Obama Promised House Liberals He Would “Revisit” Public Option in Future, TPM Says

President Obama, in a meeting aimed at winning over liberal House members who have problems with the pending health care bill, pledged to “revisit the public option in the future,” according to a report from Talking Points Memo.

As I noted when Democrats passed the Senate bill, the whole idea all along was to lay a foundation that they could build on over time. That’s why the debate over whether this current bill is a government takeover is misleading. The point is that the bill puts the architecture in place so that it can achieve a government-run health care system over time.

Meanwhile, after coming out of the meeting, Raul Grijalva, a House liberal leader who yesterday said he was leaning against voting for the bill, told TPM that Obama had made a “compelling” argument that failure would compromise the progressive agenda and damage his presidency.

The “Cornhusker Kickback” is Dead — On to the Vincenzo Pentangeli Strategy?

In the Godfather Part II, Michael Corleone finds himself in a legal jeopardy when witness Frankie Pentangeli is poised to testify against him before a Senate hearing on organized crime. “The FBI has him air-tight — he’s on an army base twenty-four hour guards,” his aide tells him. Without a way to get to the witness, Frankie’s brother Vincenzo suddenly surfaces in the Senate hearing room before the testimony — in Michael’s company. Frankie clams up, and Michael gets off scott free. (Watch the scene here.)

Now, we wouldn’t want to compare our leader’s efforts to bring quality affordable health care to all with these sort of unsavory tactics. But President Obama just announced a strategy to ram health care through Congress at a time when the “Cornhusker kickback” has given special deals meant to win over holdouts a bad name. In view of this, I’ll point to John McCormack’s observation that Obama has just awarded a judicial appointment to the brother of Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, who voted against the health care bill in November but who is now undecided.

A local news station reports that Matheson and the administration are dismissing claims that there’s a connection:

White House officials call the implication that Matheson’s nomination has something to do with his health care vote “absurd.”

Matheson says he hadn’t even had time to talk to his brother, Scott. But he did scold news outlets for asking about the timing.

As Michael Corleone later tells his wife, “It was between the brothers Kay — I had nothing to do with it.”

Obama Goes Nuclear

More than anything else, Barack Obama’s political rise was defined by the promise that he would usher in an era of post-partisanship after the bitter divisiveness that scarred Washington during the Bush years.

“The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue states,” Obama famously lamented when he burst onto the national scene during his speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

On the night he was elected Senator that November, when Republicans retained control of all branches of government, Obama said that his “understanding of the Senate is that you need 60 votes to get something significant to happen, which means that Democrats and Republicans have to ask the question, do we have the will to move an American agenda forward, not a Democratic or Republican agenda forward?”

In 2006, he tried to disabuse his “fellow progressives” of the “notion that we should function sort of like Karl Rove where we identify our core base, we throw ’em red meat, we get a 50-plus-one victory.”

While running for president in 2007, he told the Concord Monitor that “We are not going to pass universal health care with a 50-plus one strategy.”

Instead, candidate Obama talked about building a “movement for change” in which citizens get organized and take an active role in agitating their lawmakers.

But any chance Obama had of living up to his well-honed image as a post-partisan leader was tossed aside on Wednesday, as the president urged Democrats in Congress to disregard public opinion and ram through his health care bill using a parliamentary maneuver that doesn’t require bipartisan support.

As it turns out, employing Rovian tactics in the pursuit of his liberal agenda is no vice.

In the past week, President Obama staged a series of what historian Daniel Boorstin dubbed “pseudo-events,” from a televised health care summit to the release of a letter offering token policy gestures to Republicans. The process culminated with the inevitable announcement that he would attempt to enact the most sweeping legislation since the Great Society with the once-poisonous “50-plus-one” strategy.

In his remarks, Obama pushed the argument that using the reconciliation process, which is intended for budgetary matters and not for sweeping legislation, is okay because they’d only be using the procedure to make changes, not to pass the whole bill. “Reform has already passed the House with a majority,” Obama said. “It has already passed the Senate with a supermajority of 60 votes.” The problem is, those were two different bills. The House won’t be able to pass the Senate bill unless it’s changed, and thus passing the underlying overhaul of the nation’s health care system is still contingent upon the use of reconciliation.

Obama also tried to suggest that there was nothing out of the ordinary about this use of reconciliation, saying that health care legislation “deserves the same kind of up or down vote that was cast on welfare reform, that was cast on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, that was used for COBRA health coverage for the unemployed, and, by the way, for both Bush tax cuts — all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority.”

Yet in virtually all of those cases, the programs passed with strong bipartisan support — welfare reform passed with 78 votes in the Senate, S-CHIP passed with 85 votes and COBRA passed by a simple voice vote. The first round of Bush tax cuts in 2001 garnered 58 votes — but 12 of those votes were from Democrats. Even the much more contentious second round of Bush tax cuts in 2003 received two Democratic votes before passing with 50 (plus Vice President Dick Cheney).

