By Rick Klein
It’s just a signature. But it comes with a price, for all involved — and, for once, you don’t need the Congressional Budget Office to provide an estimate. A new phase of the Obama presidency starts at 11:15 am ET Tuesday in the East Room of the White House, when President Obama makes the health care bill — breathe deep here — law. (ABC News will carry the bill signing live — and will be livestreaming at ABCNews.com.)
It’s a new phase for the GOP opposition, too — though it may look a lot like the old phase. There will be other big congressional fights this year.
The sparring inside the Senate is likely to stretch through the week, and Republicans just may make Democrats engage in a few more parliamentary gymnastics before we’re through. But the major legislative lifting is now done. This is about politics now — about costs and consequences, about town hall meetings and court battles and heart-wrenching stories and bureaucratic implementation and perceptions and all the rest.
For Democrats, the big question is whether the old Obama magic can turn some stubborn numbers around, now that there’s a bill to sell. For Republicans, it’s whether the strategy that got them this far is likely to last through the fall. (That’s a lot of months to re-fight battles effectively lost.) Health care will exhaust us through twists and turns through November and far beyond. But this is a rare opportunity in a tiring debate to take stock — and for Democrats to recast a strategy against opponents who’ve chosen theirs.
“Other issues, such as the economy, may loom larger by November than the heated debate that has raged for more than a year over Obama’s health-care initiative,” Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post. “But health care will become a proxy, say strategists in both parties, for the continuing debate over whether the Obama era represents a return to bigger and more intrusive government.”
“Both parties must confront new tests after Congress’s action. Democrats must motivate and persuade voters who, for varying reasons, have been turned off by the long debate on Capitol Hill and by the president’s policies,” Balz writes. “Republicans must show that their dire predictions about the impact of the legislation are real and not just the politics of fear and opposition.”
Why change now?
“Both sides laid out their strategies for the fall midterm campaign — the same strategies that brought them here, only more and louder,” Politico’s Jonathan Allen, Carol E. Lee and Patrick O’Connor write.
White House senior adviser David Axelrod: “I think this will sell itself.”
(So we can all go home now?)
“Americans have more security because of what the House of Representatives did on Sunday, because of the president’s leadership,” Axelrod told ABC’s Bill Weir, on “Good Morning America” Tuesday.
The GOP response — Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., on “GMA”: “This does look like an unprecedented overreach by the federal government, forcing individual citizens to buy a good or a service for no other reason other than they happen to be alive or a person … They’ve taken it to this big, federalized, bureaucratic, government-run, kind of nanny-nation approach.” (And Pawlenty didn’t bite on a Mitt Romney question.)
About that victory lap: “We are here now to be … along with the Congresses that enacted Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights Act, health care for all Americans, all of that on a par,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told ABC’s Diane Sawyer Monday. “The same people who opposed Medicare opposed this.”
“I’m in the arena,” Pelosi said. “You become speaker of the House, you’re in the arena, you are the target, you have to, shall we say, almost enjoy that.”
Vicki Reggie Kennedy, on what Ted would have thought, to ABC’s Jonathan Karl: “I think he would’ve been exhilarated. You know, he was always a person about moving forward … He would be thrilled.”
Back to the trail: “The president and congressional Democrats will take their victory lap at a Washington signing ceremony Tuesday. Mr. Obama will then launch his effort to sell the new $940 billion health-care law to a skeptical electorate Thursday at an event in Iowa,” The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman reports.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (not specifying which point he’s referring to): “At a certain point, winning is winning.” And losing is losing — and more delaying tactics plus repeal efforts that won’t actually result in anything close to repeal risk the GOP sore-loser status.
Adam Nagourney in The New York Times: “Many provisions of the bill that go into effect this year — like curbs on insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, or the expansion of prescription drug coverage for the elderly — are broadly popular with the public. The more contentious ones, including the mandate for the uninsured to obtain coverage, do not take effect for years.”
“And in a week when Democrats are celebrating the passage of a historic piece of legislation, Republicans find themselves again being portrayed as the party of no, associated with being on the losing side of an often acrid debate and failing to offer a persuasive alternative agenda.”
