In it, but not of it. TPM DC

While we're talking health care reform: In his weekly radio address on Saturday, President Obama did what he's refused to do all along--he said the public option isn't an option at all.

[A]ny plan I sign must include an insurance exchange: a one-stop shopping marketplace where you can compare the benefits, cost and track records of a variety of plans - including a public option to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest - and choose what's best for your family.

That's a first. In the recent past, the White House has only demanded that health care reform expand and improve coverage while lowering costs. But Blue Dogs and conservative Senate Democrats have been raising noises about the public option, while citing concerns that the reform proposals on the table won't cut costs. And with the debate reaching its crescendo, Obama's letting them know they can't have it both ways.

He has a point--introducing a robust public option would be an extremely effective way to retard the growth in health care spending. And those who are both demanding a bill that bends the spending curve downward, but also opposing any measures that would accomplish that goal, are being pretty nakedly inconsistent.

It should come as no surprise, after last week's ramp-up, and with August fast approaching, but President Obama will ratchet up his campaign this week to get the House and Senate to pass health care bill before their summer recesses. The White House is promising the President will take the lead on an aggressive public and private push, culminating in a prime time news conference this Wednesday.

High on their list of focal points will be Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) on the waylaid Senate Finance Committee and House Blue Dogs, who are threatening to derail the bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee, where their numbers are impressive.

Baucus has been negotiating with committee Republicans for over a month in search of an elusive, and possibly illusory, bipartisan compromise--which was Obama's preferred game plan when the process began. But that was before Republicans signaled near universal opposition to key measures like the public insurance option, and talks dragged weeks and weeks beyond when they were supposed to end successfully.

Meanwhile, in the House, Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), are running a blitz of their own, riled, they say, by the fact that leadership didn't include them in negotiations when drafting the bill. Fortunately, for Democrats, Energy and Commerce is led by Henry Waxman, a seasoned legislator who lifted complex climate change legislation over similar hurdles just last month. That process, though, resulted in a number of major concessions, and some health reformers are worried that Blue Dogs will be able to extract yet more flesh out of this legislation.

Compounding their threats are the concerns of vulnerable Democratic freshmen, who worry about casting yet another controversial vote before election season heats up in the fall.

That's a ton of moving parts. All told, and assuming that the House and Senate don't push back their scheduled adjournment dates, we will likely know this week whether Obama and Democratic leaders will accomplish their near term--and perhaps most crucial--goal of passing bills in both chambers by August recess.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that, despite a high overall approval rating, President Obama's leadership on health care reform has lost favor with the public.

Obama's overall approval rating as President remains a high 59 percent, though below 60 for the first time since the Post and ABC began tracking it. In April, his approval/disapproval on health care was 57/29. Now it's 49/44. Despite the falling numbers, though, the public still trusts Obama on the issue over Republicans by a wide margin.

Sanford Thankful For Attending His Own Funeral Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) has written a guest column for The State, apologizing again to the people of South Carolina, and discussing his own moral failings and personal growth. "It is true that I did wrong and failed at the largest of levels, but equally true is the fact that God can make good of our respective wrongs in life," Sanford writes. "In this vein, while none of us has the chance to attend our own funeral, in many ways I feel like I was at my own in the past weeks, and surprisingly I am thankful for the perspective it has afforded."

Kennedy: Health Care "The Cause Of My Life" In a new guest piece in Newsweek, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) speaks of his own personal and family struggles with diseases and accidents, and his commitment to ensuring universal access to health care. "But quality care shouldn't depend on your financial resources, or the type of job you have, or the medical condition you face. Every American should be able to get the same treatment that U.S. senators are entitled to," Kennedy writes. "This is the cause of my life. It is a key reason that I defied my illness last summer to speak at the Democratic convention in Denver -- to support Barack Obama, but also to make sure, as I said, 'that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American ... will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not just a privilege.'"

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Obama: Health Care Reform Can't Wait, Must Include Public Option In this weekend's YouTube address, President Obama answered his critics on health care -- and said that any plan he signs must include a public option:

"I don't believe that government can or should run health care. But I also don't think insurance companies should have free reign to do as they please," said Obama. "That's why any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange: a one-stop shopping marketplace where you can compare the benefits, cost and track records of a variety of plans - including a public option to increase competition and keep insurance companies honest - and choose what's best for your family."

