The Note: Summer of Discontent -- Looking for Foes in Health Care Debate

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports:

The White House has always wanted the debate to move outside of Washington. Well, here we go.

The table indeed had too many seats around it -- or at least an uncomfortable chair or two.

And so -- welcome to the summer of discontent.

We’ve got concerns about the economy (nothing like starting a week with tax talk and ending it with job numbers), bailouts and clunkers, and a national debate on health care where the winner might be the side that better defines what it’s up against.

The health care debate pits four bills (plus one pending in the Senate) against a growing effort to stop them -- not the best of odds for Team Obama.

But recall how much crisper the message machine has been when there’s someone or something to rally against. An enemy is found:

“Congressional Democrats -- under assault from Republicans who say their approach to healthcare overhaul is too expensive, rushed, and heavy-handed -- are heading into the summer recess with a target of their own: insurers,” Lisa Wangsness writes in The Boston Globe.

“Democrats leave town for the August recess with frayed nerves and fragile agreements on health-care reform, and a new bogeyman to fire up their constituents: the insurance industry,” Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post. “With the House already gone and the Senate set to clear out by Friday, the terms of the recess battle are becoming clear. Republicans will assail the government coverage plan that Democrats and President Obama are advocating as a recklessly expensive federal takeover of health care. And Democrats will counter that GOP opposition represents a de facto endorsement of insurance industry abuses.”

“Congressional Democrats and leading advocacy groups are laying the groundwork for an August offensive against the insurance industry as part of a coordinated campaign to sell the public on the need for reform,” The New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David Herszenhorn report.

David Axelrod: “Our job is to help folks understand how this will help them.”

“The drumbeat will begin Monday, when Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, travels to Hartford to talk about what the White House now calls ‘health insurance reform,’ ” Stolberg and Herszenhorn write. “Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, who disclosed Friday that he has prostate cancer and pointedly reminded Americans that he was fortunate to have health coverage, will be among several Democratic lawmakers present.”

What to say: “A political strategy memo distributed to House Democrats suggested that one tactic for wooing voters will be targeting insurers. It advised them to tell people the legislation ‘will hold insurance companies accountable’ by barring co-payments, discrimination against those with pre-existing medical conditions or termination of benefits ‘because you get sick,’ ” Bloomberg’s Kristin Jensen and Nicole Gaouette report.

Looking for a response (here’s guessing we won’t have to wait long): “The question now: Will the insurance industry, which has tried to keep a low profile while maintaining the proverbial seat at the table, commence a big, mean anti-reform counterattack -- à la 1994’s ‘Harry and Louise’ ads?” Politico’s Glenn Thrush asks.

An insight you’ll see again: “On health care, energy, taxes and spending, [the president is] pushing a blue-state agenda during a recession that’s exposed some of the blue-state model’s weaknesses, and some of the red-state model’s strengths,” Ross Douthat writes in his New York Times column.

Another insight you’ll see again: “Tell your congressmen and senators when they're home for the summer recess that it's too soon to address this issue,” Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter writes in his column. “We've only been debating it for 97 years, since Theodore Roosevelt put national health insurance in the Bull Moose Party platform of 1912. We've only had 745 congressional hearings on the subject (I made that number up, but it's got to be close). That's not enough! Let's study this problem more before we do anything about it.”

A difficult comparison, on several levels: “Obama could be falling into the same trap that snagged George W. Bush when he was pushing private accounts for Social Security as part of his ‘ownership society’ in 2005,” the AP’s Tom Raum reports. “Bush's claims that the proposal would help shore up Social Security's long-term finances were hard to document mathematically and wound up feeding greater public skepticism.”

Who stands for Washington? “Obama has not yet convinced enough people to discard the discomfort they may have over more government involvement in the health care system,” Roll Call’s Keith Koffler writes. “Though an outsider, the heart of his plan -- a public insurance option -- would expand the power of the city he campaigned against. And, according to polls and the president himself, that seems to be making many people uncomfortable.”

Having fun with a large majority: “Republicans and other critics portray Obama's plan as a federal takeover of medicine, making it a much riskier issue for Democrats in more conservative districts. That includes the many Democrats elected in Republican-leaning districts in the 2006 and 2008 elections and the Blue Dog coalition of fiscal conservatives,” the Los Angeles Times’ Janet Hook reports. “That wing of the Democratic Party has bargained hard for concessions to help small businesses and rural areas, and to reduce the overall cost of the bill.”

The video Republicans want you to see (and replicate): “Back in Central Texas while Congress is on a month-long recess, Congressman Lloyd Doggett faced an angry reception at a town hall meeting at an Austin Randalls store yesterday,” Patrick George writes for the Austin American-Statesman. “Doggett, D-Austin, spoke at the Randalls at Brodie and Slaughter lanes on Saturday. A video of the event on YouTube shows many in the crowd showed up with signs denouncing President Obama’s proposed health care plan.”

Plus, a Web video from House Republican leadership to kick off the recess with some ’80s advertising nostalgia: President Obama is not a doctor, but House GOP leaders want you to see him playing one on TV.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, tells The Note in a statement: “Like the old joke goes, President Obama isn’t a doctor, but he plays one on TV -- giving Americans a discomforting glimpse of life under ObamaCare, with government leaders and bureaucrats dispensing medical opinions that are better left to doctors, medical professionals, and patients. This is a lighthearted video, but it underscores a serious point that Congressional Democrats are going to hear throughout August as they travel outside of Washington: Americans want lower health care costs -- not a trillion-dollar government takeover of health care that increases costs and lets Washington bureaucrats make decisions that should be made by doctors and patients.”

