Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Obama to Take a Breather From Health-Care Fight" (with video)

Wall Street Journal with video, (01:45):
President Barack Obama and his family fly to Martha's Vineyard, Mass., on Sunday for a vacation, but Washington forecasters see storms disrupting the weeklong getaway.
Over the past three weeks, growing opposition and disruptive town-hall meetings have threatened to capsize the president's signature health-care overhaul proposal. That culminated in a week in which Mr. Obama -- his popularity and credibility on the issue declining in polls -- fought to recapture the debate even as Democrats appeared to grow more divided.

At best, the break will be a short respite from a battle that will intensify when Congress returns next month.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president planned no public events next week. But he will spend a chunk of his break on the telephone with members of Congress to shore up support for a health-care compromise. His regular Saturday radio address will focus on health care. Additionally, as-yet unidentified "surrogates" will help push a health proposal during Mr. Obama's absence from Washington.

White House efforts to forge a compromise on the health care plan have angered liberal Democrats and energized Republican opponents. Last weekend, Mr. Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius indicated the White House would be willing to drop a public-health insurance option in the overhaul proposal. The public option has drawn criticism from opponents who called it a "government takeover" of health care. But liberals, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, see it as vital to covering the nation's 46 million uninsured.

Barack Obama and his family are getting away to Martha's Vineyard for their summer vacation. But with health-care reform still uncertain, the President's break might not be as relaxing as he might hope, Elizabeth Williamson reports.

This past week he broke a two-day silence on the issue, with a new appeal to faith groups to push for the overhaul as a "moral imperative," and rallied with grassroots organizers to gin up progressive support.

Those entreaties have so fallen short against perceptions that the overhaul constitutes a government takeover of health care that will erode quality and increase costs -- a view shared by many seniors and among people who already have insurance.

Outside the debate, Hurricane Bill is on track to bring rain and rough seas during the president's vacation at the island retreat.

An interest group, Conservatives for Patients' Rights, has booked a $150,000 television advertising campaign, mocking the president's vacation and urging him to overhaul the overhaul when he returns. The ads, said spokesman Brian Burgess, will run in markets surrounding Martha's Vineyard next week, including on the New England Sports Network during broadcasts of the four-game Red Sox-White Sox matchup at Fenway Park Aug. 24-27. The White Sox are Mr. Obama's favorite baseball team.

"We believe the public option is patient enemy No. 1, and it doesn't seem to be dead yet," Mr. Burgess said. "The point of the ads is to keep pressure on the president."

Mr. Gibbs dismissed the campaign, pointing out that the group's chief executive, Rick Scott, "is the same individual that we've talked about in here who is the recipient of -- just so we do this, so everybody understands -- of the largest health-care penalty ever issued by a federal government for fraud for a company he was the CEO of." Mr. Scott was chief executive of Columbia/HCA, who was forced out during a federal probe of overbilling state and federal health plans that resulted in a guilty plea by the company and $1.7 billion in fines.

Additionally, Cindy Sheehan, the antiwar protester who dogged former President George W. Bush during vacations at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, also plans to visit Martha's Vineyard during the Obamas' vacation. In television appearances, Ms. Sheehan has vowed to continue her calls to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which saw the deaths of nearly 100 people to bombings in downtown Baghdad this week.
The bulk of the presidential holiday, Mr. Gibbs said, will be spent relaxing with family, the details of which -- house guests, beach reading, ice-cream flavors -- the White House promises to provide.
Howie P.S.: The NY Times story, "Obama Leaves Washington for 10-Day Vacation," covers the personal side of the trip including speculation about potential golf partners and could have been written by Maureen Dowd, back when she was a "society" reporter for The Grey Lady.

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