Frozen Phase: Invite Won’t Thaw Health Care Politics

Feb 9, 2010 7:54am

By Rick Klein: Maybe it’s just as well that this is the week that Washington froze solid. And yes, excessive amounts of snow fell, too. We’re stuck in a rut of frustration. Deep mistrust for institutions, unease with an administration’s wheel-spinning, no real basis (or, perhaps, incentive) for two bitterly divided sides to even talk — we may as well stay at home. As the new standoff over the summit that may never happen plays out, you can’t separate the politics from the policy — so long as both sides are comfortable that they’re playing the politics right. Bipartisanship doesn’t just happen, and it doesn’t get moving with an invitation alone. And politics in 2010 still looks like a zero-sum game. (There were winners and losers when President Obama visited Republicans for question time last month, and losers who want to make sure they come off as winners next time around.) That means … maybe not so fast: “If the starting point for this meeting is the job-killing bills the American people have already soundly rejected, Republicans would rightly be reluctant to participate,” House Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor wrote in a letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel late Monday. Answered before it was asked: “A lot of people ask if this is starting over [on a health overhaul], the answer is absolutely not,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said at a conference in Washington Monday. Why play if you’re afraid you’re going to get played? “Even as Republicans publicly welcome President Barack Obama’s call for a bipartisan confab on health care, some privately worry that he might be laying a trap to portray their ideas as flimsy,” the AP’s Chuck Babington writes. Why try to play in the first place? “For Obama, it fits neatly into his post-Massachusetts strategy of painting the GOP as do-nothing obstructionists. The Republicans have spent the year almost uniformly opposing Obama’s agenda — and being rewarded by voters for doing it,” Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown and Patrick O’Connor write. “Now Obama wants to use the meeting to call them out in public, to question whether they have any plans to fix the nation’s health care system and any willingness to help him do it.” You think, maybe? “It is not clear that Republicans and the White House are willing to negotiate seriously with each other, and Mr. Obama has rejected Republican demands that he start from scratch in developing health care legislation,” Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn report.  “Don’t count on President Barack Obama’s upcoming health care summit to thaw the bitter political climate that has stalled legislation for months,” McClatchy’s David Lightman writes. From the left — Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., on the push for bipartisanship: “Good luck with that.” Looking for fans: “Hill Democrats were equally cautious,” Roll Call’s David M. Drucker reports. “They welcomed the bicameral leadership gathering — saying it was the type of presidential leadership that they’ve been looking for from Obama in their yearlong effort to enact health care reform legislation — but they speculated it might be coming too late to make a difference.” What would be the point, then? “Few on either side of the aisle are predicting that the president’s high-profile summit will be a vehicle to refashion health care legislation in a way that will attract any Republican votes,” NPR’s Liz Halloran reports. (What constituency are we left with, then? Recalling that a good chunk of Democrats would just as well be done with health care altogether already, is this a gambit in search of a strategy? Or would the White House be pleased with a rejection of a public invitation to talk?) Offense, from the White House: “Reports that Anthem Blue Cross is raising premiums on some customers by 39 percent on March 1, have prompted the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, to write a letter to the company, Golden State’s largest private insurer, asking the company to ‘provide a detailed justification for these rate increases to the public,’ ” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. Not engendering much trust: “Two prominent House Democrats, Reps. John B. Larson of Connecticut and Linda T. Sanchez of Lakewood, are sponsoring a resolution that attempts to force Republicans to vote on whether they support privatizing the federal Social Security program, an idea that proved unpopular when President George W. Bush tried to enact it in his second term,” the Los Angeles Times’ James Oliphant and Noam N. Levey report. “It’s very cynical,” said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “This is why people in Congress don’t offer solutions to the big problems of the day.” From a similar department — new from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: “On Tuesday, the DCCC will be targeting dozens of House Republicans and NRCC candidates and calling on them to come clean with seniors and state whether they support House Republicans’ extreme budget plan that privatizes Social Security and Medicare. The DCCC will also be reminding voters of previous statements from House Republican incumbents and challengers on the topic of privatizing social security and will be calling on others to state their position.” That didn’t take long: “Despite his continued calls for collaboration, just two weeks after President Obama’s State of the Union address the window has closed on the areas of bipartisan cooperation he laid out, with Republicans saying his budget puts some ideas out of play and Democrats taking others off the table,” Stephen Dinan writes for the Washington Times. Gallup puts the president’s approval at 36 percent on both the economy and health care — both figures marking lows for his term in office. The president is at 44-47 approval-disapproval, in the new Marist poll. The federal government is closed for a second straight day, and scheduled House votes have been postponed until at least Wednesday. Highlighting President Obama’s day — one of the very few full schedules in town: “In the afternoon the President and Vice President Biden will meet with a bipartisan, bicameral group of leaders ‘to discuss working together on the economy and jobs,” the White House says,’ per ABC’s Sunlen Miller. “This is the first of the monthly bipartisan leadership meetings that the President announced in his State of the Union address two weeks ago.” First Lady Michelle Obama on what snow days are like these days, to ABC’s Robin Roberts: “That’s the beauty of living in the White House — you’ve got a lot of people who help out,” she said, on “Good Morning America” Tuesday. On her childhood obesity initiative: “We know that we need to do something big and get moving on it,” the first lady said. “My kids have to get up and move. They can’t sit in front of the TV. I have my girls involved in sports because I want them, as young women, to understand what it feels like to compete and to win and to run and to sweat.” On where thing stand a year in: “One of the things that Barack Obama said and continues to say is, change ain’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight.” And on bipartisan outreach: “That is the beauty of Barack Obama. His hand stays out, positive and focused. It’s a gift.”

