Sale Away: Old Arguments, New Stakes for Democrats on Health Care

Mar 30, 2010 8:01am

By Rick Klein What makes this sales job different from all other sales jobs? (And no, it’s not that you can get Michael Steele to approve your expense reports.) There is, of course, something to actually sell now: President Obama on Tuesday makes the last piece of his health care overhaul efforts law, signing the reconciliation portion of the legislation — including the student loan reforms — in suburban Virginia. Democrats continue to feel like they’re riding a winning streak — one inspired by, well, winning. But Democrats weren’t actually losing before the health care law passed — it only felt that way. And that was happening while they made essentially the same arguments they’re making all over again — ones people tell pollsters they don’t really buy — over a health care reform effort that the public still doesn’t quite grasp. (Then again, maybe it is Chairman Steele signing report cards here after all. The latest sideshow involving the RNC chairman involves more topless dancers than normal, and seems to continue him on a march to something approaching irrelevance for national political purposes. But more on that in a moment…) First — the new, new tone: “President Barack Obama, after a year of fitfully searching for compromise, is taking a more aggressive tack with his Republican adversaries, hoping to energize Democratic voters and possibly muscle in some Republican support in Congress,” Jonathan Weisman reports in The Wall Street Journal. “At a bill-signing event Tuesday, he is set to laud passage of higher-education legislation that was approved despite Republican objections through a parliamentary maneuver that neutralized the party's filibuster threat … A senior Democratic official said the push was a textbook case of taking advantage of political momentum as the campaign season begins. Republicans are ‘on the defensive,’ the official said, ‘and as long as they're not cooperating, we ought to keep them there.’” Remember the stimulus sales efforts? So does the White House: “The White House has decided to tighten its health care message to focus primarily on several early provisions of reform – coverage for children with pre-existing conditions, money to help seniors pay for prescription drugs and tax credits for small businesses,” Politico’s Carol E. Lee reports. “Like the stimulus bill, health care reform’s enduring narrative will get defined in its initial days and weeks. The legislation also will live or die on public buy-in.” Did someone say “buy?" “Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the health care overhaul signed into law last week costs too much and expands the government's role in health care too far, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, underscoring an uphill selling job ahead for President Obama and congressional Democrats,” USA Today’s Susan Page writes. “Those surveyed are inclined to fear that the massive legislation will increase their costs and hurt the quality of health care their families receive, although they are more positive about its impact on the nation's health care system overall.” Is this what a rut looks like? “Americans are now about evenly split in their reactions to the healthcare bill's passage: 47% consider it a good thing and 50% a bad thing,” Lydia Saad writes for Gallup. “The divided, but slightly negative, assessment is similar to what Gallup found in recent months prior to the final House vote, though a USA Today/Gallup one-night reaction poll conducted the night after it passed showed a more positive than negative evaluation.”  Said Obama, in an interview on “Today” Tuesday morning, called the new law a “critical first step.” “We are still going to have adjustments that have to be made to further reduce costs,” he said. Speaking of adjustments: “Insurers said they would comply with regulations the government issues requiring them to cover children with pre-existing conditions, after a dispute with lawmakers over interpretation of the new health-care legislation,” The Wall Street Journal’s Avery Johnson writes. “The Obama administration has made near-immediate coverage for sick children a priority in its health-care overhaul. But shortly after the bill's passage last week, insurers contended that the law didn't require them to accept sick children until 2014.” More on good guys and bad guys: “Under the health care overhaul, young adults who buy their own insurance will carry a heavier burden of the medical costs of older Americans — a shift expected to raise insurance premiums for young people when the plan takes full effect,” the AP’s Carla K. Johnson reports. “Beginning in 2014, most Americans will be required to buy insurance or pay a tax penalty. That's when premiums for young adults seeking coverage on the individual market would likely climb by 17% on average, or roughly $42 a month, according to an analysis of the plan conducted for The Associated Press.” This sure looks coordinated: “An