Kyl: Health Care "Needs To Be Done Right, Rather Than Done Quickly" In this weekend's Republican YouTube, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) attacked the Democrats' health care proposals:

"But the President and some Democrats insist we must rush this plan through. Why? Because the more Americans know about it, the more they oppose it. Something this important needs to be done right, rather than done quickly," said Kyl. "We know Americans would prefer us to work together to ensure access to affordable quality health care for all. But Americans do not want a government takeover of health care that will jeopardize their current coverage, ration care, and create mountains of new debt and higher taxes."

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Depending on whom you ask, the news that Senate Democrats have agreed to scrap card check from the Employee Free Choice Act is an acceptable compromise, or a knife in the labor movement's back, or both. But for Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), it's also an opportunity to remind voters of Sen. Arlen Specter's role in precipitating the compromise in the first place.

"As an original co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, I strongly support the legislation as it was originally written," says Sestak. "Arlen Specter, however, announced that he not only opposed Employee Free Choice, but would prevent it from coming to a fair up-or-down vote."

"Arlen will have to explain to working families across Pennsylvania why he took the side of every Senate Republican to oppose this legislation as originally written."

Since becoming a Democrat, Specter has softened on EFCA considerably. Last month, he told a crowd of union organizers, "I think you'll be satisfied with my vote on this issue on union organizing and on first contract just like you've been satisfied with the 22 times I voted for Davis Bacon."

But in his last days and weeks as a Republican--and in his first days as a Democrat--Specter, a former EFCA co-sponsor himself, sang a remarkably different tune. Facing a primary challenge from conservative Pat Toomey, Specter said he would oppose both EFCA, and a filibuster on the legislation. The move was a big blow to organized labor--one some in that movement won't soon forget.

You can read Sestak's full statement below the fold.

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TPMDC's roundup of the biggest initiatives on Capitol Hill.

  • Health Care: Two House committees--Education and Labor, and Ways and Means--passed historic health care legislation today. But the Energy and Commerce committee still has a long way to go, and it's going to be a hard climb.

  • Employee Free Choice: Union-friendly Senate Democrats have reportedly agreed to drop a key provision--majority sign-up--from the flagship labor legislation to win the support of skeptical, conservative Democrats like Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. But even if all Democrats are on board, with Sens. Kennedy and Byrd all but out of commission, EFCA still has a long way to go. The bill is anathema to Republicans like perhaps no other legislation on the Democratic agenda.

Earlier today, we saw that six Senate centrists, are asking Senate leaders to slow down the pace of health care reform efforts. I've explained a number of times why that's a terrible proposition from the perspective of the President and key Democrats. But there's a distinct question about why some Democrats--including a guy like Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who'd almost certainly vote for anything to come to the floor between now and August--would want to slow things down.

Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now, has some ideas. "They're trying to become players," he says. And they can't become players unless Obama and others stop to ask, "What do you want time for? What are your concerns? How do we make you feel better about this?"

He also cautions, wisely, that each tepid senator will have his or her own reasons for wanting to delay legislation.

But, intentionally or otherwise, their actions all serve the same ends: buying time to weaken the bill, or to make it harder to pass, or to force leadership into a fight over budget reconciliation. And if these are in fact their goals, they can't, for obvious reasons, give the game away. In fact, they have to be very careful about the entire effort.

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Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) must've sat around waiting on President Obama's speech for as long as we did here at TPMHQ.

Obama speech on healthCareReform (sic) Absolutely (sic) nothing new Waste (sic) of time saying we are going to get that done Baucus (sic) and I know that But (sic) doRITE (sic)[.]

As ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley's no small voice in the health care debate. But he's also developing a reputation as an ornery tweeter. Last month, he similarly took to the text messaging service to blast Obama. "Pres Obama you got nerve while u sightseeing in Paris to tell us"time to deliver" on health care," Grassley said. "We still on skedul/even workinWKEND."

In an unscheduled White House health care speech this afternoon, President Obama reiterated his commitment to accomplishing health care reform "this year."

Notably absent from his statement was any reference to the looming August congressional recess, or the mid-October deadline he and Democratic leaders had set for signing a bill into law.

The House of Representatives will recess on August 3, and the Senate on August 10, and Obama has insisted in the past that both chambers complete work on individual health care bills before adjourning for the summer.

As I've detailed previously, there are a number of reasons the administration wants swift action, and today's speech is among the first public signs that the White House might be girding itself for possibility that Congress will miss its deadlines.

In a nod to new concerns that House and Senate proposals don't do enough to curb long-term health spending, Obama noted his work with Congress on an initiative that would create an "Independent Medicare Advisory Commission" which would have the power to set the rates Medicare pays for services. Currently, Medicare seeks advice on those issues from MedPAC. This plan would strengthen that commission, and make its findings binding, unless overridden by the President or Congress.