July 19, 2010
By: Alexander Bolton
Senate and House Democrats are headed for a clash this week over funding for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) races to clear the schedule for long-awaited energy reform legislation.
The Senate and House are squabbling over $22.8 billion House appropriators added to the supplemental bill. House lawmakers note that it’s fully paid for with offsets, such as $11.7 billion in rescissions to government programs that no longer need funding.
Senate Democratic leaders, however, doubt the House bill can pass their chamber with the extra spending, including $10 billion for an Education Jobs Fund to save 140,000 school jobs over the next year.
Senate passage is complicated by a pending veto threat from President Obama. He objects to the House proposal to pay for the education fund by rescinding money for the administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative, which rewards academically improved schools with grants.
A Senate Democratic aide said leaders will nevertheless schedule a vote on the House legislation. If it fails, the aide said, “we’ll have to figure out what to do.”
Senate sources say Reid is scheduling the vote to prove to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) it can’t pass the upper chamber. Reid could then ask the House to accept the Senate version, which costs $58.8 billion and provides $33 billion for the troops.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Senate Republicans on Tuesday that if Congress didn’t approve the funds by month’s end, he could not pay the troops, according to Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
But even before that spending showdown takes place, Senate Democrats have to address unemployment benefits and small-business legislation.
At 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, Carte Goodwin will take the oath of office to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), giving Democrats control of 59 Senate seats. The Senate will move immediately to cut off a Republican filibuster of legislation to extend jobless benefits through November. The legislation will also extend, by three months, the filing deadline for the homebuyers tax credit, a proposal sponsored by Reid.
The initial deadline to claim the tax credit was June 30, but many homebuyers with contracts missed it because of a backlog in paperwork. The problem is especially acute in states with high foreclosure rates, such as Nevada.
Democratic leaders expect to have 60 votes to file cloture and advance the bill once Goodwin joins their caucus. Reid scheduled a vote on a similar measure before the July 4 recess. It fell one vote short after Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) voted for it.
Republicans could insist on using the full 30 hours of post-cloture time mandated by Senate rules if they want to wreck the Democrats’ carefully planned schedule. But Reid thinks he can work out an agreement with Republicans to move quickly to the small-business and supplemental bills.
“The Republican leader and I are working on a way to move forward on small business,” Reid told colleagues late last week. “I think we have a pretty good path of what we’re going to do on that. After we finish that, it’s my intention to move to the supplemental appropriations bill.”
Reid said he would need to file another motion to cut off a filibuster of the military spending bill, but added, “I think we can work out the time on that so it doesn’t take an inordinate amount of time.”
Time is of the essence, as Reid has pledged to begin the energy debate the week of July 26. That would give Democrats two weeks to pass energy reform and confirm Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan by the August recess, scheduled to begin Aug. 6.
The recess is scheduled to last five weeks, giving lawmakers facing tough reelections — including Reid — plenty of time to campaign. The House is scheduled to begin its recess on July 30.
Reid has warned that he may cut a week off the Senate recess if the legislative pace slows.
“As everyone knows here, we’re going to be here four or five weeks,” Reid told colleagues, referring to the work period that began on July 12. “The two leaders, Democrat and Republican, were betting on four weeks rather than five weeks, but we’ll need a little cooperation to get that done.”
July 19, 2010
By: Mark Halperin
Under pressure, the Democrats are cracking. On both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, there is a realization that Nancy Pelosi’s hold on the speakership is in true jeopardy; that losing control of the Senate is not out of the question; and that time, once the Democrats’ best friend, is now their mortal enemy. Since January, when Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat, the President’s party has tried to downplay in public what its pollsters have been saying in private: that Obama’s alienation of independents and white voters, along with the enthusiasm gap between the right and the left, means that Republicans are on a trajectory to pick up massive numbers of House and Senate seats, perhaps even to regain control of Congress.
Evidence of the pervasiveness of this view: Sunday’s New York Times op-ed page, which featured a series of short essays from leading Democratic and Republican strategists about how Obama could go about staging a political comeback, focused not on November’s midterms but on 2012 — an indication that Washington conventional wisdom has already written off prospects of Democrats sustaining a majority in the legislature. (See 10 health care reform ads.)
What has kept the easily panicked denizens of Capitol Hill from open revolt until now was a shared confidence that there was still plenty of time to turn things around, and that the White House had a strategy to do just that. (Comment on this story.)