UPDATE: This afternoon, DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan responded: "John Boehner isn't an insurance company executive, but he sure plays one in the U.S. House of Representatives. That's the only explanation for admittedly working to 'kill' health insurance reform while premiums for the average American family are rising three times faster than their wages, while small businesses are choosing between offering coverage and creating jobs, and when controlling runaway health care costs is necessary to get the economy fully back on track."

Also in the health care debate: Early GOP 2012 skirmishing: “In typical fashion, the self-proclaimed experts piecing together this Democratic health-care legislation are focusing on only one leg -- access -- of a three-legged stool that also includes cost and quality,” Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., writes in a Washington Post op-ed. “Massachusetts's experience should caution Congress against focusing primarily on access. While the Massachusetts plan has reduced the number of uninsured people, costs have been dramatically higher than expected. The result? Increased taxes and fees.”

Back to the economy: “President Obama, after working on health care for most of the past month, turns attention this week to the overall economy -- and Republican attacks on his $787 billion stimulus bill and the unemployment rate,” USA Today’s David Jackson writes. “Obama returns this week to the economically battered city of Elkhart, Ind., which he visited on Feb. 9 to promote the then-pending stimulus bill. The White House also is bracing for an end-of-the week report that Obama said will likely show another rise in unemployment.”

Before the jobs report hits on Friday: “On Wednesday, President Obama and Vice President Biden will do their first tag-team road trip. They’re each traveling to a different state to argue that the stimulus plan is working,” Politico’s Mike Allen reports.

Set to dominate the discussion until then: Will President Obama have to break his pledge not to raise taxes on 95 percent of Americans? “We’re going to have to do what’s necessary,” Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” Sunday.

Writes Stephanopoulos: “Geithner was clear that he believes a key component of economic recovery is deficit reduction. When I gave him several opportunities to rule out a middle class tax hike, he wouldn’t do it.”

“We have to bring these deficits down very dramatically,” Geithner said. “And that’s going to require some very hard choices.”

Start it rolling: “Wavering on an emphatic promise he made in the spring, top White House economic adviser Lawrence H. Summers would not rule out middle-class tax increases Sunday as a way for the Obama administration to pay for a sweeping health care plan,” Tom LoBianco reports in the Washington Times. “The statement, which was echoed by Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner on Sunday's talk shows, pries open a door to the kinds of broad tax increases that Mr. Obama opposed in his campaign and that he and his advisers have ruled out since taking office in January.”

Talking-point ready: “Strapped local and state governments are still spending on at least one activity: seeking stimulus money,” Louise Radnofsky and Leslie Eaton report in The Wall Street Journal.

Decision week on bonuses: “White House officials know that populist sentiment could be stirred up with news of these billions of dollars in bonuses going to officials from these companies that received billions in government bailouts from the taxpayers,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reported on “Good Morning America” Monday. “What [the president] does not want is, on top of all the concerns about his spending programs, to be held responsible for these billions in bonuses.”

Of immediate concern in Congress: Will cash-for-clunkers really get junked? “Without additional funding from Congress, the popular Cash for Clunkers program could perish this week, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said on C-SPAN Sunday,” ABC’s Rachel Martin and Ki Mae Heussner report. “This weekend, the program's financial limbo spilled into showrooms across the country, as potential car buyers wondered if they were eligible for the program and if the program still existed at all.”

“The uncertainty over whether the government's pump-priming will continue has thrown a cloud over the program's apparent success in stimulating consumer demand,” The Wall Street Journal’s Corey Boles reports. “Senate Democratic leaders said Sunday that they hoped to bring a $2 billion extension to the Senate floor this week as the program's original $1 billion in funding runs low.”

How to get prime-time TV coverage? White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel went to the top: “Rather than calling ABC, the White House chief of staff phoned Bob Iger, chief executive of parent company Disney. Instead of contacting NBC, Emanuel went to Jeffrey Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric. He also spoke with Les Moonves, the chief executive of CBS, the company spun off from Viacom,” The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz reports. “Whether this amounted to undue pressure or plain old Chicago arm-twisting, Emanuel got results: the fourth hour of lucrative network time for his boss in six months. But network executives have been privately complaining to White House officials that they cannot afford to keep airing these sessions in the current economic downturn.”

You didn’t think there would be a Palin-free week, did you? The next excerpt of the new Dan Balz-Haynes Johnson book is published in Monday’s Washington Post (the book hits shelves Tuesday, and the authors will be on’s “Top Line” Friday):

Rick Davis, on why Sen. John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate: “When you looked at everyone else, they all were good, solid selections in their own right, but who was really going to help us try and push back all these signals that said we were going to lose? Sixty days wasn't enough time to crawl our way back into the election.”

Write Balz and Johnston: “At McCain headquarters in Virginia, the communications team was caught off guard. No one had given members the advance word that they needed to prepare background material. Inundated by media calls trying to confirm the choice, they were helpless, some of them not sure how to pronounce her name. One staffer was frantically trying to download information about Palin when the overloaded Alaska state government Web site crashed. Unable to get answers to basic questions, the campaign gave out inaccurate information, telling one news organization she had been to Iraq when she had only been near the border on a visit to Kuwait. ‘It was horrific,’ one campaign official said. ‘It was a disaster. It was a huge disaster.’ ” The Kicker:

“You don't go up against 'American Idol' -- not even Barack Obama.” -- Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

“You know, that the economics team has a lot of strong personalities. I'm actually one of them. I'm right up there with the boys.” -- Christina Romer, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, to CNN’s Jessica Yellin.

For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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