Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"First thoughts: Drill, baby, drill"

First Read (MSNBC):
Obama picks up the “drill, baby, drill” mantra (although with some important qualifications)… It’s a Nixon-goes-to-China-like moment for the president… From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Drill, baby, drill: During the 2008 presidential campaign, Republicans of all stripes voiced this battle cry -- “Drill, baby, drill” -- to argue for offshore oil drilling as gas prices spiked to record levels. Then-candidate Barack Obama opposed it, however. (“Offshore drilling would not lower gas prices today,” he said. “It would not lower gas prices tomorrow. It would not lower gas prices this year. It would not lower gas prices five years from now. In fact, President Bush’s own Energy Department says we won’t see a drop of oil from [offshore drilling] until 2017.”) But now in what appears to be a Nixon-goes-to-China moment -- as well as a significant departure from the campaign -- President Obama will announce at 11:05 am ET new plans to drill for oil and natural gas off American coasts, the L.A. Times reports. But he will rule out drilling off the West Coast and the coasts above Delaware. “Obama's plans will include opening new areas of coastal Virginia and other parts of the mid-Atlantic region, Alaska and the eastern Gulf of Mexico for drilling. But officials say the president will block drilling in Alaska's Bristol Bay.”

*** What say you, Sierra Club? The announcement is stunning for those of us who paid close attention to the presidential race. And it will be yet another test for Obama’s Democratic base -- in this case, environmentalists. As the New York Times writes, “But while Mr. Obama has staked out middle ground on other environmental matters -- supporting nuclear power, for example -- the sheer breadth of the offshore drilling decision will take some of his supporters aback.” That said, Obama floated this idea at his State of the Union address as perhaps a way to get Republicans to back a comprehensive energy bill. “To create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives,” he said in that January speech. “And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.” Of course, Obama isn't the first major Democrat to make this reversal on oil drilling. During the height of the last major gas price spike, Speaker Pelosi had to relent and allow legislation on oil drilling to go forward as many members of her own caucus wanted to support it. Still, this announcement will be a bitter birthday present for Al Gore, who turns 62 today.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Barack's "Bad News" Monday

White House Now Making "Legal Calls on Political Grounds" (Dan Froomkin):
The only question that remains is whether Obama himself will have any last-minute qualms about turning his back on his own principles.

We should know in a matter of days, as the White House is expected to announce shortly whether the highest-profile terror suspects, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, will be tried in federal court or by military commissions.
"Obama's Bagram Fly-In: What He Didn't Visit" (Harry Shearer):
So I guess this war is enough like the Iraq War that President Obama, like his predecessor, can only visit the troops at night, in secret. And the whiff of triumphalism is familiar, too: "we never quit". Really? Lebanon 1984 didn't happen? Vietnam came out differently than we remember?

Still, the most jarring part of the Obama fly-in to Bagram was the part of the base he (apparently) didn't visit: the secret prison we've been running there for years. It's Gitmo on steroids.

Try here, here, here, here, here, here and here for the info on that "other" Bagram.

The Obama some of us want to believe still exists would have at least acknowledged the unpleasant truth. The Obama who does exist just gave the troops a boilerplate pep talk, "never quit" and all, and flew into the dawn.

Some photos from Sunday's Health Care "Celebration" in South Park

NO, not that South Park.

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Murray, Cantwell cheered at health reform rally" (with video)

KOMO News, video (01:46):
Cheers shook the rafters at a celebration of the new health care law in South Seattle on Sunday as top state leaders and pro-reform crowds got together to send a message.

"Obama's Surprise Visit to Afghanistan" (video)

whitehouse, video (20:11):
The President speaks to the troops at Bagram Air Force Base during a surprise trip to Afghanistan.

Obama, Helen Thomas, Binyamin Netanyahu', Karzai and Health Care (with video)

TheRealNews, video (09:20)):
White House Press Corps longest-serving member says Obama lost credibility when he dodged her question on Israeli nukes.
"Binyamin Netanyahu's efforts to heal rift marred as Barack Obama branded 'disaster for Israel'" (Guardian UK):
Both sides deny snubbing the other in settlement row as insiders launch outspoken press attack on US leader.
"President Obama Sneaks into Kabul to Beg President Karzai to Clean Up His Act" (Dave Lindorff):
The government US forces are propping up is so weak and corrupt that it doesn't really "rule" anything but the capital city of Kabul, and it, and its police and army enforcers, are largely viewed by the majority of Afghans as little more than an official mafia. It is well known that President Hamid Karzai stole the last election and thumbed his nose at world opinion (his opponent simply quit the race in disgust during the ballot counting).

And it was this usurper Karzai whom the visiting Obama was left to plead with to clean up the mess of a government he runs. Clean up how? Karzai's own brother is a leading warlord and opium baron. Even the country's opium crop is being left untouched by US forces, for fear of alienating the country's farmers, so we're actually in there fighting to defend the world's leading producer of opium for the heroin trade! How on earth do you "clean up" a government in a country like that?

"Coverage Now for Sick Children? Check Fine Print" (NY Times):
Just days after President Obama signed the new health care law, insurance companies are already arguing that, at least for now, they do not have to provide one of the benefits that the president calls a centerpiece of the law: coverage for certain children with pre-existing conditions.
"Analysis: Economy, not health care, will be focus" (AP):
Losers in a brutal struggle with President Barack Obama, Republicans now hope voter anger over newly enacted health care legislation will propel them to victory in midterm elections this fall.

Forget about it.

No matter the impact of health care, the economy still matters most — unemployment in particular — in a country struggling to emerge from the deepest recession in decades.

In poll after poll, it isn't even close.

A CBS/New York Times poll taken last month, when the health care debate was in a lull, showed 52 percent of those surveyed identified the economy as their top priority. Health care was a distant second at 13 percent.
"Harry Reid and the Public Option" (Booman):
I think the take-away is that Ben Nelson exerted an effective veto over the public option and Joe Lieberman did the same for the expanded Medicare buy-in. There was a narrow window to try to push the public option through reconciliation (which is what I advocated from the beginning) but, in the end, the toxicity of the political climate left the entire process in too much doubt for Reid and the administration to risk everything on it.
Howie P.S.: I think I understand why The President might be tempted into smoking an occasional cigarette.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

"President Obama Speaks about Health Reform in Iowa City" (video)

whitehouse, video (29:16).

"1965 All Over Again?"

Jonathan Alter:
The reach of persistent progressivism. With health care, Obama has completed the unfinished agenda of Roosevelt, Johnson, and Clinton. But as Roosevelt learned when the court struck down big chunks of the New Deal, signing legislation is often just the beginning of the fight. While he lost the battle over his court-packing scheme, he won the war over the constitutionality of his program. So just as Congress has to prove it's serious, so does the executive branch. If health-care reform is implemented poorly in the next five years, Obama's victory will be Pyrrhic. Governing is a muscle, too, that requires flexing for peak performance.
Howie P.S.: Locally, "KingCo officeholders to McKenna: Don't do it" (Joel Connelly) confirms that the "fight" continues.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Waterloo, the GOP and #HC Crazies (with video)

MOX, video (05:28).

On the floor of the House, Jim McDermott plays pundit on the GOP's "Waterloo" strategy.