The two-part scheme was pretty straightforward. First, Democrats planned a number of steps to head off, or at least soften, the anti-Washington, anti-incumbent, anti-Obama sentiment that cost them the Massachusetts seat. Pass health care, and other measures to demonstrate that Democrats could get things done for the middle class; continue to foster those fabled green shoots on the economy, harvesting the positive impact of the massive economic stimulus bill passed early in the Administration; heighten the contrast between the two parties by delivering on Wall Street reform and a campaign-funding law to counteract January’s controversial Supreme Court decision. Use all of those elements to contrast the Democrats’ policies under Obama with the Republicans’ policies under Bush, rather than allow the midterms to be a referendum on the incumbent party. (See portraits of the Tea Party movement.)
The second strand of the Democrats’ plan was more prosaic and mechanical. Recruit strong candidates for open seats. Leverage the White House and congressional majorities to raise more money than the other side. Make mischief by playing up the divisions between the Tea Party and the more traditional elements of the Republican Party, in part to increase the chances that more extreme, less electable candidates edge out moderates in GOP primary battles. Do extensive opposition research and targeted messaging in the fall to delegitimize Republican candidates in the minds of centrist voters. Coordinate below the radar with labor unions, environmentalists and other allies on get-out-the-vote efforts, focusing on young, nonwhite and first-time voters who came out for Obama in 2008.
Robert Gibbs’ now-famous acknowledgement on Meet the Press on July 11 that Republicans were in a position to win back control of the House sparked a notable outbreak of hostility between the White House and congressional Democrats for two reasons. First, it forced Pelosi & Co. to recognize that the first part of their plan is failing. Public and private polling suggests that anxiety over the lack of jobs and anger over the big-spending ways of the Administration will trump the merits of the stimulus spending, health care reform and the financial regulation bill in voters’ minds. Neither the economy nor voters’ perceptions are likely to be turned around by Election Day. Congressional Democrats were aware of this hard reality before Gibbs opened his mouth, but having him say it out loud was apparently too much for those on the Hill to bear. (See pictures of Sarah Palin campaigning at a Tea Party rally.)
Democrats also fear that Gibbs’ admission will impact the flow of donations from corporate interests and lobbyists, who tend to want to bet on the party more likely to win the majority. Open musing about a speaker John Boehner, House Democrats believe, will drive mercenary donors to shift their support to the GOP. The huge fundraising hauls by GOP Senate candidates just reported for the second quarter of the year were not, of course, the result of Gibbs’ statement, but the momentum suggested by those figures could be hypercharged by White House pessimism.
To be sure, the White House plans to continue to try to impact the national environment by touting its accomplishments, blaming Republicans for stopping other measures, and railing against the Bush legacy. They will also continue to work aggressively on the mechanics of victory, hoping to save their incumbents with their customized, race-by-race tactics. Vice President Joe Biden on ABC News’ This Week crowed about Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s back-from-the-dead strength in his Nevada race, credited largely to Reid’s shaky Republican opponent, who landed her nomination in part because of Democratic shenanigans. Democrats hope to replicate that micro-success to save other seats. (See TIME’s political covers.)
After days of public intraparty acrimony, a cold peace has been restored, with Democrats all around saying they share the same goals and strategy for November. But if the party’s poll numbers stay bad and it loses big, expect a fundamental difference between the White House and congressional Democrats to emerge in sharp relief after Nov. 2.
Even if the midterms end the Democrats’ one-party rule, the President may well believe that his accomplishments during his first two years in office were worth it. But it’s a sure bet that the vanquished House Democrats who lose their jobs and their gavels won’t share that assessment.
July 15, 2010
By: John F. Harris
The imminent passage of financial reform, just a couple months after the passage of comprehensive health care, should decisively end the narrative that President Obama represents a Jimmy Carter-style case of naïve hope crushed by the inability to master Washington.
Yet the mystery remains: Having moved swiftly toward achieving the very policy objectives he promised voters as a candidate, Obama is still widely perceived as flirting with a failed presidency.
Eric Alterman, in a column that drew wide notice, wrote in The Nation that most liberals think the president is a “big disappointment.” House Democrats are in near-insurrection after White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stated the obvious — that the party has a chance of losing the House under Obama’s watch. And independent voters have turned decisively against the man they helped elect 21 months ago — a trend unlikely to be reversed before November.
