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Health Care Fight Returns To Town Halls

The August 2009 recess nearly proved fatal to Democrats' hopes of passing health care reform. The simmering angst of citizens at town hall meetings, in some cases shown live on cable news, caught many off guard and extended a process the majority party had initially hoped to complete by Labor Day.

With that legislation now finally passed, both parties' leadership see the upcoming Easter recess as a critical opportunity to change the dynamic. For Republicans, it's a chance to regain the upper hand and keep the pressure on Democrats when they still appear vulnerable. For Democrats, the recess represents what some in the party see as their best chance yet to reframe the debate by highlighting a major accomplishment.

"I think everyone recognizes that you can't just try to sweep it under the rug and hope that the other side won't come after you on it," a Democratic leadership aide tells RCP. "Everyone understands the importance of going out there and going on the offense ... and not letting the other side get an advantage in terms of defining the bill again."

Democrats, particularly on the House side, have been encouraged by leadership to use the time in their districts focusing on the more popular components of the reform law. The forum is up to the member, however, and it's unclear yet how willing Democrats are to hold town hall meetings considering the August experience. RCP contacted the offices of more than two dozen Democratic House and Senate Democrats, most of whom represented swing votes in either chamber. Most were unwilling to disclose much about a member's specific plans for the coming weeks.

Continue reading "Health Care Fight Returns To Town Halls" »

Senior Concern: Health Reform And The Midterms

Democrats got some good news Tuesday when a new USA Today/Gallup survey found that about half of Americans felt the health care reform bill that had just passed the House was "a good thing." However, a look behind the numbers shows that one important group is distinctly unexcited: senior citizens. Some 54% of those 65 years or older think the bill is a "bad thing" -- the highest negative score of any age bloc.

During debate on the bill, Republicans made a point of reminding seniors at every opportunity that the new entitlement would be financed partly by cuts to Medicare. Now Senate Democrats have wisely begun focusing their own messaging on seniors as they vote on a package of "reconciliation" changes to the bill this week.

"Health care reform is a victory for seniors," Sen. Max Baucus declared yesterday at a Democratic press conference. "Among the biggest winners from the passage of health reform are seniors in Nevada and across America," echoed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who's facing a challenging re-election campaign.

This claim rests on the bill's closing of the so-called donut hole in the 2003 law extending prescription-drug coverage to seniors. Democrats obviously realize that a benny for seniors is politically required, given their high propensity to vote. The party leadership even issued a memo playing up the numbers of elders who will benefit by state: 565,000 in Florida, 393,000 in Pennsylvania, and 58,200 in Mr. Reid's home state of Nevada -- all places seniors have a big hand in deciding who's sent to Congress.

In The States, Democratic Leaders See Health Care Outcome As A Turning Point

Republicans in Congress warned Democrats for months that their vote in favor of health care reform would come at their political peril in November. At the same time, pollsters have spotted a troubling enthusiasm gap between the two parties, which the GOP hopes could lead to yet another changing of the guard in Congress.

However, in the wake of the legislation's passage and President Obama's signature, there is a sentiment among state Democratic Party leaders that passage of health care reform could be a motivation boost needed to help get the base more excited and involved in this year's midterm elections.

"We know from history that we're going to lose some seats, and people right now are in a very frustrated mood -- they're concerned about the unemployment rate and the economic situation," said California Democratic Party vice chairman Eric Bauman. "But the signing of this law is so meaningful, and it puts some of the oomph back into our chances in November."

Continue reading "In The States, Democratic Leaders See Health Care Outcome As A Turning Point" »

New Polls Show Public Split On Health Reform

A new USA Today/Gallup survey finds increased public support for the health care reform legislation that President Obama signed into law today.

From a USA Today article on the poll:

By 49%-40% those surveyed say it was "a good thing" rather than a bad one that Congress passed the bill. Half describe their reaction in positive terms, as "enthusiastic" or "pleased," while about four in 10 describe it in negative ways, as "disappointed" or "angry."

The largest single group, 48%, calls the bill "a good first step" that should be followed by more action on health care. An additional 4% also have a favorable view, saying the bill makes the most important changes needed in the nation's health care system.

Meanwhile, another new public opinion survey on health care reform finds an almost opposite result -- proving the country continues to be divided on the issue. A Bloomberg poll conducted by the well-respected Selzer & Co. finds 50 percent opposed to the measure Congress passed and 39 percent in favor.

However, whether they like this particular bill or not, the Gallup poll shows nearly half the country thinks it's good that it passed.

And the Gallup results come at a good time for Democrats who are up for re-election this year and worried their vote could mean they won't be back in 2011. Indeed, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already begun to circulate the poll to reporters.

Republicans have continued to point to poll numbers to support their argument that Americans are opposed to the Democrats' reform plan. Now Democrats have some numbers of their own.

Reform Battle Goes Beyond Congressional Races

Sunday night's climactic House vote on health care reform will likely go down as the defining vote for many representatives, particularly the Democrats who went out on a political limb to help their party pass the historic legislation. But the repercussions go beyond the Congressional midterm elections this November. Here's a look at some of the other races in which health care may be a dominant focus.

* Florida Governor: Bill McCollum, a former Congressman representing the Sunshine State, has emerged as the leading voice among Republican attorneys general in pledging to fight the implementation of the Democratic-sponsored health care reforms. McCollum says this is about principle, not politics. But this fight comes as the gubernatorial race in Florida is really gearing up, and as the likely GOP nominee, McCollum's fight could sharpen the national spotlight.

"If the president signs this bill into law, we will file a lawsuit to protect the rights and interests of American citizens," McCollum said in a statement after the House approved the Senate bill Sunday. The likely Democratic nominee, Alex Sink, offered this statement -- hardly an enthusiastic one: "Though it is certainly not perfect, these long-overdue reforms are better than Washington continuing to do nothing to improve America's health care system."

McCollum isn't the only attorney general in this fight eying a promotion this fall. Henry McMaster of South Carolina is engaged in a multi-candidate primary in South Carolina. Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett is the early frontrunner in his state's open-seat gubernatorial race. Former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, running for the GOP nomination for Senate in New Hampshire, came out in favor of a repeal effort Monday.

Continue reading "Reform Battle Goes Beyond Congressional Races" »

Obama and the Politics of Health Care Reform

President Obama mocked the press and others today for their focus on the politics of health care reform -- how individual votes will impact members and how the passing of the legislation will affect Obama and the Democratic Party as a whole.

"A lot of reporting in Washington, it's just like SportsCenter," Obama said during a rally at George Mason University in the Virginia suburbs of D.C. "It's considered a sport, and who's up and who's down, and everybody's keeping score. And you got the teams going at it. It's Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots."

But the politics do play an integral role in how some members vote, especially those sitting in Republican leaning districts and serving just their first term in Congress. Politico looked at individual members in an article just this morning. And Republicans themselves continue to argue this could mean the end to the Democratic majority in Congress.

"I don't know how this plays politically. Nobody really does," said Obama. "I don't know what's going to happen with the politics on this thing. I don't know whether my poll numbers go down, they go up. I don't know what happens in terms of Democrats versus Republicans."

Trying to boost spirits before the House votes on Sunday, Obama focused instead on the bill's impact. "I do know that this bill, this legislation, is going to be enormously important for America's future," he said.

Over the river and up Capitol Hill, House Minority Leader John Boehner railed against the bill in his weekly press briefing, leaving no question how he thinks the 2010 midterm elections will turn out as a result of the bill's passage.

"The American people do not want any part of this," he said. "If anyone thinks the American people are going to forget about this vote -- just watch."

RNC Poll Warns Dems On Health Care Vote

Citing new data from an internal poll, the Republican National Committee argues that Democrats risk losing a significant block of undecided votes this November if they pass health care reform legislation.

The survey, conducted by OnMessage Inc. from March 9-11 among 1,200 likely voters, shows Republicans leading in the generic ballot test 37-36, with 27 percent undecided. It's the first time in six years Republicans have led. Among that 27 percent of undecideds, only 30 percent say they favor the health care reform bill being considered by Congress, while 60 percent oppose.

"The reality is that Democrat incumbents face an increasingly hostile electorate heading into November, and the impending health care vote only exacerbates the problems they will have at the polls," RNC strategy director Bill Steiner writes in a polling memo.

Continue reading "RNC Poll Warns Dems On Health Care Vote" »

Hoyer: Process Is Interesting To Us, Not Americans

The debate on Capitol Hill now is whether or not there will be an up-or-down vote on health care reform in the House if Democrats go forward with the "Slaughter Solution" -- whereby there will only be one roll call vote on a bill that fixes unsavory parts of the Senate bill and thereby automatically approves the Senate bill.

Republicans continue to push the message that this will remove any accountability for the bill, allowing House Democrats to tell voters they never voted for the unpopular Senate bill.

On the House floor today, Minority Whip Eric Cantor called for an up-or-down vote, and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence said the proposed process showed Democrats are "willing to trample on the traditional rules of the House and Senate and even trample on the Constitution of the United States" to pass health care reform.

Minority Leader John Boehner announced this afternoon he would introduce a resolution that would force an up-or-down vote on the actual Senate bill.

Democrats argue that the legislative maneuver they are considering was used countless times by Republicans when they were in the majority -- including on a massive lobbying and ethics reform package in 2006 -- and that there is no hiding the fact that the vote on the accompanying reconciliation bill will lead to the passage of health care reform.

"Frankly, what we want to do is do the Senate bill as amended by reconciliation," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters today. "If we pursue this process, it is consistent with the rules, it is consistent with former practice, and in my opinion will be consistent with having members express themselves on the Senate bill as amended by reconciliation."

"We will vote on it in one form or another," he added.

Republicans are highlighting the process of passing health care reform as they go district-by-district warning vulnerable House Democrats that their vote could be fatal to their political future. The National Republican Congressional Committee just launched the latest in a string of TV ads in Democratic districts. This one is airing in the Cincinnati-based district of freshman Rep. Steve Driehaus, who unseated Republican Steve Chabot in 2008 and will face the former congressman again in November.

That effort could be having an effect on Democrats getting the necessary 216 votes to pass reform, as Majority Whip James Clyburn says he still does not have enough vote commitments from his members.

Hoyer argues that while Republicans "have done everything in their power to undermine" the ability of Congress to move reform through both chambers of Congress, process is not what Americans are focused on. Republicans lost power in 2006 "because of substance," not process, he said.

"I don't think any going to make the distinction," said Hoyer, adding that both parties have used this process and that few voters care that Republicans actually used it more often than Democrats. "Process is interesting, particularly to all of us around this room. But in the final analysis, what is interesting to the American public is what does this bill do for them and their families."

The House Budget Committee marked up and voted on the reconciliation bill yesterday, and Democratic leaders are still waiting for scoring from the Congressional Budget Office, which will tell them how much the bill will cost. Hoyer said he expects the bill will come up later this week.