"Has Obama's Health Care Win Driven Conservatives Crazy?" (David Corn):
Not all progressives have been enthusiastic about President Barack Obama's health care overhaul from a policy perspective. It cedes a lot of control to private insurance companies; there is no public option. But they have at least one good reason to love the package: it has driven conservatives crazy.
"Obama's health insurance rule - it was a GOP idea" (AP):
Republicans were for President Barack Obama's requirement that Americans get health insurance before they were against it. The obligation in the new health care law is a Republican idea that's been around at least two decades. It was once trumpeted as an alternative to Bill and Hillary Clinton's failed health care overhaul in the 1990s. These days, Republicans call it government overreach.
Howie P.S: Howie is going 753 miles south today for a family gathering. We'll see if I can stay offline until I return home on Monday afternoon.

Friday, March 26, 2010

"In which Goldy plays the AG’s office and the media"

David Goldstein:
I couldn’t make it down there myself, but I’m told a healthy media contingent showed up to watch the protesters drop off petitions at the Attorney General’s office, presumably on the off chance that there might be a little drama.
I’d say that was well played on my part, but, you know, one can only go to that particular well so many times.

When several thousand health care reform backers packed into Westlake Park last September the rally earned relatively little media coverage and absolutely zero ink in the Seattle Times. Yet when maybe a hundred or so Teabaggers gathered on a street corner to mark the anniversary of their so-called “movement,” the Times deemed that worthy of a reporter, a photographer and twenty column inches.

Why? Media bias, of course, though not necessarily of the kind you might think.

Yeah, sure, our media’s corporate owners are biased toward the right-wing agenda and away from ours, but outside of, say, Fox News and handful of other ridiculously partisan media outlets, that only explains a small part of the disproportionate coverage the Teabaggers have enjoyed. No, what the media is really institutionally biased toward is a good story. And the angry, crazy, froth-at-mouth Teabaggers are nothing if not a good story.

Peacefully dropping off a bunch of petitions on the other hand, not so much… not at least unless you’re Tim Eyman prancing about in a rented costume, and spouting off his usual anti-tax/anti-government sound bites. But up the ante a little — provoke the AG’s office into ordering a lockdown, for example — and voila… three TV cameras show up. You know, just in case.

Am I proud that it took turning up the angry rhetoric a couple notches to spark some attention? Not particularly, but neither am I ashamed. I’ve been at this too long not to know how this game is played.

In my emails today with AG communications director Janelle Guthrie, she wrote: “It doesn’t have to be as ugly and contentious as you seem to like to make it. Reasonable people can have reasonable discussions.”

Yeah, well, reasonable people can have reasonable discussions, but apparently, if you want the media to pay attention, it does unfortunately have to be a little ugly and contentious. After all, my long time readers know that at my core, I’m a policy wonk who often digresses into lengthy, technical policy discussions, only to be completely ignored by the legacy press. But break a bit of dirty muckraking — or vaguely threaten to vaguely threaten a public disturbance — and that catches the media’s attention.

I’m a smart critic, an entertaining writer and a damn fine analyst with long track record of getting stuff right, but honestly, I know what my main role is: publicly saying the things respectable folk wish they could publicly say, if they weren’t so cautious and polite. That’s why folks read me, because I’m willing to call a spade a fuckin’ spade. And there’s something naturally cathartic in that.

But like I said, one can only go to that particular well so many times before it runs dry, and if I’m the only person around here expressing any real emotion, the media will continue to largely ignore our side of the story while heaping outsized coverage on the handful of loud, angry wingnuts across the street.

And for those in the media who take issue with my assessment of what it takes to manipulate you, well, actions speak louder than words. (Or at least, actions would speak louder than words, if only there was anybody around to report on them.)

OFA: "Celebrate passage of Health Reform with Senators Murray and Cantwell and Marcelas Owens! (Health Reform Celebration Events)"

Marcelas Owens, 11, from Seattle, watches as President Barack Obama signs the health care bill, Tuesday, March 23, 2010, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

Join OFA volunteers this Sunday, March 28 at 3PM for a rally with Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, as well as 11-year old Marcelas Owens, as we celebrate the passage of Health Insurance Reform!

For over nine months, Organizing for America volunteers have worked tirelessly on making Health Insurance Reform a reality in this country. On Tuesday, President Obama signed H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, into law. OFA volunteers have spent months contacting Member of Congress, educating neighbors about the benefits of this legislation, and fighting for Members who fight for reform. Because of that work, every American is finally guaranteed high quality, affordable health care coverage.

It's now time to celebrate all of our work together to bring about this incredible achievement for our country!
Time: Sunday, March 28 from 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Host: OFA Washington
IAM Hall (Seattle, WA)
9125 15th Pl S
Seattle, WA 98108
Directions: Click on the link for a google map of the location in South Park.

Howie P.S.: Newser has "Meet Marcelas Owens, 11, Health Reform Activist":
That little boy standing at President Obama’s right hand as he signed health care reform legislation into law is, somewhat improbably, one of the nation’s preeminent reform advocates. Marcelas Owens, 11, has been sharing the story of his mother since she died in 2007, uninsured and unable to afford treatment for pulmonary hypertension, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. “I'm signing it for 11-year-old Marcelas Owens,” Obama said of the bill.

Obamacare and "the extremist Republican shitstorm that's coming"

Bernard Weiner (Crisis Papers):
"Shallow Throat": Obama, the GOP and "Potomac Fever"---With the Democrats running the show, the Republican mole "Shallow Throat," now a high-priced political consultant, is no longer positioned inside the government, but still has a wide network of administration and party contacts, especially in the GOP. So using our usual code, I asked for a meeting to get Shallow Throat's take on what is going on in Washington a little more than a year after the new president was inaugurated.
As we walked on a shade-covered path near Bethesda, I said: "You know, the same pattern tends to repeat itself when a non-insider becomes president, such as a governor or one-term senator: As new occupants of the White House, they tend to get rolled by the beltway elites until they figure out how things work and how they want to combat that system to make it work for them. It looks like Obama and his advisors have finally started to figure it out, after a pretty rocky and uncertain first year."

"If you're referring to the health-care bill," said Shallow Throat, "one can observe a lot from Obama's trajectory over the past 14 months. Unfortunately, being a frightened centrist, he felt he needed 'cover'. And so he tried for much too long -- maybe six to eight months too long -- to lure some Republicans to his side. He refused to admit, until nearly too late, that they'd already placed all their chips on taking him down, breaking him, and nothing he could do or say to them would yield him what he wanted.

"Obama also took a page from Bill Clinton's playbook, and gave away the store before the congressional battle even began. In order to get something, anything, resembling serious reform, Obama made his secret deals with Big Pharma, the hospitals, the insurance companies, and so on. The whole health-care food chain was bought off to either gain their support or to mute their criticisms. They will continue to rake in humongous amounts of profit under the new system, so they're not all that unhappy."


"Why did Obama feel he needed to do that, especially so early?" I asked. "For example, he took the 'public option' off the table while he was still leading on his base for many months that he was all for it. That took the heart out of the competitive aspect of the bill since there would be no incentive for insurance companies to reduce their rates. And, I can tell you from me and my friends that his sell-out on the public option took our hearts out of wanting to be active in supporting this badly watered-down and compromised bill."

Shallow Throat gave me The Look I've come to know so well, the one that suggests conversation with a political numbskull. "Look, Bernie, when Obama entered the White House in January 2009, he realized he had been presented with an economy on the brink of catastrophe. (There was even some suspicion that the disaster might have been deliberate.) The whole thing could slide over the cliff. Philosophically he may not have wanted to, but he found himself with no wiggle room except to continue the Bush bailout policies and to appoint experts complicit in the economic meltdown. This was a bad sign of his willingness to go along to get along. He was getting suctioned into the Beltway Bubble, was catching the Potomac disease. Make no waves, keep the power brokers on your side, you might need them on other issues later.