This is an odd reversal of expectations. When he came into office, the assumption even among some Democrats was that he was a dazzling politician and communicator who might prove too unseasoned at governance to win substantive achievements.
The reality is the opposite. You can argue over whether Obama’s achievements are good or bad on the merits. But especially after Thursday’s vote you can’t argue that Obama is not getting things done. To the contrary, he has, as promised, covered the uninsured, tightened regulations, started to wind down the war in Iraq and shifted focus and resources to Afghanistan, injected more competition into the education system and edged closer to a big energy bill.
The problem is that he and his West Wing turn out to be not especially good at politics, or communications — in other words, largely ineffective at the very things on which their campaign reputation was built. And the promises he made in two years of campaigning turn out to be much less appealing as actual policies.
“I tell you, it’s very frustrating that it’s not breaking through, when you look at these things and their scale,” said a top Obama adviser, who spoke on background to offer a candid take on the state of play. “Can you imagine if Bill Clinton had achieved even one of these? Part of it is because we are divided, even on the left…And part of it is the culture of immediate gratification.”
But there are many other reasons for Obama’s woes. Based on interviews with officials in the administration and on Capitol Hill, and with Democratic operatives around town, here are a half-dozen reasons why Obama is perceived as failing to win over the public, even though by most conventional measures he is clearly succeeding:
The flight of independents
Obama sees himself as a different kind of Democrat, one who transcends ideology but is basically a centrist. By some measures, his self-image fits. His war and anti-terrorism policies are remarkably similar to those advocated by the man he blames for most the country’s problems: George W. Bush. He’s butting heads with the teachers unions by enticing states to quit rewarding teachers on tenure instead of merit. On immigration, he stresses border security instead of amnesty for illegal immigrants.
But on the issues voters care most about — the economy, jobs and spending — Obama has shown himself to be a big-government liberal. This reality is killing him with independent-minded voters — a trend that started one year ago and has gotten much worse of late. On the eve of his inaugural address, nearly six in 10 independents approved of his job performance. By late July of 2009 — right around the time Obama was talking up health care and pressuring Democrats to vote on cap-and-trade legislation — independents started to take flight.
Many never returned. For the first time in his presidency, Obama’s approval among independents dropped below 40 percent in the past two weeks, according to the widely respected Gallup surveys.
A recent poll by Democrat Stan Greenberg’s Democracy Corps found that 57 percent of likely voters regard Obama as “too liberal.”
“The key thing here is the economy and the unemployment rate hangs over everything,” another top White House official told us. “Until that gets better, for most people, they will be frustrated.”
The ideology conundrum
Even as Obama pays the price for liberal positions, he doesn’t manage to reap what should be the rewards. That’s because he has never adequately reckoned with the divisions in his own party and taken a clear stand of his own. During the campaign, he avoided the whole question of whether he is centrist “new Democrat” or a “traditional liberal” by insisting the debate was irrelevant, and uniting the party around Bush hatred and the power of his own biography.
But on a score of questions — how long to pursue war in Afghanistan, how much to emphasize deficit reduction versus stimulus, whether to court the business community or condemn it — the Democrats’ internal debate is relevant. By failing to clarify and speak often about his larger philosophy, in the way that Bill Clinton often did, and instead responding tactically to circumstances on Capitol Hill or in any day’s news cycle, Obama pays a price.
What is Obamaism? Conservatives think he stands for backdoor socialism. Liberals think he is a sell-out. Independents think he is a president with no clear compass who is breaking the bank with excessive spending.
Every move Obama makes, whether he is accommodating the center or the left, is interpreted through the prism of process and derided as reactive and expedient.
The tactical improvisation leaves even many Obama supporters saying they “don’t know what he really stands for” — as though there could somehow be a mystery as to where he stands after nearly a trillion dollars in stimulus spending and two landmark pieces of legislation passed within 18 months.
The likability factor
Many Democrats on the Hill don’t much like Obama, or at least his circle of advisers. They think the White House makes them take tough votes, but doesn’t care that much about the problems those votes leave politicians facing in tough races in 2010. Numerous Democrats have complained privately that Obama only cares about Obama — a view reinforced by Gibbs’s public admission that Democrats could lose the House.
