Bounce Step: Health care’s fallout drives crowded agenda

By Jonathan Blakely

Mar 29, 2010 7:58am

By Rick Klein: That bounce in Democrats’ steps may or may not be accompanied by a bounce in the polls. Already, this congressional break looks different than the ones that came before it — and it’s not just a quick presidential trip to Afghanistan that gives it a different tone. The impact of President Obama’s biggest political accomplishment of his tenure in office begins to be felt outside of Washington this week, with major implications for the legislative agenda from here. Even the Afghanistan trip — with its stern messaging, quick turnaround, and uncertain consequences — has its roots in a health care drama that, while reaching its legislative high point, has political winning and losing streaks still to come. Put a still-overstuffed agenda inside an always overanalyzed Washington, and the aftermath of health care puts a new type of pressure on a White House that can (and must) turn its attention elsewhere for a moment or two. Passing health care reform “broke, at least temporarily, the psychology of failure that threatened President Obama’s administration as it had burdened President George W. Bush’s tenure,” John Harwood writes in The New York Times. “But the new spring in the steps of Democratic lawmakers has not reversed the likelihood that there will be fewer of them next year. Mr. Obama’s signature on the health care law did not reduce a national unemployment rate that hovers around double digits and is likely to stay there through the November elections,” Harwood writes. “What it did was avert the collapse of confidence in Democratic governance that the failure of the president’s initiative would have engendered.” When you win, everything looks different — though that’s not to say everything actually is different. “President Barack Obama has in one week gone from a man begging for votes from freshman congressmen to a globe-trotting commander-in-chief parachuting into a war zone,” Politico’s Carol E. Lee reports. “Now he expects new Wall Street regulations on his desk by September — or Memorial Day, if possible. The White House is also looking for Democrats to pass a revamped education law and renewed campaign finance restrictions while they’re at it.” But … been here before? Gallup daily tracking has the president at 46-46. Washington Post poll: “Shifts among core constituencies suggest that President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) may have reaped some benefit from the legislation's passage, but the public's take on the Democratic Party has not budged, and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) appears to be losing popularity. None of the central players in passing health-care reform appears to be winning favor with the bill's opponents,” the Post’s Jennifer Agiesta and Jon Cohen report. A congressional break means another week of town-hall meetings — and another week of reminders that momentum doesn’t necessarily change legislative math, and is particularly difficult to keep rolling when your players are scattered. Not likely to clarify so much as it will calcify: “Around the country this weekend, members of Congress found a bewildering crosscurrent of political forces awaiting them, on-the-ground evidence of how the issue has divided the country by party, race and region,” The New York Times’ Adam Nagourney writes. “The receptions members of Congress received were a contrast to the seething anger visible immediately after the bill passed. Voters were more concerned and engaged than enraged.” Making sense of the week: “If Dems can convince voters the changes will benefit their bottom line, there's an opportunity for the majority; if GOPers are more successful in selling their version of events, the majority will have as many problems in Nov. as they did during the legislative process,” Hotline on Call’s Reid Wilson writes. “How activists play this week will determine which narrative dominates headlines.” The AP’s Ben Feller: “As a vindicated tone took hold in West Wing offices, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs put it this way: ‘Accomplishment demonstrates leadership and strength. And those are tangible currencies in Washington.’ Yet this town also is known for having a short memory, and the forces working against the president are considerable.” Health care fine print: “Just days after President Obama signed the new health care law, insurance companies are already arguing that, at least for now, they do not have to provide one of the benefits that the president calls a centerpiece of the law: coverage for certain children with pre-existing conditions,” Robert Pear reports in The New York Times. Expanding costs, already: “Provisions of the health-care law that expand benefits for home-bound elderly, certain early retirees and coal miners will likely cost more than expected,” John D. McKinnon writes in The Wall Street Journal. “The programs would expand home health services for the elderly and disabled, aid health plans covering retirees too young for Medicare and ease claims for black-lung benefits for former coal miners and their widows.” Longer-term counting: “Should the United States someday suffer a budget crisis, it will be hard not to conclude that Obama and his allies sowed the seeds, because they ignored conspicuous warnings,” Robert J. Samuelson writes in his Washington Post column. “A further irony will not escape historians. For two years, Obama and members of Congress have angrily blamed the shortsightedness and selfishness of bankers and rating agencies for causing the recent financial crisis. The president and his supporters, historians will note, were equally shortsighted and self-centered — though their quest was for political glory, not financial gain.” Matthew Continetti, in The Weekly Standard: “Henceforth