"To Obama and his campaign advisors facing this formidable political power leviathan in Washington, it looked as if they could never get a health-care plan of any sweep. Obama had been hailed as a potential 'transformational president" and here he was bogged down with CheneyBush economic policies and foreign policy disasters. On top of that, the Republicans and their even-further-right allies were attacking every day on every thing he said, everything he did, and mostly attacking on things he didn't say or do -- just lies and hyperbole and destructive spin."


"So, put yourself in his place, thinking you might never get a second term and a chance to climb out from the disaster pit your predecessor left you in unless you were able to accomplish at least one major item on your agenda. Health care was that do-or-die item, at least a chance to get the controversial issue of national health-care reform inside the tent of respectability, which would provide a place to build from in future years.

"Obama and his main advisers (read: Rahm) believed the public would never accept single-payer or public option. This was a bad misreading of the public mood, as either of those, especially the latter, could have been sold had they had the courage and will to do so. Instead, Obama chose to make his shadow deals with the health-care oligarchs, keep those secret arrangements out of the conversation, and get what he could get. The result is the jerry-rigged bill that is now the law of the land, achieved (just barely) at a very high price."

I responded: "Are you saying that Obama is really far more progressive than we think but was reined in by Rahm and the others? That he otherwise would have been much more willing to take on the forces of true power in D.C. and the country? I sincerely doubt it; he's a creature of those very forces."

"No," said Shallow Throat. "What I am saying is that you and your liberal friends would have done well to remember that Obama is not an ideologue and never has been. He's a pragmatist. He'll sacrifice a lot, compromise a lot, give his base the back of his hand, to get something vaguely in the direction he'd like to go. The ultimate incrementalist. That's the irony of the GOP screaming that his health-care reform bill is 'socialist' and 'tyrannical"' and 'Nazicommie." It's the usual weak Obama middle-of-the-road mish-mash. What terrifies the GOP leaders is that, as the program unfolds, everyone will see how non-threatening it is and turn on the Republicans for lying to them and taking them down the road to defeat and irrelevance."


"One would think that maybe the GOP leaders would have learned to bend just a little bit as a result of this major defeat," I said, "but for whatever reason, they've decided to stagger on in the same self-defeating mode."

"You gotta think like they think, Bernie," said Shallow Throat, "not how you'd like them to think. So they've got no positive program, no ideas the public really wants to accept; that's all true. But they also came just inches away from breaking Obama and the Democrats with their policy of obstructionism, demagoguery, outright lies, stirring up the militias and Tea Party rabble. Why shouldn't they go all in, to use the betting terminology?

"In addition, they're anticipating huge gains in the November election, maybe even taking over the House again. Why shouldn't they just continue doing what they're doing?: More crazy talk from their shock troops (Beck, Limbaugh, Palin, Hannity, Coulter, Savage, Malkin, Bachman, et al.) More demagoguery from the Congressional Hard Rightists. More incitement of the militias and Tea Party types, you never know what might happen.

"Besides, you're missing the point. If you can't assume power until sometime down the line, you mess up the other guy's game so that he can't govern. Remember? The Republicans did that to Bill Clinton; if they had been lucky enough to convict him in the Senate, great. But by impeaching him they had accomplished their main goal of breaking whatever momentum Clinton had and made sure he couldn't be an effective president. Obama is the current target. Mess him up, cripple his programs, refuse his nominees, drown him in major and petty complaints and smears, take him to court, whatever. If and when he falters, push him into the mud and make sure he stays there."


"And is that where he was supposed to be," I asked, "as a result of his anticipated defeat on health-care reform?"

"Exactly," said Shallow Throat. "That was to be the first foundational stone to be removed; the rest would follow. Now I have no idea if his health-care reforms and savings will pan out over time -- my guess is that many of them won't. But that wasn't the point. It was the spear thrown into the Obama/Democratic gears that was at issue. Even you disgruntled, angry lefties eventually came around and supported the bill; you finally saw that health-care reform had become the central battleground and that if the Dems lost on this one issue, you all would have lost a lot more than that. Besides, the principle of a right to decent health-care is now inside the tent of normal politics, and more progressive changes can be made over the years.

"Provided, that is, you survive, and can figure out a way to properly frame the extremist Republican shitstorm that's coming your way. And whether and when the Republicans get eaten by the violent, dangerous tiger they're riding that they've called into existence."
And with that, Shallow Throat ran out of the park, leaving me there pondering what I think was Good News mixed in with some Very Bad.

START Treaty: Another "Big F---ing Deal"? (with video)

AP, with video from RussiaToday (02:56):
The U.S. and Russia reached a breakthrough agreement Wednesday for a historic treaty to reduce the nuclear arsenals of the former Cold War rivals, the most significant pact in a generation and an important milestone in the decades-long quest to lower the risk of global nuclear war.
After long and trying negotiations, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are to sign the treaty in two weeks in Prague, once final technical details are worked out, officials in Washington and Moscow said. The accord is expected to cut the number of long-range nuclear weapons held by each side to about 1,500, and it raises hopes for further disarmament in the years ahead.

The deal is seen as sealing an increased level of trust and cooperation between the U.S. and Russia, who possess the vast majority of the world's nuclear arms and have labored under strained relations in recent years.

Obama and Medvedev are expected to seal the deal when they talk by telephone this week, setting the stage for a White House campaign to win Senate ratification. The treaty also must win approval by the Russian Duma, and the two legislative processes are likely to take months.

Robert S. Norris, a longtime analyst of U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, said Senate ratification would not be easy.

"Hard negotiations with the Russians will now be followed by hard negotiations with Republican senators to achieve ratification," Norris said.

Though the State Department said the two countries were still working out unspecified final technical details, spokesman Mark Toner said there had been discussions with the Czech government about holding a signing ceremony in Prague — where Obama last April declared his vision of a nuclear-free world.

In fact, Czech officials announced that Prague would host the signing.

They did not give a date, but Russian and U.S. officials said it was expected to be April 8.

The new agreement to reduce long-range nuclear weapons would replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expired in December. An important feature of the new deal is that it includes a legal mechanism for verifying that each side complies — an element that was absent from a 2002 deal, known as the Moscow Treaty, that accelerated the weapons reductions laid out in the 1991 treaty.

The Moscow Treaty set limits on both sides' strategic nuclear warheads at between 1,700 and 2,200. The new deal, whose provisions have not been made public, is expected to lower that to about 1,500. It also would reduce the permissible number of strategic launchers — the missiles and bombs that deliver warheads to their targets.

Obama spent an hour Wednesday in the White House briefing Democratic Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Richard Lugar, the committee's ranking Republican. Both would play major roles in ratification of the emerging treaty.

Kerry said he and Lugar would hold hearings to examine details.

"A well-designed treaty will send an important message to the rest of the world that America is prepared to lead efforts with key stakeholders to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons," Kerry said.

Maria Lipman, an expert with the Moscow Carnegie Center think tank, said this week the new treaty could not only reduce the size of both country's nuclear arsenals but also change the psychology of the U.S.-Russia relationship, which has been strained for at least the past six years.

"Gradually the attitude may change to where America is not seen from Russia as a force to be treated with suspicion," she said.