association representing 300 large corporations urged President Obama and Congress on Monday to repeal a provision of the health care overhaul that prompted AT&T, Caterpillar and other companies to announce substantial charges for the current quarter,” The New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse reports. “The association, the American Benefits Council, said the provision — which reduces the tax deductions for companies with drug coverage for their retired employees — would deal a significant blow to corporate profits and would discourage companies from hiring more workers.” Bucking up the troops — National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn, R-Texas, in a memo to GOP Senate candidates: “As Members of Congress travel around their home states for recess this week, congressional Democrats may consider this a victory for their personal agendas, however, the majority of Americans clearly disagree. There is no doubt that the Democrats’ contentious health care takeover, and the partisan maneuvers they used to force it into law, will be a critical issue for both parties over next seven months – and the contrast for voters could not be more clear.” (The memo doesn’t offer advice on “repeal” strategies.) Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., shares some thoughts on the subject: “For starters, we can work in a bipartisan manner to repeal the worst parts of this bill,” Brown writes in a Boston Globe op-ed. “We should replace the worst parts of this legislation with solutions that would actually lower costs and improve the quality of care — such as allowing individuals to purchase insurance across state lines, measures that will prevent waste, fraud and abuse, support for increased prevention and wellness programs, and reforms to limit costly litigation and defensive medicine.” The threats of violence don’t stop at party lines: “The US Attorney’s office and the FBI today announced the arrest of a Philadelphia man accused of making YouTube videos threatening Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., and members of his family,” per ABC News. Things the White House likes talking about: “President Barack Obama prepared Tuesday to sign the piece of his sweeping health care overhaul that makes the government the primary lender to students and strips banks of that power,” the AP’s Philip Elliott reports.  Tuesday’s event, per ABC’s Sunlen Miller: “This morning President Obama will sign the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Virginia. He will highlight the largely overshadowed student loan reforms that passed in the reconciliation bill on Thursday.” “The President will be introduced by Dr. Jill Biden, a teacher at Northern Virginia Community College Along with signing the piece of legislation into law, President Obama will also announce that he has asked the Second Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, to host a White House summit on community colleges this fall.” Then there’s Michael Steele — facing questions about a worse-than-usual scandal on his watch, over how nearly $2,000 in “meals” at a bondage-themed Hollywood club wound up on the official expenditure reports of his Republican National Committee. He’s beyond the point of needing to find allies; now, the best Steele can hope for is silence from the Republican power-brokers who are actually shouldering the workload of trying to win back the Congress. (And he’s getting plenty of that.) Big play in the big newspapers: “The Republican National Committee on Monday opened an investigation into why party money, which donors contributed to help win seats in the midterm elections, was used to pay a $2,000 tab at a risqué Hollywood club in late January,” Jeff Zeleny and Bernie Becker report in The New York Times.  The broader context: “As Republicans try to win control of the House and Senate in this midterm election year, several party officials and contributors have privately raised concerns about the financial disparities with Democrats. The Republican Congressional re-election committees have fallen behind their Democratic rivals, a fund-raising gap that party leaders had hoped would be narrowed by the Republican National Committee,” they write. The Washington Post’s Dan Eggen: “The disclosures, some of which stem from Steele's travels to California in January and a subsequent RNC retreat to Hawaii, reignited criticism from fellow Republicans who are troubled by the chairman's financial stewardship of the GOP's main committee since he took over more than a year ago … The RNC's expenses, first highlighted by the Daily Caller, set off another round of GOP infighting over Steele, whose combative style and frequent pratfalls have earned him friends and enemies. The chairman angered many party insiders by releasing a book this year without notifying Republican leaders; he stumbled into another controversy this month after the leak of an RNC fundraising document featuring crude caricatures of President Obama and other Democratic leaders.”  