Obama will be remembered as the man who accelerated America’s mad dash toward bankruptcy. He will be remembered as the leader who promoted a culture of dependency. He will be remembered as the figure who sacrificed a dream of national unity upon the altar of big government liberalism. It’s true: Obama is now a president of consequence. And almost all of those consequences are bad.” David Frum, on “Good Morning America” Monday: “I think a lot of Republicans have been a lot more focused on regaining the House and Senate than they were focused on saving the country from the worst consequences of this bill…. Repeal is literally impossible.” Matthew Dowd, on “GMA”: “I think what Republicans are trying to figure out is exactly what their messaging will be.” Why you’re likely to still hear a little health care talk: “Democrats may want to pivot from their bruising, yet ultimately victorious, health care debate to the economy and jobs, but they also are faced with the arduous task of making sure their constituents understand exactly what it is they already did,” Roll Call’s Emily Pierce writes. “The partisan battle over the nearly $940 billion health care bill, which President Obama signed last week, now becomes a fight for the hearts and minds of voters in advance of November's congressional elections,” David Jackson writes for USA Today. “On balance, business will come out way ahead,” Valerie Jarrett told ABC’s Jake Tapper on “This Week” Sunday. On the lawsuits challenging the health care law — Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss., and Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., on “This Week”: Barbour: “I do not believe the United States government has a right, or the authority or power, to force us to purchase health insurance any more than, in the name of homeland security, they could force every American to have to buy a gun.” Rendell: “This is a frivolous lawsuit. … It’s a waste of taxpayers’ dollars at a time when all the states are fighting to preserve those dollars.” Fresh lessons: “The health-care plan may prove more costly than advertised; the Afghanistan war could become a quagmire; and financial regulation may collapse,” Bloomberg’s Al Hunt writes. “There are a number of variables that will shape those outcomes. Few of them are ideological.” Attention tea partiers: easier said than done. “Should [the movement] back fervent long shots who hew to its antigovernment views, or should it rally around more traditional candidates, even if they don't perfectly reflect the movement's distaste for incumbents, taxes and spending?” Neil King Jr. and Doug Belkin write for The Wall Street Journal. “The question is being asked as homegrown candidates confront brute realities of politics: reluctant donors, limited party support, inexperienced staffers and the uphill fight against incumbents.” Your Palin fallout: “We’re not inciting violence. Don’t get sucked into the lame-stream media lies,” former Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, said over the weekend in Searchlight, Nev., per Politico’s Ken Vogel. Palin talks basketball — with a side of mockery — on Facebook: “To the teams that desire making it this far next year: Gear up! In the battle, set your sights on next season’s targets! From the shot across the bow – the first second’s tip-off – your leaders will be in the enemy’s crosshairs, so you must execute strong defensive tactics. You won’t win only playing defense, so get on offense! The crossfire is intense, so penetrate through enemy territory by bombing through the press, and use your strong weapons – your Big Guns – to drive to the hole. Shoot with accuracy; aim high and remember it takes blood, sweat and tears to win. … No matter how tough it gets, never retreat, instead RELOAD!” Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska: “I think people like Sarah and others need to be careful in their tones and not send the wrong message out there,” Begich said, per McClatchy’s Erika Bolstad. Monday morning, the president arrives back from his quick trip to Afghanistan: “President Obama rallied the troops in Afghanistan during his first visit to the country as commander-in-chief today, acknowledging both military successes and personal sacrifices, and noting, ‘the United States of America does not quit once it starts on something,’ ” ABC’s Martha Raddatz, Karen Travers, and Michael S. James report. “He delivered a pep talk of a different kind to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan government officials, telling them they need to work harder to combat corruption and other problems within the country. … Despite complaints about corruption and suspicions about the voting that led to Karzai's re-election in the fall, [National Secruity Adviser Jim] Jones said Karzai is an ‘adequate strategic partner’ who was democratically elected in a sovereign nation.” “Mr. Obama has wanted to visit Afghanistan for months now,” Martha Raddatz reported on “Good Morning America” Monday. “The president’s visit came as thousands of additional troops are pouring into Afghanistan. There will be 100,000 here by September.” “Obama's tone in brief public remarks alongside President Hamid Karzai was solemn, and he chose not to praise the Afghan leader,” The Washington Post’s Joshua Partlow and Scott Wilson report. “The visit marks a progression from Obama's biggest domestic policy success to his most pressing foreign policy challenge, and comes amid criticism that he has been too consumed by health-care reform to pay sufficient attention to the war he has escalated.” “Obama last visited Afghanistan in 2008 as a presidential candidate, a trip that sparked great enthusiasm among Afghans,” writes the Los Angeles Times’ Laura King and Julian E. Barnes. “Many here cheered his election, believing Afghanistan would be a top priority of his presidency. That initial