Richard Burt, a former U.S. ambassador and chief U.S. negotiator of the original START agreement, described the about-to-be-announced follow-on treaty as the first significant arms reduction agreement in nearly two decades. He said it advances momentum toward eliminating nuclear weapons.

"This agreement will set the stage for further cuts in U.S. and Russian arsenals and multilateral negotiations for reductions by all nuclear weapons countries," Burt said.

Two senior U.S. officials in Washington said the technical issues still to be resolved were in an "annex" to the main treaty, and they foresaw no hurdles to completing the entire deal within days. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive discussions. One official said an announcement that the treaty is complete is expected by Friday.

A Kremlin source, speaking by telephone to The Associated Press, said all the documents, including the treaty, had been agreed upon. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that the treaty was 20 pages long, with an extensive protocol attached.

Negotiations, which have been under way in Geneva since last spring, became bogged down in recent months on disputes over verification measures and Russia's objection to U.S. missile defense plans for Europe.

Russian negotiators have balked at including some intrusive weapons verification measures in the new treaty. The Obama administration has warned that without these, Senate ratification could prove difficult.
The agreement would still leave each country with a large number of nuclear weapons, both deployed and stockpiled.

Norris, the nuclear weapons expert, and Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, estimate that the U.S. has 2,150 deployed strategic nuclear weapons and the Russians have about 2,600. The U.S. has another 2,600 warheads held in reserve, plus 500 non-strategic nuclear weapons, by the two experts' estimate. Another 4,200 retired U.S. strategic warheads are awaiting dismantlement.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

More on Obama's "Big F---ing Deal"

"The GOP's Dirty Health-Care Secret" (Matthew Dalleck-The Daily Beast):
Republicans are screaming that Obamacare’s mandates are a “stunning assault on liberty,” as one put it. That’s ironic, since Richard Nixon, Bob Dole, and Bill Frist all embraced the idea.
"ObamaCare by the Numbers: Part 1" (John Cassidy-The New Yorker):
President Obama, to his credit, finally exploited the Democratic majorities in Congress to tackle this problem, and, in the process, demonstrated that he has an inner resolve and determination that I, for one, had doubted. In getting something—anything—done in today’s Washington, he has reinvigorated his Presidency and transformed the political calculus for the rest of his agenda.
Unfortunately, the reform bills that Congress has passed don’t tackle some of the system’s underlying problems, such as the lack of incentives to limit health-care expenditures. Yes, there is financing for pilot schemes that might eventually generate some savings, and, yes, a new independent board of experts will be tasked with identifying possible cuts, but to conflate these initiatives with a guaranteed cure for cost inflation is to fall victim to wishful thinking. Unless I am mistaken—and I hope I am—the reform will end up costing taxpayers considerably more than the Congressional Budget Office is predicting, and it won’t cover nearly as many people as hoped for. In another decade or so, Congress will be back at work, trying to provide genuine universal coverage at a more affordable cost.
"Biden On 'Big F---ing Deal': Obama Loved It" (HuffPo):
"You know what the best thing about yesterday was?" Obama reportedly said on Wednesday. "Joe's comment."

Biden shot back, "If you thought it was so good, why didn't you say it?"

According to Biden, who recounted the exchange during a fundraiser later that day, the president tried to have a t-shirt made with the remark but wasn't able to get one in time. Delivery may have been the only problem, as custom t-shirt makers were already taking orders within minutes of Biden's open mic gaffe.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles: "Washington's medical marijuana law needs fine-tuning" (Seattle Times)

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles(Seattle Times, op-ed):
In the past two weeks, we have seen two traumatic incidents involving medical marijuana.

On March 9 and again on March 15, the homes of two medical-marijuana patients who are also providers were the sites of violent home invasions. The victim of the first attack died from his wounds. The owner of the second home suffered injuries in a gunfight that also left one of his attackers critically wounded. These attacks highlight shortcomings in our law and the need for reform.

In 1998, the people approved Initiative 692 by a margin of 59 percent, which allowed doctors to authorize the use of medical marijuana for patients with terminal or debilitating conditions. While the law also allows patients to grow their own plants or designate a provider to grow them, it does not provide guidance on where to obtain seeds or cuttings. The law also states that a designated provider may serve "only one patient at any one time." The vagueness of the current law makes it very difficult for patients to get the medication they need and are legally entitled to.

Some are working to make medical marijuana more readily accessible to patients. Last June, the Change Dispensary opened its doors in Spokane and made no secret of the fact that it was providing medical marijuana to multiple patients. Its owners were arrested and charged with felonies.

Our law puts patients and providers in an impossible position. A patient or provider can comply with the law and still be subject to arrest, prosecution or seizure of medical marijuana. Often, a patient or provider must endure the stress, cost and embarrassment of a trial — and the patient must disclose private medical information — before being acquitted by a jury.

This failure to provide complete protection leaves everyone — patients, doctors, providers and law enforcement — confused about the rules. Because of this, patients and providers are often afraid to call on law enforcement for protection from burglars or even to report thefts or assaults.

It is time to provide qualified medical-marijuana patients complete protection under the law and to directly regulate the production and dispensing of cannabis. Patients should not have to fear arrest, home searches or property seizures by law-enforcement officers. Providers who want to help patients access medical marijuana should not have to risk prosecution and robbery.

As King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg recently told The New York Times, "By forcing this production to remain underground, you increase the risk of violence for everybody and you disburse that violence to residential neighborhoods and put everybody at risk."

More than a decade has passed since Washington's citizens clearly stated that physician-authorized medical use of marijuana should be legal. In 2011, I will introduce legislation to protect patients from arrest and prosecution and provide well-regulated, safe, consistent and secure sources of cannabis for medical use through licensed dispensaries. I hope citizens across the state will help me pass this legislation to improve the safety of patients, our loved ones and the communities in which we live.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, chairs the Senate Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee. She was prime sponsor of Senate Bill 5798, passed by the Legislature on March 11, which extends to all health-care professionals with prescriptive authority the ability to authorize the medical use of marijuana.
Howie P.S: Sensible Washington emails me:
If anyone can make any of these events, please do!

We need as many volunteers as possible out collecting signatures at
the Sounders game (starts at 7:00) on Thursday evening at Qwest Field
and in and around Pioneer Square before the game. In addition to the
sounders we'll be working other shows this weekend:

Blue scholars at Showbox at the market - both the Friday and Saturday
shows are sold out and there's now a Sunday night show for Blue

Mad Rad (Sat. at Crocodile Cafe) and Hell's Belles (Sat. at Neumos).

Any questions, you can contact Bonnie Fong, our Seattle
events coordinator, at

Health Care Leftovers (with video)

"Obama, Democrats Begin Reaping Political Benefits Of Reform" (Sam Stein)
Only hours after the president signed health care reform legislation into law on Tuesday, the immediate political benefits for the Democratic Party are already coming into focus.

"Republicans weigh costs of losing ugly" (Politico)
The only thing worse than winning ugly is losing uglier.

"Tea Party Bigotry Can’t Stop History" (Eugene Robinson)
“This is what change looks like,” President Obama said after succeeding where Bill Clinton, Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman had failed. On Sunday, as comprehensive health care reform was becoming a reality, some people couldn’t bear what they saw.

"Why Democrats Are Fighting for a Republican Health Plan" (E.J. Dionne)
Here is the ultimate paradox of the Great Health Care Showdown: Congress will divide along partisan lines to pass a Republican version of health care reform, and Republicans will vote against it.