New from the war over war tactics — Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan, in a USA Today op-ed: “The most important breakthrough occurred after [Umar Farouk] Abdulmutallab was read his rights, which the FBI made standard policy under Michael Mukasey, President Bush’s attorney general. The critics who want the FBI to ignore this long-established practice also ignore the lessons we have learned in waging this war: Terrorists such as Jose Padilla and Saleh al-Mari did not cooperate when transferred to military custody, which can harden one’s determination to resist cooperation.” Brennan goes on (and if you didn’t know it was Brennan, who does this sound like?): “Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda.” USA Today’s “Our View”: “Ever since the botched Christmas Day plot to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner, the Obama administration’s national security officials have struggled to assure the public that they know exactly what they’re doing. So far, they’re achieving the opposite, and they’re needlessly adding some jitters in the process.” In other news — RIP, John Murtha. That means another special election, most likely for May, to judge and over-judge the state of the Obama agenda. “While U.S. Rep. John Murtha made his living as a skilled politician, it was his grit, his work ethic and his heart that most locals wanted to talk about Monday,” the Johnstown Tribune Democrat reports. “Murtha’s work ethic and dedication was a common theme among those reacting to the news of his death. The breadth and depth of the congressman’s contributions over a 36-year career left some at a loss for words.” Politico’s David Rogers: “A Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, the 77-year-old Democrat won national fame for standing up against U.S. military involvement in Iraq. But in Congress itself, he also symbolized an old-school generation going back to Tip O’Neill and the Democratic heyday of the ’70s, when the House was less divided by partisan ideology than by often regional interests.”  “He was one of those guys that’d make the place work, and he did it with such a sense of joy and fun,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos said on “GMA” Tuesday. “And he taught me an awful lot.” The AP’s Kimberly Kefling: “A Pennsylvania congressman and longtime friend of the late Rep. John Murtha says the congressman’s large intestine was damaged during gallbladder surgery and the complications led him to be hospitalized.” Implications: “Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.) untimely death Monday makes the political map even more daunting for House Democrats, who will have to defend another highly competitive seat in what is shaping up to be a hostile election year,” Politico’s Josh Kraushaar reports. “The most likely special election date, according to Democratic sources, is May 18, the same date as the regularly-scheduled Pennsylvania primary election. … There will be no special primary to nominate candidates. Instead, county party leaders from Murtha’s western Pennsylvania-based 12th District will each select the nominees at a convention, and the winners will then square off in the special election.” Per ABC News: “Republicans have long viewed his predominantly rural district as a prime pick-up opportunity. Murtha’s was the only congressional district in the country to support John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008.” Chris Cillizza, at The Fix blog: “Murtha’s death also makes Pennsylvania perhaps the most competitive state in the country when it comes to the battle for the House. Republicans will target the 4th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 11th and 12th districts while Democrats see opportunity in the 6th and 15th.” Backing off: “Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., had blocked more than 80 presidential nominations now before the Senate, but tonight he relented, saying he had simply been trying ‘to get the White House’s attention’ on two important national security issues related to his state,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Kristina Wong report. Digging in — and giving unions fits: “Nebraska’s Democratic senator says he will join Republicans in opposing a union lawyer’s nomination to serve on the National Labor Relations Board. Sen. Ben Nelson is the first Democrat to come out against the nomination of Craig Becker. His decision likely means that Democrats cannot find the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster of the nominee.” AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale: “A quick look at past statements by Nelson about the importance of Presidents receiving up or down votes on their nominees shows [the] hypocrisy of his opposition to Becker, who is imminently qualified.” Meghan McCain vs. Tea Partiers: “It’s innate racism, and I think it’s why young people are turned off by this movement,” McCain, co-hosting “The View,” said of former Rep. Tom Tancredo’s remarks at the opening of the Tea Party convention. “Revolutions start with young people, not with 65-year-old people talking about literacy tests and people who can’t say the word vote in English. It’s ridiculous.” On Sarah Palin: “I got a book coming out in August and I’d be happy to come back and tell you everything in August,” she said.
The Kicker: “How do I get my reputation back? Because I don’t believe I have done anything to deserve this kind of bashing.” — Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y., to the AP, responding to rumors of a journalistic bombshell that hasn’t dropped yet. “Hi Mom.” — Words on the hand of Sarah Palin’s palm Sunday, as Palin campaigned for Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas.
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