By Rick Klein Since it’s March, and it’s all supposed to be about who wants it more, the question seems appropriate: Is it the Democrats, who have comeback hopes pinned to an aging issue, on a team looking for a late run? Or is it Republicans, ranked low early in the season but on something of a hot streak, but for whom Cinderella beckons if only they don’t shatter the slipper first? The weariness of health care leads to this point: Both sides are equally convinced (which is to say, at least slightly wary) that they have the politics right. So the clash, when it comes, will play out in predictable ways, sealed a vote at a time on the free-throw line rather than with dramatic, off-balance bank shots. (Though — even as the path to “yes” gets cluttered with new “no’s” — there’s at least one procedural back door left to Democrats. And the guys with the whistles — the Congressional Budget Office, and the Senate parliamentarian — always bear watching.) “I believe we are going to get the votes, we’re going to make this happen,” President Obama told ABC’s Jake Tapper Monday, after his rally in Ohio. “I want some courage! I want us to do the right thing, Ohio!” he said at the rally, per Tapper, Karen Travers, and Sunlen Miller. Air cover: “Fighting to overcome the impression of high spending and backroom deals, President Obama has honed his health care message to highlight his bill’s benefits to consumers — from better Medicare prescription-drug coverage for seniors to guaranteeing insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions,” Kara Rowland reports for the Washington Times. “Supporters say the White House’s public relations offensive has breathed new life into Democrats’ last-ditch effort to pass the legislation by next week.” Ground war: “The president is wooing freshman Democrats in the Oval Office, holding at least two one-on-one sessions in the past few days that never appeared on his official schedule, according to aides to two lawmakers invited, Reps. Scott Murphy, D-N.Y., and Suzanne Kosmas, D-Fla.,” the AP’s Erica Werner reports. “Sweetening the pot, those who vote with the president may get more help from him in the future: Party officials said that in determining how to allocate Obama’s time for campaign stops or other events, a vote on something like health care would be a consideration.” “The strategy so far appears to combine a call for party loyalty with an argument for the measure on its merits — while publicly creating a sense of inevitability around its passage,” Roll Call’s Tory Newmyer and Steven T. Dennis write. “And leaders are also pursuing targeted carrot-and-stick appeals to the self-interests of Members nervous about their re-election prospects.” “Here in Strongsville, the president openly wooed Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, who voted against the measure in November and remained noncommittal on Monday, despite getting a ride on Air Force One,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in The New York Times. “He will spend much of the week working the phones and inviting lawmakers to the Oval Office, before leaving Sunday for Guam, Indonesia and Australia. Among the Democrats Mr. Obama is courting is Representative John Boccieri, a freshman who voted no last year. Though his district is nearby, Mr. Boccieri did not attend Monday’s rally.” “Declining to join Gov. Ted Strickland, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, and five Ohio Democratic congressmen in welcoming Obama about 1 p.m., Boccieri opted not to make the 50-mile drive to Strongsville, even though Obama was going to talk about Boccieri’s constituent, Natoma Canfield, 50, of Medina,” Robert Wang writes for the Canton Rep. Back to Mr. Kucinich … “Did you hear that, Dennis?” the president said, as the crowd yelled, “Vote yes!” But does Dennis hear this? From a FireDogLake fundraising appeal: “Help show Washington that it pays to stand up to corporate power. Donate $5 and let Fire Dog Dennis Kucinich know we’ve got his back for keeping his pledge to oppose any bill without a public option.” Politics Daily’s Matt Lewis has details on President Obama’s “Joe the Plumber”-type encounter in Ohio: “It was another woman, Ingrid Martin, an out-of-work health care sales representative, who caught his attention — and debated him on the merits of his health care plan for two minutes after his speech.” Back in Washington — no more deals to make: “Instead of the typical wheeling and dealing to pick up much-needed support, Pelosi and her leadership team are warning members that the bill is final, and its language is set, so don’t come seeking major changes or handouts for your district,” Politico’s Patrick O’Connor and Jonathan Allen write. “For now, this stern warning from party leaders — and the corresponding appeal to ideology — is bad news for lobbyists and outside groups that have been working to make eleventh-hour changes in their favor, from industry-specific changes to the public option. The decision to preclude any changes means those groups are likely to be disappointed.” Without the carrots, the sticks: “If a handful of Democrats decide to defeat this bill, they deserve to get a primary challenge,” Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler. President Obama has nothing on his public schedule Tuesday, but plenty of room for meetings. And he’s lunching at the White House with DNC Chairman Tim Kaine. Karl Rove, on the Democrats’ health care push: “I think that whoever is pushing this line inside the Democrat caucus — very effectively, incidentally — is leading them to destruction,” Rove said on ABC’s “Top Line” Monday. “I’d like to see the bill defeated. But that in a way is the most dangerous thing for the Republicans because the Democrats, if they were smart, if they were not able to get this monstrosity through, they would step back. And if President Obama were adroit he would then come forward with a series of incremental measures the balance of this year,” Rove said. What a difference a week just might make: “By Sunday, Democrats could not only have passed a health-care bill, but with it have pushed through the House of Representatives long-delayed legislation that would increase