"The Health Care Hindenburg Has Landed" (Chris Hedges)
Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s decision to vote “yes” in Sunday’s House action on the health care bill, although he had sworn to oppose the legislation unless there was a public option, is a perfect example of why I would never be a politician. I respect Kucinich. As politicians go, he is about as good as they get, but he is still a politician. He has to run for office. He has to raise money. He has to placate the Democratic machine or risk retaliation and defeat. And so he signed on to a bill that will do nothing to ameliorate the suffering of many Americans, will force tens of millions of people to fork over a lot of money for a defective product and, in the end, will add to the ranks of our uninsured.

"Tea party protesters scream 'nigger' at black congressman," with video (01:48)(McClatchy)
Demonstrators outside the U.S. Capitol, angry over the proposed health care bill, shouted "nigger" Saturday at U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia congressman and civil rights icon who was nearly beaten to death during an Alabama march in the 1960s.

"Health care reform bill 101: Who will pay for reform?" (Christian Science Monitor)
If the health care reform vote succeeds today, the $940 billion bill would be the biggest change to domestic policy in a generation. The rich and the health industry would pick up most of the tab.

"Thank you, Progressive Caucus, for improving health care reform" (Progressive Caucus Action Fund)
Dear Progressive Members of Congress:

Thanks to you, and the tough positions you took on reforming the health insurance industry, significant progress was made towards reforming health care in this country. We thank you for representing the majority opinions on health care reform throughout the debate and voting for change.

"Tell Michael Bennet: Introduce the Public Option in the Senate" (FDL Action)
Sign our petition to Senator Michael Bennet:

"You led the fight for 51 votes for a public option in the Senate. Now it's up to you to make sure it comes up for a vote at all. Introduce the public option for a vote during the Senate's debate."

"An Open Letter to Republicans From Michael Moore"
Please, my Republican friends, if you can, take a quiet moment away from your AM radio and cable news network this morning and be happy for your country. We're doing better. And we're doing it for you, too.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Brian Baird on the hot seat: "Assessing Organizing for America through the health care lens"

Chris Cillizza:
A few weeks back, we wrote that Organizing for America -- the operation built in the wake of the 2008 campaign to push President Obama's legislative agenda -- faced a serious test of its efficacy as it pushed hard for passage of the health care bill.

In the immediate aftermath of Sunday night's vote, OFA claimed a sweeping victory (and a validation of its mission), noting that they had produced hundreds of thousands of phone calls -- among other voter contacts -- to fence-sitting members in the week prior to the vote.

Their work, in turn, drew praise from several people who have followed the organization very closely.

Ben Smith of Politico headlined a post "Credit to OFA" and concluded that in the "legislative trench warfare that has defined this year, [Obama's] campaign organization was a serious asset."

Ari Melber of the liberal Nation magazine, who has studied OFA (and its effectiveness) closely, offered this take:

"In the homestretch...the numbers and coverage suggest that OFA was able to channel grassroots support for the bill in effective and even confrontational ways."

If OFA's success or failure as an organization is entirely hinged on the fate of the health care bill passing, then it's tough to draw any other conclusion than the Sunday vote was a rousing victory for the organization.

The truth, however, of OFA's efficacy in regards the health care vote is far more nuanced and more difficult to accurately assess.

OFA's mission statement is simple: rally Obama's base -- and the more than 13 million email addresses its possesses -- to persuade and/or cajole members of Congress on the president's legislative priorities. And, assessing persuasion is a complicated game that is as much about human nature as it is about politics.

Take Washington Rep. Brian Baird (D) who voted "no" on the health care bill back in November.

Baird, who announced his retirement in early December, was publicly wavering in advance of this vote. In a memo outlining OFA's effectiveness sent to to reporters this morning, Democratic National Committee communications director Brad Woodhouse noted that Baird "said that the number of calls he received from inside his district in support of reform was persuasive in moving him" from "no" to "yes"; Woodhouse added that OFA was directly responsible for nearly three-quarters of all calls to Baird's office in support of the health care bill.

Compare that claim with Baird's quotes in a Roll Call story detailing the effort to win his vote.

Said Baird:

"Everybody knew in my case -- no point in cajoling me, They were likely to get punched in the mouth if they said, 'You're not running,'. You say that to me, you insult me personally, because it implies all I care about is election."

The story goes on to note that as Baird made up his mind he had a private sitdown with President Obama as well as conversations with Vice President Joe Biden and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke (Wash.). He even went over the plan "point by point" with Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orzag.

What then made up Baird's mind? Was it OFA's calls? Or the conversations with top Administration officials and members of the Democratic leadership in the House?

It's impossible to know and it's almost certain that no one thing did the trick.

(In truth, Organizing for America is likely to get less credit than it deserves in some circles because individual Members of Congress are often loathe to credit a persuasion campaign as the reason that their vote changed. The typical stated reason is generally far more high minded citing a detailed analysis of the bill after which they decided it was the right thing for the country.)

But the Baird back-and-forth gets at the fundamental chicken and egg-ness of OFA. We could argue until we are blue in the face as to whether insist that Baird was swayed primarily by calls from OFA or conversations with the President and his aides without coming to any real resolution.

The best (only?) conclusion we are left with is that, at a minimum, OFA helped around the edges to rally support for the vote. If the choice is between scads of calls in support of passing the bill into wavering Members' districts and no calls at all, it's hard to argue against those calls and the work OFA did.

"President Obama signs the Health Insurance Reform Bill to law" (with video, transcript)

This Week with Barack Obama with video (27:07) and transcript:
This morning the President made it official: things are going to change a bit between Americans and their health insurance companies. The President signed health reform into law, with a package of fixes not far behind, and in the process created a future for the country in which Americans and small businesses are in control of their own health care, not the insurance industry.
Howie P.S.: Michael Moore and Matt Taibbi aren't waving any pom poms.

"How Obama revived his health-care bill"

Photo courtesy of the White House. President Obama embraces Secretary of State Clinton upon the House passage of the health care reform bill, as Gen. Jones prepares for Situation Room meeting.

It was the Barack Obama the American public rarely sees -- irritated and wondering if he had arrived at the moment of defeat.
Shortly after 6 p.m. on Jan. 19, with a political crisis about to explode, the president summoned the two top Democrats in Congress to the Oval Office for a strategy session. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sat alongside Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), the tension in the room acute.

Obama wasn't waiting for the polls to close in Massachusetts at 8 that evening. He already knew that his Democratic Party was about to suffer an embarrassing loss. In the bitterest of ironies, the Senate seat held for nearly 47 years by Democrat Edward M. Kennedy, who had been the leading voice in Congress for universal health care, was about to fall into Republican hands.

Now the president was asking members of his assembled brain trust: What were they going to do?

Although they shared Obama's desire to vastly expand the nation's health-care system, they were divided over how to salvage his signature policy proposal.

Mathematically, Scott Brown's impending victory would deny Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. With only 59 votes loosely under his control, Reid wanted the House to adopt the version of the health-care bill that had barely squeaked through the Senate on Christmas Eve.

No way, said Pelosi.

"The Senate bill is a non-starter," she said. "I can't sell that to my members."

Pelosi lectured the others about the political realities of the House: Her Democratic troops did not trust the Senate, and she would face a mutiny if she asked them to do what Reid was suggesting.

