Tears and Fears: Health care push stirs debate among Democrats

By Jonathan Blakely

Feb 24, 2010 7:51am

By Rick Klein: What’s the opposite of hype? (Hope?) No reason to shed a tear: Anything you might have expected out of Thursday’s health care summit has already been drained out of it. And it’s only Wednesday. But one upshot, since this whole process is really only about the Democrats anyway: The Democrats’ great debate of 2009-2010 will play itself out. That’s the debate between the too-much and the too-little camps — those who blame the party’s sagging fortunes on an overambitious president who’s turned off the center, vs. those who see an overly cautious president turning off his base. No matter the seating arrangements, neither side will be thrilled with what comes out of the health care summit and beyond. But one way to get an answer to whether what’s being done is too much or too little is to do something — and that’s what’s on track, again. It took an invitation to Republicans to realize anew that all the White House needs are Democrats: “The real target of presidential bidding is his own party — specifically House Democrats. The White House hopes that Blair House will be the new Baltimore, a venue, like Obama's meeting with the Republican caucus, where a nimble president outdebates the opposition, thus stiffening Democratic spines for the difficult legislative road ahead,” Ruth Marcus writes in her Washington Post column.  “For a Democratic House member in a swing district, the politics counsel against voting yes. ‘This is a career-ending vote,’ one Democrat told me — and this was a lawmaker who voted for the original bill,” Marcus writes. The counter — or at least cutting in the other direction: “Driving the two sides’ behavior more than any policy details is this: The White House and many Democrats really want a major bill to pass, and the Republicans really don’t,” David Leonhardt writes in The New York Times. “A bill would snatch victory from defeat for Mr. Obama, and it would be a victory that eluded Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon and Harry Truman. No bill would make the Democrats look incompetent.” White House officials “hope the session will embolden rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers who face re-election this fall amid worries that public opposition to a full-scale overhaul of health care could doom them,” the AP’s Chuck Babington writes. “Failing to pass a bill would be even worse, party leaders say.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.: “They should stop crying about reconciliation as if it's never been done before.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.: The process is a “rather really arrogant, if you will, effort to say to the American people we're smarter than you are, we know you've followed this debate for six months, but we're going to give you this anyway.” A flat prediction that Democrats will fall flat: “With all due respect to my vote-counting counterpart on the Democrat side, the House Republican Whip Team and I think he’s wrong,” House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., writes in a memo to colleagues on Wednesday, pegging the Democrats’ whip count at “as few as 205 yes votes.” “Americans have overwhelming and repeatedly asked Democrats to shelve their take-over and start again. We believe that fact will continue to weigh heavy on House Democrats, and as a result, Speaker Pelosi will not be able to muster the votes needed to pass a Senate reconciliation bill in the House.” Democratic consensus? (Or not.) “House Democrats met at noon yesterday to review the president’s proposal, and afterward House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president’s plan had been well received. House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman appeared encouraged after the meeting and said he thought Democratic leaders were ‘very close’ to getting majorities in the House and Senate behind a bill,” Lisa Wangsness writes in The Boston Globe. “Liberal Democrats worn down by the yearlong debate over health care appear resigned to backing Obama’s bill despite the lack of a public option, while Members of the party’s pivotal, fiscally conservative Blue Dog wing generally kept their powder dry,” Roll Call’s Steven T. Dennis and Jennifer Bendery report. In the not-so-much camp: “The sweeping health-care package unveiled this week by the White House appears to face big hurdles in the House, with abortion and unease among moderates potential stumbling blocks to winning passage of the legislation,” Janet Adamy and Greg Hitt write in The Wall Street Journal. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.: “We may not be able to do all. I hope we can do all.” “How this is done is not clear to me at this moment,” Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., told McClatchy’s David Lightman. The critical movement: “An idea that seemed toxic only weeks ago — using a parliamentary tactic to ram health reform through the Senate — is gaining acceptance among moderate Democrats who have resisted the strategy but now say GOP opposition may force their hands,” Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown reports. Ready to go: “The American people don’t want bipartisanship just for the sake of bipartisanship,” SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger said on ABC’s “Top Line” Tuesday. “They want action, and it’s time for the Democrats — if that’s what it takes — to step up and vote and get this done.” Firing up: “The Virtual March on Washington: A Million Voices for Change”: “The nation’s leading progressive organizations are joining forces today for ‘A Virtual March on Washington’ to send Congress one million messages urging action on health care reform. This will be the single largest day of action yet in the health care fight.” Marking a passing: “After months on life support, the public option died Tuesday,” The Hill’s Jared Allen writes. “The White House and House leaders on Tuesday pronounced the government-run health program dead even as some Democratic senators continued their effort to resurrect it.” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: “There isn’t enough political support in a majority to get this through.” Keeping an enemy alive: “Executives from California health insurance giant Anthem Blue Cross, under fire for scheduled rate hikes of up to 39%, insisted Tuesday that their premiums were fair and legal, and they told lawmakers they expected that the increases would go forward,” the Los Angeles Times’ Duke Helfand reports. Jousting with that enemy: “President Obama today announced he’s supporting the move in Congress to repeal the antitrust exemption currently enjoyed by health insurers,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “One health insurance industry official said the exemption really had very little to do with health insurance, and the announcement seemed more political than anything else.” Not going to help the White House right now, at least not on the Hill: “President Barack Obama’s top advisers are quietly laying the groundwork for the 2012 reelection campaign, which is likely to be run out of Chicago and managed by White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, according to Democrats familiar with the discussions,” Politico’s Mike Allen reports. Time for some LBJ? “Ever since his days as a young community organizer in Chicago, Mr. Obama has held fast to the belief that by listening carefully and appealing to reason he can bring people together to get results, an approach that in Washington has often come up short,” The New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports. “He is not showing any signs of changing his style. … Mr. Obama has not been the sort to bludgeon his party into following his lead or to intimidate reluctant legislators.” The presidential day: President Obama will address the Business Roundtable’s 2010 First Quarter Meeting at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, where he will “lay out our vision for a more competitive America, where the interests of workers, businesses, and government are aligned around the common goal of ensuring a growing prosperity that is widely shared,” the White House says. “We need to build an economy where we borrow less and produce more,” the president will say, per ABC’s Sunlen Miller. “We need an economy where we generate more jobs here at home and send more products overseas.  We need to invest and nurture the industries of the future, and we need to train our workers to compete for those jobs.” Bloomberg’s Nicholas Johnston and Julianna Goldman: “Obama will be making his remarks at about 1 p.m. Washington time after a private dinner last night at the White House with 17 chief executive officers, including Verizon Communications Inc.’s Ivan Seidenberg and State Farm Insurance Co.’s Ed Rust, the chairman and vice chairman of the business group’s executive committee; General Electric Co.’s Jeffrey Immelt; JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon; and American Express Co.’s Kenneth Chenault.” Media firestorm on the Hill Wednesday: Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s chief executive, faces down members of Congress. “I fear the pace at which we have grown may have been too quick,” Toyoda plans to say, in prepared testimony submitted to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization, and we should sincerely be mindful of that.” ABC’s Mark Schone: “In remarks prepared for Congress, two top Toyota executives pledge a renewed commitment to quality — but do not address what critics say may be the cause of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles. Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda says he takes full responsibility for any safety problems in Toyota vehicles, and pledges to renew the company's commitment to quality, but does not address the reasons for cases of sudden acceleration.” “We’ve got to get this right going forward,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the ranking Republican on the oversight committee, told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Wednesday. “NHTSA’s problem is it abandoned known problems and proposed fixes, either here or around the world, and know it’s trying to play catch-up.” Following this: “Toyota's top U.S. executive told lawmakers on Tuesday that he is not certain the company has fixed its runaway car problems even though it has recalled millions of vehicles around the world,” The Washington Post’s Peter Whoriskey and Frank Ahrens report. “In the end, the hearing outlined but did not resolve the controversy that has rocked the world's largest automaker in recent weeks: What exactly has caused Toyota cars, in rare but occasionally fatal instances, to rev and accelerate out of control?”  Gun battles — despite silencing from Washington: “Mr. Obama has been largely silent on the issue while states are engaged in a new and largely successful push for expanded gun rights, even passing measures that have been rejected in the past,” Ian Urbina reports in The New York Times. In Florida, former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., (almost) takes sides: “Gov. [Charlie] Crist is a talented guy. He's about the nicest person I ever met in politics. But there's one thing he's done that I just find unforgiveable. That I'm aware of he is the only statewide political leader that embraced the stimulus package when Republicans were fighting to suggest an alternative,” Bush told NewsMax. “He did it the day before the vote, it was a mistake, and then he denies that he would have supported the bill. I know I'm supposed to be politically correct and I said I was neutral and all that … I got a problem with that.” And on his own political future: “As a candidate — right now, I don’t see it,” Bush said. “In life, you just can’t just be pursuing your own ambitions. I’m mission-driven…. Now I’m on a different mission…. Even my mother, you know, wants me to stay involved, which — that’s a change in the last year.” News from the NRSC: Former Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson will serve as cochairman of the “Majority Makers” program. From the press release going out Wednesday: “The Majority Makers program includes individuals who contribute the maximum annual donation of $30,400 to the NRSC each year. The program is currently led by U.S. Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Pat Roberts (R-KS).”
The Kicker: “Everyone likes the president to twist arms, unless it’s their arm getting twisted.” — White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod. “To say I've sold out any particular party or interest group, I think, is certainly unfair.” — Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., three votes into his Senate career.
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