Dreier Slams Dems' Health Care 'Gymnastics'

As House Democrats consider a new legislative option for moving health care reform to President Obama's desk, Rules Committee Ranking Member David Dreier (R-Calif.) said only an up or down vote in the House on both the Senate bill and its reconciliation accompaniment would be appropriate for such a large piece of legislation.

"It's very painful and troubling to see the gymnastics by which they're going to avoid accountability," Dreier told reporters today during an off-camera briefing.

Under the proposed solution by Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the committee could "deem" the Senate bill passed upon passage of the accompanying reconciliation bill, which would fix some of the issues that House Democrats had with the Senate's bill. The move would theoretically save Democrats in vulnerable districts from technically voting for the Senate bill; they would only be voting to fix it and remove certain undesirable aspects from it, such as the now infamous "Cornhusker kickback."

But their vote, which Dreier said could take place Sunday, would still directly result in the passage of the Senate bill. Because there would be no vote on the Senate bill itself, "There is absolutely no accountability," Dreier said. "To resort to these kinds of tactics to deal with this is just plain wrong."

"While the process of lawmaking should be ugly, I have never seen it as ugly as it seems to be coming before us this week," he said. "The fact is every amount of energy that is being applied today is trying to avoid the accountability of an up or down vote on this process."

Reporters noted to Dreier that Republicans used similar tactics for large pieces of legislation when they were in power from 1995-2006. Dreier and one of his advisers said there was no comparison and that instances of deeming a bill passed without a vote were "pretty rare."

However, Dreier did admit that what the Democrats are doing is well within the rules. "It's something they can clearly do if they have the votes."

"There was nothing of this magnitude that was done" under GOP control, Dreier said. "The notion of having the federal government move to take control of what is one-sixth of the economy is something that deserves a much more open process than we are getting here."

In recent weeks and over the weekend, Democrats have sought to put the focus on what health care reform would mean for Americans and take the spotlight off the process of passing it.

"The one thing I'm sure of is that the American people don't know or care much about the sequencing of parliamentary procedures," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press." It's "not about procedure. It's about what are we going to do to protect the American people and give them the security they deserve?"

Noting Axelrod's statement, Dreier flatly disagreed, saying: "Process is substance."

Is GOP Better Served If Health Care Passes Or Fails?

The two committees responsible for electing Republicans to the House and Senate indicated yesterday that GOP candidates will be well served by running on health care reform, which Democrats are still attempting to get to President Obama's desk. Yet an interesting question has arisen -- would Republicans be better off if the legislation passes or fails?

Publicly, the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee say passing the plan would be disastrous for Democrats. However, both are also making efforts to stop it.

In a memo to House candidates, NRCC Executive Director Johnny DeStefano wrote that challengers can affect the outcome of health care in Congress right now by warning their Democratic opponent that their vote will not be forgotten.

"Regardless of how your opponent voted in the past, you can make a major impact on his or her political calculations by reminding these Democrats that a 'YES' vote on the Senate-passed bill will guarantee them an all-out, full-throated blitz from your campaign and national Republicans throughout the spring, summer, and fall," wrote DeStefano.

Likewise, NRSC Chairman John Cornyn told reporters yesterday that Democrats would be wise to give up on the party's current reform plan, if they know what's good for them in November.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "are being told that it's better to pass something" than nothing, said Cornyn. "But if they pass this bill, this is going to be the issue in November 2010. If they don't pass it and move on to something else, they at least have a fighting chance."

Pelosi and Reid "seem to have no regard for their members' electoral prospects," Cornyn added.

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said today on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" that the Democrats' best move would be to pass the bill, and explain to Americans exactly what's in it and why they should like it. Republicans won back Congress in 1994 shortly after Democrats ended their health care reform efforts.

"In 1994, it was the end of September -- six weeks before the election -- that they gave up on health care," he said. "So it was late in the process, they failed on it, they didn't explain it, the president did not give a major speech saying what it is."

Asked why Republicans wouldn't just let the Democrats vote on the bill if they're certain it will hurt the party in November, Cornyn dismissed it, saying: "There's politics and then there's policy."

The same dynamic is true in the NRCC memo, which calls for Republican challengers to help defeat health care reform while simultaneously noting that any Democrat who votes for it will pay for that vote in the election.

"We are on the road to victory," DeStefano concludes. "Now we must work together to capitalize on the monumental opportunity to stand with the American people and prevent an historic disaster."

Hoyer's Office Flatly Denies Massa Accusation

The office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer flatly denies the accusation of outgoing Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) that the White House and Democratic House leadership got rid of him in an effort to pass health care reform.

"That's completely false. There is zero merit to that accusation," Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant told RealClearPolitics.

Massa announced his departure from Congress on Friday after an ethics investigation was launched into his conduct with a male staffer in his office. His resignation becomes official at 5 p.m. today.

Massa opposed the Democrats' health care plan for reasons opposite of Republicans -- the bill did not go far enough.

"There's a reason that this has all happened," Massa said on a New York radio station on Sunday.

With the departure of Hawaii Rep. Neil Abercrombie and the untimely death of Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, he said, "Mine is now the deciding vote on the health care bill. And this administration and this House leadership have said -- quote, unquote -- that they will stop at nothing to pass this health care bill. And now they've gotten rid of me and it will pass. You connect the dots."

Dems' New Reconciliation Spokesman: Judd Gregg

Senate Democratic leadership released this video to reporters today, jokingly calling New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) their "new spokesman to explain why reconciliation is a simple up or down vote that the American people deserve."

"It is totally inappropriate for a senator to come to this floor and represent that this is some sort of unethical act, as was implied," Gregg said. "We are using the rules of the Senate as they are set up to be used."

Gregg made the comments from the Senate floor on March 16, 2005.

"We appreciate Senator Gregg's support and his explanation of reconciliation," said Senate Democratic leadership spokesman Rodell Mollineau. "We could not have expressed it better ourselves."

Durbin: Democrats Will "Press Forward" On Health Care

Speaking to reporters during the lunch break at today's health care summit, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin hinted that Democrats are expecting to press ahead on health care through reconciliation, a tactic Republicans have decried for this legislation.

"I'm glad the president is trying, the American people want him to try," he said, according to a pool report. "If nothing comes of this we're going to press forward. We just can't quit. This is a once in a political lifetime opportunity to deal with a health care system that is really unsustainable."

The use of reconciliation was actually a flashpoint early on in today's summit, with Senate GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander asking President Obama to renounce the use of the procedural tactic.

"You can say that this process has been used before, and that would be right, but it's never been used for anything like this," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid later responded.

"No one has talked about reconciliation but that's what you folks have talked about ever since that came out, as if it's something that has never been done before," he said. "The Speaker and I have not talked about doing reconciliation as the only way out of all this. Of course it's not the only way out. But remember, since 1981 reconciliation has been used 21 times. Most of it has been used by Republicans, for major things, like much of the Contract for America, Medicare reform, the tax cuts for rich people in America. So reconciliation isn't something that's never been done before."

Recalling Obama's Health Care Messaging

Republicans have been critical of today's health care summit as little more than a photo op. Well, it's just the latest in a long series of public events in which President Obama has tried to sell health reform to a skeptical nation and Congress. After the jump, take a walk down memory lane.

Continue reading "Recalling Obama's Health Care Messaging" »

White House Won't Rule Out Reconciliation On Health Care

The White House has now posted its revised health care reform bill online, which officials describe as an "opening bid" to be discussed at this Thursday's bipartisan health care summit. While the administration said it is hopeful Republicans will come to the table and offer their ideas, the White House isn't ruling out passing the bill through the reconciliation process if necessary.

"The president expects and believes the American people deserve an up or down vote on health reform," said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communication director. "Our proposal is designed to give us some flexibility to ensure that we get an up or down vote if the opposition decides to take the extraordinary step of filibustering."

Speaking with reporters this morning, Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, described the proposal as essentially the Senate bill, "with some targeted, important changes." One of those is ditching the so-called "Cornhusker Kickback," while providing additional aid to state governments aimed to offset increases in their Medicaid payments. It's also raised the threshold for an excise tax and so-called "Cadillac" taxes. It retains the Senate's language on abortion. Not included is a version of the public option, something a group of Democratic senators are now mounting a campaign to resurrect.

"We are coming to this meeting with an open mind," Pfeiffer said. "We hope the Republicans will do the same."

He specifically called on Republicans to consolidate their ideas into one plan they would also post online, saying both parties should come with their best set of ideas. Republicans have repeatedly demanded that the meeting start with a blank sheet of paper. Among its own caucus, the White House said they are confident they can retain their margins and even win over House Democrats who initially voted against it.

"There are a variety of things here that can address concerns that many different members on our side of the aisle had," he said. "And I think in general, having the meeting with both sides of the aisle, on TV for everyone to see, after having had several days to review the proposal will help take away a little of the concern people have about this seeming to be something that was hatched behind closed doors."

White House Health Care Meeting Met With Skepticism On The Hill

President Obama's recently proposed White House health care meeting was immediately met with skepticism on Capitol Hill -- Republicans are wary of the motives behind the move, while Democrats doubt the result will be any different than negotiations with the GOP over the past year.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, called it "a hollow PR blitz," adding, "Republicans welcome honest discussion, but this event reeks of political gamesmanship." GOP House leaders John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sent a lengthy letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel outlining their many concerns with the meeting.

On the Senate side, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated a willingness to talk as long as the plans that passed the two chambers are scrapped and the two sides start from scratch, which Boehner and Cantor called for as well.

"If we are to reach a bipartisan consensus, the White House can start by shelving the current health spending bill," said McConnell.

Meanwhile, some liberal members aren't convinced Republicans are willing to negotiate and believe the opposing party has simply adopted an obstructionist political strategy -- and the event could provide a televised forum for political posturing.

"If there is an earnest effort to come to some kind of understanding, then it's worth the effort," Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Monday in an interview with RealClearPolitics. "Personally, I'm not optimistic."

President Obama announced the Feb. 25 meeting during an interview with CBS News just before the Super Bowl, hoping the televised effort will help bring transparency and solutions to the Democrats' stalled effort of reforming the health care system. Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate will be invited, though it's unclear which of the many factions in the debate are willing to compromise their priorities to solve the impasse.

For instance, liberals are still pushing the public option, which was left out of the Senate bill after failing to receive enough support and assumed to be a nonstarter in bicameral negotiations. With weather permitting, Grijalva and other Progressive Caucus leaders will meet late this afternoon with several senators, including Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), to discuss the government-run insurance option, an insurance exchange and other reform measures.

"We don't think they're dead," Grijalva said of the progressives' priorities. "I hate to be pessimistic about the White House meeting, but regardless of what happens with that we're still working to get something done."

How Many Dems Would Support Reconciliation?

While job creation is said to be the legislative priority this year, the president and Democratic leadership in Congress say health care reform must be completed. With Senate Democrats down to 59 votes after losing the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy's Massachusetts seat, compromising the House and Senate reform bills got a lot more complicated.

Conversations between the two chambers now focus as much on the process by which the bill will get through, as on what's in it.

"We're going to do health care reform this year," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday. The only question, he said, "is procedurally how do we do it."