They talked over each other, round and round, repeating the arguments Obama had heard for weeks.

"Let me finish," he broke in.

This was not how the president had envisioned things. He was just one day away from celebrating his first year in office. By now, he was to have signed into law a landmark bill guaranteeing health care to every American, the broadest piece of social policy legislation since President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society.

Instead, he was confronting the very real prospect of failure on an equally grand scale.

The remarkable change in political fortunes thrust Obama into a period of uncertainty and demonstrated the ability of one person to control the balance of power in Washington. On Jan. 19, that person seemed to be Brown.

But as the next 61 days would show, culminating in Sunday night's historic vote, the fate of the legislation ultimately rested in the hands of Obama, who in the hours before Brown's victory was growing increasingly frustrated as Pelosi detailed why no answer was in sight.

There went health-care reform.

There went history.

"I understand that, Nancy," he finally snapped. "What's your solution?"

* * *

Panic. Despair. Back stabbing. Recriminations. Calibrations and recalibrations.

From the evening hours of Jan. 19 to Tuesday's bill-signing ceremony, Washington has been in full soap-opera mode, including the grandiose declarations made since Sunday night.

"Just think," Pelosi said as the House neared its vote, "we will be joining those who have established Social Security, Medicare and now, tonight, health care for all Americans."

Said Obama after the 219-212 vote: "In the end, what this day represents is another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American dream." He added: "Tonight, we answered the call of history as so many generations of Americans have before us. When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenge -- we overcame it. We did not avoid our responsibility -- we embraced it. We did not fear our future -- we shaped it."

Republicans viewed the action differently.

"With all this euphoria that's going on, this inside-the-Beltway, champagne toasting and all that, outside the Beltway, the American people are very angry," Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) said Monday. "And they don't like it. And they're going to try to repeal this. And we are going to have a very spirited campaign coming up between now and November. And there will be a very heavy price to pay for it."

But the rhetoric only hints at the drama that unfolded behind the scenes in the effort to pass legislation that will extend insurance coverage to 32 million Americans and dramatically alter how health care is provided. This account -- based on exclusive interviews with a dozen lawmakers, lobbyists and high-ranking administration officials -- highlights some of the key moments in the final push, from the chaotic arm-twisting at the end to a futile attempt at bipartisanship that began in the wake of the Jan. 19 meeting.

As Pelosi and Reid left the White House that night, the administration was coming to the conclusion that its fatal mistake had been giving up so much control to Congress. Although the strategy was intended to correct the mistakes President Bill Clinton made in 1993 when his wife's task force wrote a health-care bill in secret, the Obama White House belatedly realized that the months of delay, closed-door negotiations and special deals had tarnished the effort and a president who won office by promising to change the way Washington operates.

And so came the first attempt at a retooled strategy: a commander in chief back in charge. Obama would still need Pelosi and Reid to deliver votes, but this time the White House intended to steer more aggressively.

"In 2010, the president has to look like he is leading the process," communications director Dan Pfeiffer said in a staff meeting. The goal is to "change the narrative" from the horse trading on Capitol Hill to "Obama finally taking charge of health reform."

* * *

On Jan. 29, Obama traveled to Baltimore for a rare appearance with House Republicans. The televised give-and-take showed him at his best, and it gave a psychological boost to his White House team, including his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who proposed that Obama hold a bipartisan summit, much like the successful summit on welfare reform that Clinton had held in 1995.

Obama, who felt particularly stung by critics who said he had broken his pledge to air the health-care debate on television, immediately embraced the summit concept. It would be a chance to reset the effort, display his willingness to accept Republicans' ideas and claim -- albeit more for show than substance -- that he was crafting a "new" bill that was not sullied by the deals struck in Congress.

Privately, some of his key aides had doubts, such as health-care adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle and legislative liaison Phil Schiliro. They felt that they had tried for nearly a year to reach out to a handful of Republicans, with no success. Why give the GOP another opportunity to delay?

But Obama viewed the summit as a fresh chance to sell the public on his vision and highlight what he considered shortcomings in the Republican proposals. At a meeting in the Roosevelt Room shortly after returning from Baltimore, he ridiculed health-care legislation sponsored by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

"Covering 3 million people is not our goal," Obama reminded aides.

Emanuel, who served in the Clinton White House, raised the prospect of scaling back the bill, a theme he had struck several times over the previous year. As the architect of many small-bore initiatives in the Clinton era, Emanuel had periodically argued that it was "better to get points on the scoreboard" with modest legislative success than to have nothing.

After the defeat in Massachusetts, he again asked aides to run the numbers on smaller-scale alternatives -- as a fallback, at least. Most of the scenarios envisioned spending $150 billion to $500 billion over a decade and would focus on coverage for young adults or families with young children.

Obama considered what Emanuel was saying. For days, he had been hearing Pelosi warn that she could not round up the votes for the Senate bill. The speaker was one of the most skilled vote-counters in history; her assessment carried weight.

But Obama knew she was one of history's most skilled vote-getters as well. More than anyone else, in fact, she had been the reason the House passed its health-care bill in November.

The first House tally had been close, with just two votes to spare, and it was headed for defeat until an extraordinary day just before when Pelosi, confronting a major rift over federal funding for abortion, called together the female Democrats in the House and said, "We're standing on the brink of doing something great. I'm not letting anything stand in the way of that."

And she didn't. All day long, she shuttled from one meeting to another in the warren of offices that make up the speaker's suite. In one, she met with the people who could tip the balance on the last few votes she needed: antiabortion lawmakers, as well as lobbyists for Catholic bishops.

In another room were her abortion rights allies. She showed them her tally sheets. "I don't have the final votes for passage," she said. "I don't know what to do."

In reality, she did know what to do, and soon it became clear to her closest friends that she was willing to accept tight abortion limits in the bill, which meant a vote for health-care legislation would mean a vote for restrictions they so loathed.

The women became furious. Voices were raised. Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.), a close friend of Pelosi's, lamented about "all the women we were just throwing under the bus" and called it "a betrayal of all the women that had fought for this for so long." Pelosi, according to two participants, had tears in her eyes. But she got the votes -- that time.

"Maybe we just can't get there," Obama said now to his advisers. But let's at least try.

"We're so close," he said. Bills have passed the House and Senate. "We're right there. Even if we are within the realm of possibility, we should go for it."

* * *

If Obama was beginning to reassert control behind the scenes, the message was more muddled in public. Although he continued to say he was determined to see lawmakers pass the legislation, he offered scant ideas for how they might do so.

On Capitol Hill, where fears of a wipeout in the November midterm elections were coursing through the Democratic ranks because of the upset in Massachusetts, lawmakers grumbled that Obama was still leaving the hard work to them.

The president decided to meet them halfway -- literally.

On Feb. 3, his limousine made the short ride down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Newseum, the modernist structure just a few blocks from the Capitol. In a televised session with Senate Democrats, Obama delivered a message of solidarity, assuring the beleaguered lawmakers: "I'm there in the arena with you."

He and the press corps left. Another triumph, it seemed. But then the tensions exploded.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) launched into a tirade against David Axelrod, a senior White House adviser and one of Obama's closest confidants.

"I have been in a slow burn here, a slow burn!" the lawmaker hollered from the last row of the meeting room. "I'm just livid."

Lacing his commentary with profanity, Franken complained that the health-care campaign had been lackluster and leaderless, particularly in the tentative period since Brown's victory.

