Morning Must Reads
Wall Street Journal — New Rx for Health Plan: Split Bill
Writers Jonathan Weisman and Naftali Bendavid give the first useful glimpse at the Democratic playbook for unilateral passage of major changes to the health-care system.
Since getting all 60 Democrats in the Senate to support a plan that is anything but happy talk and some handouts seems unlikely, party leaders are doping out the strategy for jamming through a government health-insurance plan using the nuclear option of a 50-vote procedural measure reserved for budget matters.
It would be winning ugly, and perhaps even a Pyrrhic victory, so many Democrats say that it should be avoided at all costs.
But the White House is facing fairly open revolt from liberal and moderate members of his party to get control of a failed process.
Also, the political logic of the administration dictates that failure to pass a health bill will badly damage the president’s credibility and, by extension, the party’s position for 2010. But a man with much to fear net year from appearances of hyper-partisanship will make the final decision.
“‘Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is the key decision-maker on whether to use the tactic, but several congressional aides said White House officials are being kept abreast of the talks.
‘We will not make a decision to pursue reconciliation until we have exhausted efforts to produce a bipartisan bill,’ said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid. ‘However, patience is not unlimited, and we are determined to get something done this year by any legislative means necessary.’
Privately, those involved in the talks now say there is a 60% chance the split-bill tactic will be used. Mr. Obama is huddling with aides next week, and Senate leaders are likely to review their options when Congress reconvenes after Labor Day.”
New York Times — Afghans Vote Amid Violence, but Turnout Uncertain
Many Afghans seems to have stayed away from the major elections there today, suggesting that even if President Hamid Karzai holds on to win, it will be no mandate.
The vote comes as a new Washington Post/ABC News poll suggests that Americans are through with fighting to turn Afghanistan into a western-style liberal democracy.
With a 14-point drop in Democratic support for the war to 34 percent, the Obama administration is pushing a major escalation of the Afghan conflict into a political headwind.
With Republicans still backing the war but opposing everything else he does, Obama needs to win back some Democrats.
Having a struggling leader in Kabul propped up by the American presence will not make that task any easier.
Correspondent Carlotte Goll has the details:
“But [Abdullah Abdullah] a former foreign minister and eye doctor who is running for the main opposition movement, the United Front, has since managed to tap a widespread hunger for change, especially in the north.
Live televised debates, which also included a former finance minister, Ashraf Ghani, and a former minister of planning, Ramazan Bashardost, were heard and watched by millions, engaging Afghans in the election process even as the Taliban escalated threats and attacks.
Despite gains by his opponents, Mr. Karzai fought back hard in the last two weeks, making selective campaign stops and securing the return of a former Uzbek warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum, from exile. The Uzbek leader has been widely criticized for past human rights abuses, and opponents and Western diplomats have condemned the president’s association with him as an example of the unsavory alliances Mr. Karzai has made to try to secure his re-election.”
Washington Post — Dean Challenges Obama to Deliver Reform
Cindy Sheehan can’t get arrested on Martha’s Vineyard and Tom DeLay is wearing sequins for “Dancing With the Stars,” but one ghost of the recent political past who has found new life among the living is Howard Dean.
Having made the rise of Barack Obama possible by clearing out the Clinton apparatchiks at the Democratic National Committee and demonstrating the power of the internet in politics, Dean is not going gently into the role of elder statesman of the party.
As writer Philip Rucker shows, Dean poses a major potential obstacle to the White House on any compromise that involves health care.
As a doctor and a favorite of the party’s liberal base, Dean is the one to watch on health care. And his very open opposition to a president of his own party’s recent moves on the issue are noteworthy.
Out on the road for the Service Employees International Union trying to whip up support for a new government-run insurance provider.
And Dean seems genuinely angry in the piece – livid that the White House is backing away from having a public option and that Democrats seem so unfocused about the issue to which he has devoted his professional life.
It could make a big difference as the White House tries to mop up trouble on the Left and get back to making up with the middle that has seemingly soured on Obama.
The president is still talking to religious liberals and holding tele-town halls with his precinct captains from last year and Dean could keep Obama stuck pleading with liberals.
“‘What Howard is doing is principled but destructive,’ said a Democratic strategist and former Dean adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the intraparty debate. ‘If health-care reform goes down because of the public option, it’s going to be the liberals that bring it down, the Democrats doing it to themselves.’
Dean, 60, has become a politician without an office. Seven months removed from the DNC chairmanship and seven years away from being governor of Vermont, he appears to enjoy the freedom to speak his piece. And on this day, he did not appear concerned about the potential consequences for Obama.
‘This vote is not about Democrats versus Republicans and conservatives and liberals and all that stuff,’ Dean said, his voice growing louder and his cadence faster. ‘This is about whether you’re going to vote for the people who donated to your campaigns — the health insurance industry — or you’re going to vote for the people who pay your salary. And we’re going to be watching, because there are going to be 535 people casting that vote.’”
New York Times — Obama Calls Health Plan a ‘Moral Obligation’
They don’t call it a Hail Mary pass for nothing.
President Obama Wednesday followed the path of presidents past when faced with seemingly insurmountable political problems – a public display of religiosity.
For Obama, it was a meeting with liberal Christians who believe their ministry should be encouraging the government to make their values compulsory.
For the president, it also marked the moment of full retreat from his original health care pitch of fiscal obligation and cost savings.
The White House acknowledged that its handling of the debate had been inconsistent, with Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, saying, ‘I don’t think anybody here believes we’ve pitched a no-hit game or a perfect game.’
Mr. Obama did not wade into the uproar among Democrats over whether the bill would have a public insurance component, a key point of contention, but rather tried to correct what he said were untruths about the plan.
‘You’ve heard that there’s a government takeover of health care. That’s not true,’ said Mr. Obama, who went on to call other assertions, like a death panel for the elderly, ‘an extraordinary lie.’”
New York Times — Bernanke, a Hero to His Own, Can’t Shake Critics
Writer Edmund Andrews looks at the same question that apparently keeps financial journalists up at night: Will President Obama give Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke another four-year term when his first one ends in about five months.
Andrews offers a new defense of Bernanke in a story mostly devoted to allowing the chairman to admit that mistakes were made in not adequately foreseeing the implosion of the sub-prime housing market and taking steps to limit the damage to banks.
That Bernanke is so eager to keep the slot that he offered his first published apologia is instructive on how important keeping the job is to him.
But while reporters see the battle for Bernanke as a contest between the White House and congressional Democrats who don’t approve of the Fed’s work and want more rules for the bank/banking regulator. The real conflict surrounding Bernanke and the bank is the question of inflation. With a huge glut of currency pumped into markets to prevent further economic retraction, when and how to pull it back remains an open question. It’s a question about which Bernanke has mostly said that he and his people know the way to prevent economic green shoots from being wiped out by inflation.
“Amid the chaos, Fed and Treasury officials made numerous mistakes. Their original idea for the $700 billion to buy up bad mortgage assets held by banks has yet to get off the ground.
But economists say Mr. Bernanke’s most important accomplishment was to create staggering amounts of money out of thin air.
All told, the Federal Reserve has expanded its balance sheet to $1.9 trillion today, from about $900 billion a year ago. Analysts now caution that Mr. Bernanke’s job is only half complete. He will eventually have to reel all that money back. He has already laid out elements of the Fed’s ‘exit strategy,’ but Fed officials have been careful to say it is still too early to pull back any time soon.”