One option being considered is a two step process where the House would pass the Senate version of the bill and the Senate would then pass budgetary changes to the bill using reconciliation -- a parliamentary move that would require only 51 votes. The House would also vote on the changes.

It was a struggle for Reid to find the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate bill early Christmas Eve morning. By changing the bill, some Democrats are expected to drop their support, either because they don't like the changes or are against using the reconciliation process, which allows the majority to circumvent the filibuster on matters pertaining to the budget.

So far, Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) have announced they would not support this process. Both are running for re-election this year, and Lincoln particularly is in danger of losing her seat. Meanwhile, a poll released this week showed Bayh trailng Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) in a hypothetical match-up, though Pence said shortly thereafter he was running for re-election and not interested in challenging Bayh.

Still, that knocks the Democratic votes in favor of reconciliation down to 57, with just seven to spare. (They would need only 50 votes, as Vice President Biden could break a tie.)

Other Democrats who could join Lincoln and Bayh are Senators Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), although both said this week they're not necessarily against using reconciliation.

"If I support a bill, I would vote for it whether it takes 50 or 60 votes. I'm not focused on the process," Nelson told the Lincoln Journal Star.

According to the Arkansas News, Pryor said reconciliation was not his first choice but "he was not necessarily opposed to the idea." Pryor also indicated doubts that it would be attempted.

On Wednesday, Politico identified a total of eight Democrats (including Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who caucuses with Dems) who were wary of reconciliation, including Senators Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.). Nelson was included in that count as well.

As Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad said this week, reconciliation is no easy fix for health care. Unlimited amendments and the necessity of cutting the annual deficit by $1 billion represent two possible bumps in the road.

Democrats could turn to breaking the bill up and voting on pieces of it separately, leaving comprehensive reform for the future.

Sestak: Democrats Considering Other Reform Options

In the wake of stalled health care negotiations between the House and Senate, House Democrats are considering alternatives in an attempt to get at least something done. Democrats met this morning in a closed-door caucus.

"There is discussion still going on between the Senate and the House, but there is also talk about other alternatives," Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) said after the meeting in an interview with RealClearPolitics. "Let's scale down, get something through, that truly at least helps in what we wanted to get done. Or, let's just vote on single, individual pieces at a time."

Many assumed the loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat Tuesday meant the end for health care reform, as Senator-elect Scott Brown gives Republicans enough votes to filibuster the bill. However, Democratic leaders indicated yesterday that they were moving ahead as planned.

Still, the Massachusetts race has left Democrats more worried about their own necks come the November midterm elections. Asked whether members of the House Democratic Caucus were increasingly nervous about keeping their jobs, Sestak said, "Yes. Without a question."

UPDATE: Speaker Pelosi backed up Sestak's comments this morning, saying there are not enough votes in the House to pass the Senate bill as is.
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What Now For Health Care?

The electoral fallout of the Massachusetts special Senate election won't crystallize for several months, but its effect on health care could be known as soon as today.

Before the polls closed last night, House Democrats were steadfast in their belief that Congress would pass health care even if Republican Scott Brown won. However, Senate Democrats will meet today to discuss their options going forward.

There were rumors before Tuesday that Democrats could attempt to ram through a bill before Brown's election became official, which could take at least 10 days. However, there does not appear to be support for that within the Democratic Caucus.

"It would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated," Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said last night.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), no moderate, agreed with Webb: "I feel strongly that the Democratic majority in Congress must respect the process and make no effort to bypass the electoral results."

Senate Republicans are holding a press conference at 11 a.m., and will likely say the same thing.

The Latest GOP Pledge: Repeal Health Care

Over the years there have been various versions of "The Pledge," particularly for GOP candidates. Most commonly, it's been a pledge not to vote for income tax increases. But now, the Club For Growth offers a new one for the 2010 elections: a pledge to repeal health care.

Club For Growth's Chris Choccola wrote in today's Politico:

Now is the time, then, that conservatives must -- and Republicans should­ -- take full ownership of the health care issue, by pledging unequivocally that if elected, they will repeal any federal health care takeover and replace it with market-based reforms. And they should make this pledge now, before Obamacare even becomes law.

This will accomplish several goals.

First, it will immediately define the 2010 and 2012 election campaigns. Obamacare has the potential to be the most unifying domestic political issue in a generation, and one that plays to the GOP's traditional strength: principled policy debates. The election will no longer serve as a referendum on a personally likable president but as his loathsome signature policy.

Second, the pledge will remind wavering Democrats that throwing away their political careers for Obamacare will make them suckers, not martyrs. This thing will be repealed before most of it even takes effect. Indeed, it's possible that promising now to repeal Obamacare may be the only way to prevent its passage in the first place.

And third, it will realign, for the first time in years, the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Conservative voters are going to favor repeal. They should not have to drag Republican leaders -- once again -- to the principled and politically intelligent position. For once, the establishment could get to the party on time.

Already incumbent Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Jeff Flake have signed on. Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R), who has the backing of the CfG, also issued a release swiftly agreeing to it.

An initiative like this guarantees that Republican candidates across the country, particularly those running in competitive primaries, will eventually have to make a definitive statement. What impact this will have is uncentain, however, particularly when you note the fact that Politico has also reported that House Minority Whip Eric Cantor said Republicans would only demand a "partial repeal" if they retake control of Congress.

With Few Options, GOP Continues Health Care Fight

With Democrats in the House and Senate reportedly opting for the ping-pong method of combining bills rather than the more formalized conference process, Republicans are left with few if any opportunities to halt progress on or even kill comprehensive health care reform. GOP hopes of stopping it now mostly rest on Democrats' intraparty differences, however party leadership is adamant that Republicans are not giving up and that Democrats' day of reckoning will come soon.

"There is much not to like here. I haven't given up on stopping it," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday on Dennis Miller's radio show. "I think we've got another month or so to fight this out and we're going to fight it 'til the bitter end."

McConnell and other Republicans argue that despite the potential for no conference, Democrats in the two chambers remain far apart on a number of issues, such as the inclusion of the public option, stricter abortion language and how to pay for it. The GOP will also begin attacking the process, as the lack of a conference removes Republicans from the negotiating table and allows the bill to move forward faster.

The backroom negotiations are a sticking point with the GOP, which last year routinely complained about being left out of the legislative process, despite promises from President Obama that he was open to their ideas.

Despite media reports, House Democratic leaders have yet to confirm that no formal conference committee will be held. One House leadership aide maintains that whatever form the negotiations take, it will not simply be the House considering the Senate bill -- the less progressive of the two and which barely passed last month on a party-line vote.

Discussions among Democratic leaders and committee chairmen on the House side are set to begin today, as well as a full caucus meeting Thursday, as they set their priorities for the negotiations. The Senate won't return for another two weeks.

Republicans, though, are still calling for the health care negotiations to be televised on C-SPAN, as Obama promised during his campaign. The president has instead left negotiations for the most part in the hands of party leaders in Congress, who appear more eager to pass a bill than allow further bipartisan discussions that could continue to slow the process.

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) offered a resolution that would require the health care reform conference to be televised, though action on that bill was blocked by Democrats.

"Something as critical as the Democrats' health care bill, with its Medicare cuts and tax hikes, shouldn't be slapped together in a shady backroom deal," Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), told RealClearPolitics. "Skipping a real, open conference shuts out the American people and breaks one of President Obama's signature campaign promises. It would be a disgrace -- to the Democratic leaders if they do it, and to every Democratic Member who lets them."

Should the compromised bill pass both chambers, Republicans are expected to attempt to repeal it. However, with Obama in the White House and strong Democratic majorities in Congress, the tact will likely make more waves on the midterm election campaign trails than have any real chance of working.

As for the political ramifications of passing health care, GOP critics point to Nebraska as an example of the dangers to Democrats' electoral health -- a state whose Democratic senator's re-election prospects already look perilous because of his support for the bill, three years before he must face voters.

A poll last week found Sen. Ben Nelson trailing Republican Gov. Dave Heineman by 31 points, with 55 percent holding an unfavorable opinion of him. A day after the poll's release, Nelson aired a TV ad during the Nebraska-Arizona college football bowl game to defend his health care vote.

"This will be one of several, if not the biggest issue in the fall election and you've seen what it's already done to the credibility and career of one senator from Nebraska, and I think there will be others," McConnell said on "The Dennis Miller Show." "He's not up in '10, but this is one of those votes that's going to be remembered for a long time."

After Passing Health Care Reform, Senators Hit the Road

By a 60-39 vote margin, the Senate passed early this morning comprehensive health care reform, just before Democrats' Christmas deadline. With the House having already passed its version of the bill, the 7 a.m. Christmas Eve vote begins the next big step in the process -- House and Senate conference.

Now, reconciling the two bills may be at least as difficult as passing them out of each chamber, and it's unclear whether it will happen before President Obama's first State of the Union Address next month or the beginning of February.

This is the closest Congress has ever come to passing health care reform, and Democratic leadership didn't take that lightly in comments following the vote.

"This is a victory for the American people," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), whose colleagues lavished praise on him for guiding the massive bill through a highly partisan Senate. "We have affirmed that the ability to afford a healthy life in America is a right and not merely a privilege for the wealthy."

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Reid "navigated the waters" and Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said Reid will always be remembered for making this one of the "shining chapters of the United States Senate." Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he "watched with awe" as Reid sheparded the bill through.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who presided over the HELP Committee's work on the bill in Ted Kennedy's absence, called this "probably the most important vote that every member of this Caucus will cast."

Kennedy's widow, Vicki, watched the vote from the Senate viewing gallery.

In sub-freezing temperatures in the nation's capital, Cadillacs and Suburbans lined up outside the Capitol awaiting the senators who would scurry out en route to the airport.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) was the first to leave, waving to his colleagues as he jogged out of the chamber. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) skipped the post-vote press conference to make her flight. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), no stranger to snow which is still blanketing the Capitol grounds, was wearing New Balance sneakers during the vote.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the longest serving member of the House after being elected in 1955, watched the vote from the Senate viewing gallery. Just outside the gallery doors, Dingell said, "I've been waiting for this for 54 years."

As The Left Grumbles, Clinton Urges Health Care Support

Former President Bill Clinton has issued a strong statement in support of the Senate health care legislation, telling members of his party that letting the reform effort fail would be a "colossal blunder."

"Does this bill read exactly how I would write it? No. Does it contain everything everyone wants? Of course not. But America can't afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good," Clinton says in the statement, which the White House swiftly posted on its own blog.

It's as high a level pitch as the White House could muster as many other key party stakeholders are making their dissatisfaction with the Senate bill very public. Hours earlier, the AFL-CIO issued a statement saying that while the bill "does some good things," the Senate version "bends toward the insurance industry." "The House bill is the model for genuine health care reform. Working people cannot accept anything less than real reform," the union says.

Clinton's statement was issued at the request of the White House. You can see it in full after the jump.