"Goddamn it, what's the deal here?" he said, as colleagues, their spouses and aides looked on. "You're talking platitudes, and we have to go home and defend ourselves. We're getting the crap kicked out of us!"

Axelrod, a laconic Chicagoan not prone to excitability, catalogued Obama's work over the past year.

"Add up the number of trips, speeches, radio addresses," he said. "I spend a good part of every day with him, and I know that he's still working hard on this issue."

Franken wouldn't relent.

"The president of the United States comes up here, you come here, and none of you are telling us what we're going to do about health care," he continued. "He should apologize to everyone here for his stupid idea during the campaign to put this all on C-SPAN."

To some in the room, Franken's outburst felt like theater from a longtime performer. But others were pleased that the former comedian was giving voice to the months of friction.

"There's a great deal of frustration that the president isn't getting the feelings that a lot of us are feeling," said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). "The president needs to be more hands-on with the health-care bill."

"I assure you the president is getting that message," Axelrod replied. "We have a plan."

That prompted Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.).

"What is it? What exactly is the plan?" the former lawyer asked in a prosecutorial tone. "What is the strategy?"

Axelrod took the verbal punches -- until Franken questioned Obama's commitment to the bill they had spent 12 months selling.

"Al, you can say whatever you want, but don't tell me the president hasn't led on health care," Axelrod said. "This thing would have been dead 15 times before now if he hadn't been persistent and committed. I don't know anybody in my memory who has expended more of his own political capital on an issue than he has on this one."

"Then why doesn't he go over to the House and tell them to pass the Senate bill?" Franken said.

"Al, if you've got 218 votes in your pocket, hand me the list," Axelrod replied. "I will personally walk it over to the speaker and we can take care of this tomorrow. But I don't think she has that list in her pocket."

* * *

Late February. Obama continued his elusive search for bipartisanship.

In so many ways since taking office, he had seemed to be searching for the right balance between two versions of himself: Obama the idealistic community organizer, and Obama the pragmatic president who could abandon core principles in the drive to pass a bill.

His decision to hold the bipartisan summit was based in the belief that he could personally overcome the ferocious partisanship gripping Washington and woo at least a few Republicans -- or at least show he was trying.

It also brought together the two Obamas.

On Feb. 25, the president and 28 lawmakers squeezed around a giant square of tables in the Garden Room of Blair House. After more than seven hours of talking, the members of Congress grabbed their coats and raced for the doors.

Not Obama. He lingered behind, shaking hands, making one last pitch for his stalled initiative. After all the others were gone, he stepped into the brisk darkness and made the short walk across the street to the White House.

"There were some good things that came out of that," he told advisers in the Oval Office afterward. He said he wanted the final legislation to incorporate a handful of ideas Republicans raised during the session.

A few aides protested. Shouldn't they extract a few votes in return? "Let's bargain for these," one said.

Obama -- naively, some would say -- still held out hope for a couple of converts. "We're going to accept some of these," he said.

Over the following weekend, DeParle and other administration officials made overtures to several Republicans. They spoke to Rep. Peter Roskam (Ill.), who served with Obama in the state legislature. They conferred with Rep. John Shadegg (Ariz.) about ways to sell insurance across state lines and with Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) about his idea to hire undercover Medicare fraud investigators.

But it was too late. Republicans denounced the summit as an 11th-hour publicity stunt and declared that they would not help pass Obama's health-care bill, even if it did include some of their proposals.

Pelosi, meanwhile, had grown more bullish about her prospects in the House. Though the summit had not won over any Republicans, it had reassured some jittery Democrats that Obama was fully engaged in the fight.

The strategy of coming across as a leader appeared to be working. Heartened, Obama set on what would be the final course of his top domestic initiative.

During an appearance in the East Room on March 3, surrounded by doctors in white lab coats, he outlined a final health-care bill. The substance of his announcement was hardly newsworthy: The Obama proposal was largely the compromise measure negotiated in early January, before the election in Massachusetts, with a few Republican additions.

Far more significant was the strategic decision the president made to pursue a delicate procedural two-step that Emanuel and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina had brought up soon after Brown's Senate victory. Step one: The House would adopt the Senate bill -- the very measure that Pelosi had called a "non-starter." Step two: The House would then approve a batch of changes in a separate budget "reconciliation" bill, which would require only a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate, not the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. Even with Brown added to the Republican side, there were still 59 Democrats in the Senate. More than enough.

Democrats, in other words, would go it alone.

* * *

A few hours after his speech in the East Room, Obama threw a party with an ulterior motive.

Under a 19th-century French chandelier, he and a few dozen lawmakers toasted the enactment of a law imposing "pay as you go" budget restrictions. As tuxedoed waiters passed hors d'oeuvres and a bartender poured drinks, Obama, Vice President Biden and a trio of senior advisers worked the room, moving from one clutch of Democratic deficit hawks to another.

The search for votes was on.

In one corner, Biden reminisced about the late congressman John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) with Democratic Reps. Jason Altmire (Pa.), Peter Welch (Vt.) and Lincoln Davis (Tenn.). The president ambled up to the group and praised the lawmakers' support of the legislation, dubbed paygo.

"This is so extraordinarily important for the country. We have to get back in fiscal balance," Obama said. "Paygo is the tool to help us."

But the real reason for the president's schmoozing quickly became evident. Looking toward Welch, an enthusiastic supporter of the health-care overhaul, he said: "And you know what else would help us with the deficit?"

Without missing a beat, Welch turned to Altmire, who voted against the bill in November but was on the fence in March.

"Yes," Welch said, "health-care reform."

Then Obama draped one arm over Altmire's shoulder, turned away from the others and leaned in close to his intended target.

"Peter's right, Jason," Obama said. "We have to do this. It is essential to bringing down the deficit."

Estimates by the independent Congressional Budget Office would soon show that the measure would reduce the deficit, Obama said, while the status quo "blows the deficit."

Altmire, more than most in Congress, understood the intricacies of health policy. As a congressional aide in the 1990s, he had worked on Clinton's failed effort and later became a hospital executive. He opposed the bill in November in part because it would not have gone far enough to control rising medical costs.

Obama saw that as his opening, pointing out to Altmire that the new version would create a Medicare cost-cutting commission.

Altmire reminded Obama that he had been to the congressman's district in western Pennsylvania, a conservative region where Republicans often win and the Roman Catholic bishop holds considerable sway.

"I want to represent my district," he said. "As you know, it is politically split."

As the president drifted toward a lectern to address the entire room, Emanuel cornered Altmire. The two went back to 2006, when Emanuel helped the former high school football star win his seat in Congress.

"Your constituents like you; you've built up a reservoir of goodwill," Emanuel said. "You have an opportunity before this vote to go back home and explain it to them."

Obama and Emanuel had made clear that they needed the votes of many of the lawmakers sipping cocktails that evening, even skeptics such as Altmire.

The conversations in the Blue Room however, were but a gentle hint of what was to come.

* * *

The day after the reception, Obama began his final, most intensive push to corral votes, a round-the-clock effort in which he delved into arcane policy discussions, promised favors, mapped out election strategy and, when all else failed, painted the grim portrait of what a weakened presidency would mean for Democrats and their lofty legislative ambitions.

He hit the road, rolling up his sleeves at boisterous rallies outside Philadelphia, St. Louis and Fairfax. He revived his attacks on the insurance industry, a strategy bolstered by the latest round of double-digit premium increases. His Cabinet members wrote op-ed pieces, while his political operatives coordinated a $7.6 million pro-reform advertising blitz in 40 congressional districts.