But comparisons to the tax legislation isn’t really fair, because the tax cuts expire at the end of this year, while Obama wants to use reconciliation to create a permanent new entitlement that would effectively put the government in charge of one-sixth of the nation’s economy.

Obama’s use of reconciliation is also much more likely to be explosive because the underlying bill it is being used to pass is overwhelmingly opposed by the public. That was not the case in prior instances of reconciliation.

As USA Today reported on August 3, 1996, Clinton was forced to sign welfare reform over fierce objections from liberals because it was so popular:

Clinton conceded that the bill has “flaws” but said he’d sign it.

With Election Day just three months away, he can read public opinion polls. They show that regardless of the (liberal) outcry, about eight of 10 Americans want welfare reform.

When CBS asked Americans in April 2001, “Do you favor or oppose George W. Bush’s $1.6 trillion tax cut for the country over the next 10 years?” supporters outnumbered opponents by a 51 percent to 37 percent margin. In June 2003, a Gallup poll found Americans supported the second round of cuts by a 47 percent to 43 percent plurality, while Harris found that 50 percent thought the tax cut was a “good thing” compared to 35 percent who said “bad thing.”

Yet polls show a majority of Americans oppose the health care bill and a CNN poll released last week found that just 25 percent of Americans want Congress to pass something similar to the two existing bills. A Gallup survey taken last week found that Americans oppose using the reconciliation procedure to pass a health care bill by a 52 percent to 39 percent margin. There has been a sustained national outcry against this legislation that first manifested itself in town hall meetings last August and culminated with the election of Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts in January.

Yet Obama, whose entire candidacy was built around the idea that change must begin from the bottom up, is now pursuing a top down strategy.

“It is a complicated issue,” Obama said of health care on Wednesday, continuing, “it easily lends itself to demagoguery and political gamesmanship, and misrepresentation and misunderstanding.”  And he observed that “The American people want to know if it’s still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future.”

Evidently, according to Obama, Americans only oppose his favored proposals because they aren’t smart enough to understand them, and are incapable of looking out for their own interests and future.

In a plea to vulnerable Democrats and a tacit acknowledgement that his signature domestic initiative had become toxic to his own party, Obama said, “I do not know how this plays politically, but I know it’s right.”

Within a matter of weeks, we’ll know whether the Obama and Congressional leaders will be able to convince enough Democrats to take suicide votes and advance national health care across the finish line. But win or lose, Obama is now destined to be a divider, not a uniter.

NY Dem Rep. Massa, Who Voted Against Obamacare, to Retire; Cites Cancer Scare

Rep. Eric Massa, the first term Congressman from New York, announced Wednesday afternoon that he would not seek reelection.

Earlier today, the Politico reported that he was retiring because of an ethics inquiry into whether he sexually harassed a male staffer. But this afternoon, he denied the allegations, and cited his health. “I do not have the life’s energy to fight all the battles all the time,” he told reporters, according to Talking Points Memo. “I will now enter the final phase of my life at a more controlled pace.”

Another wrinkle in this is that Massa was one of the 39 “no” votes against Obamacare. He is a single-payer advocate and thus opposed it from the left. But the original House bill included a public option, which the revised Senate bill does not have. So it isn’t clear how these latest developments would affect his final vote.

Obama Calls on Congress to Disregard Polls, Ram HC Bill Through

President Obama on Wednesday formally endorsed the strategy of ramming a health care bill through Congress on strictly partisan basis using the strategy of reconciliation.

In yet another speech revealing yet another proposal on health care, President Obama called on “leaders in both of Houses of Congress to finish their work and schedule a vote in the next few weeks.” He demanded an “up-or-down vote” — a code word for using reconciliation to pass health care.

When he served as a Senator as part of the Democratic minority, Obama wasn’t such a fan of using reconciliation to pass major legislation. Senate Republicans have noted that in 2005, Obama opposed using reconciliation to make changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. “Reconciliation is therefore the wrong place for policy changes and the wrong place for the proposed changes to the TANF program,” he said. “In short, the reconciliation process appears to have lost its proper meaning. A vehicle designed for deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility has been hijacked to facilitate reckless deficits and unsustainable debt.”

Breitbart has a video compilation  of Obama blasting a “50-plus-one” strategy over the years, several times on the subject of health care specifically.

In terms of the substance of the speech, Obama, flanked by people dressed in white lab coats, repeated a number of the false and misleading claims about the health care legislation. “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” he said. But in moments of candor during his January exchange with House Republicans, Obama admitted of the Senate bill that, “some of the provisions that got snuck in might have violated that pledge.” As I wrote last week, Obama’s own proposal would go even further in violating that pledge by imposing new mandates on existing insurance policies that were supposed to be “granfathered in.”