RNC Chairman Michael Steele (in a quote worth reading at least twice): “There is no downside for Republicans. … Only for Americans.” ”There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told a radio interviewer in his home state.
Axelrod, to ABC’s Jake Tapper: “You know, that’s okay on the sandlot but that’s not really okay when you’re trying to govern a country and move a country forward. It’s a disappointing attitude.”
“Republicans certainly will make the case that the crusade has just begun,” Time’s Mark Halperin writes. “In this semantic skirmish, the White House, bolstered by the momentum of victory and allies old and new, is girded for combat.”
Former Bush speechwriter David Frum, to ABC’s Jake Tapper, on “Good Morning America” Tuesday: “If you lose something as important as this, and you pick up some seats in 2010 — great, maybe you lose them in 2014. This bill will still be there — this bill will be there forever.”
For the Republican message — it’s “repeal and replace”: “Absolutely — without a doubt,” Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said on the repeal push Monday, on ABC’s “Top Line.” “I think what the message will be repeal this bill and reform or replace it with the kinds of things that are positive.”
DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.,to Politico’s Alexander Burns: “Who am I to give my Republican colleagues advice, but if they want to run on, ‘Repeal the bill,’ we say: ‘Make my day.’ ”
Learning curves: “As his fellow Republicans girded to oppose health care legislation in the Senate this week and readied a nationwide repeal effort, Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown said yesterday that he was not ready to join those efforts and was keeping his options open,” The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser and David Abel report. “By last night, Brown had clarified his position, promising to vote against the Democrats’ health care reconciliation package and pledging to support GOP repeal efforts.”
Brewing … “It’s almost like a declaration of war to many people,” Tea Party organizer Eric Odom tells McClatchy’s Margaret Talev. “They’ve treated it as such. I think many more people are going to see it as the government’s no longer in their hands.”
Cutting in multiple directions … “Now, thanks to health care reform, millions of working families will go to bed at night knowing that they are not an illness away from financial ruin,” David Brooks writes in his New York Times column. “For apostates like me, watching this bill go through the meat grinder was like watching an old family reunion. One glimpse and you got the whole panoply of what you loved and found annoying about these people.”
“Obama and the Democrats have made one of the riskiest gambles in American political history,” Jill Lawrence writes for Politics Daily. “There will be many changes phasing in between now and 2018, and some will be far less welcome than others. Still, the sweeping health package has features with guaranteed appeal, such as consumer protections against insurance companies. And there’s simply no way it could live up — or down — to the Republicans’ doomsday rhetoric.” The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn: “Life will get a little better for most people and a lot better for a few. The sick will get some care. The fearful will know some serenity. And somewhere LBJ will be smiling. Harry Truman, too.”
Obama’s task: “Part of his aim is to neutralize opponents who have cast the bill as an expensive government takeover of healthcare. If voters accept that caricature, Democrats will have an even tougher time staving off losses in the midterm elections,” the Los Angeles Times’ Peter Nicholas and Christi Parsons report.
On the Senate floor, a final sequences: “The GOP officially launches its last stand against health care reform today, when a united Republican Conference takes to the Senate floor in an effort to dismantle portions of the legislation with a variety of tactics,” Roll Call’s David M. Drucker reports. “Republicans are ‘virtually certain’ there are flaws in the Democrats’ strategy that can be exploited to thwart the majority party’s plan for wrapping up health care legislation within the next few days, a senior Republican Senate aide said.” Where it really gets interesting — and impossible to track: “Even before the healthcare bill has become law, Republicans are backing an effort by a dozen state attorneys general to challenge the bill’s constitutionally in court, and they are making it a 2010 campaign priority to call for the law’s repeal,” the Los Angeles Times’ Janet Hook and James Oliphant report.
