Rebutting the State of the Union

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Jan. 27, 2014, 1:37 p.m.

Speak­er Nancy Pelosi‘s “drive” for a “ro­bust” pub­lic op­tion “ran in­to tur­bu­lence” 10/22 when a whip count “showed she needs more votes to pass such a bill.” The sur­vey ordered by Pelosi “turned up” 46 Dems who “said they would vote against the so-called ‘ro­bust’ pub­lic op­tion, ac­cord­ing to a Dem law­maker. A House lead­er­ship source said Dem de­cisions 10/22 were “in flux” (Sor­aghan, The Hill, 10/22).

Pelosi’s pub­lic op­tion pre­dic­a­ment, “coupled with a sig­ni­fic­ant turn of events” 10/22 dur­ing a private WH meet­ing, “points to an in­creas­ingly likely com­prom­ise” for a “trig­ger” op­tion. Ad­min. of­fi­cials have been say­ing for weeks now “that this the most likely com­prom­ise be­cause it can prob­ably sat­is­fy lib­er­als.”

“There has been a flurry of ru­mors” that a “ro­bust” pub­lic op­tion “re­mains vi­able” (Al­len, Politico, 10/23). Wash­ing­ton Post‘s Mont­gomery/Mur­ray re­port this a.m., for ex­ample, that Pelosi and top lieu­ten­ants said 10/22 that “they are close to cor­ralling the 218 votes they need” to pass “a ver­sion of the pub­lic op­tion prized by lib­er­als” (10/23).

But top House Dems “privately con­cede that is wish­ful think­ing that ig­nores the power” of mod­er­ate Dems in this de­bate. A top of­fi­cial: “Votes aren’t there. The pro­gress­ives are al­ways more op­tim­ist­ic than real­ity” (Politico, 10/23). Three dozen mod­er­ate House Dems “are warn­ing” Pelosi and House Maj. Lead­er Steny Hoy­er that they must show that their health-care bill “will cut long-term costs or they will vote it down” (Den­nis/Newmy­er, Roll Call, 10/22).

Pelosi also said the House bill would re­peal the anti-trust ex­emp­tion for health in­sur­ance com­pan­ies (Her­szen­horn, “Pre­crip­tions,” New York Times, 10/23).

Turn On, Tune In, Opt Out

Pres. Obama told Dem lead­ers 10/22 p.m. at the WH “that his pref­er­ence is for the trig­ger” plan be­ing pushed by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME). It’s a sign Obama “is in­ter­ested in main­tain­ing a sense of bi­par­tis­an­ship” on health care. At the 10/22 meet­ing, Obama “did not sign on to a plan be­ing floated” by Sen­ate Maj. Lead­er Harry Re­id for a plan that would let states “opt out” of the pub­lic op­tion (Politico, 10/23). Re­id was joined at the WH by Dem Sens. Chuck Schu­mer (NY), Patty Mur­ray (WA) and Dick Durbin (IL) (Politico, 10/22).

Schu­mer, on the “opt out” plan: “Lib­er­als live with it. Mod­er­ates live with it. It’s in the middle” But Sen. Tom Carp­er (D-DE) said he is work­ing on fur­ther modi­fy­ing the “opt out” plan “to in­clude a trig­ger clause and a non-profit, pro­vi­sions aimed at Snowe (Ed­ney, Con­gress­Daily AM, 10/23).

Re­id’s in­ten­tions to in­clude a pub­lic op­tion in the Sen­ate bill “re­flect a cal­cu­lated gamble” that all mem­bers of his party would vote for the plan “if it in­cluded some mech­an­ism for states to opt out.”

As word spread of Re­id’s plan, “cent­rist” sens from both parties “said they had come to­geth­er … to res­ist the cre­ation of a uni­form na­tion­wide” pub­lic op­tion. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA): “I am press­ing to get a gov­ern­ment-run, tax­pay­er-sup­por­ted pub­lic op­tion out of the bill. I want to rely on a re­formed private mar­ket­place, not the cur­rent waste­ful, ab­us­ive, un­af­ford­able private mar­ket” (Pear/Her­szen­horn, “Pre­scrip­tions,” New York Times, 10/22).

TPM’s Beut­ler asks, “where did all of this mo­mentum for the pub­lic op­tion come from?” Ap­par­ently, “it came from” a 10/21 “closed-door” WH meet­ing, “with the push com­ing from” Dem cong. lead­ers. Source: “It was in­dic­ated that based on some sur­vey­ing that had been done of the mod­er­ates, that it doesn’t so far seem like they would jump out of their skin as long as they have an op­por­tun­ity to vote against it” (10/22).