Continue reading "As The Left Grumbles, Clinton Urges Health Care Support" »

RNC Launches Campaign Touting Health Care Opposition

RNC Chairman Michael Steele acknowledged today that "some folks were a little bit surprised" when he issued a strategy memo last week touting Republicans' efforts to stop or slow down the progress of health care reform legislation on Capitol Hill. But he and the RNC are reinforcing that message now in a new campaign being launched that aims to, in Steele's words, amplify the voices of an American public that is strongly opposed to Democrats' plans.

"Those town halls were about something this summer, ladies and gentlemen," Steele said at a press conference at the party's headquarters near the Capitol. "They want their leadership to listen to them. ... And there hasn't been a lot of listening going on."

To that end, the RNC's new "Listen To Me" effort will be a "grass-roots" effort aimed at pressuring wary Democrats (and potentially some Republicans) to side against the bill. Staff will be deployed to six states -- North Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana and Connecticut -- that are home to the senators and Congressmen who largely will determine the final bill's fate. There's also a new radio ad being launched Wednesday in which Steele himself says Democrats know Americans are against the bill, but are "arrogantly trying to jam it down our throats."

"The American people certainly have a right to ask these Senators and all members of Congress to listen to them. And in these states, we will do everything we can to help people get their elected representatives to listen," the prolific chairman said today.

Steele also acknowledged that while Republicans have largely held firm in their opposition to the proposed legislation, ultimately it's the unease of a number of Democrats that is holding up final passage.

"They have the lever of power in their hand, and yet at every turn they look at others to blame," he said. "While Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid would talk about the Republicans stalling, as I've said repeatedly, you have the votes. Pass the bill. ... The fact that with a 60-40 advantage in the Senate you're looking to Republicans either to blame or to provide you with the vote you need tells me that there's something desperately wrong with the bill."

Gallup: More Americans Don't Want Health Care Bill Passed

The Senate will begin debate this afternoon on a comprehensive health care bill that a plurality of Americans don't want passed.

Gallup reports that 49% of Americans now say they would lean toward advising their member of Congress to vote against health care legislation, while 44% say they want their representative to vote in favor of it. Before those with no opinion were asked which way they leaned, the divide was even greater: 42% against, 35% in favor, and 22% had no opinion.

"Despite the considerable efforts of Congress and the president to pass health insurance reform, the public remains reluctant to endorse that goal," Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones writes.

The downward trend among independents is troublesome for Democrats, who are pushing the bill to be passed as soon as possible. In mid-September, 48% of independents wanted their member of Congress to vote for health care. But that number has dropped to 37% in Gallup's latest survey. Support among Democrats, at 76%, has dropped in the last two months as well, while Republican support -- after peaking at 24% last month -- is back down to 12%.

"The cost question is vital," the San Francisco Chronicle reported this morning, citing concerns with the unpredictability of the Senate bill's cost control mechanisms. "Parts of the Senate bill could control costs but no one knows how much. Nearly everyone agrees that the bill's cost controls have been weakened and may grow weaker. And all agree that the House bill would do even less."

After voting Nov. 21 to allow debate on health care legislation and a subsequent Thanksgiving week recess, the Senate convenes today at 3 p.m. to begin floor arguments on the bill.

The Gallup survey was conducted Nov. 20-22 of 1,017 adults with a margin of error of +/- 4%.

Five Senators To Watch On Health Care

With 60 Democrats in the Senate, the party has enough votes to pass any bill it pleases -- but that total includes two independents that caucus with the party and leaves no room for error. The tight margin is on display once again as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) searches for enough support to both bring health care reform up for a vote and actually pass it.

While many Republicans do not support passing comprehensive reform at all, Reid is struggling to win over the centrist members of his own party on a couple sticking points: a government-run insurance option and banning federal funding for abortions.

Following House passage of its reform legislation Saturday night, President Obama expressed confidence that the Senate would follow suit. The president has done his part, meeting personally with a number of centrist Democrats to discuss reform. How successful he and Reid can be remains to be seen, but there is consensus on the fact that it will be far more difficult than passing it out of the House.

As the Senate awaits cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office this week, all eyes remain on a select group of senators whose support or opposition could alter the ultimate success of the bill. Here are Five Senators To Watch as Senate Democratic leadership looks to pass its own health care reform by the end of the month:

Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska)

As the Almanac of American Politics puts it, "He often is found in the middle of battles between the extremes of both parties." That was true in 2005, when he was part of the Gang of 14 that sought to allow President Bush's judicial nominations to move forward, and it remains true today, as Nelson continues to be at the heart of each battle over health care.

Nelson is against the public option, even with an opt-out clause, which had been the center of debate until this week. Now, since House Democrats passed a bill Saturday that bars federal dollars from being spent on abortions, Nelson says he will not support a bill that doesn't do the same thing. "If it doesn't make it clear that it does not pay for abortion then I wouldn't support it," Nelson told reporters Monday, according to Reuters.

The second term senator could introduce his own amendment that would solve the issue. House Democratic leaders were forced to include the Stupak amendment to get enough Dem votes for passage, and Senate Democratic leadership will likely be in the same boat.

Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)

As a moderate Republican who has joined Democrats in previous key votes, Snowe is often mentioned in the health care debate. Her vote in the Senate Finance Committee helped move health care reform to the cusp of the Senate floor. However, she made sure to note at the time that she will not necessarily support the final bill that is introduced to the full Senate.

Snowe's voting record pits her in the middle of the Senate, and Democrats are hoping to win her support on this crucial vote. But Snowe has said she does not support a public option, even with an opt-out clause. So winning her vote does not appear likely -- as Reid announced the bill will indeed include it -- unless Democrats decide to give the public option a "trigger," which Snowe supports.

Continue reading "Five Senators To Watch On Health Care" »

Breaking Down the Dems' Health Care Defections

House Democrats were able to pass comprehensive health care reform Saturday night by a 220-215 vote, despite the defection of 39 members of the Democratic caucus. The tight margin is indicative of the divisive nature of the bill, as well as the volatile political atmosphere of the country.

Members know that each major vote cast on the floor of the House chamber could be the issue that defeats them in the following election. All but one Republican opposed the bill, and the party, down 81 seats, is already using the vote as a wedge issue for next year's midterm elections.

The National Republican Congressional Committee released the following statement shortly after the vote to media in the congressional districts of nearly 50 of the Democrats who supported the bill:

"As the country recoils against the Democrats' reckless crusade for higher spending and more government control, Dina Titus just walked off a cliff at the request of her party bosses by voting for a bill that hikes taxes, slashes Medicare, kills jobs, and puts small businesses and middle class Nevada families in an even bigger bind."

In 2008, John McCain won 49 districts that also elected a Democrat to the House. On Saturday, 31 of the 39 Democrats who opposed the bill represent districts McCain carried, including 19 where McCain won 55 percent of the vote or more. Of the 31 McCain districts, 11 are represented by freshmen.

Fifteen of the 41 Democrats elected in 2008 voted against the bill, while just two from the even larger 2006 class opposed it. Just fewer than half of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, whose votes the Democratic leadership aggressively lobbied for, voted against the bill -- the 24 Blue Dogs made up more than 60 percent of the bill's Democratic opposition.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), one of the most liberal members of Congress and whose Cleveland-based district Obama won with 59 percent, opposed the bill because it didn't go far enough. Kucinich favored a "robust" public option, which leadership eventually concluded could not win enough support to pass.

Two of the opposing votes came from Members who are running for higher office next year -- Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who's running for governor, and Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), who is challenging Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). McCain won at least 59 percent in both states in 2008.

Other noteworthy opposing votes came from Reps. Rick Boucher and Glenn Nye, both from Virginia, whose congressional districts were won Tuesday by Republican Bob McDonnell in the race for governor. The other two
Virginia Democrats whose districts McDonnell won, Reps. Gerry Connolly and Tom Perriello, voted in favor of the bill.

The lone Republican to support the bill was Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.), whose district leans heavily Democratic and has one of the 10 highest percentages of African American voters. Cao is widely considered the most vulnerable incumbent in the country, as his election in 2008 hinged on ethical and legal woes of incumbent Bill Jefferson (D-La.).

Dems Announce House Health Care Bill

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders today announced House Democrats' health care reform legislation, which will cost less than $900 billion over 10 years and expand coverage to 36 million currently uninsured Americans. As Pelosi has stated many times in recent weeks, the bill "will not add one dime to the deficit."

The principles of the legislation, titled, "Affordable Health Care for America Act," are "affordability for the middle class, security for our seniors, responsibility to our children," said Pelosi, who noted that the bill will include "a public option to boost competition" and "will end discrimination for a pre-existing medical condition."

Speaking at a grand ceremony on the west front of the Capitol, Pelosi promised that the bill will be online for all Americans to review, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said much of the bill has been available online for more than three months. Republicans have criticized Democrats for not allowing enough time for proper review, but Hoyer said it will be available for 72 hours before it goes up for a vote.

Congress, Hoyer said, is "one step further on a long, hard road -- a road to bring quality, affordable health care to every one of our fellow citizens."

"I told members of the press and the public over and over and over again, there is not one member of our caucus -- from every region of the country -- who did not say to us, 'We need to adopt health care reform,' " said Hoyer, indicating any argument within the House Democratic caucus has been on the details, not the overall goal.

The Congressional Budget Office will release its scoring of the bill later today, and the speaker's office says the bill will cost $894 billion over 10 years and is fully paid for.

Gallup: GOP Not Trusted On Health Care

When it comes to health care reform, Republicans in Congress are trusted less than their colleagues across the aisle and President Obama, according to a new Gallup survey (Oct. 16-19, 1521 A).

Just more than one-third (37%) of American adults have a great deal or fair amount of trust in congressional Republicans on reforming the nation's health care system, while nearly half (48%) trust congressional Dems and more than half (55%) trust the president.

Only counting those who said they have a "great deal of trust," 4% said Republicans, 10% said Democrats and 23% said Obama.

Republicans not only lag in trustworthiness among the nation as a whole, but also among members of their own party. Just 61% of Republicans nationwide trust the Republicans in Congress on health care, while 81% of Democrats trust congressional Dems and 86% of Democrats trust Obama.

As for independents, 36% trust Republicans in Congress, 39% trust Democrats and 51% trust Obama.

Two-Thirds of Country Could Opt Out of Public Option

Two-thirds of the country could opt out of the public option, based on a Real Clear Politics analysis.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is promoting a federal government-run insurance option that states would be able choose whether or not to participate in. But if the decision falls to the state legislatures and governors, as indications are it would, the vast majority of states could choose to opt out.

Ten states are completely controlled by Republicans (including the state House, Senate and governor's mansion). Meanwhile, Republicans have control of at least one chamber of the state legislature or the governor's mansion in 23 states.

Potentially, any state with at least partial Republican control could choose to opt out of the public option. That would leave 33 states, totaling 200 million people, that would not be included in the most decisive, and divisive, portion of health care reform.

If only states totally controlled by Republicans were to opt out, 70 million people would be without a public option.

In Virginia, Democrats currently control the state Senate and governor's mansion, but Republican Bob McDonnell leads by more than 10 points with one week to go in the gubernatorial election. Should he become governor and the option be available, McDonnell would opt out.