It was no coincidence that Majority Leader Harry Reid this week criticized Obama for not being tough enough in some legislative showdowns — and that Democrats leaked word that Nancy Pelosi ripped into a top White House official about the Gibbs comments.
In what would surprise media critics outside Washington, many reporters don’t much like Obama or his gang either. They accurately perceive the contempt with which they are held by his White House, an attitude that undoubtedly flows from the top. Insults and blustery non-responses, f-bombs flying, are common in how West Wing aides speak to reporters.
In a transactional city like Washington, personal relations usually only matter at the margins. But in a poor political climate those margins can be important, and there’s no mistaking that across the capital there are many people who seem to be enjoying the president’s travails, and cheering whenever he takes a cream pie to the face.
As individuals, most of the people who work in this West Wing are plainly decent and hard-working folks, who say the modern media echo chamber leaves them no choice but to be aggressive.
But collectively Obama has recruited a team with an uncommonly brash personality.
His West Wing is unsteady
A lot of attention was paid to how Obama surrounded himself with powerful and skilled personalities in his Cabinet: Hillary Clinton at State and Robert Gates at the Pentagon sit atop that list.
But Democrats privately complain that the real power center — the West Wing staff — isn’t nearly as impressive. A common gripe on the Hill and on the lobbying corridor is that the communications team isn’t great at communicating, the speech-writing team isn’t great at speech writing (exemplified by Obama’s flaccid Oval Office speech last month on the BP spill and energy policy) and the political team often botches the politics.
The criticism is probably unfair on several fronts. It would be impossible for the best of communicators to offer clarity and convincing words when the country is locked in two wars, wrestling with a once-in-a-lifetime oil spill and mired in high unemployment. But the White House didn’t help its cause by wrongly predicting a record-sized stimulus plan would hold unemployment below 8 percent and then waffling on its commitment to deficit reduction while signing into law massive expansions of the federal government. As for the big speeches, Obama is often the main author.
The political team is rightly knocked for hamhandedness. The White House failed to clear the Senate primary field in Arkansas, Colorado and Pennsylvania — even after dangling government jobs to help its preferred candidate in two of them. And it couldn’t land the candidate it wanted to run for Obama’s old seat. But, then again, it is operating in a political environment in which the establishment has very little control in many of the biggest races.
Obama is swimming up Niagara until joblessness improves. But, even while Obama doesn’t directly control the economy, he has not been a disciplined or effective communicator about the state of the economy and his prescriptions for it. People will tolerate a weak economy if they feel there is an upward trajectory. But Obama has not managed to instill that confidence. “The economy is off the charts on what people care about — nothing is a close second,” one of the advisers said.
The unemployment rate is expected to remain near 9.5 percent through the election, which is a big reason that some White House officials are even more pessimistic than Gibbs about the chances of keeping control of the House.
It doesn’t matter that Republicans such as Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) say Obama’s policies helped avert a worse economic calamity than most Americans will ever realize — or that the federal government is turning a profit on some of the investments it made in bailing out companies in 2009. No politician can escape the gravitational pull of bad employment numbers and economic figures in real-time.
The liberal echo chamber
Polls show most self-described liberals still strongly support Obama. But an elite group of commentators on the left — many of whom are unhappy with him and are rewarded with more attention by being critical of a fellow Democrat — has a disproportionate influence on perceptions.
The liberal blogosphere grew in response to Bush. But it is still a movement marked by immaturity and impetuousness — unaccustomed to its own side holding power and the responsibilities and choices that come with that.
So many liberals seem shocked and dismayed that Obama is governing as a self-protective politician first and a liberal second, even though that is also how he campaigned. The liberal blogs cheer the fact that Stan McChrystal’s scalp has been replaced with David Petraeus’s, even though both men are equally hawkish on Afghanistan, but barely clapped for the passage of health care. They treat the firing of a blogger from the Washington Post as an event of historic significance, while largely averting their gaze from the fact that major losses for Democrats in the fall elections would virtually kill hopes for progressive legislation over the next couple years.
In private conversations, White House officials are contemptuous of what they see as liberal lamentations unhinged from historical context or contemporary political realities.
The BP cam
Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) beat his chest to force BP to make public the footage of gushing oil from an underwater camera. Democrats celebrated that as a victory for public accountability. But it was actually a painful defeat for Obama. The camera produced an indelible image played 24-7 on cable that highlighted how ineffectual Obama was for two months in stopping this catastrophe.
Obama is not responsible for the leak, and realistically there was little he could do to expedite the repair. But for an irritable public the Gulf coast debacle was a reminder — horribly timed from Obama’s perspective — that big business and big government are often a problem, not a solution.
July 15, 2010
The Washington Post
By: Paul Kane
House Democrats are lashing out at the White House, venting long-suppressed anger over what they see as President Obama‘s lukewarm efforts to help them win reelection — and accusing administration officials of undermining the party’s chances of retaining the majority in November’s midterm elections.
In recent weeks, a widespread belief has taken hold among Democratic House members that they have dutifully gone along with the White House on politically risky issues — including the stimulus plan, the health-care overhaul and climate change — without seeing much, if anything, in return. Many of them are angry that Obama has actively campaigned for Democratic Senate candidates but has done fewer events for House members.
The boiling point came Tuesday night during a closed-door meeting of House Democrats in the Capitol. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) excoriated White House press secretary Robert Gibbs‘s public comments over the weekend that the House majority was in doubt and that it would take “strong campaigns by Democrats” to avert dramatic losses.
“What the hell do they think we’ve been doing the last 12 months? We’re the ones who have been taking the tough votes,” Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (N.J.) said in an interview Wednesday.
Attempting to quell the uprising, Obama met privately with House Democratic leaders Wednesday evening to reassure them of his support. Aides said the meeting went well and focused on the agenda in the run-up to the elections.
Before the meeting, Gibbs sought to play down the tensions, describing his relationship with Pelosi as “cordial.” He stood by his earlier remarks that the House could flip to the Republicans but again expressed confidence that Democrats would retain control. Another Democratic official, familiar with White House strategy, said that there is a “misperception” among House Democrats that Obama, a former senator, favors his old chamber over the House. The official placed the blame largely on polling data that continue to show the president and Congress in poor shape.
Though politically provocative, Gibbs’s comments — first on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday and again at his regular briefing Monday — were largely seen as accurate in Washington. Analysts estimate that about 60 Democratic House seats are in jeopardy; Republicans need a net gain of 39 to claim the majority. But the press secretary’s public airing of the dire situation reinforced the feeling among House Democrats that Obama’s priority is building a firewall around the Senate majority.
“What they wanted to do is separate themselves from us,” Pascrell said Wednesday. He accused the White House of wanting to preemptively pin the blame on lawmakers running poor campaigns should Democrats lose the majority and not on Obama’s own sagging approval ratings.
At the Tuesday night meeting with Pelosi, lawmakers groused that the White House was taking them for granted. Pascrell was especially vocal and punctuated his complaints by reading Gibbs’s comments word for word in front of the caucus. After he spoke, Pelosi interjected. “I disagree on one point — I think you were too kind to Mr. Gibbs,” she said, according to Democrats familiar with her comments. Publicly, the speaker and other members of the leadership have distanced themselves from Pascrell’s view that Gibbs’s remarks were part of a White House plan.
Pascrell and Pelosi were the most vocal in their direct, blunt criticism of the White House. But interviews with more than 10 lawmakers and senior aides, from liberal and conservative districts, made it clear that scores of House Democrats at the gathering shared Pascrell’s and Pelosi’s dissatisfaction. Most of those interviewed did not want to be quoted by name criticizing the president.
House members complain that the White House routinely shows them disrespect. Until recently, some said, administration aides would wait until the last minute to inform them when a Cabinet official would be traveling to their districts to give a speech or announce a government grant. Lawmakers love these events, which let them take advantage of local press coverage.
House Democrats are far more upset that they have repeatedly voted to support Obama’s agenda and then felt they were left to fend for themselves when the legislation was watered down in the Senate. First with the nearly $800 billion stimulus plan and then again with the landmark health-care bill, House members approved far-reaching, controversial early versions that reflected the White House’s desires. But the bills stalled in the Senate under Republican filibuster threats and were scaled back. Now these lawmakers are left to defend their earlier votes on the campaign trail.
Some representatives from industrial states are especially angry over their efforts to enact climate change legislation. At the urging of the president and Pelosi, the House narrowly approved a controversial bill in June 2009. But more than a year later, the Senate has yet to take up the issue, leaving lawmakers feeling as if the White House pushed them to take a huge political risk — and one they now have to explain to the voters — for nothing.