Key sens “cau­tioned” 10/22 that the dis­cus­sions are evolving, the fi­nal pro­pos­al has yet to be de­term­ined and any de­term­in­a­tion of a vote count is pre­ma­ture” (Brown, Politico, 10/22). Still, “hav­ing both cham­bers put a pub­lic plan on their floors would be a sig­ni­fic­ant boost” to Obama (Haberkorn/Row­land, Wash­ing­ton Times, 10/23).

WH sr. ad­viser Valer­ie Jar­rett ap­peared on “Morn­ing Joe” this a.m.

Jar­rett, on wheth­er it’s fair to say Obama wants a re­form bill that has a trig­ger, and not ne­ces­sar­ily a pub­lic op­tion: “No, I think the pres­id­ent has al­ways said he is com­mit­ted to the pub­lic op­tion. Why? Be­cause he thinks it will cre­ate com­pet­i­tion and there­fore, bring down costs. He’s al­ways said he’s open to new ideas. But at this late stage in the game, he still thinks it’s the best op­tion. … He is ab­so­lutely com­mit­ted to de­liv­er­ing on health care form this year.”

MS­N­BC’s Scar­bor­ough: “So by the White House’s count, do you be­lieve have enough to get the pub­lic op­tion in the House and the Sen­ate?”

Jar­rett: “I think it’s too soon to tell. All I know is we’re go­ing to keep push­ing un­til the very last mo­ment. I think it’s im­port­ant to un­der­stand why. We want to bring down the costs. … What we want to do on be­half of the Amer­ic­an people and our tax­pay­ers is to to bring down those costs so that it is more af­ford­able” (MS­N­BC, 10/23).

Snowe: Go Slow

Snowe is one of sev­er­al cent­rist sens who are em­phas­iz­ing the “ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity of tak­ing it slow” on health-care re­form. Snowe: “We must not rush this train out of the sta­tion” (New York Times, 10/22). More Snowe, on talks she’s hav­ing with cent­rists: “We’ve had con­ver­sa­tions about tak­ing it slow.”

“As a res­ult” of the go-slow warn­ings, health-care le­gis­la­tion “will not reach the Sen­ate floor soon­er than the first week” in Nov. and “has no chance of be­ing ap­proved” by Thanks­giv­ing. Dems and GOP­ers “ex­pect” the floor de­bate to take at least a month, put­ting ne­go­ti­ations between” the House and Sen­ate “squarely in Decem­ber.”

Lib­er­als are “grow­ing in­creas­ingly im­pa­tient and ir­rit­ated with the slow pace, but a stun­ning de­feat of a doc­tors’ pay­ment bill” 10/21 “has un­der­scored the need for Re­id to move cau­tiously” (Bolton, The Hill, 10/22).

In an in­ter­view on Bloomberg TV, Snowe also “said she won’t sup­port the im­me­di­ate cre­ation of any” pub­lic op­tion and she “raised the pos­sib­il­ity that le­gis­la­tion over­haul­ing the health sys­tem won’t be com­pleted this year.” Snowe: “A pub­lic op­tion at the fore­front really does put the gov­ern­ment in a dis­pro­por­tion­ate po­s­i­tion with re­spect to the in­dustry.” More: “Christ­mas might be too soon. We should give it the time it de­serves” (10/22).

An­oth­er cent­rist, Sen. Ben Nel­son(D-NE), re­it­er­ated his claim that Dems should listen to mod­er­ates’ con­cerns. Nel­son: “I’ve not said my clo­ture vote is a giv­en, and I’d be very con­cerned about a clo­ture vote if I be­lieve the un­der­ly­ing bill is something I can’t live with” (Ed­ney, Con­gress­Daily PM, 10/22).

With Or Without Her

Ex-VT Gov./ex-DNC chair Howard Dean ap­peared on the “Rachel Mad­dow Show” 10/22 p.m.

MS­N­BC’s Mad­dow: “Sen. Ar­len Specter on the ‘Ed Show’ … today said he thinks Demo­crats have 60 votes to in­voke clo­ture without Sen. Snowe. If that’s true, is real re­form a done deal?”

Dean: “Noth­ing is ever a done deal un­til the fi­nal vote, but I think that’s true. There’s a long his­tory in le­gis­lat­ive bod­ies, in the Sen­ate and the House in Wash­ing­ton or one of them that you can vote any way you want, of course, on a sub­stant­ive is­sue. But you’ve got to vote with the lead­er of your party on a pro­ced­ur­al is­sue. That is, if you are in a caucus and you owe your po­s­i­tion of your chair­man­ship or your rank­ing mem­ber or whatever it is, to the lead­er and to the party, then you owe the party, not a vote on an is­sue.”

