By Rick Klein Wasn’t there a health care bill passed or something? If the idea was to find something else to talk about, that, it turns out, is the easy part. As for the salesmanship — that part will have to wait. Health care is still a hot-button issue — as the crowd in New Orleans over the weekend for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference made clear. It may be a financial boon to all sides — inspiring both party bases to open up wallets. But for now, President Obama is focusing elsewhere, by design (the nukes push has lasted nearly a full week, and that was the plan all along) or by circumstance (hello, Supreme Court, where vacancies tend to over-fill vacuums). The public may not follow the conversation elsewhere — not entirely, and not quite yet. Is this your next health care storyline? “Public outrage over double-digit rate hikes for health insurance may have helped push President Obama's healthcare overhaul across the finish line, but the new law does not give regulators the power to block similar increases in the future,” Noam N. Levey writes in the Los Angeles Times. “And now, with some major companies already moving to boost premiums and others poised to follow suit, millions of Americans may feel an unexpected jolt in the pocketbook.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.: “It is a very big loophole in health reform.” How many other tidbits like this are still out there? “In a new report, the Congressional Research Service says the law may have significant unintended consequences for the ‘personal health insurance coverage’ of senators, representatives and their staff members,” Robert Pear writes in The New York Times. “For example, it says, the law may ‘remove members of Congress and Congressional staff’ from their current coverage, in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, before any alternatives are available. The confusion raises the inevitable question: If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?” If you don’t think it needs selling — it’s now been more than a week, folks: “Gallup Daily tracking for the week ending April 11 puts Republicans slightly ahead of Democrats, 48% to 44%, in the congressional voting preferences of registered voters nationally,” per Gallup’s Lydia Saad. “This marks the third week since the U.S. House passed healthcare reform on March 21 that the Republicans have tied or led the Democrats.” In the states … “Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine said Monday that his office will not participate in a major first step of the new federal health care law, the creation of state pools that help sick people pay for health insurance,” Craig Schneider reports in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In the air … “Barney Frank has enemies, even 30,000 feet in the air. Flying back to Boston from LA yesterday, the congressman was assailed by a pair of ophthalmologists upset about the health care reform bill,” The Boston Globe’s Mark Shanahan reports. “They wanted to talk to me, but I apologized and said I like to read and watch on planes,” said Frank, D-Mass. “They began to talk louder and that's when Jimmy [Ready, the congressman's partner] said, 'If you're trying to be bitchy, you're doing a good job.’ ” Who is talking health care? “Repealing this bill has to be our No. 1 priority,” House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told a radio interviewer. Over at the White House — Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, sounding like he wouldn’t mind a promotion. “Gibbs is too discreet to say which job he prefers, but it's not hard to figure out. … Ask him whether he has improved as a big-picture strategist, and the administration's leading purveyor of evasive, circuitous sentences suddenly speaks to the point. ‘Oh, absolutely!’ Gibbs said,” Jason Horowitz writes in The Washington Post. “How you approach every day tactically doesn't necessarily determine who wins either a campaign, a nomination, an election or a legislative battle,” Gibbs said. In SCOTUS rumblings — ABC’s Jake Tapper has eight names on your longer short list: Solicitor General Elena Kagan; Judge Merrick Garland; Judge Diane Wood; Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm; former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears; DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano; Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow; Judge Sidney Thomas. “Those are eight from the list of fewer of 10 on President Obama’s short list,” Tapper reported on “Good Morning America” Tuesday. Early drumbeat — Senate Democrats, with an 11 a.m. ET press conference: “Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer will hold a press conference [Tuesday] morning to discuss Republican obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominations.” Meanwhile, across traffic-snarled downtown Washington, it’s group photo day, then a “working lunch” and an evening reception at the Nuclear Security Summit. President Obama holds a news conference at 4:30 pm ET at the Washington Convention Center. Maybe the biggest headline? “After months of reluctance to participate in sanctions against Iran for its nuclear weapons program, Chinese leaders are now agreeing in concept to