“My experience is, we always feel neglected. The experience the Republicans had with Bush — they felt neglected. That’s the nature of the relationship between the House and the White House,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) said before Wednesday night’s White House huddle. “Tonight’s all about coordination, focus, going forward, how we maximize our message.”
House leaders have begun to keep close track of Obama’s campaign trips. By congressional and White House estimates, Obama has done four events benefiting nine House Democratic candidates, and one event solely for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political organization that raises money for House candidates. He’s headlined a pair of joint fundraisers for the DCCC and other party committees. (Vice President Biden has been the go-to figure for House Democrats, playing the emcee at 29 events benefiting 36 candidates.)
By contrast, Obama has attended headline events for Senate Democratic candidates in 10 states. The broader complaint, from both liberals and moderates, is that a White House led by former members of Congress now seems out of touch with their needs.
“The Democrats have overreached, and that’s one reason why there are so many races in play,” said Rep. Chet Edwards (Tex.), a centrist facing his toughest election in years. “Rahm Emanuel knows as well as anyone the challenges moderate and conservative Democrats face in their districts. I think there are some, in the administration and in Congress, who don’t fully understand the political dynamics.”
Obama’s recent promotion of comprehensive immigration reform and a South Korea trade deal exacerbated those tensions, pushing issues that do not play well in conservative districts. It also angered liberals who see little hope of passing those issues through the Senate and are tired of watching endangered House colleagues forced into tough votes.
One House Democrat compared their relationship with the White House to the 1970s Life commercials starring “Mikey,” the kid whose brothers trick him into eating the cereal. “There’s a sense that’s the White House’s attitude toward us,” the lawmaker said. “And now, Mikey ate it and he’s choking on it, and there’s no appreciation.”
July 14, 2010
The Washington Post
By: Chris Cillizza
When White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told “Meet the Press” host David Gregory on Sunday that “there is no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control”, he was, to many people, stating the obvious.
After all, political prognosticators — from Charlie Cook to Stu Rothenberg and every talking head in between — have noted (with varying degrees of certainty) that the House majority is clearly at risk for Democrats this fall.
Cook wrote late last month that the House was “teetering on the edge” of a control switch, adding: “There is a wave out there.”
That’s not to say, however, that Gibbs’ words don’t have an impact on things. They do. And here’s a look at where (and how):
* Messaging: House Democrats were riding high from a messaging perspective over the last month thanks to impolitic comments by Reps. Joe Barton (apologized to BP) and John Boehner (the “ant” imbroglio) as well as Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele (Afghanistan as a war of President Barack Obama‘s “choosing”).
Now, Democrats are being forced into a process conversation about whether or not their majority is in jeopardy — a conversation that the House leadership did their damnedest to avoid by adopting a concerted strategy not to mention publicly the idea that control was at stake in the fall.
The counter-argument — and, yes, this is politics so there is always a counter argument — is that in acknowledging that the House could switch control effectively set the stakes for voters this fall.
Democratic consultant James Carville called the Gibbs’ comments “brilliant” on “Good Morning America” this, um, morning, adding: “This is a time to say…you’re not just casting a protest vote here.”
A White House official, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said that Gibbs’ remark was an attempt to turn the midterms from a referendum on Obama — not a good thing if today’s Post/ABC poll numbers continue through the fall — into a choice between Democrats and Republicans.
“Unless you put this choice in front of people, this election will be a referendum on him,” promised the source. “You have to compare and you have to dramatize the stakes.”
* Money: Despite a national political environment that is slanted badly against them, House Democrats have managed to retain financial dominance. At the end of May, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had $28.6 million in the bank while the National Republican Congressional Committee had just $12 million on hand.
Republicans — privately and, increasingly, publicly — have made clear that their fundraising deficit is the biggest impediment to maximizing seat gains this fall. “We are going to be in a position to lose seats that we could win,” one Republican House member told the Fix last week.
In the wake of Gibbs’ comments, Republicans moved quickly to capitalize, using what the press secretary said as a validation that what they have been trying to sell to donors for months — “give to us because we may be in the majority comes January” — could actually come true.
(Make sure to read Politico’s Jmart on how Republicans are making that case to the affluent lobbying community that populates K Street in Washington.)