More Dean: “That’s your own busi­ness and your con­stitu­ents’ busi­ness, but you owe the party and the lead­er­ship the abil­ity to run the cham­ber. And that is why I think that there will be 60 votes. And I think Sen. Re­id will do the best he can to get it. And I think he’ll get them” (MS­N­BC, 10/22).

Sen. Ar­len Specter (D-PA), on Snowe say­ing she’s not go­ing to “sup­port im­me­di­ate cre­ation” of a gov’t-run in­sur­ance pro­gram: “We have 60 votes without Sen­at­or Snowe, so we can still in­voke clo­ture and move to a vote on the pub­lic op­tion. We have flex­ib­il­ity. … With 50 votes, plus the vice pres­id­ent — and my vote is go­ing to be for the pub­lic op­tion, a ro­bust pub­lic op­tion — we can get it passed, even without Sen­at­or Snowe. I hope we have her, but we may be able to do it without her” (“Ed Show,” MS­N­BC, 10/22)

Steny As He Goes

Hoy­er ap­peared on the “Ed Show” 10/22 p.m.

Hoy­er, on wheth­er the House has 218 votes in sup­port of the bill: “I think we have 218 votes. We’re still work­ing, the bill is not com­pletely done … but we’re work­ing, we’re work­ing hard. And as we have in the past, we think we’re go­ing to pass this bill.”

Hoy­er, on the ef­fect a House bill has on the Sen­ate: “I cer­tainly think that when the House passes a bill … it will give us mo­mentum. It will send a sig­nal to the Sen­ate that we be­lieve the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the Amer­ic­an pub­lic want health re­form. We think a sig­ni­fic­ant ma­jor­ity want to sup­port this bill. And I think it will send a mes­sage to the Sen­ate for move­ment. I think it will help Sen­at­or Re­id and the pro­ponents of the bill in the Sen­ate” (MS­N­BC, 10/22).

Hey, I’m Just Here To Vis­it Some Old Friends

Obama travels today to MA, “one of only two states to im­ple­ment a uni­ver­sal health-care pro­gram sim­il­ar to his am­bi­tions for the en­tire coun­try.” But “he does not plan to use the trip to make his case for far-reach­ing re­form; he will tout clean en­ergy and raise money for” Gov. Dev­al Patrick (D). Crit­ics “say his re­luct­ance to spot­light” the MA mod­el “is real-world evid­ence that his vis­ion would not work” on a nat’l scale. Obama’s al­lies — and even one prom­in­ent ad­versary — “see a more nu­anced pic­ture that of­fers guide­posts for fed­er­al law­makers as they fi­nal­ize de­cisions” on a bill (Con­nolly, Wash­ing­ton Post, 10/23).

For his part, Patrick said 10/22 p.m. that he wishes MA had a pub­lic op­tion (AP, 10/22).

Only Time Will Tell

One mes­sage Obama “has pressed upon” cong. Dems “is that the top pri­or­ity in health care re­form is es­tab­lish­ing the prin­ciple that all Amer­ic­ans are en­titled to de­cent cov­er­age.” His “point is that ad­voc­ates shouldn’t ob­sess about shoe­horn­ing every idea they fa­vor in­to the le­gis­la­tion; once the ba­sic frame­work is built, Con­gress will ad­just the de­tails over time, as it has with all oth­er ma­jor so­cial-policy in­nov­a­tions.”

“That’s an ac­cur­ate read­ing of Amer­ic­an his­tory. But it’s also true that it’s easi­er to ren­ov­ate a house that has a sturdy found­a­tion. And Obama now faces the risk that in the fi­nal man­euv­er­ing, his al­lies will chisel two dan­ger­ous cracks in­to the plan’s base.”

One threat “re­volves around” an amend­ment ad­op­ted by the Sen­ate Fin­ance Cmte from Schu­mer and Snowe “that eroded the bill’s corner­stone pro­vi­sion: the man­date that in­di­vidu­als buy health in­sur­ance, with help from gov­ern­ment sub­sidies if ne­ces­sary.” The second po­ten­tial crack in the bill’s found­a­tion “would threaten Obama’s abil­ity to fund the sub­sidies ne­ces­sary for an ef­fect­ive man­date” (Brown­stein, Na­tion­al Journ­al, 10/24 is­sue).

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