Truth & Reconciliation: Last best chance for movement on health care

By Rick Klein :

There’s plenty to reconcile this week. (Starting with questions about what yet another health care week is worth to both parties...)

For Republicans -- it’s time to learn whether no should eventually lead to yes.

For Democrats -- it’s time to find out if yes can actually work as a lonely answer. For President Obama -- it’s time find a groove, if not change a tone.

It starts with a health care plan -- a presidential plan, for the first real time in this long debate. It debuts Monday morning on the White House Web site, in plenty of time to drive Thursday’s bipartisan summit (and to further complicate that whole “bipartisan” thing.)

Notice the labeling: It’s health insurance reform, again, and it’s on the move, again. This time it’s got transparency and relevance and maybe even real political prospects heading into the Thursday forum at the White House. It’s late for a new concept -- and bringing one forward now does raise questions about what the summit will really be about. But the White House is leading with something that’s hard to be against.

If it doesn’t fly -- and keep in mind that House leaders still cannot guarantee that they’ve got a simple majority, and Senate leaders can never really guarantee much of anything -- Democrats will have plenty of time to pick up pieces. (And it will be done in pieces from there forward.)

New Monday from the White House, with the full proposal, based on the Senate-passed bill, posting at 10 am ET:

“The legislation would create a rate board, called the Health Insurance Rate Authority, which would broadly determine what increases are reasonable and justifiable. The seven-member board would have consumer, industry and medical representatives, as well as experts in health economics,” The Washington Post’s Michael D. Shear and Dan Balz report.

Chasing a headline -- and borrowing some anger: “By focusing on the effort to tighten regulation of insurance costs, a new element not included in either the House or Senate bills, Mr. Obama is seizing on outrage over recent premium increases of up to 39 percent announced by Anthem Blue Cross of California and moving to portray the Democrats’ health overhaul as a way to protect Americans from profiteering insurers,” David M. Herszenhorn and Robert Pear write in The New York Times.

ABC’s Jake Tapper has more, exclusive details: “Some of the changes include more generous subsidies for low and middle income Americans to purchase health insurance, and a removal of the controversial Medicaid subsidies that Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., secured for his state in order to win his vote.”

The plan includes insurance reforms; new state-level health insurance exchanges -- but no public option; an individual mandate; and Medicaid expansions, Tapper reports.

He continues: “By posting their proposals in such a form, White House officials are providing a roadmap for how they think they can best pass health care reform in the new post-Massachusetts Senate race reality: have the House pass the Senate bill, then use reconciliation rules requiring only a majority Senate vote to pass the ‘fix’ to make the bill more palatable. White House officials are thus signaling that Thursday's discussion won't be just a parlor to chat about health care principles, though they insist their minds will be open to incorporate some Republican ideas.”

Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown: “Obama is seeking to play off voter anger toward recent double-digit increases by Anthem Blue Cross of California and show that his plan is designed to protect vulnerable Americans, both those with insurance and those who are seeking to obtain it.”

Laura Meckler, in The Wall Street Journal: “Administration officials have said Monday's proposal would be an effort to bridge the differences between the health bills passed by the House and the Senate last year. The idea for new federal authority on premiums wasn't in either bill, and is likely to generate opposition from Republicans arguing that it would give too much power to the federal government.”

A Senate GOP leadership aide tells The Note: “This is a stunning admission that even the White House doesn’t believe that their health care bill will lower premiums.”

The stakes: “This week, particularly the health-care summit President Obama has called for Thursday, will determine the shape of American politics for the next three years,” E.J. Dionne Jr. writes in his column. “If the summit fails to shake things up and does not lead to the passage of a comprehensive health-care bill, Democrats and Obama are in for a miserable time for the rest of his term.

“Suddenly, the debate is no longer just about the flaws, real and imagined, in Democratic proposals. It becomes a choice between what the Democrats want to do and what the Republicans want to do. That's a fair fight,” he continues.

All his fault? “As President Obama seeks to revive his moribund healthcare initiative -- and arrest the precipitous drop in his political fortunes -- he is struggling with the consequences of one of his most important early decisions: letting Congress take the lead in designing his signature policy proposal,” the Los Angeles Times’ Janet Hook reports.

“Leaving it to Congress put an unusually glaring spotlight on how Capitol Hill does business. The spectacle of Congress' horse-trading, secrecy and gridlock has fueled today's virulent anti-Washington mood,” she writes.

Speaking of horse-trading.... “On paper, just two things must happen for reform to succeed: The House must pass the Senate bill. In addition, the House and Senate must both pass a series of amendments through the budget reconciliation process, in which a majority of Senators, rather than super-majority of 60, is sufficient for enactment,” The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn writes. “Obama wants this. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants this. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants this. (And, yes, liberal policy wonks like me want this.)”

Still pressing, on the left: “Many Democrats hope he's determined enough to stick with a tweaked version of his original plan and force passage using a budgetary loophole that needs just 51 votes in the Senate,” Michael McAuliff writes in the New York Daily News.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.: The question is “whether the president plans to fight for a good bill, or he plans to settle for just about anything.” Thursday, looking like a go: “I intend to be there and my members will be there and ready to participate,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Don’t look for a formal GOP alternative: “They say that there is no need for a big, comprehensive health care proposal like the one the president’s unveiled,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl reported on “Good Morning America” Monday.

