Tales from the Trail

White House healthcare summit plans take shape

BUSH/President Barack Obama’s bipartisan healthcare summit is taking on the trappings of a diplomatic visit, complete with a gilt-edged setting at Blair House, the federal style mansion where foreign heads of state stay when they’re in Washington.

Little seems to have been left to chance: they’ve decided on the shape of the table — a hollow square — and a buffet lunch, with name cards in front of each participant. There’s some concern about an echo in the room. The nearly full-day gathering will be televised. And just as foreign officials get to inspect a venue before visiting dignitaries show up, there will be a walk-through beforehand by staff of the congressional leadership.

There’s good reason for this attention to detail. The summit is central to Obama’s last-ditch attempt to pass sweeping healthcare legislation. Obama’s plan to engage Republicans on healthcare in a high-profile negotating session was inspired by his widely praised exchange with his Republican critics in Baltimore in January. The White House hopes the summit will boost the healthcare effort by showing voters that Obama is committed to bipartisanship. Many observers believe the ultimate strategy may be to use a parliamentary maneuver to push through the bill without any Republican votes.

The event, to be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will begin with a statement by Obama followed by remarks by Republican and Democratic participants. Discussion will revolve around themes, each introduced by an administration official.

Obama will introduce the discussion on cost-control, with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius kicking of the insurance reform talk, Vice President Joseph Biden introducing deficit reduction and Obama leading on expansion of coverage.

Obama hits back at Republicans over stimulus

OBAMA/

The White House is stepping up its efforts to call out Republicans for what Democrats see as hypocrisy over the $787 billion stimulus package.

Republicans have slammed the bill as wasteful and ineffective at creating jobs but the Obama administration says some of the same politicians who have lambasted the package have lined up for a share of the money for their states and districts.

“Independent economists credit the Recovery Act with growing the economy and for two million jobs that otherwise wouldn’t exist,” President Barack Obama told a gathering of the nation’s governors at the White House.

Obama healthcare on political operating table

Last year, President Barack Obama tried to get Congress to pass healthcare legislation that came from the minds of  lawmakers.

We all know how well that went.

So today, Obama put his own version on the table.

The response from Republicans was (shock of shocks) — they don’t like it. House Republican leader John Boehner says Obama’s proposal jeopardizes bipartisan healthcare work (You might ask what bipartisan healthcare work? We’re not quite sure).

The response from Democrats was (shock of shocks) — they’ll review it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it contained positive elements from the separate bills that passed the House and Senate last year.

Congress bracing for anti-incumbent anger among voters

WEATHER-USA/

By the look of things, the American public just might vote Congress out of office this November – Republican and Democrat alike.

But Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine sounds downright stoic, even as he admits that his own party could lose more than 28 House seats and four Senate seats.

Kaine says Democrats must accept voter anger as a fact of life in an economy that is recovering only slowly from the worst recession since the 1930s.

Bayh wonders if partisanship will encourage a new Ross Perot

Evan Bayh wants out of Washington but wonders if the partisan bickering he leaves behind will one day be swept aside by a new PEROTRoss Perot riding a third-party tidal wave of public anger.

“If (voter) frustration continues to grow and the American people say ‘a pox on both your houses,’ then there’s some prospect for a third-party type movement,” the Democratic senator from Indiana told ABC’s Good Morning America.

Bayh hastens to add that he doesn’t believe that would really happen.

Why not? “I think that ultimately we can make progress within the two-party system,” he said.

Political dynasties shift in election-year tremor

After the November election, there will not be a Kennedy in Congress for the first time in almost half a century because Representative Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, has decided to retire from his Rhode Island seat.

“My life is taking a new direction and I will not be a candidate for re-election this year,” Patrick Kennedy said in a video announcing his decision nearly six months after his father, the “Liberal Lion” of the Senate, died.

Of course there is still time for another Kennedy to step forward and declare intentions to run for office, but we haven’t heard any whispers.

Democrats can’t escape questions about Sarah Palin

Democrats can’t go anywhere these days without being asked about Sarah Palin, and some of them are not overwhelmed.

“Look, she is interesting,” Senator John Kerry told CNN’s “Larry King Live” program Wednesday.

“She represents some of the transformation of American politics into entertainment,”  he said.

Bipartisanship: can words be put into action in election year?

The president wants it. The public wants it.

But when it comes to bipartisanship, words are easier than action — especially in an election year. OBAMA/

President Barack Obama, who met with congressional leaders from both parties on Tuesday, called for bipartisan solutions to some of  the weighty issues of the day: job creation and deficit reduction.

“As I said in my State of the Union, part of what we’d like to see is the ability of Congress to move forward in a more bipartisan fashion on some of the key challenges that the country is facing right now,” Obama said before the meeting.

Gingrich once again at head of Republican pack

Once, a first-term Democratic president failed to deliver on healthcare reform and found his party USA-POLITICS/swept from office by a wave of voter anger that brought Republican Newt Gingrich to the forefront of American politics. Could this history lesson from the Clinton era be repeated?

Healthcare reform is stalled, voters are angry and Gingrich — who rose to prominence as House speaker after Republicans won Congress in 1994 — is again leading the pack, this time among  potential White House hopefuls for 2012.

The Washington-based political news outlet, Politico, says Gingrich’s political action committee is raising money far faster than those of 2008 campaign veterans including Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

With jobs the priority, Obama invites culture war?

AFGHANISTAN/Has President Obama opened a Pandora’s Box marked “Culture War” by moving — however slowly – to repeal the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gays in the military?
    
Conservative punditry hasn’t weighed in yet. But  there’s no reason to doubt  the issue will be red meat for those who want to sink the Obama agenda and send congressional Democrats to the unemployment office in November.
    
“Our service members wear the uniform to fight and win wars, not serve as liberal-social-policy guinea pigs,” Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, tells Time magazine.
    
Sen. John McCain, a top Republican on military affairs, accused the administration of acting by fiat to circumvent Congress and the military’s chain of command after the Pentagon announced a year-long review of the policy.
    
“You’re embarking on saying it’s not whether the military prepares to make the change but how we best prepare for it, without ever hearing from members of Congress, without hearing from the members of the Joint Chiefs, and of course, without taking into consideration all the ramifications,” he told Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen at a Senate Armed Services hearing yesterday.
 
Polling data show most Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military. But the risk for Obama is that Republicans and their talk-show allies will cry up the issue and steer the now palpable frustrations of voters against him and his fellow Democrats.
    
Democrats, who got a taste of that voter frustration in Massachusetts last month, now hope to win favor by making the economy their USA-HEALTHCARE/PELOSItop priority.
    
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer favors repeal but seems happy to let the Pentagon take the lead until after this year’s election.
    
“What I want members to do in their districts? I want them to focus on jobs and fiscal responsibility. Those are our messages,” the Maryland Democrat told reporters. “The American public clearly wants us focused on growing the economy, adding jobs. That is a principle responsibility.”

 Photo credits: Reuters/Andrees Latif (U.S. Marines in Helmand Province); Reuters/Jim Young (U.S. Capitol)

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