But it was the personal touch -- in carefully-tailored appeals -- that mattered the most in the closing days.

Some fence-sitters nearly drowned in presidential attention. The day after the party in the Blue Room, Altmire was back at the White House for a meeting with centrists in the New Democrat Coalition.

"The economy's going to turn around," Obama assured them. With time, he said, "this is going to be viewed as a good vote."

A few lawmakers chimed in to agree, but Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told Obama that the health-care bill wasn't selling well in some parts of the country. It wasn't simply a matter of "all hold hands and jump off the cliff together," he said, half in jest. "This is going to be difficult."

"If this was easy," the president replied, looking around the Oval Office, "you wouldn't be sitting here."

That same day, Obama faced a group of disappointed liberals, many of them supporters of a single-payer, government-run system. They had such high hopes that he would stick to his promise to create a public insurance option.

"This is a foundation," he told them. "Thirty-one million Americans will be covered under this. It's a beginning."

Most in the room had resigned themselves to the Obama compromise, but Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) refused.

"I'm concerned this is going to create a foundation for the increased privatization of the system," he said from a leather chair under a "Rough Rider" portrait of Theodore Roosevelt. "It's giving $70 billion to industry."

Kucinich left the White House saddened. He'd developed a bond with Obama during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries and didn't enjoy saying no to his former rival. It appeared they were at an impasse.

The White House had better luck with Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.). After one group meeting, Obama asked her to stay behind.

"Let me talk to my homegirl," he joked. They compared notes on their families -- both have two daughters. Then Obama made a gentle plea: "These reforms are really important."

A few days later, seated at the conference table in his spacious corner office, Emanuel was more direct, reminding Bean of the support he lent in her campaigns and why she came to Washington.

"You ran because you care about the deficit," he said. "This is north of $1 trillion in deficit reduction."

Bean wanted to see the final bill and a cost estimate.

"The Senate bill is stronger than the House bill, and you voted for the House bill," Emanuel countered.

"I'm glad you heard us," she replied.

"Melissa, name me once in the last six years you voted for a bill with more deficit reduction," he said. And, he added, if she opposed the health-care legislation, "don't ever send me another press release about deficit reduction" over 20 years.

On Monday, March 15, Obama began what aides hoped would be the final week in their year-long march. On the flight to a rally in Strongsville, Ohio, Obama rode in his private cabin with Kucinich.

Seated across a small table with a laptop beside him, Obama ticked off a litany of groundbreaking legislative achievements -- all of which, he argued, began small. Medicare, he said. Civil rights.

They hashed through the substance; Obama spoke about the tens of millions of uninsured Americans who would be covered under the bill. It was cordial, but they were still at loggerheads.

Finally, the president recalled that it was Kucinich, during the Iowa caucuses, who directed his delegates to back Obama on a second ballot. "Dennis, you were the only candidate to do that," he said.

Now, Obama said, his presidency was on the line. This wasn't about him, "but about our ability to get anything done."

On Capitol Hill, Pelosi was once again methodically working down her tally sheet, counting names in the hunt for the 216 votes she would need to deliver for Obama once again. She received a pleasant surprise on Wednesday, when Kucinich announced he had changed his position.

Kucinich's support was more than just one vote in the "yes" column; it was the start of the momentum the White House had been struggling to create.

In short order, the news rolled out in a steady, well-choreographed clip.

"Gordon, Markey, join no-to-yes" contingent, one announcement said. "Boccieri switches to yes." At the White House, confident aides stole time to watch the NCAA basketball tournament.

Obama, meanwhile, doused a brush fire with organized labor over changes to a new excise tax that unions did not like. In a chance encounter in an aide's office that was actually well planned out, Obama pulled AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka into the Oval Office.

"We're at the one-yard line. We've just got to get the ball in the end zone," the president said, imploring Trumka to hold his complaints for another day. "Rich, you've got to stay with me."

But not everything went their way, and Pelosi and Obama sweated into the weekend.

On Friday morning, Altmire e-mailed Emanuel. Despite the party on St. Patrick's Day at the White House, a sit-down with Emanuel, a few more phone calls from the president and three from Cabinet-level officials, Altmire planned to announce that he would vote no.

"Don't do it," Emanuel punched back on his BlackBerry. At 4 p.m., Altmire released his statement and at 7:30 Obama called once more.

"I want to give you something to think about before the vote," the president said gently into the phone. "Picture yourself on Monday morning. You wake up and look at the paper. It's the greatest thing Congress has done in 50 years. And you were on the wrong team."

Saturday. Two days left, and it was time for the closing strategy. Arm twist after arm twist, deal after deal, these last days played out so publicly that at some point amid the news conferences and speeches it started to feel like a compressed, frenetic rehash of the 14-month fight.

Protesters on the Capitol lawn. Rumors of enticements -- a Cabinet post, water access in California, money for NASA. More phone calls, more news conferences, frayed nerves, exhaustion.

At the Capitol, Pelosi was once again dealing with the specter of abortion funding, shuttling from office to office as she locked down the final votes. Not once, but twice, she had done what no other speaker could accomplish.

And Obama, once again, was ensconced in the White House contemplating the fate of his signature domestic initiative, a scene so familiar that it could have been Jan. 19 all over again. Would the House adopt the Senate bill?

But this time, instead of panic, instead of sniping and interrupting, there was, at the end, a win.

Here came health-care reform.

Here came history.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"10 Things Every American Should Know About Health Care Reform"
Once reform is fully implemented, over 95% of Americans will have health insurance coverage, including 32 million who are currently uninsured.

2. Health insurance companies will no longer be allowed to deny people coverage because of preexisting conditions—or to drop coverage when people become sick.

3. Just like members of Congress, individuals and small businesses who can't afford to purchase insurance on their own will be able to pool together and choose from a variety of competing plans with lower premiums.

4. Reform will cut the federal budget deficit by $138 billion over the next ten years, and a whopping $1.2 trillion in the following ten years.

5. Health care will be more affordable for families and small businesses thanks to new tax credits, subsidies, and other assistance—paid for largely by taxing insurance companies, drug companies, and the very wealthiest Americans.

6. Seniors on Medicare will pay less for their prescription drugs because the legislation closes the "donut hole" gap in existing coverage.

7. By reducing health care costs for employers, reform will create or save more than 2.5 million jobs over the next decade.

8. Medicaid will be expanded to offer health insurance coverage to an additional 16 million low-income people.

9. Instead of losing coverage after they leave home or graduate from college, young adults will be able to remain on their families' insurance plans until age 26.

10. Community health centers would receive an additional $11 billion, doubling the number of patients who can be treated regardless of their insurance or ability to pay.


1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10. "Affordable Health Care for America: Summary," House Energy and Commerce Committee, March 18, 2010

3. "Insurance Companies Prosper, Families Suffer: Our Broken Health Insurance System," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Accessed March 22, 2010

4. "Affordable Health Care for America: Health Insurance Reform at a Glance: Revenue Provisions," House Energy and Commerce Committee, March 18, 2010

5. "New Jobs Through Better Health Care," Center for American Progress, January 8, 2010

8, 9. "Proposed Changes in the Final Health Care Bill," The New York Times, March 22, 2010

10. "Affordable Health Care for America: Health Insurance Reform at a Glance: Addressing Health and Health Care Disparities," House Energy and Commerce Committee, March 20, 2010