National Governors Association members meet with President Obama Monday at the White House, with the president scheduled to make remarks at 10:05 am ET. At 12:40 pm ET, a private meeting between the president and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif.

With the governors in town, worries from the states:

“Democratic governors said Sunday they worry about President Barack Obama's track record on fighting Republican political attacks and urged him to better connect with anxious voters. Some allies pleaded for a new election-year strategy focused on the economy,” the AP’s Liz Sidoti and Ron Fournier write.

“It's got to be better thought out,” said Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa. “It's got to be more proactive.”

Schwarzenegger, to Terry Moran on ABC’s “This Week”: “I think the key thing for the Obama administration is to just keep staying on track. Nothing is going to be easy. And you're going to fail and you're going to do well, and you're going to fail, and you're going to do well.”

Schwarzenegger, on stimulus funding (clipped and saved by the DNC): “I find it interesting that you have a lot of the Republicans running around and pushing back on the stimulus money and saying this doesn't create any new jobs, and then they go out and they do the photo ops and they are posing with the big check and they say, isn't this great?”

More fuel for that fire: “Alabama Republicans Jo Bonner and Robert Aderholt took to the U.S. House floor in July, denouncing the Obama administration’s stimulus plan for failing to boost employment,” Bloomberg’s Alison Fitzgerald and Justin Blum report. “Over the next three months, Bonner and Aderholt tried at least five times to steer stimulus-funded transportation grants to Alabama on grounds that the projects would help create thousands of jobs.”

They joined more than 100 congressional Republicans and several Democrats who, after voting against the stimulus bill, wrote Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood seeking money from $1.5 billion the plan set aside for local road, bridge, rail and transit grants.”

A new/old presidential storyline: “President Obama, who pledged to establish the most open and transparent administration in history, on Monday surpasses his predecessor's record for avoiding a full-fledged question-and-answer session with White House reporters in a formal press conference,” Joseph Curl writes in the Washington Times. “President George W. Bush's longest stretch between prime-time, nationally televised press conferences was 214 days, from April 4 to Nov. 4, 2004. Mr. Obama tops that record on Monday, going 215 days -- stretching back to July 22, according to records kept by CBS Radio's veteran reporter Mark Knoller.”

Next up: the jobs bill. “Democrats' renewed focus on bolstering the economy faces a key test Monday, with the Senate expected to hold a procedural vote on what Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) hopes will be the first of several job-creation bills,” Ben Pershing writes in The Washington Post. “With Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) absent after receiving a diagnosis of cancer last week, his party will need to lure at least two Republicans on Monday in order to set up a vote on final passage later this week.”

Understatement: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) leadership will be under a microscope during the crucial five-week work period ahead as demoralized Senate Democrats look to restart their stalled agenda on multiple fronts,” Roll Call’s Emily Pierce writes.

What will Sen. Scott Brown do? Pressure is mounting on Brown, R-Mass., with a new TV ad from Americans United for Change playing in Boston -- using his own words and pledges of bipartisanship. “Now it’s time for him to vote,” the ad states. “Call Senator Brown. Tell him: Keep your promise to stand with us and create jobs for Massachusetts.”

DADT news: Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., announces that he’ll become a lead sponsor on a bill that would repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell”: “Just when you thought Joe Lieberman couldn't frustrate and perplex liberals any further, he is going off to become chief sponsor of the most significant piece of socially progressive legislation that Congress will deal with this year,” New York Daily News columnist James Kirchick reports. Said Lieberman: “When you artificially limit the pool of people who can enlist then you are diminishing military effectiveness.”

Bloomberg’s Al Hunt wants the old Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., back: “The sad irony here is that McCain has told friends that if he left the Senate he would be forgotten. In the public square, most retiring lawmakers are. McCain wouldn’t be. He not only is an authentic American hero but has played a forceful role in the country’s major debates over the past two decades: Iraq, campaign finance, immigration, normalization with Vietnam. His views still would be solicited, his voice heard. ... Even if he survives this year, the old maverick would be a lot happier warrior.”

In advance of Wednesday’s Toyota safety hearing on the Hill: “Toyota’s leading U.S. executive boasted to the automaker’s Washington staff last summer that they had saved the company more than $100 million by limited any regulatory action on sudden acceleration to a recall of equipment such as floor mats, according to documents turned over to a key U.S. House committee holding hearings on the issue Wednesday,” the Detroit Free Press reports. “In the documents, the deal with the government was listed among “Wins for Toyota” in an internal presentation by Yoshimi Inaba, chairman and CEO of Toyota Motors Sales U.S.A. in Washington last July 6. the company last summer.”

The Kicker:

“We all have our eyes on the closest target.” -- David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, on how Rep. Ron Paul won the CPAC straw poll, since most conservatives are too busy thinking about 2010 to worry about 2012.

“There is some evidence that excessive caffeine consumption poses cardiovascular risk, but it is only the case in the presence of particular genetic markers.” -- OMB Director Peter Orszag, on the dangers of Diet Coke, to Politico’s Mike Allen.

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

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