Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: Obama’s travels of no help at home

President Barack Obama remains hard at work at the summit of G8 wealthy industrialized nations in Italy on Thursday, while his top domestic initiatives stumble and misfire at home.

Obama’s top legislative priority, a massive overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system, has lurched through weeks of intensive horse-trading and positioning on Capitol Hill, where five different committees in Congress are trying to fashion workable proposals that can win initial approval by the August recess.

That timeline appears to be slipping as the effort to attract Republican support, pare the bill’s price tag of at least $1 trillion and find ways to pay for it without broad tax increases has left even some Democrats restive.

Obama’s other priority in Congress, the climate change bill, faces a much tougher road in the Senate than in the House, which passed a version late last month.

Republican criticism of his efforts to turn around the economy also has grown as the jobless rate USA-ECONOMY/continues to rise and calls for a second stimulus spending package grow louder.

The First Draft: While Obama is away…

With President Barack Obama off in Italy during a weeklong diplomatic foray, Vice President Joseph Biden has the stage on Wednesday for an announcement of the administration’s agreement with the hospital industry for $155 billion in savings over a decade to help pay for a planned healthcare overhaul.

For Biden, it is a rare chance to gain the administration spotlight by design, rather than because of his famously loose lips and periodic departures from the Team Obama script.

He strayed again over the weekend when he told ABC News the administration misread the economy upon entering office. Obama, in a round of interviews with U.S. television networks on Tuesday, was forced to backtrack and explain those comments.

The First Draft: Block that metaphor

PEOPLE-JACKSON/Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett may no longer be with us, but Congress is still hanging around. Good thing, too, as they’ve got plenty of work to do.

The House of Representatives is poised to vote today on one of the most significant environmental bills in history. It could be a nail-biter as Democratic leaders are still scrambling to ensure they have enough votes to pass the measure, which aims to wean industry off of carbon-emitting fuels blamed for global warming.

After that it has to clear the Senate, where Republicans will have an easier time derailing it if they so desire.

The First Draft: Trying again on healthcare

USA-HEALTHCARE/OBAMASenate Democrats will take up healthcare again today after a tough week.

Republican opposition is building after independent auditors estimated their initial efforts could cost more and cover fewer than initially hoped, reducing the chance of winning the bipartisan support that could ensure that any reforms will last.

Republican Sen. John McCain gave Reuters a grim prognosis last Friday and said the next few days will determine whether the effort succeeds or fails.

But Democratic Sen. Max Baucus still thinks he can get a bipartisan bill to President Obama by the end of the year.

The First Draft: Obama’s bad news Thursday

FINANCIAL REGULATION/President Barack Obama woke up Thursday to find two new polls — the NBC News/Wall Street Journal and CBS News/New York Times — showing growing public concerns over the high rate of government spending and ballooning federal deficits.

Meanwhile, his big-ticket initiative to revamp the U.S. healthcare system hit a road bump in Congress, where a key Senate committee slowed its schedule for consideration of the measure in order to find a bipartisan approach to rein in its huge projected costs — more than $1 trillion and counting.

For Obama, the news was a sign, perhaps, that the public is beginning to hold him accountable for the many thorny issues he inherited from former President George W. Bush and becoming concerned about the mounting price tag — the Congressional Budget Office estimates the federal deficit could top $1.8 trillion this fiscal year.

The First Draft: Healthcare, Take 1

USA/

It’s healthcare week at the White House — the first of what promises to be many.

With debate on a healthcare reform package beginning to take shape, President Barack Obama heads to Chicago this morning to make his case for it to the American Medical Association, an audience of skeptics who will be on the frontline of the battle to overhaul the sprawling U.S. healthcare system.

The AMA, which represents 250,000 doctors, said in a statement last week it would oppose a public government insurance plan that Obama says will drive down costs by creating competition with private insurers. Critics say it would limit choice and amount to a government takeover.

The First Draft: urgent care

President Obama takes on healthcare reform at a 1:00 p.m. White House forum today, hoping to design an overhaul of a costly and inefficient system he believes is threatening the economy. About 120 participants from industry and government will gather to discuss potential fixes to the $2.5 trillion system. JAPAN

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in Brussels, said it was time for NATO to make a new start with Russia after formal ties were suspended when Moscow sent troops into Georgia last summer.

The House is expected to approve a bill that would allow bankruptcy judges to slash mortgage payments for homeowners as a last resort.