can you imagine a Nelson or a Lieberman joining Republicans to filibuster health care now?).
Snowe, R-Maine, may be the only Republican who casts a vote for health care reform this year — but she may also be the only vote Democrats need.
And don’t miss Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s fascinating interview with ABC’s Cynthia McFadden, in Russia. Clinton tells McFadden she’s ruling out running for both president and governor of New York: “I am neither frustrated nor planning anything other than being the best secretary of state I could be.”
On the Big Question: “I have absolutely no interest in running for president again. None. None. I mean, I know that’s hard for some people to believe, but, you know, I just — I just don’t — I feel like that was a great experience — you know, I gave it all I had, I’m giving this job all I have. I try to live in the present, so it just seems, you know, that — that’s not in my future.”
(Plus this for your parsing pleasure: “If I had called him, I would have wanted him to say yes.” And: “I am shocked at how much time I spend in the White House.” More highlights, on Afghanistan and Iran, below — and more to come on Wednesday’s “World News,” with the full interview to follow on “Nightline.”)
Back to health care — a big day, in symbols and substance, coming just less than a month after Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., stood alone at that press conference to announce the long-delayed Finance Committee bill:
“The signal is unmistakable. It’s not just possible that health reform will pass. It now seems likely,” The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn writes.
“The chances that something will pass has dramatically increased,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reported on “Good Morning America” Wednesday.
And yet — the bill still looks very likely to shift leftward from here, and support could (and will) shift with it.
Keep in mind that Team Obama has had less control of the health care debate the farther it strays from the legislative process. That’s one reason this period — post-committee, pre-floor — is critical.
Just a few tweaks before it reaches the Senate floor (don’t you envy Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid?):
“Liberal Democrats, like Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said they would push for a public insurance plan. Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, both Democrats, said they would seek changes to make insurance more affordable to middle-income families. And Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts said he wanted to require employers to provide insurance to their employees,” Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn report in The New York Times.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will be on the Hill Wednesday for private talks, ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports.
”Health care talks slip back behind closed doors Wednesday as Senate leaders start trying to merge two very different bills into a new version that can get the 60 votes needed to guarantee its passage,” the AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reports.
“Reid plans to meet today with Baucus and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), the lead champion of the health committee bill. The majority leader has said he hopes to have combined legislation on the Senate floor for debate by the end of the month,” the Los Angeles Times’ Noam N. Levey and James Oliphant report.
”Snowe’s vote yesterday, while an important victory for Democrats eager to show some sign of bipartisan support, underscored how fragile the coalition is for comprehensive healthcare overhaul,” Susan Milligan and Lisa Wangsness report in The Boston Globe.
Snowe knows what her vote means (and doesn’t mean). Asked by ABC’s Charlie Gibson whether one Republican vote means “true bipartisanship,” she said: “Well, obviously not sufficient. We need to have more. We need to have support of the Democratic senators for example, who also can play a very pivotal role in this regard.”
And room for compromise on a public option — with a state opt-out? “I have concerns about that, because that could be another way of opting in to have a public option all across the country,” Snowe told ABC’s Robin Roberts on “GMA.” (She still wants a trigger.)
Why her vote really matters: “Democrats, who already have 60 votes in the Senate, theoretically don’t need her support. But in practice, they do — to persuade their own wavering moderates to support the legislation,” The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes.
You thought there were a lot of ads before? “The insurance industry is now on the air in [six] states attacking Democratic health reform proposals as bad for seniors, according to an independent ad tracker,” ABC’s Teddy Davis reports. “The ad does not focus on yesterday’s methodologically questionable report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Instead, it focuses on the impact to seniors of proposed cuts to Medicare Advantage.”
Firing back: “The insurance industry has decided to lead the charge against health reform, and everyone recognizes their motives: profits,” White House deputy communications director Dan Pfeiffer tells The Washington Post’s Ceci Connolly. “We are going to make sure they can’t sink this effort at the last minute.”
Will the army march this time? Organizing for America “is asking the president’s supporters to fight back against the health insurance industry by signing a petition and sending a message to Congress to ignore the insurance lobby’s ‘scare tactics,’ ” per ABC’s Teddy Davis.