jubilation has waned somewhat as the war grinds on and daily life remains a struggle.” Taking care of business: “The visit capped a high-profile week for Mr. Obama, in which he achieved a singular victory domestically — signing health care legislation — and reached an arms control agreement with Russia that calls for the two nuclear powers to slash their nuclear arsenals to the lowest levels in half a century,” Alissa J. Rubin and Helene Cooper write in The New York Times. Newsweek’s Daniel Stone: “Having vowed last fall that combat troops would begin coming home next summer, the president knows his reputation — and his standing with conservatives who think he’s too soft on national security — relies on him making good on that promise. To do that requires hefty motivation for Karzai and his government to get things moving.” Just under this surface: “Senior lawyers in the Obama administration are deeply divided over some of the counterterrorism powers they inherited from former President George W. Bush, according to interviews and a review of legal briefs,” The New York Times’ Charlie Savage writes. “The discussions, which shaped classified court briefs filed this month, have centered on how broadly to define the types of terrorism suspects who may be detained without trials as wartime prisoners. The outcome of the yearlong debate could reverberate through national security policies, ranging from the number of people the United States ultimately detains to decisions about who may be lawfully selected for killing using drones.”  Roiling congressional politics for a bit: “President Barack Obama's decision to circumvent the Senate in filling 15 administration posts marked another step in the administration's turn toward a more-combative approach toward congressional Republicans, provoking a volley of protests from GOP lawmakers,” Melanie Trottman and Brody Mullins write in The Wall Street Journal. “Efforts by labor unions to expand employee organizing may gain after President Barack Obama, rejecting objections from Republicans and business groups, appointed Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board,” Bloomberg’s Holly Rosenkrantz reports. In Florida — Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., battled it out in their first debate: “Appearing on ‘Fox News Sunday,’ Crist and Rubio clashed on the economic stimulus, Social Security, taxes and illegal immigration. But the overarching theme pushed by both candidates was the question of trust,” ABC’s Teddy Davis writes. “Rubio charged that Republicanscannot trust Crist to stand up to Obama's agenda in Washington because the governor embraced the president's economic stimulus package shortly after the president took office. … Crist stood by his support for the stimulus, arguing that it saved 87,000 jobs in Florida including the jobs of 20,000 teachers. He then countered by repeatedly alleging that Rubio has a record of enriching himself rather than the people he serves.”  Alex Leary, in the St. Petersburg Times: “It was Gov. Crist, who has worked hard to cultivate a nice-guy image, immediately and aggressively questioning Rubio's character over reports he misused Republican Party money and a campaign ‘slush fund’ for ‘personal enrichment.’ Crist riffed on haircuts and minivan repairs and double-billed plane trips. And it was Rubio who, in a more measured but equally persistent way, deflected the attacks with his own — on a bloated federal government, the $789 billion stimulus package and all things Obama.” Any chance Crist runs as an independent? “I'm running as a Republican. I'm very proud to be from the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, others that really have stood up for the principles of our party, like Ronald Reagan,” said Crist, per the Washington Times’ Joseph Curl. On the other side of this race: “For nearly a year, Rep. Kendrick Meek has traversed Florida, persuading voters to sign a petition to get him on the ballot and, he says, in the history books. On Monday, the Miami Democrat and his wife, Leslie, will sign his U.S. Senate campaign's last petitions and deliver them to the Miami-Dade Elections office. Meek needs 112,476 to qualify for the U.S. Senate race, and his campaign says it'll exceed that number, delivering more than 130,000 signed petitions,” the Miami Herald’s Lesley Clark reports. For 2012 — a new, old storyline: “Just as health care, or ‘Obamacare,’ as it is derided on the right, hangs over this year’s midterm elections, it is also already casting a shadow upon the 2012 presidential contest – and its GOP front-runner. What was once thought to be an asset for Romney, his passage as Massachusetts governor of a health care mandate for the state’s residents, now poses a potentially serious threat to his White House hopes,” Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith report for Politico.  Big education day Monday: “After months of speculation and state infighting, tomorrow the administration will announce the first round of winners in the ‘Race To The Top’ competition for education reform,” ABC’s Mary Bruce reports. “The Education Department is expected to name fewer than 10 states as winners — the 41 initial applicants were narrowed down to 17 finalists last month. Secretary Duncan has said that no more than $2 billion of the $4.35 billion in stimulus funding for the competition will be awarded in this phase.”
The Kicker: “The plaintiff was not my campaign manager.” — Gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos, R-Mass., responding to a lawsuit filed by Joseph Manzoli, who thought (along with everyone else) that he was Mihos’ campaign manager. “Great college basketball this wk!Dad just reminded me:coaches refer 2 rebuilding&gearing up 4 new season as ‘Reloading’!Enjoy the Final Four.” — Sarah Palin, @SarahPalinUSA.
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