"Bob McDonnell does not support nationalized heath care," said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin. "As a result, he does not support Virginia's participation in a federal public health insurance system. As governor he would opt Virginia out of such a system."

Whether or not Reid's proposal ever goes up for a vote on the Senate floor remains in flux, however. Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) said today he was against the public option, even with an opt-out clause, and would join Republicans in withholding it from a floor vote.

Should Reid's plan make it through both chambers of Congress, the public option would likely remain in at least 17 states where Democrats have complete control and 97 million people reside.

Washington D.C. was not included in RCP's analysis. Population data was taken from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2008 population estimates.

Reid: Senate Bill Will Include Public Option

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced today that the health care reform bill that hits the Senate floor in the coming weeks will include a public option. The decision to include or exclude government-run health insurance had been in flux, as one of the two Senate bills being merged over the past week did not include it.

"I believe that a public option can achieve the goal of bringing meaningful reform to our broken system, will protect consumers, keep insurers honest, and ensure competition," Reid said at an afternoon press conference in the Capitol. "And that's why we intend to include it in the bill that will be sent to the Senate."

Reid and senior advisers from the White House have been involved in backroom negotiations with the leaders of the two Senate committees that passed health care bills -- Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who ushered a bill through the HELP Committee, and Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.). In doing so, a compromise was brokered to allow states to opt out of the public option by 2014.

"As we've gone through this process I've concluded, with the support of the White House and Senators Dodd and Baucus, that the best way to move forward is with the public option with the opt-out provision for states," said Reid, who cited recent national polling as evidence that the American public is in favor of the public option. "Under this concept states will be able to determine whether the public option works well for them and will have the ability to opt out if they so choose."

Republicans have argued that a government-run insurance plan would lead to the demise of private insurance companies, while Democrats say its purpose is to keep the insurance companies honest and protect consumers by promoting competition.

"It will be a thousand-page, trillion-dollar bill that raises premiums, raises taxes and slashes Medicare for our seniors to create new government spending programs. That's not reform," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has previously said he is against comprehensive health care reform, with or without a public option. "So, wholly aside from the debate over whether the government gets into the insurance business, the core of the proposal is a bill that the American public clearly does not like, and doesn't support."

Reid said he was disappointed that so few Republicans appear willing to negotiate on health care reform, or many other issues that have come before the Senate this year, including extending unemployment benefits, which is currently being debated on the Senate floor.

"I'm always looking for Republicans" to support legislation, Reid said. "It's just a little hard to find them. ... When I came here to the Senate, we had a lot of moderate Republicans who worked with us on everything, and we worked with them. But of course now the moderates are extremely limited. I can count them on two fingers."

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) was the only Republican on the Finance Committee to vote in favor of the Baucus bill, but she does not support a public option of any kind -- including one with an opt-out provision for states. However, Reid hopes she will eventually support the bill.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs released a statement saying President Obama is "pleased that the Senate has decided to include a public option for health coverage, in this case with an allowance for states to opt out. As he said to Congress and the nation in September, he supports the public option because it has the potential to play an essential role in holding insurance companies accountable through choice and competition."

Later this afternoon, Reid will send the Congressional Budget Office a series of proposals that includes alternative versions of a melded bill, and he'll wait to hear back on how much each version would cost. Democrats need 60 votes to pass the bill, so Reid is looking for the most cost-effective, yet comprehensive, plan to do so. While there are 60 Democratic senators, not all of them have indicated support for the bill.

"As soon as we get the bill back from CBO and people have a chance to look at it," said Reid, "I believe that we will clearly have the support of my caucus to move to this bill and begin legislating."

CNN Poll: 61% Favor Public Option

Democrats are promoting a national survey released this afternoon by CNN/Opinion Research (Oct. 16-18, 1038 A, MoE +/- 3%), which finds 61% of Americans in favor of a government-run health insurance plan to compete with private insurance companies. The poll comes as the House and Senate are each merging separate health care reform bills for an eventual vote on the chamber floors.

At a morning press conference, CNN's Dana Bash asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid whether the fact that six-in-10 Americans approve of a public option has any effect on whether it would be included in the Senate plan. Reid refused to answer, as he remains deep in negotiations with Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), whose bill does not include the option, and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who as the acting chairman of the HELP Committee included the option in his committee's bill.

The press conference was held to announce that Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy's (D-Vt.) Health Insurance Industry Antitrust Enforcement Act of 2009 will be introduced as an amendment to the eventual bill that reaches the Senate floor. The amendment would strip insurance companies of their antitrust exemption status, which Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) described as "an accident of American history."

Schumer said that in 40 states, two insurance companies dominate the market, allowing them to raise health care costs on consumers . "This exemption is antiquated, out of date, and doesn't belong," he said. "We can't pass effective health care reform if we don't hold health insurance companies to the same standards as other American industries."

The CNN poll found 49% favor President Obama's health care plan overall, while 49% oppose it. However, when asked which would be better for the country, passing a bill similar to Obama's plan or leaving the current system in place with no changes, 53% say Obama's plan would be better compared with 44% who say nothing should change.

The 61% of Americans in favor of the public option is up 5 points since late August.

CBO: Baucus Bill Would Reduce Deficit

The Congressional Budget Office said today that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) health care bill would cost $829 billion and reduce the federal government's annual deficit by $81 billion during the years 2010 to 2019. By 2015, 94 percent of Americans would have health insurance, according to CBO's preliminary analysis (large .pdf).

The CBO score appears to be the "clean bill of health" Baucus had been hoping for, and the Finance Committee could vote on the plan as early as tomorrow. Should the committee pass the bill, a conference will gather to mesh the plan with the one passed in July by the HELP Committee.

The report also indicated that states would take on an additional $33 billion in Medicaid costs from 2010-2019, something that governors around the country are worried about.

Dems Ramp Up Pressure On Health Care

Here is my story today on the Democrats' efforts to pressure Republicans to support comprehensive health care reform:

While the Senate Finance Committee awaits a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office on Chairman Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) health care bill, Democrats are ramping up their efforts to build support among the American people and pressure Republicans to eventually back comprehensive reform.

In a briefing with reporters Thursday, Senate Democratic leadership focused solely on what they referred to as the Republicans' obstructionist efforts on reform.


In pressuring Republicans, Democrats have also utilized recent quotes from prominent Republicans around the country who have stated a desire for Congress to work in a bipartisan fashion to pass reform this year.

Read the rest here.

Baucus 'Not Discouraged' On Forthcoming CBO Score

The Senate Finance Committee is awaiting a cost estimate, or "score," from the Congressional Budget Office, and Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said today he's unsure when it will come.

"I'm hopeful it's tomorrow, but I can't guarantee it," Baucus said after emerging from the Senate Democrats' weekly luncheon.

Movement on his health care bill has stalled so senators on the committee, especially Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), can cast their vote knowing how much the bill will cost. As for when a vote will take place, Baucus said it all depends what the CBO score looks like.

"If it's a clean bill of health," the vote will take place sooner, said Baucus.

Asked if he had spoken with CBO during the process and what he expected in the score, Baucus smiled and said, "I'm not discouraged."

Senate Dems: Where Is the GOP Plan?

While Republicans have repeated the phrase, "Where are the jobs?" all year as a criticism of the Democrats' economic stimulus package, Democrats continue to request a Republican alternative to health insurance reform.

"I think it's important to spend a little bit of time on the Republicans' plan," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said this afternoon at the weekly Democratic leadership briefing with reporters. "It's very clear what that is -- and that is to keep things the way they are, the status quo."

Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) conceded that as the "loyal opposition," it's no surprise that Republicans have been critical of the Democrats' proposals. Still, he said, he'd like to see how they would tackle the imminent problem of the rising costs of health care.

"At the end of the day they don't have anything to offer the American people," said Durbin. "The Grand Ol' Party's coffers are empty when it comes to health care reform."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered a financial metaphor as well in criticizing the GOP.

"All you have to do is sit at the Finance Committee and you realize the bankruptcy of the Republican Party," said Schumer. "The number of positive amendments, even if you disagreed with them, was small. Almost every amendment was negative, aimed at some kind of message and doing nothing to move health care forward. They have nothing to say. They have nothing to offer."

Schumer went on to say that the GOP's strategy may have worked in 1980, "when the American people were feeling good about themselves and feeling everything was fine -- they don't need government anymore," but not in 2009.

Following the briefing, Schumer told a scrum of reporters that he's spoken with "almost all of the moderate Democratic Senators and they are open to" the public option. That includes Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), whose bill does not include the option and who voted against the amendments introduced by Schumer and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) that would have added the option to his bill.

Baucus told Schumer he was not ideologically against the public option -- he just doesn't think Democrats can get 60 votes if it's included in the bill.

"I said, give us a chance to show you," said Schumer. "And he said, fine. So that's what we're trying to do."

Consumer Reports Jumps Into Health Care Debate

Consumer Reports is throwing its hat in the health care reform ring, calling on Congress to pass legislation this year. For the first time ever, the organization is airing a TV ad to get across its message on behalf of consumers.

"We believe that so much attention has been focused on the politics of health care that we're losing sight of the core problems," said Jim Guest, president of Consumers Union and publisher of Consumer Reports. "Health costs are skyrocketing, which affects all of us, and if you get seriously sick, having insurance is no guarantee that you'll get the care you need."

CR is a decades-old magazine and has one of the 10 highest circulations in the country. Its mission is to fight for a fair marketplace for consumers. The TV ad will air in the D.C. metro area for the next two weeks.

"For 73 years, Consumer Reports has been a trusted source of information for consumers who want to make the best decisions," Guest says in the ad. "Today health care costs too much. Many Americans are one pink slip or one major illness away from losing their coverage. We at Consumers Union say this problem must be fixed this year for everyone's sake. Washington, the time for health care reform is now."

In a statement, Guest maintained CR's independence from any political party or group.

"We don't endorse candidates," he said. "And we don't care who gets the credit for fixing the problems with health care -- we just need them fixed."

Senate Finance Committee Votes Down Public Option

From the AP:

The Senate Finance Committee has voted against creating a new government health insurance plan to compete with the private market.

The 15-to-8 vote could forecast the fate of the public option in the Senate as a whole. The outcome was expected but still a defeat for liberals who view government-sponsored insurance for the middle class as a key component of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Five committee Democrats, including Chairman Max Baucus, joined with all 10 committee Republicans to defeat the measure by Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) also has an amendment that includes a public option up for a vote today, though the Rockefeller amendment vote result makes Schumer's proposal a long-shot, even though it is less progressive than Rockefeller's.

You can follow along on the New York Times' excellent live-blog of the committee proceedings.

UPDATED 3:51 p.m.: The committee just voted down Schumer's amendment on a 10-13 vote.

Dems Continue Call for GOP Health Care Bill

House Democrats are still waiting for Republicans to introduce their own health care proposal, which Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the GOP's health care working group, guaranteed in June they would do. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's (D-Md.) office released a timeline today to illustrate the point, and the DCCC sent out a reminder Thursday night that Friday marked 100 days since Blunt's promise.

DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said that night on MSNBC that the GOP hasn't introduced it's own proposal "because they're afraid that people will realize that the plan they're putting forward won't do the job."

Since June, party leaders have gone back and forth in remarks to reporters on whether a bill would indeed come forth from their side of the aisle, though they've maintained that whether they have a complete bill or not, the party has presented alternatives to President Obama's plan.

Most recently, though, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the party's most imminent goal is stopping the Democrats' bill. "The problem right now is they're in this big rush to pass this bill, and the American people want us to do everything we can to stop it," he said Sept. 9, the day Obama spoke to a joint session of Congress.

Biden: Even My Mother Worried About Death Panels

Vice President Joe Biden sought to reassure seniors about health care reform today, promising that Medicare will remain strong while rebutting scare tactics he said opponents are responsible for.

Biden, speaking at the Leisure World retirement community in suburban Washington, said he saw the power of the talking points of his foes on a recent visit with his mother in Delaware.

"I walk in, give her a kiss. She says, 'Joey, what about these death panels?' And I said, 'Mom, I'm trying to kill you,'" Biden related. "She said, 'I'm serious, Joey. What about these death panels?' I said, 'Mom, it's hokum. It's a bunch of malarkey."

Speaking to the audience, he argued that "no one in the government, nobody anywhere, no panel is going to sit down and tell your doctor anything about how to care for you." Common sense should dictate that such a claim -- made often by his former vice presidential foe, Sarah Palin -- is false, Biden thought. "But my mother, it got through."

Biden, who called himself "a simple guy from Delaware who speaks plane old English," spent more time countering Republican warnings that the Democratic plan would weaken Medicare. An interesting claim, Biden said, coming from a party that once opposed creating the program in the first place.

Continue reading "Biden: Even My Mother Worried About Death Panels" »

Pelosi Compares House Proposal to Baucus Bill

In a statement released to the press this afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi compares the proposals that came out of the three House committees working on health care reform to the plan released today by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.):

"We are pleased that Senator Baucus' plan mirrors some key provisions in the House proposal, including sweeping insurance reforms and consumer protections. The House bill clearly does more to make coverage affordable for more Americans and provides more competition to drive insurance companies to charge lower premiums and improve coverage. The House bill also does more to help seniors afford prescription coverage, closing the donut hole completely, while the Baucus proposal simply reduces the cost of brand name drugs in the donut hole.

"As this proposal evolves, we hope to see modifications that result in the Senate bill better reflecting the work of the House to make health care more affordable for all Americans and promote competition that is key to keeping costs lower. I believe the public option is the best way to achieve that goal."

GOP Scoffs at Baucus Bill

Certainly there is no pleasing everyone. But will the Baucus bill please anyone?

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) will reveal his long-awaited health care proposal today, despite no Republicans immediately jumping on board. The committee will begin marking up the $856 billion bill next week.

The committee is the last of five to bring forth a bill, largely because of Baucus's efforts toward a bipartisan plan. However, one centrist Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and a liberal Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), both said they won't vote for the bill in committee.

When it was still unclear yesterday which way Snowe was leaning, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said he hoped any plan brought forth by Democrats was truly bipartisan. "Let me put it this way," he said. "I'm looking for more from us than one person."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement today in opposition to the plan, the only of the five House and Senate committee bills not to include a public option.

"This partisan proposal cuts Medicare by nearly a half-trillion dollars, and puts massive new tax burdens on families and small businesses, to create yet another thousand-page, trillion-dollar government program," said McConnell. "Only in Washington would anyone think that makes sense, especially in this economy."

Asked if he could round up enough votes to support a bill that didn't include a public option, Senate Majority Whip Richard Dubrin (D-Ill.) said, "I don't know. I'll find out." To get to 60 votes though, he said, some Republicans will need to "be part of this conversation."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters yesterday that he hopes that "in the next few days some brave Republicans will come forward in support of the health care bill."

Baucus will step before the cameras later today to discuss the proposal, the full text of which can be found here.

Obama's Speech Provided Bump In Support

Two new surveys released this morning find an increase in support for President Obama and comprehensive health care reform.

A CBS News poll reports a 12-point leap in approval of Obama's handling of health care since last week. Forty percent of adults interviewed last week (Aug. 27-31) said they approved, while 47 percent disapproved. When the same sample was surveyed the day after Obama's speech (Sept. 10, 648 A, MoE +/- 4%), 52% now approve of the president's handling of health care while 38% disapprove, which CBS reports is "the best marks of his presidency."

Also, more people now say that Obama has explained his health care reform than did last week. Just 33% felt the president had explained his proposals last week; 42% now say he has, though 43% still say he has not.

A Rasmussen survey (Sept. 9-10, 1000 LV, MoE +/- 3%) finds support for the Democrats' health care reform proposal at 46% -- up 2 points since the two days prior to Obama's speech. The speech appears to have had more of an impact on Democrats, though, as Rasmussen reports that the boost comes "entirely from those in the president's own party."

What the GOP Wants to Hear From Obama

It's hard to figure how many Republicans in the House and Senate the president will be able to reach tonight as he delivers the second address to Congress of his still young presidential term. Many, including the minority leaders of the House and Senate, are simply against a comprehensive health care reform bill -- with or without a public option.

"What I hope I won't hear tonight is that we have to do a massive, comprehensive bill or nothing," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking at a joint press conference this afternoon with House Minority Leader John Boehner. "That strikes us as not the way to move forward."

Boehner is hoping the president says he wants to start over on a reform bill, something few expect the president to say. The American people, Boehner said, simply "want the current system to work better; they don't want to replace it with a big, government-run plan."

Neither side of the aisle feels there's been much bipartisan cooperation on the issue of health care reform, though McConnell outlined certain fundamentals of reform Republicans would be open to working with Democrats on: strengthen the care and insurance people have, making insurance more accessible to the uninsured and lower costs for all. "Those are the kinds of principles around which we could rally, I think, a broad bipartisan agreement," McConnell said.

McConnell wants Congress to "skinny" the bill down and target issues such as "junk lawsuits" and insurance reform -- passing smaller, more focused bills.

"We're all interested in what he has to say," said Boehner. "But I hope he's been listening to the American people, because I think over the course of August they've made their voices loud and clear that they don't want this massive government takeover of our health care system. But it appears the president is going to double down tonight, and try to put lipstick on this pig and call it something else."

The Consensus Is There Is No Consensus

Appearing with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the White House after a meeting with President Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi had this to say regarding the inclusion of a public health insurance option in a reform bill, per our White House reporter Mike Memoli: "I believe that the public option will be essential to our passing a bill in the House of Representatives."

The message was certainly different, if not opposite, of the one given this morning by House Democrats' No. 2, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. He said a reform bill that did not include the public option could still be "very good" and that he would support it, though his preference would be to include the option -- which he called "an alternative that people ought to have."

"If the public option weren't in there, I still could support a bill because I think there is a lot in there that is good," he said.

Hoyer discussed the August break, saying that during his nearly three decades in Congress he hasn't seen a time when "more people have gotten more engaged in an issue than this one."

"Some 82 percent of the American public believes that changes are required," said Hoyer. "There is not a consensus, as you've seen, on exactly what those changes should be. But there is no doubt that there is consensus among the American people that change is needed."

At an off-camera briefing with reporters this afternoon, Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Ways and Means ranking member Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said employers in this economic climate would dump their employees from their health insurance rolls if a public option were available. "The government competes with the private sector the way an alligator competes with a duck," Pence said.

They said Obama and congressional Democrats should listen to the American people, who "don't want a government-run health care plan."

Obama will speak to a joint session of Congress tomorrow night, and both Republicans said they were open to hearing what the president has to say. But, Pence said, Americans "don't want another health care speech, they want another health care plan."

Gibbs: No August Setbacks Here

To those who say that August was a lost month for President Obama, the White House, surprisingly, does not agree.

"Not at all," press secretary Robert Gibbs said today. In fact, he continued to argue, the administration is closer to getting health care reform passed than any other in history. "That was true the end of July. It was true throughout the month of August. It may be more true now in September," he said.

Despite the public reaction seen in town halls last month -- sometimes strongly and passionately against government action -- Gibbs said he has taken special notice of Republican members of Congress who "talked to their constituents and they understand we have to do something."

"I think that's a great recognition that this is a problem that has been on the radar screens of the American people for a long, long time, and that they demand something be done about it. And I can assure you the president aims to be the person that does something about it," he said.

Continue reading "Gibbs: No August Setbacks Here" »

Biden: Prospects For Health Care Deal "Very High"

biden.jpgVice President Biden offered a bit of a preview of President Obama's message to a joint session of Congress next week, saying Americans can expect to hear "specifically" and in "understandable, clear terms what our administration wants to happen." He also sounded extremely confident that a reform bill will pass, while noting that similar legislation of this magnitude also passed only narrowly.

"We're going to get something substantial. There's going to be an awful lot of screaming and hollering before we get there. But I believe we're going to get there," he said.

Biden headed to the Brookings Institution to give what was billed as a major speech on the Recovery Act at the 200-day mark. When asked at the end of the event to comment on the status of health care reform, Biden was sheepish at first. "I do foreign policy. I don't do health care," he said. "The reason I choose foreign policy - it's a lot easier than health care. And a lot less complicated."

After assuring the crowd he was joking, he said he didn't want to step on Obama's "major" speech next Wednesday. He did discuss investments made in modernizing medical records through the Recovery Act to transform an "absolutely archaic" system. "If we modernize health care record-keeping, we will save tens of billions of dollars," he said. "That's what I meant by you've got to spend some money to save a lot more money."

Continue reading "Biden: Prospects For Health Care Deal "Very High"" »

The Union Threat

President Obama's September schedule includes two big appearances before union audiences. After his Camp David retreat this weekend, he and Vice President Joe Biden will spend Labor Day, appropriately, at the AFL-CIO's annual picnic in Cincinnati, Ohio. A week later, the president will speak at that organization's annual convention in Pittsburgh.

Reports today indicate that the White House is (again?) ramping up its health care offensive, but perhaps ditching the public option as it seeks to make progress. If true, how will that message play before union crowds? AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka once again espoused the virtue of a public option on MSNBC this hour.

"If you're looking at health insurance reform, right now insurance companies have a stranglehold on the market," he said. "Prices are never gonna go down and quality's never gonna go up as long as insurance companies have that stranglehold. The public option will force them to compete."

Asked what the union would do if there's no public option, Trumka said he's "not going to go there," saying he's confident there will be, though he said he had no assurance from the White House. "It's the difference between coming up with a bill that you call reform, and actually hav[ing] health insurance reform."

Trumka, who takes over as the AFL-CIO's president, then reiterated his political threat on the issue.

"We're going to try to get every one of them to vote for it, and do our best to pass a bill that really will break the stranglehold that insurance companies have over the health care industry," he said. "Those that don't, we'll tell our members. ... Both parties promised in this election that they would give us health insurance reform. We take them at their word. And if they don't, I think the voters will understand that and vote accordingly.