And none of that was even the lede of the Daily Caller story. This was: “According to two knowledgeable sources, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele once raised the possibility of using party money to buy a private jet for his travel,” writes Jonathan Strong. “It’s the sort of spending frenzy that sounds so, well, pre-recession,” Claire Shipman reported on “Good Morning America” Tuesday. Quick — how many times did Mike Duncan or Ken Mehlman or Ed Gillespie grab a splashy story in a New York tab? “Talk about grand ol' partying,” The New York Daily News' Kenneth R. Bazinet and David Saltonstall write. “The ‘family values’ Republican National Committee spent almost $2,000 last month at an erotic, bondage-themed West Hollywood club, where nearly naked women – and men – simulate sex in nets hung from above.” On his watch, though not under his thumb: “This time, the problems are not with chair Michael Steele,” Reid Wilson writes for Hotline on Call. “Instead, it has become clear to RNC members and political professionals in DC that the problem is with the RNC's finance department — both thanks to sloppy book-keeping and to unprofessional behavior.” Joe Scarborough, on Twitter: “Michael Steele should resign or be fired.”  Republican strategist Douglas MacKinnon agrees: ”For those donors who truly believe in conservative values, this latest news about Steele has to be very disturbing,” he told Huffington Post’s Sam Stein. Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, one of Steele’s former rivals for the chairmanship: “This incident does not help the RNC leadership dispel the charge that they are nothing but duplicitous high rollers and big spenders at a time when we should have the president and his collectivist friends on the ropes we find our leadership on the defensive. That’s a bad deal,” Blackwell told Politico’s Ken Vogel. Give Steele credit (or take credit away) for uncanny timing: “Regardless of the seriousness of each individual gaffe, Steele has often found himself distracting from what would otherwise be increasingly good news for Republicans this election cycle,” Aaron Blake writes for The Hill. Dana Milbank: “And Al Gore got in trouble for going to a Buddhist temple?” Back in the health care universe … former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., was on his book tour in Iowa Monday. “Mitt Romney offered an enthusiastic defense last night of the comprehensive health care law he helped create four years ago in Massachusetts, even as he pointed to crucial distinctions between it and a similar national program enacted last week by Democrats,” Sasha Issenberg reports for The Boston Globe. “Obama’s signing of a federal health care law has put Romney — a possible 2012 presidential candidate — again on the defensive over the most significant achievement in his brief career in public office. The former governor, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate again for president in 2012, had labeled Obama’s bill ‘unhealthy for America’ and has called for its repeal, even as conservative critics say it was modeled on Romney’s policy.” Romney in Iowa? “I’m selling books,” he tells Politico’s Jonathan Martin. Martin writes: “But the several hundred Iowans who came out to see the former Massachusetts governor give a midday speech at the public library here and the hundreds more who attended his evening address at Iowa State University in Ames didn’t just do so because they have an appetite for policy-heavy tomes about how America can avoid decline … While Romney’s stated uncertainty about launching another presidential bid might easily be dismissed as an obligatory equivocation, his unwillingness to commit to mounting a full-fledged Iowa campaign is grounded in experience.” Former (and maybe future) Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa: “I think he should play in Iowa, but he maybe overplayed in the last go-round,” Branstad told Martin. “I don’t think you want to run against Iowa, [but] I’m not saying you’ve got to make Iowa the be all to end all.” T-Paw, wired: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is holding a town hall meeting on Facebook. Pawlenty's Facebook page says the potential Republican presidential candidate will convene the online gathering on Wednesday. The page is linked to his national fundraising committee. The notice says Pawlenty will ask Facebook users for ideas to help Republicans win this year's elections and slow federal spending.” 
Staying put: “House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) ended speculation about his possible retirement plans on Monday afternoon by filing for re-election one day before the state’s filing deadline,” Roll Call’s John McArdle reports.
The Kicker: “They’re as different as night and day.” — Former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., comparing the Massachusetts health care plan to President Obama’s last month. (In Iowa yesterday, he referenced “some similarities” and “some differences.”) “The Chairman was never at the location in question, he had no knowledge of the expenditure, nor does he find the use of committee funds at such a location at all acceptable.” — RNC Spokesman Doug Heye, filling the most interesting press job in Washington.
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