funding for Pell Grants, which help low-income students pay for college. They also could send to President Obama a $17 billion measure designed to create jobs,” The Washington Post’s Perry Bacon Jr. writes. But what a week it will be: “Congressional staffers have been put on notice to expect protests in the corridors of the Capitol,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl reported on “GMA” Tuesday. “They don’t have the votes yet, but Speaker Pelosi insists they will by the end of the week.” “More than $10 million is expected to be spent on ads this week alone,” Karl reported. One reason there are no “no’s” who have publicly committed to “yes”: “Thirty-two House Democrats are in tougher reelection races than they were when the lower chamber passed healthcare reform last fall,” The Hill’s Bob Cusack reports. “The gloomier political climate for Democrats has made it more challenging for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her lieutenants to attract the 216 votes necessary to pass a health reform bill this month.” Surely true — and maybe influencing some votes along the way: “Strategists on both sides say the die is already cast in advance of the fall campaign no matter what happens on health care legislation this week. Whether the bill passes or fails, both GOP and Dem strategists say, members have already taken votes that will mark them come Nov.,” Congress Daily’s Erin McPike reports. Also influencing some votes, already among members from New York: “Labor and progressive leaders are threatening House Democrats who oppose health care legislation with potentially destructive third party challenges in November,” Ben Smith and Gabriel Beltrone write for Politico. “The discussions have already taken concrete form in New York State, where a handful of votes hang in the balance. They’re part threat, part an early attempt to channel what liberal leaders expect to be a wave of anger if Congress fails to pass health care.” The National Republican Senatorial Committee launches a new Web site taking on Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., who hasn’t announced his health care vote yet: “What Exactly Is Behind Brad Ellsworth’s ‘Wait-and-See’ Position on Health Care?” Pushing from the other side: A $1.4 million buy from Health Care for America Now and its partners, in Big Labor and MoveOn.org. “Remember, if the insurance companies win, we lose,” says the ad, running in the districts of 11 House members starting Tuesday: Jason Altmire (PA-04), John Boccieri (OH-16), Jim Costa (CA-20), Suzanne Kosmas (FL-24), Harry Mitchell (AZ-05), Scott Murphy (NY-20), Brad Ellsworth (IN-08), Earl Pomeroy (ND), Bill Foster (IL-14), Steve Driehaus (OH-01), and Alan Mollohan (WV-01). And AFSCME, teaming up with Americans United for Change for a new TV ad. “Health insurance companies are out of control. They deny our claims, drop us when we’re sick, and pay their CEOs huge bonuses,” says the ad, set to run on national cable and on CBS during the NCAA Tournament this week. “Time to hold the insurance companies accountable. If the insurance companies win … we lose.” Not a helpful headline for Democrats, in The Washington Post: “House may try to pass Senate health-care bill without voting on it.” “The tactic — known as a ‘self-executing rule’ or a ‘deem and pass’ — has been commonly used, although never to pass legislation as momentous as the $875 billion health-care bill,” The Washington Post’s Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane report. “It is one of three options that Pelosi said she is considering for a late-week House vote, but she added that she prefers it because it would politically protect lawmakers who are reluctant to publicly support the measure.” Said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.: “It’s more insider and process-oriented than most people want to know.” But not more than Republicans want you to know about … House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, focusing on process in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “This bill is so toxic that House Democrats are concocting a scheme by which they would pass it but spare themselves the embarrassment of actually voting for it. Democratic leaders claim they can ‘fix’ the dreaded Senate bill through the reconciliation process, but the American people won’t be so easily hustled. No legislative sleight-of-hand can make this bill more palatable: higher premiums, higher taxes, and cutting Medicare is not reform.” “Taxpayers can expect Republicans to stand up for them and do whatever is necessary to prevent Democrats from forcing such an unpopular, unaffordable bill through Congress,” they write. Washington Post editorial: “We understand the administration’s sense of urgency on health-care reform. But what is intended as a final sprint threatens to turn into something unseemly and, more important, contrary to Democrats’ promises of transparency and time for deliberation.” Wall Street Journal editorial: “We’re not sure American schools teach civics any more, but once upon a time they taught that under the U.S. Constitution a bill had to pass both the House and Senate to become law.” It’s “a tactic that Republicans and independent analysts warned could be politically treacherous and perhaps unconstitutional,” McClatchy’s David Lightman writes. Ezra Klein, at his Washington Post blog: “This is all about plausible deniability for House members who don’t want to vote for the Senate bill, although I doubt many voters will find the denials plausible.” Why what constitutes a “special deal” doesn’t have a consistent meaning: “Pelosi is caught in a kickback Catch-22: If she does not remove the deals, she will fail to win over Blue Dogs and hand the GOP a powerful campaign issue that it can use to throw her and the Democrats out of power. But if she does eliminate the deals, she may lose the votes of members who previously voted in favor,” Marc Thiessen writes in his Washington Post column. And could the Congressional Budget Office dash all hopes again? “On Wednesday, the House Rules Committee is expected to take a more consequential step by wrapping together the healthcare bill passed by the Senate last