Over on the left: “They’ve done their part as a bit player in this drama,” Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., a strong backer of the public option, said of the Senate action, per the New York Daily News’ Michael McAuliff. “The only question is how this gets mediated at the eleventh hour by President Obama.”
“Those of us who support a public option are waiting for President Obama to come in out of the bullpen to seal the deal,” Weiner told ABC’s Jonathan Karl on “GMA” Wednesday.
(Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the co-chairman of the House Progressive Caucus, will be on ABCNews.com’s “Top Line” live at noon ET. Watch HERE.)
Labor lobs one: “A public health insurance plan option is essential to reform,” reads the print ad running in The Washington Post and some three dozen other publications Wednesday, from a labor coalition led by the AFL-CIO. “Unless the bill that goes to the floor of the U.S. Senate makes substantial progress to address the concerns of working men and women, we will oppose it.”
Did AHIP misplay its hand? “Health insurance stocks took a dive Tuesday, with the S&P Health Care Sector index becoming the worst-performing segment of the S&P 500, largely because of health insurance companies,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “[That] followed a public declaration of war by the health insurance industry’s lobbying arm against the White House’s health care reform efforts.”
Reid, D-Nev., on the firing line, with Rep. Alan Grayson joining with liberal groups: “With Majority Leader Harry Reid becoming the Senate’s new central decision-maker on health care, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) will deliver Reid nearly 90,000 petition signatures today – telling Reid to lay down the law with conservative Democratic senators so that strong reform can be passed quickly.”
“The notion that anyone is now actually in control of this process is an illusion. But to the extent that anyone’s hand is on the tiller, it is Reid’s,” Time’s Jay Newton-Small writes.
Can the left out-Obama Obama? A call to action from artists, from Public Option Please: “Arianna Huffington, Jesse Dylan, Marshall Ganz, Arlene Holt Baker, and Aaron Rose have signed on as judges as POP – Public Option Please, today launched the first ever visual arts contest to promote the Public Option. Inspired by artists behind the successful ‘Manifest Hope’ project, the effort is designed to cut through the DC ‘insider’ clutter and provide a vehicle for artists to make the moral case for health care reform and take part in the debate currently raging in Congress.”
Also not sold: “We would like to see more people covered, and maybe most importantly we think [the bill] falls short on the cost containment issues — both the short-term cost containment issues, but more importantly, long-term cost containment,” Ralph G. Neas, CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care, said on ABCNews.com’s “Top Line” Tuesday.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee hits transparency in a new Web ad — a big topic online in recent weeks. “Demand Senate Democrats commit to a public review of the health bill before the final vote (and commit to reading the bill themselves),” the video says.
On Afghanistan — with more presidential national-security-team huddling Wednesday — the high-end troop number is even higher than everyone thought.
ABC’s Martha Raddatz: “Although the debate is really about the middle option, there is a much higher number included in the McChrystal options. Other sources who have seen the request say the high number of troops requested is 80,000. These sources also say that they believe McChrystal’s bottom option has no ‘combat’ troops but 10,000 that could be enablers or trainers. This is also considered the ‘high risk option.’”
Is the debate shifting inside the White House? The New York Times’ Peter Baker: “From the moment they took office, Mr. Biden has been Mr. Obama’s in-house pessimist on Afghanistan, the strongest voice against further escalation of American forces there and the leading doubter of the president’s strategy. It was a role that may have been lonely at first, but has attracted more company inside the White House as Mr. Obama rethinks the strategy he unveiled just seven months ago.”
Secretary Clinton said she’s still mulling what the new strategy should be: “I am still, you know, considering all the different aspects of making this decision. And I will, you know, be prepared to offer the president my best advice when he asks for it.” (But she added that she “probably” knows what she’d say if he asked her opinion tomorrow.)
On Iran — Secretary Clinton is working on Russia: “I believe if sanctions become necessary, we will have support from Russia,” she told Cynthia McFadden.
“But we all want to test this diplomatic engagement. So we don’t want to look as though we’re not serious about it. Because we are serious about it,” Clinton said. “The fact that Iran has said they will open itself to nuclear inspections, that it will ship out low-enriched uranium, let’s see if they do it.”