One senior House strategist said that the timing of the comments could not have been worse as the third fundraising quarter, which spans from July 1 to Sept. 30, is the most critical of the year since media buys — typically the costliest part of any campaign — are made during this time. “The NRCC was struggling to raise enough money,” said the source. “This is not a mistake we needed now.”
The White House push back on this front is simple: anyone paying any attention at all — and donors pay very close to attention — already knew that House control was up for grabs this fall and, therefore, wouldn’t be surprised to hear it from Gibbs. “I have a hard time subscribing to the the notion that saying a well-known fact is going to free up a lot of money,” said a White House official.
One House Democrat, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said that while “Republicans will use the comment to their advantage with fundraising” it could also send a message to the Democratic base that “this is a high stakes election and they need get involved.”
* Members: Members of Congress are a skittish lot. (You would be too if your job depended on the whims of roughly 500,000 people most of whom you have never — and will never — meet.) Comments like these from Gibbs add to the agita factor of Democratic Members who are already quite nervous about facing a volatile and, in pockets, angry electorate in the fall.
“The White House waving the white flag creates panic,” said a senior House Democratic aide.
That said, the actual impact on these Members — beyond the expected hand-wringing and carping — is somewhat difficult to see. Filing deadlines have passed in all but four states (Wisconsin, New York, Hawaii and Delaware) and, after today, Wisconsin’s deadline will pass.
That means that any House Democrat edgy about whether or not to seek re-election — with VERY few exceptions — can’t back out now even if he or she wanted to.
And, it’s also worth noting that Democratic Members have had ample evidence prior to Gibbs’ comments that things in 2010 are not going to be as rosy as they were for the party in 2006 and 2008. Retirements by longtime stalwarts like Rep. David Obey (Wisc.) and Vic Snyder (Ark.) were a not-so-subtle acknowledgment of the difficulties any incumbent — particularly a Democratic one — faces this fall.
The broadest impact of Gibbs’ comments is to make public the long simmering tensions between House Democrats and the White House. Some of this tension is, of course, inevitable since Obama is, ultimately, on a 2012 electoral calendar while House Democrats have only this November in mind.
But incidents like this one with Gibbs further widen the rift between the two sides and create suspicion about each side’s motives. (One thing that might help defuse the situation: The $2 million that the Democratic National Committee transferred to a series of other party committees today.) That is not the sort of thing you want to be dealing with only 112 days before the November election.
September 28, 2009
By Stephen Dinan
Fearful that they’re losing ground on immigration and health care, a group of House Democrats is pushing back and arguing that any health care bill should extend to all legal immigrants and allow illegal immigrants some access.
The Democrats, trying to stiffen their party’s spines on the contentious issue, say it’s unfair to bar illegal immigrants from paying their own way in a government-sponsored exchange. Legal immigrants, they say, regardless of how long they’ve been in the United States, should be able to get government-subsidized health care if they meet the other eligibility requirements.
“Legal permanent residents should be able to purchase their plans, and they should also be eligible for subsidies if they need it. Undocumented, if they can afford it, should be able to buy their own private plans. It keeps them out of the emergency room,” said Rep. Michael M. Honda, California Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
Mr. Honda was joined by more than 20 of his colleagues in two letters laying out the demands.
Coverage for immigrants is one of the thorniest issues in the health care debate, and one many Democratic leaders would like to avoid. But immigrant rights groups and the Democrats who sent the letters say they have to take a stand now.
President Obama has said he does not want health care proposals to cover illegal immigrants. The bill drawn up by Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, excludes illegal immigrants from his proposed health care exchange.
Mr. Honda and his allies, though, say illegal immigrants should be allowed to pay for insurance if they can afford it, even if it comes through a government-established exchange. As a generally young, healthy part of the population, illegal immigrants could help reduce overall costs for those who buy into health exchange plans, the lawmakers said.
The Democrats’ letters, however, do not issue ultimatums or threaten to withhold support for the bills if their requests aren’t met.
The National Council of La Raza launched its own “flood their voice mail” campaign last week to put pressure on Mr. Baucus to expand coverage in his proposal to include all legal immigrants and to drop verification language in the legislation that would prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining coverage.
Mr. Honda told The Washington Times that he’s not pushing for illegal immigrants to gain access to taxpayer-subsidized benefits. “That’s an argument that’s been done already,” he said.
Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said proposals that include government coverage for illegal immigrants leave him incredulous.