Perspective, for the fall: “Politically engaged people said they expected President Barack Obama’s health-care legislation to produce additional donations and volunteers for local campaigns,” The Wall Street Journal’s Stephanie Simon, Douglas Belkin and Kris Maher report. “But there were also signs that the vast bulk of voters would focus elsewhere in November’s midterm elections. Much like gay marriage, health care may prove to be far more important in energizing people who are already politically active than the typical voter. The economy, by contrast, could remain a more overwhelming motivator.”
Not much gets a whole lot easier: “President Obama and the Democrats hope to quickly tap the momentum from passage of their big health care bill to advance other initiatives on their political agenda, including curbing greenhouse gases, imposing new rules on Wall Street, and overhauling immigration laws,” The Boston Globe’s Michael Kranish and Susan Milligan report.
“But success on any of those fronts is by no means assured, despite the popping corks and bumping fists. Republicans are seeking to blunt any sense of Democratic progress, starting this week with efforts to scuttle a health care reconciliation measure in the Senate, and followed by a blistering repeal campaign that will target the health legislation leading up to November’s congressional elections.” “The paradox of the health care vote is that, even as Mr. Obama has gained a much-needed infusion of political capital, it may not help him advance his agenda on Capitol Hill,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in The New York Times. Momentum? Arianna Huffington: “As he pivots to addressing these other major issues, let’s hope the president and his party don’t wait until their backs are up against the wall — and have given too much of the farm away to a party unwaveringly committed to maintaining the broken status quo — before doing the things they should have been doing all along.” Speaking of subject changes: “[White House Communications Director Dan] Pfeiffer jokes that the State Department also may help fill Obama’s plate,” USA Today’s Susan Page and Mimi Hall write. “The president will have some tricky foreign policy issues to tackle. Even as he continues the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and preside over the troop buildup he has ordered in Afghanistan, Obama faces other challenges: seeking international sanctions on Iran to try to check its nuclear ambitions; negotiating with Russia to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles; trying to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. He meets today at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” On the meeting with Netanyahu — at AIPAC, defiance: “The connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 year ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It’s our capital,” the prime minister said Monday night, per ABC’s Kirit Radia. Politico’s Ben Smith: “Netanyahu, who apologized for the announcement of new housing in Jerusalem during Joe Biden’s visit ten days ago, does not reprise his apology. … Instead, he reminds the White House that the new housing — though a thumb in the eye — did not actually violate any commitment he’d made, as any settlement freeze always excluded Jerusalem.” ABC’s Martha Raddatz, on “GMA” Tuesday: “The US is expecting Netanyahu to tell President Obama that the Israelis will make no further announcements about housing while the peace process gets back on track.” In New York — rumblings getting louder: “Dan Senor, a Bush II advisor and husband of CNN’s Campbell Brown, is poised to announce his challenge to Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand before the week is out, according to multiple sources familiar with his plans,” The New York Daily News’ Elizabeth Benjamin writes. “GOP and Conservative leaders have been encouraging Senor to throw his hat into the ring. His announcement will likely come Wednesday or Thursday.” In Florida — a storyline gets new details: “Days before he was sworn in as speaker of the Florida House, Marco Rubio and his top deputies hopped on a charter plane to Washington, checked into a $600-a-night hotel hosting a Republican Party conference and hired a chauffeur to squire them around the city,” Adam C. Smith writes in the St. Petersburg Times. “The costs were charged to the state party-issued credit card belonging to Rubio’s chief of staff, Richard Corcoran, a Republican operative who had recently been transferred to the state payroll. During the five months of his $175,000-a-year job in Rubio’s office, Corcoran continued spending tens of thousands of dollars in party donations for a slew of expenses, including dinners with his boss, personalized chairs for Republican leaders and $4,600 for electronics, according to American Express statements obtained by the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald.”
The Kicker: “I don’t take it personally, except I take it as a compliment for all women.” — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on characterizations of her as the most powerful woman in US history, and the most powerful speaker in a century, to ABC’s Diane Sawyer. “It’s been an unpredictable twelve months worthy of its own full-length, full-color comic book chronicle.” — Writer Robert Schnakenberg, on the second installment of “Female Force: Michelle Obama: YEAR ONE.”
For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog … all day every day: