Lonely Bridge: Health Reform’s Fate Rests on Broken House

Feb 26, 2010 8:07am

By Rick Klein At some point, it will be time to take no for an answer. It’s just that Democrats don’t yet have enough “yes” votes to make it so. Democrats can take two weeks or a month or six weeks, but — as expected –Thursday’s bipartisan summit will set up a partisan push. And so the soaring ambitions of a presidency ride on the vagaries of a whip count, in a House of Representatives teetering on this side of utter disarray. (Between the Charlie Rangel news and the breakdown in the intelligence bill — not to mention the looming expiration of unemployment benefits, after a Senate breakdown — health care has suddenly become the least of congressional worries.) Like the entirety of the health care debate, the White House is pleased to have had President Obama make his points, while Republicans are equally pleased to have had Democrats talking health care. On health care, Democrats have had plenty of points over the past year where they were hoping for new momentum out of a public development. Well — not so much. We had an election, and then we had a year, and then we had a summit, and then we’ll either have action or we won’t. The quest is on for 217. Without a breakthrough, “then I think we’ve got to go ahead and make some decisions,” the president said at the close of the forum, “and then that’s what elections are for.” “For reasons both political and philosophical, and President Obama and the Democrats want to pass health care reform, they’re going to have to do it without any Republican support,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reported on “Good Morning America” Friday. Coming soon — the real fight: “It’s a gamble for Obama and his party, and it’s far from certain that Democratic congressional leaders can rally their members to muscle a bill through on their own. At stake are Democrats’ political fortunes in the midterm elections and the fate of Obama’s domestic agenda pitted against emboldened Republicans,” the AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Jennifer Loven report. “If the Democrats want to pass a health care bill this year, they are going to have to go it alone. And that they are preparing to do just that,” Time’s Karen Tumulty writes. “The procedural and political hurdles ahead are formidable, and with each new poll showing public confidence slipping away, they know that time is not on their side. Yet, they say, they believe that if they can pass the bill, they can sell it, too.” The only takeaway that matters: “If [the president] and his Democratic allies in Congress want to reshape the nation’s healthcare system, they will have to do it by themselves,” Noam N. Levey and Janet Hook report in the Los Angeles Times. A real headline that actually makes sense: “Obama Bipartisan Health Summit Clears Path to Party-Line Vote,” Bloomberg News reports. Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, on the White House blog: “While the President appreciated the participation and input of everyone today, he doesn’t think we can just scrap a year’s worth of work and start over. The millions of Americans that are suffering can’t afford another year-long debate. There’s too much at stake.” “We need to have the courage to get this job done,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. From the other side — hope: “I hope that they would start over,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told George Stephanopoulos on “GMA.” “We are ready to work on a number of issues with the president. But we want to do it step by step.” “To go to the 51 votes, instead of the traditional 60 in the United States Senate, will have cataclysmic effects,” McCain added. “I’d be glad to go over again [to the White House] — not soon.” Getting there: “While the forum was novel, Mr. Obama still seemed burdened with the challenges of having pursued a largely middle-of-the-road proposal that has hampered the Democrats all along,” The New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn reports. “It has disappointed some in the party’s liberal base, especially without a public option. It holds little or no appeal for Republicans, and it confuses and scares many people in the middle.”   Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa.: “I don’t see very many at all who voted no who are going to switch their votes unless there are substantial changes in the bill.” Slate’s John Dickerson: “President Obama won. So did congressional Republicans. Democrats in Congress need another act.” A new deadline (for what it’s worth): “Democrats wake up after Thursday’s health care summit staring down another deadline to get their bill done, exactly four weeks to Easter break,” Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown reports. “So that means a party looking to emerge from the summit with a clear sense of the path forward instead find itself in the same old place – fighting the clock to finish health care, with an uncertain timeline, a complex legislative path and no idea if its leaders can muster the votes.” Was the forum critical to bucking up Obama himself? “It showcased democracy in action, clarified where both parties stand in the health care debate, and cleared the decks for everyone to move on. And that includes our passive-aggressive community organizer-in-chief,” Jill Lawrence writes for Politics Daily. “Among the many things the summit made clear is that in this, as in so much else these days, Democrats are on their own.” “The White House has dug its heels into the dirt,” Ezra Klein writes in his Washington Post blog. “The Democrats are not taking reconciliation off the table, they are not paring back the bill, and they are not extricating themselves from the issue. They think they’re right on this one, and they’re going to try and pass this legislation.” Summing up for the other side — and it wasn’t even halftime yet: “It’s starting to look like a waste of time, frankly,” Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said on ABC’s “Top Line.” “This is not good government; it’s also bad TV.” Prescriptions: “If the cold morning began with any hope that common ground might be found — always a long shot — the mood by the end of the day was testy and unyielding,” Susan Page writes in USA Today. “The likely use of the procedure known as reconciliation seems sure to spark another wave of partisan recrimination.” Ending — how exactly? “Embodying the core contradiction of the Obama presidency, the president seemed both to want to craft a new package and also to defend the strictly Democratic approach. I think he’s a bipartisan man stuck in a partisan