Show-Me States: Dems face time crunch in final health care push

By Jonathan Blakely

Mar 10, 2010 8:04am

By Rick Klein: Massage this fact — or tickle it out if you must: Eric Massa’s gone, and he may have done a favor to his non-friends on his way out. Whatever baggage he brought along, Democrats could be fairly rid of by the end of off media tour Tuesday night. And so, it’s with a sigh of relief for Democrats that we’re back to health care — amid a battle that rages with new intensity, even if the new deadline looks as silly as the ones that came before it. Your campaign has an ad war, protests in Washington, campaigning in battleground states, even one last wait on the Congressional Budget Office. It’s had these things for a year now — but the White House needs a new dynamic that’s aimed at just a handful of wavering House members. And it’s just that backdrop that makes it clear that deadlines do still matter, even if they will still be broken. Another congressional break is another chance for everything to break down. President Obama is in St. Louis on Wednesday, while HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius goes into the lion’s den of the health insurance industry, addressing the America’s Health Insurance Plans conference in Washington Wednesday morning, at Sebelius’ own request. “President Barack Obama has chosen a suburban St. Louis high school to make his closing argument for a health care overhaul, pushing a new anti-fraud plan as he cranks up the pressure on skittish Democratic lawmakers to act fast,” the AP’s Erica Werner reports. “Obama is to speak Wednesday at St. Charles High School, his second health care address in three days. His speech comes as congressional Democrats stand on the brink of delivering the president a dramatic success with passage of his sweeping overhaul legislation — or a colossal failure if they can’t get it done.” In St. Louis: “The White House is pursuing a campaign-style approach that aims broadsides at the insurance industry and warns of a rash of higher premiums,” Bill Lambrecht reports for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “When Obama takes the stage at St. Charles High School before about 400 people this afternoon, he is expected to skewer the industry, as he did repeatedly during a speech Monday outside Philadelphia. The president also is ratcheting up the rhetoric about what he sees as an out-of-touch Congress attuned to politics rather than the needs of Americans.” If this about winning an extra vote — maybe not this vote. “I think we need to walk before we run,” said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo. “I don’t want them to do something to the detriment of my people.” (At the Wednesday night fundraiser, an odd lineup: Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who’s not up until 2012, will be there, while Democratic Senate candidate Robin Carnahan — on the ballot this fall — has business in Washington and won’t be attending.) (Statement from the Carnahan campaign: “Robin will be meeting with financial regulators and policymakers to demand strong financial reforms to hold Wall Street bankers accountable. As Missouri’s Secretary of state she has worked across party lines to get $10 billion back for Missouri investors who have been ripped off by big financial institutions.”) What you need to know about what might or might not change: “One of the more amazing aspects of the health-care debate is how steady public opinion has remained. Despite repeated and intense sales efforts by the president and his allies in Congress, most Americans consistently oppose the plan that has become the centerpiece of this legislative season,” Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen write in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “The reason President Obama can’t move the numbers and build public support is because the fundamentals are stacked against him.”  New pieces of old arguments, and new spending to spread them all: “The White House released details of the anti-fraud plan hours after a fresh challenge to the administration from major business groups that unveiled a multimillion-dollar ad campaign arguing that under Obama’s plan ‘health care costs will go even higher, making a bad economy worse,’ ” the AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reports.  “The ad buy, costing between $4 million and $10 million, will start Wednesday on national cable TV outlets. Later in the week, the campaign shifts to 17 states home to moderate and conservative Democrats. Their votes are critical to Obama’s endgame for passing legislation to expand coverage to millions who now lack it and revamp the health insurance system.” What we needed all along — more ads: “The burst of TV advertising adds to the total of more than $200 million spent on ads last year, making the health-care debate the largest single advocacy campaign ever, according to Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks issue advertising,” The Wall Street Journal’s John D. Mckinnon and Brody Mullins report. From the air, to the ground: “We are here to make a citizen’s arrest! Congress you have listened to them long enough. It’s time to listen to us,” said William McNary, head of USAction, protesting at the insurance industry’s gathering in Washington, per ABC’s Teddy Davis. “The ‘warrants,’ delivered to police during a demonstration outside an insurance industry meeting at a Washington hotel, were an attempt to build public support for the Democrats’ healthcare legislation. The demonstration drew several thousand protesters, and it will be followed in coming weeks by more events and an advertising campaign,” Kim Geiger reports in the Los Angeles Times. Still out there: the Congressional Budget Office scoring will be key, as always, and there’s even more obscure officials in vital roles: “The White House and Democratic Congressional leaders said Tuesday that they were bracing for a key procedural ruling that could complicate their effort to approve major health care legislation, by requiring President Obama to sign the bill into law before Congress could revise it through an expedited budget process,” David M. Herszenhorn and Robert Pear report in The New York Times. “Many rank-and-file House Democrats are reluctant to approve the Senate-passed health care measure without a guarantee that the Senate would follow up with changes in a budget reconciliation bill.” “The sequence in which the Senate bill and the package of fixes would move is one of the key unresolved issues, much to the consternation of undecided House Democrats,” Shailagh Murray reports in The Washington Post. About that deadline … House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.: “None of us have mentioned the 18th other than Mr. [Robert] Gibbs.” Why deadlines still matter: “Republicans launched an all-out effort to derail the bill, urging congressional candidates to hold town hall meetings, organize voters over the Internet and denounce any special deals that may be cut to grease Democrats’ votes,” McClatchy’s Margaret Talev reports. “And Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, on a conference call Tuesday, told advocates of the legislation, ‘What happens in the next 10 days will be critical.’ ” Quite a sentence — from Michael Gerson, in his Washington Post column: “Their proposal has divided Democrats while uniting Republicans, returned American politics to well-worn ideological ruts, employed legislative tactics that smack of corruption, squandered the president’s public standing, lowered public regard for Congress to French revolutionary levels, sucked the oxygen from other agenda items, reengaged the abortion battle, produced freaks and prodigies of nature such as a Republican senator from Massachusetts, raised questions about the continued governability of America and caused the White House chief of staff to distance himself from the president’s ambitions.”  The Massa mess continues — the now former congressman didn’t win many fans with his Glenn Beck-Larry King night. (Check yourself before you decide to take this guy’s side.) Then there’s this: “Not long after Eric Massa joined Congress in January 2009, several male staff members began to feel uncomfortable with the sexually loaded language their boss routinely used, according to accounts relayed to the House ethics committee,” Carol D. Leonnig reports in The Washington Post. “As the months passed, rumors began to circulate in the office that the married New York Democrat had sexually propositioned young male staffers and interns — allegations, according to two sources with knowledge of the inquiry, that included Massa groping at least two aides,” she writes. “The freshman Democrat told Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck that ‘not only did I grope [a staffer], I tickled him until he couldn’t breathe,’ then said hours later on CNN’s ‘Larry King Live’ that ‘it is not true’ that he groped anyone on his staff.” ABC’s Jonathan Karl, on “Good Morning America” Wednesday: “The more Eric Massa tries to explain himself, the stranger his story gets… And with that Eric Massa will likely fade away into obscurity.” But what television: “Beck could not compete with the oddity of the sympathy card Massa kept pulling,” Time’s Michael Scherer writes. “He appeared frustrated that Massa wasn’t revealing any more sinister plots afoot in the nation’s capital, and he got visibly annoyed when Massa tried to take some measure of responsibility for his actions and attempted to walk back some of his more heated rhetoric against White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.” “The right’s romance of Eric Massa was off to a messy start,” Dana Milbank writes in his Washington Post column. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on Massa, to Charlie Rose, in an interview airing Wednesday: “This is a sick person,” Pelosi said. “He has been diagnosed with cancer. Perhaps his judgment is impaired because of the ethical issues that have arisen, and he is no longer in the Congress.” On the other side — some understandable hesitance: “Republicans are considering a call for a formal investigation into the handling of sexual-harassment allegations against Massa by at least one member of his staff, although the GOP leadership has not decided whether to make that push yet, according to top Republican aides,” Politico’s John Bresnahan reports. Annals of offense: “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, facing a tough political environment and the prospect of defending dozens of competitive seats, will announce today the 13 candidates it has selected for the “Red to Blue” program that targets GOP-held districts,” Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz reports. “The rollout is the latest signal that the DCCC is still trying to play offense in open seats and challenger races in competitive areas even though the party is expected to lose seats in November.” On Roberts’ court: “U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts said Tuesday the scene at President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address was ‘very troubling’ and that the annual speech to Congress has ‘degenerated into a political pep rally,’ ” the AP’s Jay Reeves reports. “To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I’m not sure why we’re there,” said Roberts. “There is the issue of the setting, the circumstances and the decorum. The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court — according the requirements of protocol — has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling.” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, to ABC’s Jake Tapper: “What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections – drowning out the voices of average Americans.” If it has been the economy, all along… “The political consensus may be that President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy has been weak. The judgment of money in all its forms has been overwhelmingly positive, and that may be the more lasting appraisal,” Bloomberg’s Mike Dorning reports. “The economy has also strengthened beyond expectations at the time Obama took office. The gross domestic product grew at a 5.9 percent annual pace in the fourth quarter, compared with a median forecast of 2.0 percent in a Bloomberg survey of economists a week before Obama’s Jan. 20, 2009, inauguration. The median forecast for GDP growth this year is 3.0 percent, according to Bloomberg’s February survey of economists, versus 2.1 percent for 2010 in the survey taken 13 months earlier.” In Florida — Marco Rubio takes on some more water: “Republican U.S. Senate front-runner Marco Rubio brags on his Web site that he didn’t officially request budget pork in his last four years as a leader in the Florida House,” Marc Caputo reports in the St. Petersburg Times. “But during Rubio’s eight years in office — including the final two when he was House speaker — he unofficially helped push loads of hometown spending: $250 million, according to a Times/Herald analysis of little-known budget documents.” In Nevada — not what a senator bragging about his power in Washington needs… Watch for Republicans to point out that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s home state ranked last — 51st — in per capita federal spending in fiscal 2008, per a new Brookings report.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., takes Ken Starr’s side — not Liz Cheney’s: “I’ve been a military lawyer for almost 30 years, I represented people as a defense attorney in the military that were charged with some pretty horrific acts, and I gave them my all,” Graham told Josh Rogin, of Foreign Policy’s The Cable blog. “This system of justice that we’re so proud of in America requires the unpopular to have an advocate and every time a defense lawyer fights to make the government do their job, that defense lawyer has made us all safer.” More from Graham — who meets with the president Thursday to discuss immigration reform: “At the end of the day, the president needs to step it up a little bit,” Graham told Politico’s Glenn Thrush. “One line in the State of the Union is not going to do it.” 
Karl Rove, on the Tea Party movement: “There’s a danger from them, particularly if they’re used by political operators … to try and hijack” elections, Rove told USA Today’s Judy Keen. Rove calls President Obama “undisciplined, unengaged, aloof and focused on the wrong things.” New at ABCNews.com, from ABC’s Teddy Davis: 10 races to watch in 2010. Andrew Young update: “A judge threatened to send Andrew Young to jail three times today, but in the end didn’t follow through on it. Instead, Young and his wife, Cheri, are due in court again Friday afternoon for the continuation of a hearing that dragged on for hours today,” per the Raleigh News & Observer’s Michael Biesecker. “Superior Court Judge Abraham Penn Jones first said he was ready to send the Youngs to jail for up to 75 days for contempt of court. The judge said the couple had failed to be truthful about the number of copies made of a sex tape of former Sen. John Edwards and his mistress and about how many people have seen it.”
 