“If anybody can, with a straight face, advocate that we should provide health insurance for people who broke into our country, broke our law and for the most part are criminals, I don’t know where they ever would draw the line,” he said.
Mr. King, who opposes Democrats’ health care plans in general, said illegal immigrant access in legislation “would be a poison pill that would cause health care to go down” to defeat.
Twenty-nine Democrats signed on to the letter on legal immigrants, while 21 signed the letter on covering illegal immigrants. Although the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus signed the legal-immigrant letter in their capacity as CBC officials, they signed the other letter as individual members of Congress.
Under the 1996 welfare law overhaul, Congress restricted most federal benefits to longtime holders of green cards – those who have been in the country at least five years.
But Democrats chipped away at that rule when they reauthorized the State Children’s Health Insurance Program earlier this year and allowed states to cover all immigrant children and pregnant women, regardless of how long they’ve been in the country.
In their letter, the Democrats said health care costs are much lower for legal immigrants than for native citizens.
“Immigrants are part of our families, our communities, our economy, and contribute to the fabric of America,” they wrote. “It is simply wrong that their taxes would pay for public health insurance programs to which they are not allowed access.”
June 29, 2009
Wall Street Journal
by Scott E. Harrington
Much of the debate over health-care reform has focused on whether there should be a government insurance plan to compete with private plans. This focus is understandable given the stakes. Because equal competition between a public insurer and private plans is impossible, public coverage would crowd out private coverage and make a public, single-payer system inevitable.
Another important issue is the scope of regulation that will likely apply to private health plans regardless of whether a public plan is created.
Given budgetary and affordability concerns, the insurance market proposals by House Democrats and Sens. Edward Kennedy and Chris Dodd would permit some variation among plan benefits and cost-sharing provisions, such as deductibles and coinsurance percentages. The proposals otherwise would impose a regulatory straightjacket that would put upward pressure on health costs, thus undermining a major reform objective and creating additional pressure for government-mandated cost controls. Whether legislation being developed by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus will go as far isn’t clear.
The House Democrat and Kennedy-Dodd proposals do all they can to prevent health-insurance premium rates and coverage terms from reflecting the health status — and thus health-related behavior — of any insured person. Health status would not be permitted to affect coverage decisions, terms or pricing. Age-related variation in premium rates would also be significantly constrained in relation to risk.
Benefit design and marketing of coverage would be regulated in an attempt to keep insurers from rewarding healthier people. Retrospective “risk adjustment” would be employed to reallocate funds from insurers that experience lower medical costs to those with higher costs. If an insurer were to attract relatively more healthy people — or keep more people healthy — it would run the risk of paying some or all of the gains to competitors.
The proposals’ strong aversion to having insurance rates or coverage terms related to health status reflects the view that either the need for health care is immune from individual control, or that a person should not be financially responsible for behavior that contributes to poor health, or both. These views are difficult to reconcile with the consensus that unhealthy behavior contributes significantly to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and thus accounts for a substantial proportion of health-care costs.
Regulation that seeks to divorce insurance rates and coverage terms from health status would deter potential innovation that might provide meaningful financial incentives for healthy behavior and lower costs.
Incentives for healthy behavior have traditionally been weak under employer-sponsored health insurance, in part due to federal and state regulation that constrains the ability to reward healthy behavior. Turnover among employees and policy holders also reduces incentives to make long-term investments to promote healthy behavior.
Health-care reform should seek to encourage rather than discourage private innovation to provide incentives for healthy behavior. Safeway’s program offering employee premium discounts related to tobacco use, weight control, blood pressure and cholesterol levels is a good example.
The Democratic proposals would retard or even strangle such innovation. Rather than strengthening incentives to invest in the long-term health of policy holders, they would make it more difficult to earn a reasonable return on such investment. They also send a message that a healthy lifestyle earns no financial reward for reducing medical expenses.
Financial incentives for healthy behavior have the potential to significantly reduce costs without reducing quality. A failure of health-care reform to permit or incorporate such incentives would make coercive government measures to control costs more likely. These controls might include limits on provider reimbursement, comparative-effectiveness or cost-benefit criteria that must be met for care to be reimbursed, or budget caps. The results would be less health — more obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer — and eventually less health care.
An aversion to having health-insurance rates and coverage linked to individual behavior may be on the verge of becoming national policy. If that happens, the unintended consequences could be very costly.