sanctions, White House officials said,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “China was the last of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to agree to sanctions.” “U.S. officials structured the summit to avoid controversial topics and achieve broad agreement on improving security at places where nuclear material is stored: military installations, civilian research reactors and other facilities,” Mary Beth Sheridan and Scott Wilson report in The Washington Post. “But, in bilateral meetings leading up to the event, Obama sought to send a message to Iran — which denies it is developing a nuclear weapon — that it must heed international efforts to restrain its nuclear program.” Lasting consequences: “The precise outcome of the summit is less important than the way it will change the nuclear agenda for years to come — and the prospect that the very fact that the meeting took place will reduce international skepticism about the importance of nuclear security,” Gerald Seib writes in his “Capital Journal” column. Time’s Michael Scherer: “The summit itself also highlights a core feature of Obama's approach to the world stage, markedly different from his predecessor's wariness of prolonged diplomatic engagements without clear deliverables. The Obama White House sees the very process of diplomatic discussion, in many ways, as its own reward, a small but necessary step toward future results.” Also occupying the president’s time: “For President Obama, the first three days of this week are the diplomatic equivalent of speed dating. Every few minutes, it seems, another foreign leader is escorted into the room. They sit, they talk, they pledge mutual cooperation. And then it is on to the next one,” Peter Baker and Helene Cooper write in The New York Times. “The statements, or ‘readouts,’ provided by the White House after each of these sessions suggest a series of happy encounters in which everyone agrees about everything.” Victory laps? “The federal deficit is running significantly lower than it did last year, with the budget gap for the first half of fiscal 2010 down 8 percent over the same period a year ago, senior Obama administration officials said Monday,” The Washington Post’s David Cho reports. “The officials attributed the results to higher tax revenue and to lower spending than projected on bailing out the financial system. If the trend continues for the rest of the year, it would mean the annual deficit would be $1.3 trillion — about $300 billion less than the administration's projection two months ago for 2010.” Viral? “[Deficit commission chairman Eskine] Bowles has been in touch with Microsoft's Steve Ballmer about creating a deficit-reduction video game that would enable anyone with a computer to take a stab at balancing the budget, much like the 1994 commission did,” USA Today’s Richard Wolf reports. “Updated for 2010, [former Sen. Bob] Kerrey says, such a game could ‘go viral.’ “ The Senate remembers jobs — or will soon: “It may end up taking them 20 days to do it, but Democrats in the Senate are now on track to extend unemployment benefits for 30 days,” ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports. “Senators voted 60-34 [Monday] to consider a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits and COBRA subsidies for people long out of work. By the time the bill likely passes later this week, Congress will already have to start considering what to do when the temporary extension runs out May 5.” Bob Herbert remembers the economy: “Right now there is no plan that can even remotely be expected to result in job creation strong enough to rescue the hard-core groups being left behind,” he writes in his column. “It is not possible to put together a thriving, self-sustaining economy while so many are being left out.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid remembers immigration reform: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is moving full steam ahead with a politically tenuous strategy to pass comprehensive immigration reform this summer — with or without Republicans — in an effort to inspire Latino voters ahead of the midterm elections,” Roll Call’s Jennifer Bendery reports. Said Reid, D-Nev., over the weekend in Nevada: “We need to do this this year. We can’t let excuses like a Supreme Court nomination get in the way.” Sen. John Kerry remembers cap-and-trade: “President Barack Obama’s plan to quickly replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens won’t prevent the U.S. Senate from taking up climate-change legislation before elections this year, Senator John Kerry said,” Bloomberg’s Simon Lomax reports. Said Kerry, D-Mass.: The Senate confirmation process “is an important debate, but we’re capable of doing more than one thing at the same time around here.” Democrats are remembering financial regulatory reform: “It could all happen again … if we don’t pass President Obama's plan to reform Wall Street,” says a new DNC ad launching Tuesday. “We want our banks to succeed, but when they make bad decisions. Families shouldn't have to pay the price. Tell Congress we can't afford another financial crisis.” From Americans United, running Tuesday through Thursday on DC cable, it’s “Elephants in the Room,” following up “Pigs in the Trough”: “Fortunately for the American taxpayer: Pigs can’t vote in Congress. But there are those … elephants in the room. Tell them it’s time to hold Wall Street Banks accountable. Backing up the messaging — Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner: “It is simply unacceptable to walk away from this recession without fixing the system's basic flaws that helped to create it,” Geithner writes in a Washington Post op-ed. “Thankfully, signs of bipartisan support for action seem to be emerging in Washington, including for an independent consumer financial protection agency. … As the Senate bill moves to the floor, we must all fight loopholes that would weaken it and push to make sure the government has real authority to help end the problem of ‘too big to fail.’ ” Not there yet: “White House officials have raised objections to a potential compromise between Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee regarding rules governing derivatives trading, Senate aides said,” The Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta writes. “The pressure from the White House and Treasury Department could complicate the broader congressional effort to rework financial regulation, as it could derail a bipartisan deal.” New from the AFL-CIO on Tuesday, helping make the case: 2009 Executive PayWatch. Says AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka: “For those at the top, it’s business as usual and worse, bank executive who took massive taxpayer bailouts are now pouring money into lobbying on financial reform. It’s time for Congress to enact real financial regulatory reform and make Wall Street pay to create the jobs they destroyed.” Transitions (but will he keep the purple wardrobe?): “Service Employees International Union President Andrew Stern, one of America's most prominent labor leaders, is set to resign, according to a member of the union's board and another SEIU official,” Politico’s Ben Smith reports. “Mr. Stern has led the nation’s most politically active union, with 1.9 million members, since 1996. He is known as one of President Obama’s closest labor allies,” Steven Greenhouse reports in The New York Times. ” ‘Andy has always taken the position that people should not stay too long in office,’ one board member said, ‘and it is his job to build the organization and then make room for other people.” … S.E.I.U. leaders said they expected that Anna Burger, the secretary-treasurer, would succeed Mr. Stern.” Looking for friends … Sarah Palin headlines a Boston Tea Party (get it?) on Wednesday, but may be lonely. “Three of the party’s leading lights — gubernatorial candidate Charles D. Baker, conservative congressional candidate Jeffrey D. Perry, and US Senator Scott P. Brown, who was personally invited by the organizers to attend — say they will not participate,” The Boston Globe’s Michael Levenson reports. “The unusual divide in the party highlights the extent to which Republican and right-leaning candidates here and across the country are wrestling with whether and how to harness the antiestablishment fervor of the tea party movement.” In New York, rematch of the year: “Kicking off his campaign to oust Rep. Charlie Rangel today, Adam Clayton Powell 4th charged that the elder statesman merely wants to run and win so he can anoint a successor and ‘manipulate the process into some Machiavellian result,’ ” the New York Daily News’ Celeste Katz reports. In Kansas, Moore for Congress: “Democrat Stephene Moore is attempting to do what, apparently, no spouse has ever done before — succeed her still-living husband in Congress,” Steve Kraske reports for the Kansas City Star. “Her husband, U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan., announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election from Kansas' 3rd District, which includes Kansas City, Kan., and much of Kansas City's Kansas suburbs …. Records show that while 46 wives have won seats after the deaths of their husbands who held the posts before, no one has won the seat after her husband retired. A conservative census boycott? Don’t count on it: “We can't find empirical support for that,” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said Monday, per the AP’s Hope Yen. Congrats to this years’ White House Correspondents’ Association award winners: “Ben Feller of the Associated Press and Jake Tapper of ABC News will receive the Merriman Smith Award for presidential coverage under deadline pressure in the print and broadcast categories, respectively. Mark Knoller of CBS News will receive the Aldo Beckman award for sustained excellence in White House coverage. Suzanne Bohan and Sandy Kleffman of the Contra Costa, California, Times will receive the Edgar A. Poe Award for excellence in coverage of news of national or regional significance.”
The Kicker: “That concludes today’s luncheon … Call my agent.” — Actor Dennis Quaid, flashing the smile that may make the casting work, on suggestions that he play John Edwards in a biopic. “Some people call me the girl who brought down the governor of New York, but in reality he brought me down.” — Ashley Dupre, in the interview accompanying her Playboy spread, probably not timed ideally for Eliot Spitzer’s comeback bid.
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