A passing: “Campaign finance activist and 2004 New Hampshire Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Doris ‘Granny D’ Haddock died shortly after 7 p.m. [Tuesday], a family spokesperson tells NHPoliticalReport.com. She turned 100 years old in January,” James Pindell reports.
The Kicker: “This is wayyyy TMI.” — Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., not discussing her showering habits at the gym. “America, I’m going to shoot straight with you: I think I’ve wasted your time.” — Glenn Beck, after spending an hour with Eric Massa.
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Intern for the ABC News Political Unit: The ABC News Political Unit is now seeking full-time summer 2010 interns in Washington, D.C. The paid internship begins Monday, May 24, 2010, and runs through Friday, Aug. 27, 2010. Political Unit interns attend political events and contribute to stories for the politics page of ABCNews.com. They also help ABC News by conducting research, maintaining our calendar of upcoming political events, and posting stories to ABCNews.com. In order to apply, you MUST be either a graduate student or an undergraduate student who has completed his or her first year of college. The internship is NOT open to recent graduates. You also must be able to work eight hours per day, Monday through Friday. Interns will be paid $8.50/hour. If you write well, follow politics closely, and have some familiarity with web publishing, send a cover letter and resume to Teddy Davis, ABC News’ Deputy Political Director, at teddy.davis@abc.com, by Friday, March 12, with the subject line: “INTERN” in all caps. Please indicate in both your cover letter and the body of your email your student status and the specific dates and hours of your availability.

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