Signs of Life: Congress Stirs, And Health Care Has a Pulse

Feb 23, 2010 7:54am

By Rick Klein This shot does not come with a score (at least not this week). But it puts some points on the board nonetheless. By releasing his own health care plan — and making it a broad one, if not a bipartisan one — President Obama succeeded in getting the conversation going again. After weeks of confusion interrupted only by despair, there’s a path for health care reform, albeit a narrow and dangerous one. The policy has advanced, and so have the politics: Republicans are playing a little defense again, and having 41 defenders may not be enough after all. Almost lost in the coverage of the new plan (which is really the old, Senate-passed plan, just a little more expensive and a little less ugly) is the fact that the White House is now on board for reconciliation. That means even those glimmers of bipartisanship stoked by Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., on Monday won’t have to ignite for a bill to become law. Under this scenario, it’s now about the House — which is better than having it be about the Senate, and much better than having it be about nothing at all. (Getting 217 won’t be easy — and it won’t be pleasant for the dozens of members who’d rather see health care done with entirely — but it’s not as impossible as 60 would be in the Senate.) Yes, this means Republicans can complain that the president isn’t playing fair. But that assumes that Thursday’s summit was about fair play in the first place, in a scenario where there was never a realistic hope of getting something that would include Republican buy-in.
 
It has the White House on offense going into Thursday’s summit: “The president’s proposal is striking for the extent to which it hews to the basic scale and framework of the bills on which Congress has toiled for months,”Anne E. Kornblut and Michael D. Shear report. “White House advisers said they concluded weeks ago that there was still a narrow path to legislative and political victory — either by securing a modest amount of bipartisan support at a live, televised summit on Thursday or, more likely, by using parliamentary maneuvers to pass the legislation in the Senate without needing 60 votes. On Capitol Hill, it took longer to come to accept that view.” Endgame: “Mr. Obama set in motion a new round of maneuvering intended to bring a bitterly divisive yearlong clash to a conclusion,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David M. Herszenhorn write in The New York Times. “More than a specific policy prescription, the measure is a gamble by a president trying to keep his top legislative priority alive.” The truths: “White House officials [Monday] publicly made it clear that should Thursday’s bipartisan health care reform summit not result in a legislative kumbaya,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “Democrats are likely to pursue a legislative path for finishing up the bill that includes using controversial ‘reconciliation’ rules in the Senate, requiring a majority vote instead of the 60-vote threshold that has become par for the course.”  The dares: “What you can’t do just yet is read about the Republicans’ consensus plan –because so far they haven’t announced what proposal they’ll be bringing to the table,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer blogs. “As we said today, we’ll be happy to post the Republican plan on our website once they indicate to us which one we should post. We hope they won’t pass up this opportunity to make their case to the American people.”   House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” Tuesday: “House Republicans have had a plan posted since the vote in the House in July…. The American people right now are the losers in all of this, because, George, the signals coming out of the White House don’t bode well for positive health care reform.” Obama’s plan, he said, is the “Senate health bill repackaged.” “The president insists on bringing back a bill that the American people have resoundingly rejected,” Cantor said. Any chance of bipartisan compromise with this as a starting point? “There can’t be,” he said. Other truths: “The real goal here has to be to resolve differences among Democrats,” Democratic strategist Paul Begala tells the Los Angeles Times’ Noam N. Levey.   Where we were always going to end up? “The Democratic leadership in Congress has only one rational course of action: Pass the thing, and quickly, or risk becoming the loyal minority,” Eugene Robinson writes in his Washington Post column. GOP pushback — Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in a USA Today op-ed.: “Instead of taking the enormous health care tax-and-spend bill off the table, the president largely endorsed it. This is like throwing a fresh coat of paint onto a condemned building and calling it fixed.”   