RNC Targets Seniors in New Health Care Ad

The Republican National Committee is launching a new television ad on health care that targets senior citizens. The ad, airing nationally on cable stations as well as on other channels in Florida, features Chairman Michael Steele advocating for a "Seniors Bill of Rights."

"Join us in supporting a new Seniors' Bill of Rights. Let's agree in both parties that Congress should only consider health reform proposals that protect senior citizens," Steele says in the ad. "Oh and President Obama, it's not too late to change your mind. Stand with us and stand with senior citizens. After all, they've earned it."

The Democratic National Committee responded to the ad this morning. "Michael Steele and the Republicans are unbelievable," said DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse. "After failing to stop the President on the Recovery Act, the budget, equal pay for women and children's health care, Republicans have decided that they have no other choice when it comes to blocking health insurance reform than to lie to the American people and try to scare seniors."

Here is the ad:

The Beginning Of The End Of Bipartisanship?

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs seemed to lay the groundwork for a Democratic go-it-alone strategy today by seizing on what he said were "unfortunate" comments from Republican senators who had been part of health care talks. In particular, he cited the Republican weekly address delivered by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), who had been part of the Finance Committee team working on a bill.

"It doesn't help to have Republicans who say they're for bipartisanship and say they're at the table to try to find a solution repeating Republican Party talking points about what they know is not true in the bill," he said. "It's tremendously unfortunate that it looks like Republicans are stepping away from seeking a bipartisan solution. I think it's bad for this town but it's much worse for this country."

If the White House can successfully portray the Republicans as having been first to abandon a bipartisan bill, it could pave the way for President Obama to come in after months of Congressional sausage-making and push for a bill tailored more to his party's liking. But for now, Obama thinks a bipartisan outcome is still possible, Gibbs said.

"It appears that, at least in Senator Enzi's case, he doesn't believe there's a pathway to get bipartisan support. The president thinks that's wrong," he said. "I think that Senator Enzi's clearly turned over his cards on bipartisanship and decided that it's time to walk away from the table. I think that what somebody has to ask Senator Enzi and ask others, every member of Congress, is: are you satisfied with the way the system is working right now?"

Continue reading "The Beginning Of The End Of Bipartisanship?" »

States Model for Federal Health Care Reform

Here is my story on state models for federal health care reform, published over the weekend:

Facing budget deficits and Medicaid costs already on the rise along with unemployment, governors around the country are wary of what federal health care reform could mean for the economic welfare of states. As Congress works to put forth and approve a bill, governors are hoping the legislative body looks to the states for models of success.


So far, though, only about a third of states have either enacted or are moving toward comprehensive health care reform. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan health care think tank, as of last month three states have enacted and begun to implement a health care reform plan that aims to cover nearly all of their residents.

These states are all located in New England: Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. All three ranked in the top 10 of the Commonwealth Fund's health system performance scorecard, which looks at "access, quality, avoidable hospital use and costs, equity, and healthy lives," according to the report.

You can read the rest here.

Poll: Montana Dems Want Public Option

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Montana Sen. Max Baucus (D) has held up movement on a health care reform bill, and a new poll in Montana finds a majority of Democrats disapproving of his actions.

A Daily Kos poll (Aug. 17-19, 600 LV, MoE +/- 4%), conducted by Research 2000, found more Republicans (49%) than Democrats (34%) approving of his actions on health care. Baucus hasn't said whether he'll push for a public option to be included in the Senate bill, though 78% of Montana Democrats are in favor of it. Overall, 47% of Montanans favor a public option and 43% oppose it.

If Baucus comes out against a public option, 36% of Democrats said they would be less likely to vote for him; 12% would be more likely and 52% said it would have no effect. For Republicans, 23% said they'd be more likely to vote for him if he opposed it, with 69% saying it would have no effect.

The liberal DailyKos queried respondents on how they'd vote if Baucus joined Republicans to help filibuster a health care bill that included a public option (44% of Democrats would be less likely to vote for him); also noted was that he'd received nearly $4 million in campaign donations from the health care industry (73% of Democrats said it hurt his judgement when voting on a health care bill).

Of course, the 67-year-old Baucus isn't up for re-election for another five years. In 2008, he was re-elected with 73% of the vote. Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) was re-elected with 65%, and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R), the state's lone congressman, was re-elected to a fifth term with 64%.

John McCain carried the state by 3 points last year, and President Obama now has a negative favorability rating -- 44% view him favorably and 52% unfavorably.

Pelosi: Public Option Is 'Best Option"

As liberals worry that President Obama may be resigned to signing a health care reform bill without a public option, Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement this afternoon calling a public option the "best option":

"As the President stated in March, 'The thinking on the public option has been that it gives consumers more choices and it helps keep the private sector honest, because there's some competition out there.'

"We agree with the President that a public option will keep insurance companies honest and increase competition.

"There is strong support in the House for a public option. In the House, all three of our bills contain a public option, as does the bill from the Senate HELP Committee.

"A public option is the best option to lower costs, improve the quality of health care, ensure choice and expand coverage.

"The public option brings real reform to lower costs over the 10-year period of the bill."

A second press release minutes later took aim at the media for repeating "a myth opponents of health insurance reform have been spreading: that people would be 'forced' to choose a public health insurance option." Pelosi's office cited AP, ABC's Jake Tapper, FOX News's Chris Wallace and NBC's David Gregory.

The public option "simply provides...a choice between various private plans and a public plan," the Speaker's office wrote.

Dean Confident Public Option Will Survive

Wishful thinking or smart strategy? On MSNBC this morning, former DNC chair Howard Dean seemed unfazed by the talk that the Obama administration is ready to drop the public option. He said that this is simply "politics," and that even if a public option is temporarily removed it might find it's way back into final legislation.

"The president knows very well that you aren't really going to have health care reform without a public option. But he also knows he has to get this out of the Senate," Dean said on "Morning Joe." "He's got a very important member of the Finance Committee, Kent Conrad, who doesn't want to vote for this bill if it's got a public option in it. And he knows he's not going to get any Republican votes, of any kind. So at the end of this day, this bill is going to be written by Democrats. It's got to get out of the Senate. And you only need a few Democrats to take out take out the public option."

He added that with Republicans unlikely to support any version of health care legislation, he had no doubt that the final reform bill would be passed with the help of reconciliation, which means Democrats need only to muster 50 votes in the Senate rather than the usual 60.

Dean told RCP earlier this year that a health care reform bill without a strong public option was pointless. "If it doesn't, all we have is the same old stuff, and I don't think it's worth spending $634 billion on what we've already got," he said.

Barbour Criticizes Obama's Health Care Haste

Leading Republican governors seemed to downplay the statements from Sarah Palin while embracing to an extent the passion of town hall participants who have been vocal in their opposition to health care reform.

Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.), chair of the Republican Governors Association, told reporters this afternoon that one reason people are reacting so strongly around the country is because they think the White House is moving far too quickly on an issue of tremendous concern.

"The Obamas took six months to pick a dog. How come they [had] to pass a health care bill before the August recess?" he said. "Everything has been, 'We gotta do it right now.' The American people realize this is too much, too far, too fast, too many trillions of dollars."

Gov. Sonny Perdue (R-Ga.) took a swipe at Democratic leaders for diminishing the voice of ordinary Americans, saying the town hall meetings are "democracy in action."

"For some Democratic members of Congress to call that anti-democratic is just ludicrous," he said, no doubt referring to the op-ed today from Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. "They want to blame things on Astroturf, [but] these are citizens that are very concerned, very fearful for their jobs, and their family, and their future health needs."

Continue reading "Barbour Criticizes Obama's Health Care Haste" »

Obama Calls "Vigorous" Health Care Debate "A Healthy Thing"

It was a Canadian reporter, believe it or not, who injected the debate over health care in the United States into a press conference following the trilateral summit of North American leaders today.

The reason? The fact that the Canadian system has been used as a "political football" in that domestic debate, as the reporter described it. And as the White House launches an offensive to counter what they say has been a flood of misinformation about the Democratic health care plan, President Obama offered a measured tone.

"We are having a vigorous debate in the United States, and I think that's a healthy thing," he said in Guadalajara today, while also praising the progress that's been made. He later added: "I suspect that once we get into the fall and people look at the actual legislation that's being proposed, that more sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge. And we're going to get this passed.

He said that the Canadian model "would not work for the United States" because of how the two nations' systems have evolved -- with the U.S. having an employer based system. "We've got to develop a uniquely American approach to this problem," he said.

Continue reading "Obama Calls "Vigorous" Health Care Debate "A Healthy Thing"" »

Boehner Calls "Un-American" Attack "Outrageous"

The ongoing debate over the tenor of the town hall meetings continues.

House Minority Leader John Boehner is now reacting to the USA Today op-ed this morning from Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. The Democratic leaders criticized the vocal opposition who are disrupting town hall meetings, saying their effort to drown out "opposing views is simply un-American."

In a statement, Boehner accuses the Democratic leaders themselves of working "to silence any opposing views." "Every poll taken in the last month shows that a majority of Americans are concerned about, if not outright opposed to, the Democrats' plan because of the cost and consequences it would mean for their own health care," the Ohioan says. "Each public forum should give every participant the opportunity to express their views, but to label Americans who are expressing vocal opposition to the Democrats' plan 'un-American' is outrageous and reprehensible."

The statement concludes that when Congress returns from recess, "Democrats should scrap their costly plan and finally work on bipartisan reforms that give Americans what they are seeking: better access to affordable care."

DCCC Continues "Health Care ER" Offensive

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has entered the second phase in its "Health Care ER" advertising offensive, today launching automated calls in 10 GOP districts. The DCCC is targeting "Republicans who are trying to block health insurance reform for America's families," according to a press release.

"This August, we are holding Republicans accountable," said DCCC executive director Jon Vogel.

The phone calls are heading to the following districts: Brian Bilbray (CA-50), Ken Calvert (CA-44), David Dreier (CA-26), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25), Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO-09), Mike McCaul (TX-10), Frank Wolf (VA-10), Bill Young (FL-10), Judy Biggert (IL-13), Mary Bono Mack (CA-45), and Pete Sessions (TX-32).

Radio ads began airing Monday in another eight districts. In all, the ad offensive will reach the districts of more than two dozen Republican members of Congress.

Here is the script of an automated call going out to Sessions's Texas district:

I have an important message about your health care. Insurance companies are posting record profits while health bills skyrocket. Now they are lining up to stop health care reforms and protect profits. Congressman Pete Sessions took almost four hundred thousand dollars from the insurance industry and now he's trying to block reform... like reducing costs by forcing insurance companies to compete and preventing them from denying you coverage. Call Congressman Sessions today. Ask him to stop standing up for insurance companies and start standing up for us.

Democrats Target "Orchestrated" Town Hall Opposition

Senate Democrats left a White House meeting singing President Obama's praises while echoing the latest party talking points by portraying rowdy town hall meetings as the result of an astroturf campaign by the leading opponents of health care reform.