town, but maybe he’s an iron partisan fist in a velvet postpartisan glove,” David Brooks writes in his column. “What the meeting made clear is what the Democrats are going to do — not step back and save the moderates of their party but attempt to bully a bill through the Congress,” Peggy Noonan writes in her Wall Street Journal column. “This is boorish of them, and they’ll suffer for it.” Don’t go nuclear, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., writes: “Applying the reconciliation process is dangerous because it would likely destroy its true purpose, which is to help enact fiscal policy consistent with an agreed-upon congressional budget blueprint. Worse, using reconciliation to amend a bill before it has become law in order to avoid the normal House and Senate conference procedure is a total affront to the legislative process.” From the annals of the most honest and ethical congressional majority in history: “Facing potential midterm election losses and a stuck-in-the-mud legislative program, Democrats can now add to their worries the ethics problems of chief House tax writer Rep. Charles Rangel,” the AP’s Larry Margasak reports. “The House ethics committee accused Rangel on Thursday of accepting corporate money for trips to Caribbean conferences in violation of House rules. The committee said it couldn’t determine whether Rangel knew about the financing, but found that his staff did — and concluded Rangel was responsible for learning the truth. Ironically, as the ethics committee was finalizing its report, the New York Democrat was attending President Barack Obama’s bipartisan summit in an attempt to rescue the party’s health care bill.” A mess for Rangel just to unpack: “I don’t want to be critical of the committee, but the common sense dictates that members of Congress should not be held responsible for what could be the wrongdoing of, or mistakes occur, as a staff unless there’s reason to believe the member knew or should have known,” Rangel said at a news conference Thursday night, per Politico. “So I have to now deal with my lawyer as to what the hell do they mean that something’s imputed.”  A bigger mess for Democrats to unpack: “Democrats last night said that the finding by the House Ethics Committee that Rep. Charles Rangel knowingly violated House rules when he accepted trips to the Caribbean is almost certain to lead to his ‘voluntary’ resignation from the key tax-writing post he holds — although just how ‘voluntary’ his departure his is an open dispute,” The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder writes. “One Democratic House strategist, who consults with the leadership and works directly with several candidates, said that the Rangel news ‘loses us the House’ because it provides Republicans with an effective talking point.” And start the clock on Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y. “The governor’s top criminal justice adviser, Denise E. O’Donnell, resigned, saying it was ‘unacceptable’ that Mr. Paterson and the State Police had made contact with a woman who was seeking an order of protection against the aide, and that she could not ‘in good conscience’ remain in the administration,” The New York Times’ Danny Hakim and Jeremy W. Peters report. Said Paterson: “I am not suspending my campaign, but I am talking to a number of elected officials around the state, as I would fellow Democrats, to give their opinion. … I’ve got an open mind about this thing. I want the Democrats to win in November.” “I will weigh what they have to say – but right now I am a candidate for governor.” The New York Daily News editorial: “For everyone’s sake, please leave office, Gov. Paterson.” The New York Post: “David Paterson is not qualified to be governor of New York. And he can spare the state he has sworn to serve a lot of unnecessary turmoil and pain by simply stepping aside. Without further delay.”  Remember those lovely days of bipartisanship in the Senate? “The Senate clash over the unemployment benefits ended just before midnight Thursday with Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, refusing to lift his objection, meaning the  jobless aid — for however short a time – will run out Sunday night unless a deal is reached Friday,” Carl Hulse and Robert Pear report in The New York Times. ABC’s Jonathan Karl, on “GMA”: “Somehow, some way, next week this issue will be resolved.” More legislative knots: “An anti-torture provision tripped up the intelligence authorization bill, forcing Democratic leaders to pull it from the House floor and prompting finger pointing among Democrats over who was at fault,” Roll Call’s Steven T. Dennis reports. “Language from Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) requiring that intelligence officers use Army Field Manual interrogation guidelines was added to the manager’s amendment in the Rules Committee, according to Democratic sources, over the objections of leadership.” Some palace intrigue, from Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times: “[Rahm] Emanuel has said he only promised to stay in the White House for two years. [David] Axelrod has talked about only staying two years. [Valerie] Jarrett is in for the long haul,” she writes. “Axelrod and Jarrett have hit a career high with President Obama. For Emanuel, this tour of duty in the White House is a sidetrack from a path he was on to realize his own ambitions.” Just outside the palace: “Fridays are getting tense in the Chicago campaign office of Alexi Giannoulias, the Democrat seeking the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama. That’s the day regulators announce which troubled banks they’ll close,” Bloomberg’s John McCormick writes. “The fate of the $1.2 billion-asset Broadway Bank, whose wealth helped finance Giannoulias’s successful 2006 state treasurer bid, is playing a growing role in a contest for a seat the Democrats have unexpectedly found themselves defending and that may help determine whether Obama’s party can keep its Senate majority.”  Coffee pals — in advance of Friday’s reunion for staffers in Washington: “Former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney today met face to face for the first time since leaving office over a year ago – and just three days after Cheney was hospitalized for a fifth heart attack,” ABC’s Kim Randolph reports. (And check out the video of their greeting.)
The Kicker: “Could be worse.” — Former Vice President Dick Cheney, welcoming former President George W. Bush. “It was sort of his classroom.” — Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., after the White House forum on health care.
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