WH putting health-care off until … February?

posted at 11:36 am on December 23, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Politico’s Mike Allen and Alexander Trowbridge have some bad news for Democrats, especially in the Senate, where Harry Reid has kept the chamber locked in battle over ObamaCare for weeks in an attempt to hit the finish line by Christmas.  Barack Obama plans to put the health-care overhaul on the back burner until after the State of the Union address, pushing any conference between the House and Senate off until February.  Instead, Obama plans a “hard pivot” towards jobs and the economy:

The White House privately anticipates health care talks to slip into February — past President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address — and then plans to make a “very hard pivot” to a new jobs bill, according to senior administration officials.

Obama has been told that disputes over abortion and the tight schedule are highly likely to delay a final deal, a blow to the president who had hoped to trumpet a health care victory in his big speech to the nation. But he has also been told that House Democratic leaders seem inclined, at least for now, to largely accept the compromise worked out in the Senate, virtually assuring he will eventually get a deal.

Internally, White House aides are plunging into a 2010 plan calling for an early focus on creating jobs, especially in the energy sector, along with starting a conversation about deficit reduction measures, the administration officials said.

Both will be major themes for his first State of the Union speech, which will likely take place on Jan. 26 or Feb. 2. White House aides are in the early stages of planning for the national address, but Obama will not only trumpet what he has described as his “B-plus” performance in 2009 but also set the stage for the 2010 congressional campaigns.

This tells us that the White House has done some legwork in the House and found that the lower chamber is not going to adopt the Senate version as is, as Politico also reports this morning:

House Democrats insisted Tuesday they have no plans to roll over for the Senate in upcoming negotiations on a health reform bill, even as they acknowledged it would be all but impossible to reinsert a public insurance option or force the so-called millionaire’s tax on the Senate.

Either move would disrupt Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s no-margin-for-error 60-vote majority. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team seem to have their sights set on lower-profile – but no-less important – differences, like boosting affordability credits in the final bill and starting the insurance exchange a year earlier, which they did in the House.

On a conference call Tuesday, Pelosi (D-Calif.) walked the party’s leadership team through differences in the two bills.

Other differences the speaker mentioned Tuesday include: replacing the Senate’s state-run exchanges with a national exchange established under the House bill, adding tougher mandates to make sure everyone secures health coverage and closing a gap in prescription-drug coverage next year. Senate negotiators have agreed to close the so-called “donut hole,” but they haven’t agreed on a time to implement those changes.

Forget Raul Grijalva’s note of encouragement.  These issues will be too tough to overcome without the House reworking the bill.  That  will either require a conference committee to resolve the two bills or an attempt by Harry Reid to get the Senate to buy a House version (the “ping-pong” strategy), either of which would be subject to cloture votes and unlikely to succeed to a floor vote.

The longer that debate drags, the further Obama drops in the polls, which is why this move only makes sense if the White House sees weeks more futility in the health-care overhaul debate.  Even liberal commentators like the Seattle Times editorial board want Democrats to shelve ObamaCare and start paying attention to the fact that unemployment has spun out of control on their watch.  Deficits are even more wild, as Obama’s OMB Director Peter Orszag was forced to acknowledge when he admitted that he had underestimated deficits over the next ten years by 22%, or $2,200,000,000,000.

Unfortunately for Democrats in Congress, that move tosses them under a very big bus.  They wanted to close this debate as early as possible in order to allow anger over the unpopular measure to ebb in time for their re-election campaigns.  Under the new timing, Congress would have to consider ObamaCare and cap-and-trade in rapid succession, just in time for the summer and fundraising time.  Unlike last year, Democrats won’t be able to avoid appearing in public and being surrounded by Tea Party protests, and those two agenda items will provoke them to even more fury than last year.

The other term for “hard pivot” is “dithering.”  The more Obama dithers, the less likely ObamaCare becomes.


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