Breaking: Obama delays Asia trip to work on ObamaCare

Tweeted this morning by Robert Gibbs, via NPR:

The President will delay leaving for Indonesia and Australia – will now leave Sunday – the First Lady and the girls will not be on the trip.

Jake Tapper explains why:

Speaking volumes about how the votes are not yet there for health care reform, President Obama has decided to delay his trip to Asia.

The president was due to leave for a trip to Guam, Indonesia and Australia on Thursday, March 18th and return to Washington, DC on March 24th. The White House confirms this morning that the trip will be delayed by three days – the president will now leave Sunday March 21st and return to Washington on Friday, March 26th. …

The White House had long set the March 18th deadline – the day the president was to have left for his trip – for Capitol Hill. As recently as Tuesday the White House had expressed confidence that they were still within that goal. Yet at yesterday’s briefing for the first time indicated that the deadline may have to be shifted.

He doesn’t have the votes.  As with Nancy Pelosi’s bravado, the deadline turned out to be a façade.  If they had the votes, the bill would be on the floor now.  Not only do they not have the votes now, it seems likely they won’t have the votes next week, either — which is why Obama’s pushing back his long-awaited trip to Indonesia.

This could also be a lesson learned by the White House.  Last year, while Congress writhed in agony over ObamaCare, the President took time out to tour Asia — and came back with nothing for the effort but a bow to Japanese Emperor Akihito.  Obama took a tremendous amount of criticism for absenting himself for a sightseeing tour while leaving Democrats in Congress to do his dirty work.  If they don’t have the votes by March 21st, Obama may have to reconsider the trip altogether.

There is a time limit for Democrats — the Easter recess.  Incumbents need to go home and start campaigning, and any visits to constituents will almost certainly kill the chance for Obama to win the vote:

But beginning March 26, lawmakers will return to their districts and states for an Easter break that will last more than two weeks. Unlike the Christmas/New Year recess, when voters were occupied with the holidays and their own lives, there is renewed intensity over health care, as the president and Democrats make a “final push” to pass their bill. With Republicans planning to hold lots of town halls, that means it’s possible Easter could become August all over again.

“There’s frustration out there,” says Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who serves as the House GOP’s chief deputy whip and is encouraging members to meet with voters as often as possible. “The frustration is, ‘Here we’ve sent a message [on health care], but the administration is still trying to do it.’ People are opposed to this bill. They’ve seen the bill, they’ve heard the bill, they understand the bill, and they don’t like it. And they don’t understand why the president is continuing to push it when the country has said they dislike it.”

Easter can’t be exactly like August. Back then, people were just learning what was in the Democrats’ health care proposals, and they couldn’t believe what they saw. Now, that newness is gone. Also, this is an election year, and House rules mandate a 90-day “blackout period” before a primary, which means members who have primaries coming up in the next three months cannot send out mass mailings and do other campaign-like activities. They can still hold town halls, but the rules make it a little harder to notify the public of them.

Still, GOP strategists believe the town halls can be a twofer for Republican lawmakers. First, the meetings will showcase the public’s continuing opposition to Obamacare, and second, they will highlight the voters’ desire for Washington to work on the economy, not remake the health care system.

Maybe Obama should schedule his trip to March 27th.  ObamaCare will be finished by that date — one way or the other.