Obama also tried to describe the subsidies for the purchase of health insurance as “the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history.” Yet the plan would force uninsured middle class Americans to either purchase expensive government-approved health insurance, or pay a tax.

He claimed that the bill would bring down costs, but the chief actuary of his own Department of Health and Human Services concluded that the bill would increase national health expenditures.

Ironically, while misleading the public, he tried to write off overwhelming opposition to the bill by arguing that the health care issue “lends itself to demagoguery and political gamesmanship; misrepresentation and misunderstanding.”

The fate of the health care legislation, at this point, hinges on whether Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi can convince enough Democratic members of the House to take suicide votes. “I don’t know how this plays politically, but I know it’s right,” Obama, who isn’t up for reelection until 2012, said to his fellow Democrats.

Obama Health Care Speech Excerpts

Read them here. This appears to be Obama’s closing argument:

“At stake right now is not just our ability to solve this problem, but our ability to solve any problem. The American people want to know if it’s still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future. They are waiting for us to act. They are waiting for us to lead. And as long as I hold this office, I intend to provide that leadership. I don’t know how this plays politically, but I know it’s right. And so I ask Congress to finish its work, and I look forward to signing this reform into law.”

I’m going to wait to hear the whole speech, scheduled for 1:45, before I comment further. But I will just observe that he’s clearly appealing to moderate Democrats to cast suicide votes for the greater good. Of course, easy for him to say given that he’s doesn’t face voters himself until 2012.

Harkin: It’s Reconciliation Time

Not that this should come as a surprise to anybody, but Sen. Tom Harkin has just confirmed to the Politico that Democrats are preparing to ram through the health care bill via reconciliation:

Sen. Tom Harkin told POLITICO that Senate Democratic leaders have decided to go the reconciliation route. The House, he said, will first pass the Senate bill after Senate leaders demonstrate to House leaders that they have the votes to pass reconciliation in the Senate.

Harkin made the comments after a meeting in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office including Harkin and Sens. Baucus, Dodd, Durbin, Schumer and Murray.

The difficulty, however, is that it isn’t just a matter of convincing House members that they have the votes — even if there are, theoretically, 51 votes in the Senate for some sort of reconciliation bill, there’s still a high degree of uncertainty over what can actually get passed via reconciliation. Plus, there’s the issue of timing.

Sean Higgins at Investors Business Daily reports:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Tuesday that the leadership was mulling first passing a “fix” to the Senate health care bill, then passing the Senate bill it is supposedly fixing. The fix, in Capitol Hill-speak, is being called the “reconciliation bill.”

“We could pass the reconciliation first, have the reconciliation passed by the Senate and then pass the Senate bill,” Hoyer said.

This would reverse the usual order of passing a bill, then passing the additional “fix” bill. Hoyer said that while putting the legislative cart before the horse would be “more complicated,” it could be done.

This maneuver would boost the health care bill’s chances in the House by reassuring nervous lawmakers that they will not be abandoned by their Senate colleagues.

But Hoyer conceded it would be tricky to execute and seriously bend the procedural rules as well.

Meanwhile, Rep. Bart Stupak is still insisting that he won’t vote for the bill, and his problems extend beyond abortion. “We’re not going to walk the plank again just to see the Senate shut us down,” he told the Wall Street Journal. Yet the same article says there are at least six Democrats who voted against the bill the first time around who are now undecided.

Obama, Pelosi Vow to Move Full Steam Ahead on HC

President Obama on Tuesday released a letter touting four Republican policy ideas on health care that he says he’s “exploring.” Yet the ideas don’t alter the essential structure of the Democratic health care bills, and thus serve more as cosmetic concessions meant to create the idea that he’s working toward a bipartisan compromise.

Even if some of the ideas he says he’s willing to work with Republicans on could be adopted by Congress (on fighting Medicare fraud, addressing medical malpractice in some way, improving doctors payments under Medicaid, and doing more to encourage health savings accounts) they wouldn’t change the general thrust of the legislation. Ultimately, Obama would still be forcing individuals to purchase government-approved insurance policies or pay a tax, having people purchase government-designed insurance policies on government-run exchanges, increasing regulation, and introducing a raft of tax increases.

Obama will have more to say on this matter during yet another speech tomorrow releasing yet another proposal. But what’s pretty clear is that he wants to highlight a few token ideas he’s willing to discuss with Republicans so he can set the stage to blame the GOP when Democrats try to ram a bill through Congress strictly along partisan lines using the reconciliation process.

Earlier this afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested this much, saying Democrats would send a bill to the Congressional Budget Office for evaluation, see what can be passed through reconciliation, and then present the bill to her members to see if enough of them would be willing to cast suicide votes to secure passage.