Since they own the votes anyway, even if they don’t yet have a law to show for them… “President Barack Obama’s health-care proposal is a victory for those in the White House who want to press ahead with ambitious legislation over those who counseled scaling it back,” Laura Meckler and Jonathan Weisman report in The Wall Street Journal. Scott Brown? Scott Brown who? “The president’s plan retains most of the major elements of a bill the Senate passed on Christmas Eve, including an expansion of insurance to cover 30 million Americans who lack insurance, government subsidies to help them afford it, and a combination of new taxes and spending reductions to cover the $950 billion price tag,” The Boston Globe’sLisa Wangsness and Susan Milligan write. Then there’s the little matter of getting to 217: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stopped short of endorsing Obama’s plan, which largely draws on legislation the Senate passed in December,” Bloomberg’s Kristin Jensen and Laura Litvan report . “At least one House Democrat said he’ll fight to eliminate a new tax on high-end health benefits. And some Democrats may vote against what they see as lax controls on federal funding for abortion.” Other less convenient truths: “What he released on Monday is so bare-bones that the Congressional Budget Office said there’s not even enough detail to start working on a cost estimate,” the Washington Times’ Kara Rowland reports. “The administration did not post any bill text on the White House Web site, instead offering a detailed outline of what the legislation would do.” From the CBO blog: “CBO cannot provide a cost estimate for the proposal without additional detail, and, even if such detail were provided, analyzing the proposal would be a time-consuming process that could not be completed this week.” “White House adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle estimated that the changes proposed by the White House would increase the cost of the overall health care bill to $950 billion over 10 years, which she said will be offset by additional fees for health providers and penalties on large employers that do not cover their workers,” Patricia Murphy writes for Politics Daily. The Cornhusker Kickback dies — but the Louisiana Purchase and Gator-Aid live, ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports. And the tax on high-end health care plans… may never happen: “The imposition of the excise tax will be delayed until 2018, and the threshold at which the tax kicks in will be raised. In reality, the delay turns the tax into another Washington gimmick. Lord, give me virtue, but not yet,” David Brooks writes in his New York Times column. (Also not so convenient at the moment… 22 (going on 23) Democratic senators are calling on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to put through a public option using reconciliation — though Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is notably not among them… Plus, a poll written up in Reid’s hometown newspaper suggests it’s in his interest to do so…) Some skepticism, still: “The president is likely to have to settle for much less than he wants — small-bore legislation that would smooth the rough edges of today’s system but stop well short of coverage for nearly everyone,” the AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Erica Werner report. “By day’s end, President Barack Obama was staring down all the same old problems,” Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown and Patrick O’Connor write. New York Times editorial board – not thrilled, but convinced enough, and relieved to see the president engaged: “We wish he had included a public plan. And we regret that he accepted the Senate’s decision not to require employers to provide insurance. … This may be the last best chance for decades to come to reform the nation’s broken health care system. Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders should fight to win.” Hope you got a receipt with those Scott Brown ’12 bumper stickers … “So much for Scott Brown the Republican savior,” ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports. “In his third vote as a Senator, Brown vote against Republicans, helping break a filibuster on a jobs promotion bill crafted by Democrats.” ABC’s Jonathan Karl, on “Good Morning America” Tuesday: “It sends a message that he is from Massachusetts, and this is a guy who from time to time may well work with Democrats.” “The support by Brown and other GOP lawmakers could represent a critical psychological break for the Senate, which has been mired in bitter partisan fights over everything from the massive health care package to uncontroversial presidential nominations,” The Boston Globe’s Susan Milligan writes. “Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown may have crushed Democrats’ spirits in winning a special election last month, but he’s also helped revive them by providing critical momentum to advance a bipartisan jobs bill that had become entangled in familiar partisan wrangling,” the AP’s Andrew Taylor writes. “With the midterm elections already revving up and the parties facing deep ideological divides over a host of issues, there was no evidence that Monday’s vote was the beginning of a trend,” The New York Times’ Carl Hulse writes. “But after being repeatedly stymied by Republicans on a series of initiatives and nominations over the past months, Democrats were elated with the outcome and expressed gratitude to Republicans who sided with them in cutting off a potential filibuster.”  