Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Big Bladder Healthcare Summit has arrived... ALL SIX HOURS OF IT!


*** Show Time: You might have forgotten this, but President Obama hosted another bipartisan summit on health care nearly a year ago, on March 5, 2009. And since that time, we've seen endless partisan bickering over the issue, millions of dollars in TV ads, countless committee and floor votes, the summer town halls, the joint address to Congress ("You lie"), initial passage in November and December, and finally Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts. Now it has come to this -- a televised summit on health care at the Blair House beginning at 10:00 am ET. Will today's summit convince any Republicans? Not a chance. Will it be any different than what we've heard over the past year? Unlikely. Will it be full of health policy arcana? You betcha. But if anything, the summit -- and the build-up to it -- has achieved this goal: It has focused everyone's attention on health care. And if the White House is going to convince Democrats to vote for the legislation, it needs their attention.

*** What To Expect: The White House has two audiences. The first is the viewing public, whom it hopes to persuade that it has reached out to Republicans -- and even adopted their ideas -- as it begins laying the groundwork to use reconciliation to pass the fixes in the Senate. The second (and perhaps more crucial) audience are rank-and-filed congressional Democrats. As we explained yesterday, the big game is getting the 217 House Democrats to pass the Senate bill. The votes are there, potentially, but getting them won't be easy. As for Republicans, their hope is to stand firm as they point to public polls showing that the overall Obama health-reform effort is unpopular. Yet in perhaps a sign of how nervous Republicans believe they might fare against the president inside the summit, they've set up a so-called "truth squad" outside the proceedings. Let the games begin!

*** How It Will Work: The six-hour summit is broken down into five parts. First are the opening remarks -- by the president and the Democratic and GOP congressional leaders. Then comes a discussion on controlling costs, which will be introduced by the president. Next, is a talk on insurance reforms, which will be led by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Then there's discussion of reducing the deficit, which Vice President Biden will start. And finally, there will be a conversation on expanding coverage, and Obama will once again lead that discussion.

*** Who Will Attend: The Democratic congressional attendees: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, Patty Murray, Max Baucus, Chris Dodd, Tom, Harkin, Jay Rockefeller, Kent Conrad, Ron Wyden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Charlie Rangel, George Miller, Henry Waxman, John Dingell, Xavier Becerra, Louise Slaughter, Rob Andrews, and Jim Cooper. On the GOP side: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, Lamar Alexander, Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, John McCain, Tom Coburn, John Barrasso, House Minority Leader John Boehner, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Joe Barton, Dave Camp, John Kline, Marsha Blackburn, Charles Boustany, Peter Roskam, and Paul Ryan.

*** Absence Of Snowe: By the way, one member of Congress who won't be attending is Sen. Olympia Snowe (R). The White House tried to invite her at the last minute, but she declined, saying it wasn't appropriate to go around the Senate leadership. Snowe's office released this statement yesterday: "The Republican leadership had long since selected their team and therefore, it would have been inappropriate for Senator Snowe, under those circumstances, to accept the invitation. Throughout this process, Senator Snowe has been sharing her views with the White House and she assured the White House today that she will continue to play a leadership role on this vital issue in the days and weeks after tomorrow's event."

*** Change You Can Believe In? If Republicans fail to make significant gains in the Senate this November, it probably meant 1) that the economy got better, 2) that national Republicans made key blunders, and 3) that some of the candidates they recruited were flawed, especially in this political environment. Indeed, a few of the top-tier GOP candidates are hardly new faces. For instance, the Republican candidate in Missouri is Rep. Roy Blunt, who served under Denny Hastert and Tom DeLay as House whip. In Ohio, the preferred GOP candidate is former Rep./Bush administration official Rob Portman. And in Indiana, the preferred nominee is former GOP Sen./lobbyist Dan Coats. "These are not agents of change," DSCC Chair Bob Menendez told reporters yesterday. And if Republicans are unable to defeat Harry Reid, it will be because they couldn't lure a candidate better than either Sue Lowden or Danny Tarkanian.

*** Same Old, Same Old: But if Blunt, Coats, and Portman aren't agents of change, then that's also true of Democratic incumbents like Reid, Blanche Lincoln, and Arlen Specter. And then there are the Dem candidates in Florida, Louisiana, and New Hampshire. As NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh emailed First Read yesterday, "We look forward to highlighting [Menendez's] statements . in states like New Hampshire, Louisiana and Florida, among others, because I can't imagine Paul Hodes, Charlie Melancon and Kendrick Meek will be happy to learn that they've been deemed 'Washington insiders.'"

*** American Express -- Can't Leave Home Without It: The Crist and Rubio camps are sparring over reports that Rubio "charged grocery bills, repairs to the family minivan and purchases from a wine store less than a mile from his West Miami home to the Republican Party of Florida while he was speaker of the Florida House. Rubio said Wednesday that he paid for all personal expenses billed to an American Express card given to him by the party to use from 2005 to 2008, when he left public office. The rest of the charges, he said, were legitimate party expenses." The Rubio camp is accusing Crist and his allies of leaking Rubio's credit card statement. "It is clear these internal documents were taken from the [state party] by former chairman Jim Greer or someone working for him and were leaked to the media by the Crist campaign," Rubio said in a letter to the FL GOP.

*** Incoming! This battle over Rubio's credit card expenses, as well as the news that he plans to travel to South Carolina next month, mark the first time that the conservative rock star has taken direct hits since becoming the front-runner in his race against Crist. And don't miss this statement from Rubio defending purchasing airplane tickets for his wife on the state party's credit card. "'My wife was the first lady of the Florida House of Representatives, and it is absolutely appropriate for her to accompany me to official events and party functions,' Rubio said." First lady of the Florida House of Representatives? Have you heard Harry Reid, Denny Hastert, etc. refer to their wives that way?

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