Key maneuvering on the Hill: Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii: “I believe Gen. McChrystal’s assessment of the current situation and his conclusions, including his assessment that coalition forces must have more daily contact with the people of Afghanistan, is correct,” Inouye said, per Politico’s David Rogers, “and is what is needed if we are to achieve security and stability in Afghanistan.”
Does this impact the debate? “The U.S. military Tuesday reported the biggest surge in recruits since the end of the draft — an increase that likely will relieve pressure on troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan by allowing them to spend more time at home between overseas deployments,” per the Washington Times’ Eli Lake.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, per a GOP aide: “Senate Republicans will be making the case that military courts are the best venue for prosecuting the terrorist co-conspirators behind the 9/11 attacks. We’ll argue that trying them in civilian courts is neither appropriate nor safe. Debate on the issue precedes a vote on a key amendment to the CJS appropriations bill, that would prevent the Department of Justice from using funds to try terrorists in civilian courts. The amendment, authored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, could get a vote as early as today.”
A stimulating day. Per the White House, at 2:05 pm ET, “the President and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will tour the Fairfax County Parkway Extension project, the largest Recovery Act project in Virginia. . . . After the tour, the President will deliver remarks on the economic benefits of the Recovery Act.”
New jobs campaign from the Chamber Wednesday: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s new multimillion-dollar, multiyear campaign to promote free enterprise begins as the complexity of some public policy issues is making it difficult for trade groups to find consensus among their members,” The Hill’s Jim Snyder and Kevin Bogardus reports. “Chamber officials say the new campaign, which will use polling and research, advertising and grassroots campaigning, will tackle the biggest issue facing the country: how to create 20 million new jobs to revitalize the economy and keep pace with population growth.”
Labor fires back — AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale: “This ‘jobs’ campaign is nothing more than a blatant attempt to kill any new financial regulations. The Chamber simply wants to keep the status quo that got us into this recession; it’s a level of dishonesty that would certainly make AHIP proud.”
Making financial regulatory reform more interesting: “Some of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s closest aides, none of whom faced Senate confirmation, earned millions of dollars a year working for Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Citigroup Inc. and other Wall Street firms, according to financial disclosure forms,” Bloomberg’s Robert Schmidt reports. “The advisers include Gene Sperling, who last year took in $887,727 from Goldman Sachs and $158,000 for speeches mostly to financial companies, including the firm run by accused Ponzi scheme mastermind R. Allen Stanford. Another top aide, Lee Sachs, reported more than $3 million in salary and partnership income from Mariner Investment Group, a New York hedge fund.”
Making it even more interesting: “Major U.S. banks and securities firms are on pace to pay their employees about $140 billion this year — a record high that shows compensation is rebounding despite regulatory scrutiny of Wall Street’s pay culture,” The Wall Street Journal’s Aaron Lucchetti and Stephen Grocer report. “Workers at 23 top investment banks, hedge funds, asset managers and stock and commodities exchanges can expect to earn even more than they did the peak year of 2007, according to an analysis of securities filings for the first half of 2009 and revenue estimates through year-end by The Wall Street Journal.”
Intriguing timing from Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., filling out the resume: “In a push to tamp down health care costs in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Pawlenty Tuesday proposed changes that would allow Minnesotans to purchase out-of-state health policies and let for-profit insurers into the Minnesota market,” Bob van Sternberg and Warren Wolfe report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “The plan would also use co-pays and higher deductibles to steer lower-income people on Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare toward state-approved clinics — a move Pawlenty said could trim state costs by $100 million a year.”
Transitions: “[Rep.] Robert Wexler of Boca Raton, a self-described ‘fire-breathing liberal,’ defender of Israel and friend of both President Barack Obama and Gov. Charlie Crist, is quitting Congress to head a think tank seeking peace in the Middle East,” The Miami Herald’s Beth Reinhard reports. “In a conference call Tuesday night with Democratic leaders, Wexler said he will become director of the Washington-based Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. Wexler, 48, is expected to make a public statement about his plans at a 10 a.m. Wednesday press conference at his Boca Raton office.”
“I didn’t do very much. But I had to do some of it, for my country.” — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to ABC’s Cynthia McFadden, on doing vodka shots at a diplomatic luncheon in Moscow.
“We simply disagree that he has done nothing. . . . He got the prize for what he has done.” Nobel committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland, to the AP.
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