year and the package of changes sought by many House Democrats,” Noam N. Levey and Janet Hook write in the Los Angeles Times. In the states — Massachusetts Treasurer Tim Cahill, running for governor as an independent, gives an 11 am ET speech Tuesday “regarding the disastrous fiscal effects the universal healthcare plan has caused in Massachusetts.” From the memo by his campaign manager, to the odd-couple team of advisers that includes Tad Devine and John Weaver: “He feels this is a time of vital importance to tell the truth to the people of Massachusetts and to Congress, as they consider passing a plan built on this model, about what the real costs of this program have been to the state of Massachusetts. … Furthermore, he will call on Congress to heed the warnings from Massachusetts and not jam through their pending healthcare legislation.” What we might be talking about a lot more this time next week: “Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd’s plan for the biggest Wall Street regulatory overhaul since the 1930s drops provisions he sought in November and dilutes others as he seeks bipartisan support,” Bloomberg’s Phil Mattingly and Alison Vekshin report. “The measure shelves a single regulator that would have stripped the Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. of bank-supervision roles, and a plan to hold brokers to the same fiduciary standard as investment advisers. Dodd’s plan for an independent consumer protection agency becomes a unit within the Fed and the so-called Volcker Rule to limit risky trading by banks would be introduced only after a period of study.” “Among the winners, community banks and small credit unions would be financially able to compete, for perhaps the first time, against large competitors reined in by new restrictions on capital, complexity and size. The Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. would see their powers redefined, and in many ways expanded,” The Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta and Randall Smith report. “On the other side of the ledger, large financial companies overseen by the Fed would have to pay into a $50 billion fund to pay for the collapse of failed financial firms.” “Even though Dodd whittled the scope of his initial November bill to address concerns that the proposals could give government too heavy a hand in the financial markets, it remains unclear whether he can find the votes to shepherd the legislation through the Senate,” Brady Dennis writes in The Washington Post. Among the tricky issues: “The Connecticut senator also included in his proposal a plan to bring transparency to the murky derivatives market. The trading of over-the-counter derivatives, such as credit-default swaps — essentially insurance contracts on debt — played a pivotal role in the downfall of insurance giant AIG,” ABC’s Matthew Jaffe reports. Key response — noon ET Tuesday at Chamber headquarters: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will host a briefing to discuss the latest financial regulatory reform draft by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and lay out the perspective of the business community.” Just this side of an international incident … “An ill-timed municipal housing announcement in Jerusalem has mutated into one of the most serious conflicts between the United States and Israel in two decades, leaving a politically embarrassed Israeli government scrambling to respond to a tough list of demands by the Obama administration,” The New York Times’ Mark Landler and Ethan Bronner report. “Officials on both sides fear relations between the two allies are at their worst point in decades, after Israel scuttled hope for a new round of peace talks by announcing new settlement plans last week during a visit by Vice President Joseph Biden,” The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Joshua Mitnick report. In California, the first GOP gubernatorial debate is in the books: “Billionaire former eBay CEO [Meg] Whitman, a rookie candidate in her first political debate, said she alone has the set of skills to ‘bring a fresh set of ideas’ to the state, adding that she has the ‘spine of steel’ necessary to revive jobs and take on the public employee unions that she said are ‘strangling’ the state’s economy,” Carla Marinucci writes for the San Francisco Chronicle. “State Insurance Commissioner [Steve] Poizner — aiming to seize the conservative mantle from the opening bell — came out swinging, comparing Whitman’s proposals to those of Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Attorney General Jerry Brown while accusing her of ‘nasty,’ inaccurate attacks.” ABC’s Teddy Davis: “Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (R) told a largely Latino audience in November that she supports ‘comprehensive immigration reform.’ But now that she is under fire from her Republican rival on the issue of public benefits for the children of illegal immigrants, Whitman maintains that she only favors a temporary guest worker program, not a permanent earned legalization program for illegal immigrants.” In Florida, drip, drip, drip on an image: “Marco Rubio is quickly emerging as a freewheeling big spender of special interest cash even as the U.S. Senate candidate sells himself as a fiscal hawk,” the St. Petersburg Times editorializes. “Rubio, the alleged outsider candidate for Senate, looks awfully like a veteran insider who manipulated the system and avoided accountability.” In Arizona, for the J.D. Hayworth highlight reel: “I guess that would mean if you really had affection for your horse, I guess you could marry your horse,” Hayworth, R-Ariz., running against Sen. John McCain in the primary, said in interpreting the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. The Kicker: “It’s not about gymnastics…. Except that’s part of the wellness program we have.” — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, talking process in a loud press conference. “It’s the weather, or maybe the Browns.” — Vice President Joe Biden, explaining why he and the president were both in the Cleveland area for separate events within hours of each other on Monday.
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