So long as bipartisanship is breaking out… Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., unveil their tax system overhaul: “We reduce the number of tax brackets from six to three –15%, 25% and 35% — and simplify the tax code for individuals and families by eliminating the alternative minimum tax,” they write in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “By nearly tripling the standard tax deduction, creating new opportunities for tax-free saving, and eliminating restrictions on personal exemptions and itemized deductions, under our proposal most Americans with an annual income of up to $200,000 will fare as well or better than they do under the current system. Furthermore, they won’t have to worry about maintaining the records and receipts necessary to document itemized deductions.” (Wyden and Gregg will be on ABC’s “Top Line” Tuesday, live at noon ET, with more on this and health care reform efforts.) The other big news on the Hill this week: “Congressional investigators Monday accused Toyota officials of making misleading public statements about the causes of its runaway cars and faulted federal safety regulators for conducting ‘cursory and ineffective’ investigations because of a crippling lack of expertise,” The Washington Post’s Peter Whoriskey and Frank Ahrens report.  Reuters, on Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s opening statement: “The Obama administration will hold Toyota President Akio Toyoda to his word that the carmaker is working hard to address all safety issues, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday. In an oral statement prepared for delivery to the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Toyota Motor Corp’s big recalls, LaHood said regulators would continue to investigate ‘all possible causes’ of unintended acceleration.” Another new name for 2012: “Just to get them off my back, I agreed to a number of people that I will now stay open to the idea,” Gov. Mitch Daniels, R-Ind., tells The Washington Post’s Dan Balz. Writes Balz: “Among the people he has talked with is former president George W. Bush, though Daniels said it was not that conversation per se that tipped him to reopen a door he had seemingly closed.”  It’s been a while since Michael Steele woke up to one of these stories — but not too long: “Republican National Chairman Michael Steele is spending twice as much as his recent predecessors on private planes and paying more for limousines, catering and flowers – expenses that are infuriating the party’s major donors who say Republicans need every penny they can get for the fight to win back Congress,” Politico’s Jeanne Cummings writes. Primary mischief: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is announcing Tuesday that’s it’s launching a new Website, PalinsPrimaries.com, “to provide Sarah Palin with a guide to the more than 55 competitive House Republican primaries in which to get involved.” “Undeterred by the embarrassing loss she helped bring to House Republicans in last fall’s special election in Upstate New York, Sarah Palin announced she wants to get involved in more Republican primary races this year,” said Jon Vogel, DCCC executive director. Annals of friendship: Former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., is endorsing Sen. John McCain’s campaign Tuesday morning: “For years, I’ve been an admirer of John McCain. Then we became competitors. Today, I’m proud to call him my friend,” Romney will say, per excerpts provided to The Note. “In my view, it’s hard to imagine the United States Senate without John McCain, especially in the critical times we find ourselves in, with double-digit unemployment, a mountain of debt imperiling future generations and a global terrorist threat from jihadists bent on destroying our very way of life.” McCain, R-Ariz., on Romney: “Governor Romney is among the brightest and most dynamic leaders in our Party, and I am proud to have his support.” RIP, ACORN? Politico’s Ben Smith: “The embattled liberal group ACORN is in the process of dissolving its national structure, with state and local-chapters splitting off from the underfunded, controversial national group, an official close to the group confirmed.” Health scare day: “Former Vice President Dick Cheney is at George Washington University Hospital in Washington tonight after experiencing chest pains,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Karen Travers report. “Cheney’s doctors are evaluating the situation and the former vice president is resting comfortably.” And: “Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) is recovering at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center after a bout with pneumonia and surgery on his knee,” Politico’s Andy Barr reports. “Dole, the 1996 GOP presidential nominee, has gotten past his struggle with pneumonia and, according to a source, is back to working and making calls from the hospital on behalf of his clients at the law firm Alston & Bird.”
Kicker: “If Arianna and I wanted to pose nude, he can’t say anything about it.” — Ayla Brown, on one of the advantages she and her sister enjoy as daughters of Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.
“I’m just supposed to walk her down the aisle and pay the bills.” — Former President Bill Clinton, getting ready for a supporting role at his daughter’s wedding.
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