"In spite of the loud, shrill voices trying to interrupt town hall meetings to throw a monkey wrench into everything, we're going to continue to be positive and work hard," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters after a luncheon with the president today.

"The American people do not like partisanship. But the American people also don't like groups of people trying to kill something that should be done," Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) listed potential positive outcomes from health care reform, then added: "We'll match that against their message of negativity."

Continue reading "Democrats Target "Orchestrated" Town Hall Opposition" »

Gibbs Won't Say If Obama Will Read Entire Health Care Bill

At one of his recent town hall meetings, President Obama said he would gladly welcome members of Congress to the White House to read through health care legislation "line-by-line."

Today, however, Robert Gibbs was less than clear on whether Obama would in fact read through a final bill in its entirety on his own.

"I assume the president will study the details of the proposal," the press secretary said. "He's a highly-informed individual."

He also joked that he didn't know what the president's "vacation plans are." After moving to take another question he -- perhaps realizing the potential pitfall -- backtracked quickly to challenge the reporter if he planned to read the entire bill, as well.

Reid Statement On WH Meeting

President Obama, on his 48th birthday, invited the Senate Democratic Caucus over for lunch to discuss various topics -- the most pressing one being health care. Following the event, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released the following statement:

"We had a productive meeting this afternoon and greatly appreciate the President's time and graciousness. Both the President and the Senate have said from the start that we are committed to getting health insurance reform done this year and we will.

"We share the same goals as the President in achieving reform in a bipartisan manner and we hope our Republican colleagues want to work together. This debate over health insurance reform is too important to be overtaken by those who want to mislead, misrepresent the truth and spread misinformation all for the sake of standing in the way of reform.

"We are closer to real health insurance reform than ever before and while it's easy to focus on the areas where we still need to find agreement, it's important to be mindful of the common ground already shared by all parties involved.

"Democrats stand united with hospitals, doctors, nurse and businesses - we all recognize the gravity of this moment and the significance of this effort. We remain committed to achieving reform."

OFA Radio Ad Boosts Swing District Dems On Health Care

Organizing for America is welcoming some potentially vulnerable Democrat members of Congress back to their districts with a new radio ad praising their votes on health care -- both the SCHIP extension and a reform proposal still working its way through Congress. Here's the list, per the DNC:

  • Driehaus (OH-01)

  • Dahlkemper (PA-03)

  • Kirkpatrick (AZ-01)

  • Giffords (AZ-08)

  • McNerney (CA-11)

  • Perlmutter (CO-07)

  • Kosmas (FL-24)

  • Grayson (FL-08)

  • Walz (MN-01)

  • Heinrich (NM-01)

  • Titus (NV-03)

  • Maffei (NY-25)

  • Massa (NY-29)

  • Kilroy (OH-15)

  • Boccieri (OH-16)

  • Space (OH-18)

  • Wilson (OH-06)

  • Nye (VA-02)

  • Kagen (WI-08)
  • "These members have been part of one of the most ambitious, historic and successful opening months of a Congressional session in our nation's history," OFA Director Mitch Stewart says in a statement.

    You can read a sample script after the jump. 

    Continue reading "OFA Radio Ad Boosts Swing District Dems On Health Care" »

    Will Obama Sign A Bill With No Public Option?

    During his town hall meeting at AARP headquarters, President Obama mainly worked to build support for the overall reform effort by warning seniors that inaction could threaten the Medicare program.

    "We all know that right now, we've got a problem that threatens Medicare and our entire health care system, and that is the spiraling cost of health care in America today," he said. "As costs balloon, so does Medicare's budget. And unless we act, within a decade -- within a decade -- the Medicare trust fund will be in the red."

    But Obama also again argued in favor of a public option, as the Senate Finance Committee is reportedly ready to dump it.

    "This is controversial, and I understand some people are worried about this," he conceded. But, "we do think that it makes sense to have a public option alongside the private option. ... I think that helps keep the insurance companies honest because now they have somebody to compete with." He also denied that it would be a Canada-style, "socialized" plan.

    And yet, at today's White House press briefing Robert Gibbs seemed reluctant to weigh in as to whether a plan for health care co-ops in lieu of a public option would be acceptable to the White House.

    "I know the president's test is, do we have adequate choice and competition for private insurance?" he said, later adding: "Without having seen the finance committee bill, it's hard for us to come down and fully evaluate it."

    Gibbs did deny the notion that Obama would be happy to sign any reform bill at this point, saying "that could not be farther from the truth."

    GOP Women to Hold Health Care Presser

    The ladies of the House GOP will hold a press conference tomorrow morning at the Capitol "to highlight the consequences of Democrats' health care legislation," according to a press release from the House Republican Conference.

    "The press conference will also be attended by working mothers who will share personal stories about how the Democrats' health care legislation will hurt women and affect their day-to-day lives," the release states.

    Senate Democrats brought in "real" people today to a press conference on health care to explain why the Democrats' reform plan is necessary, and yesterday House Dems included doctors and other health care industry workers at a press conference hosted by Members who work in health care in their other lives.

    Attending tomorrow's GOP event: Conference vice chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Judy Biggert (R-IL), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mary Fallin (R-OK), Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Kay Granger (R-TX), Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Candice Miller (R-MI), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Jean Schmidt (R-OH).

    DNC Airs Health Care Reform TV Ad

    The Democratic National Committee will begin airing a TV ad tomorrow promoting the need for health care reform and slamming Republicans for attempting to block progress.

    "What's the cost of not reforming health care? Premiums rising faster than your paycheck," the announcer says. "But some leading Republicans, playing politics, have vowed to kill reform. Tell Republicans the cost of doing nothing on health care is just too high."

    The ad comes as Democrats appear unlikely to get bills passed in either chamber of Congress before leaving town for a month. Speaker Pelosi indicated today that she's "not afraid of" waiting until after the August recess to complete a bill, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that's exactly what the Senate will do.

    The 30-second ad will air on national and D.C. cable stations for the next two-and-a-half weeks.

    Reid Won't Rush Health Care Bill

    At a midday press conference, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, "Something has to get done," and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, "This is our chance." At an afternoon press conference, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said, "The present situation is unsustainable" and "we don't have the luxury of not getting it," and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, "The current costs [of health care] cannot be sustained."

    However, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said today, the urgency to pass a health care reform bill is not great enough to rush a bill before the Senate recesses in two weeks.

    "It's better to have a product based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than try to jam something through," he told reporters today. "The decision [to not rush a bill to the floor] was made to give the Finance Committee more time to get a bipartisan bill."

    "All this is no big surprise to anyone," Reid continued. "The president wants something done by the end of the year."

    Blue Dogs Talk Health Cost With Obama

    President Obama spent an hour meeting with Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, talks a key conservative Democrat called productive, though no final decisions on a key concern -- cost containment.

    "There's a number of potential cost-cutting measures which I think the American people expect before we consider any kind of new revenue," Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), head of the Blue Dog Democrats' health care task force, told reporters after the meeting today. "They want us to squeeze every ounce of savings we can out of the current system. That's what we're demanding."

    Ross said the entire meeting focused "specifically on cost containment," and said there are "a lot of ideas out there." But he and his colleagues want to see another CBO score that factors in projected savings before agreeing to any specific terms.

    Energy and Commerce Committee chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said that Obama "expressed to us his great, strong, firm commitment that the legislation that he signed will have to be deficit neutral and will hold down the cost in the future."

    Meanwhile, the White House hinted today that it may be open to taxing a portion of health insurance benefits, on so-called "Cadillac" plans. Press secretary Robert Gibbs echoed comments the president made last night in an interview with Jim Lehrer, differentiating Obama's opposition to ending the deductibility of health insurance benefits altogether with such a limited exclusion being lifted on the most expensive plans.

    "He doesn't support what Senator McCain proposed in the campaign, which, as you know, wasn't a tax on a certain level of the exclusion but instead to remove the entire tax deductibility," Gibbs said.

    DNC: GOP 'Playing Politics' With Health Care

    The Democratic National Committee released a web video today accusing Republicans of "playing politics" with health care reform. The video highlights a oft-cited quote by Sen. Jim DeMint, who said recently that health care reform could be President Obama's "waterloo" if the GOP "is able to stop him on this."

    Obama has responded to the DeMint quote, which has also been cited today by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen.

    "While President Obama and House Democrats are offering solutions to fix America's broken health care system, Congressional Republicans are offering nothing more than the same old Washington finger-pointing and their just-say-no defense of the status quo," Van Hollen said in a press release that called out Republicans for "playing politics."

    Day After "Waterloo," Obama Highlights Health Care Consensus

    After a politically charged statement Monday, President Obama shifted tone today as he sought to highlight what he said was "substantial common ground" that has been reached on health care.

    Speaking in the Rose Garden, he did still criticize those who have "openly declared their intention to block reform," reading from a "familiar Washington script." But he said there "are many others who are working hard" to tackle the "crisis" of rising health care costs.

    "There is a tendency in Washington to accentuate the differences instead of underscoring common ground," he said. "But make no mistake: we are closer than ever before to the reform that the American people need, and we're going to get the job done."

    He outlined common principles in the bills working through Congress, and said the collaboration goes beyond Congress, including stakeholders like pharmaceutical companies, doctors and nurses. And the American people as well "understand that the status quo is unacceptable."

    "They don't care who's up or who's down politically in Washington," he said. "They don't care about the latest line of political attack. They care about whether their families will be crushed by rising premiums."

    Yesterday, it was White House trying to focus the country on the Republicans' line of attack -- Sen. Jim DeMint's "Waterloo" comment especially. But today, the president said that ultimately, when a reform plan is passed, history will focus not on the political fight but instead "the hard work done" to get it through.

    Obama opened his remarks by praising the Senate for rejecting an appropriation for F-22 jets, which he called an "inexcusable waste" of taxpayer money. Among those he praised for leading the charge against them was John McCain.

    Governors Warn Congress On Health Care Efforts

    The nation's governors have sent a letter to Congress urging them not to impose "unfunded federal mandates and reforms that simply shift costs to states" as they consider health care reform. A House proposal would provide permanent funding for Medicaid expansions, which the governors support.

    Writing on behalf of the National Governors Association, chairman Jim Douglas (R) of Vermont says:

    Any unfunded expansions would be particularly troubling given that states face budget shortfalls of over $200 billion over the next three years. This gap persists even after the Recovery Act's temporary increases in the federal share of Medicaid, which was essential for avoiding dramatic cuts to critical state services and was greatly appreciated by governors.

    Governors welcome the opportunity to share and expand upon the innovative reforms we have instituted in our states to expand coverage, reduce cost and improve the quality of health care. These reforms should inform congressional efforts and must be preserved and encouraged as part of any national reform.

    We appreciate your willingness to work with us to pursue financing options that are sustainable at both the federal and state levels.

    Obama relied on the support of governors, particularly Republicans like Douglas and Florida's Charlie Crist, to sell his stimulus plan. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the former Kansas governor, was dispatched to this weekend's NGA conference to hear the state executives' concerns.