- 9:53 AM: Mike Madden Welcome to Salon's Liveblog of the White House healthcare summit. The members of Congress (quite a few of them) attending the summit are filing into Blair House now, shaking hands and smiling. Will they still be smiling six hours later, when it wraps up? Keep reading our coverage here to find out.
- 9:57 AM: Mike Madden I'm Mike Madden, Salon's Washington correspondent. Several of my colleagues will be here covering the summit throughout the day, as well -- but I'll let them introduce themselves. You can e-mail me at email@example.com if you have questions or comments during the Liveblog.
- 9:59 AM: Alex Koppelman And since Mike's introduced himself, I'll do so as well: I'm Alex Koppelman, a senior writer with Salon. You can e-mail me questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, of course, you can always comment the regular way, in the letters section below this Liveblog.
- 10:00 AM: Mike Madden President Obama is walking across Pennsylvania Avenue to Blair House right now -- which is a little unusual. I've been in motorcades from the White House to St. John's Church, which is about as close to the executive mansion as Blair House is. (Yes, it takes longer to get in and out of the cars than it does to get there.) But maybe they're trying to send a welcoming signal to the lawmakers in attendance -- and maybe because Blair House is part of the White House compound, the Secret Service decided to go along with it.
- 10:03 AM: Mike Madden Some details about the room, from the first White House pool report, courtesy of Gannett News Service's Peter Urban: "Although it is the largest room in the Blair House, the assembled guests will be seated tightly elbow to elbow around a square of tables approximately 25 by 25 feet around. There is a distinctive chandelier suspended in the middle of the room. The president will be seated in front of a fireplace. The wall is decorated with a fresco painting in muted colors of an outdoor scene.
It is a small room with vaulted ceiling, distinctive chandelier. Windows were shuttered.
Name tags laid out for all the dignitaries, seated very closely to each other along tables formed into a square about 25 by 25 feet. Note pads and pencils provided to each, as well as a glass of water.
President will be seated in front of a fireplace."
- 10:06 AM: Mike Madden The lawmakers are introducing themselves to Obama as he walks around greeting them. Or rather, some of the Republican House members are; people in the Senate tend to assume you know who they are when you see them.
- 10:08 AM: Alex Koppelman If you're not in front of a TV and want to watch this live anyway, we have a live feed posted in War Room. It's here.
- 10:08 AM: Mike Madden Obama's trying to strike a bipartisan note, thanking Senate Republicans for voting for his jobs bill. (Even if eight of them voted to filibuster it, then voted for passing it.)
- 10:10 AM: Mike Madden Every day, Obama tells the summit, he gets 10 letters from the public. And every day, "at least two -- sometimes five" of those letters deal with healthcare.
- 10:10 AM: Alex Koppelman And clearly, those letters are chosen at random, right? No coincidence that many are about healthcare...
- 10:11 AM: Mike Madden By the way, you may not remember now -- since there's been so much screaming and yelling since then -- that Obama hosted a similar bipartisan healthcare summit almost exactly a year ago, on March 5, in the East Room of the White House. Here's my look back at what's happened since then, and how the bill might move forward.
- 10:11 AM: Mike Madden Good point, Alex; actually, what's surprising is that only five are about healthcare. (Apparently they don't let Nancy-Ann deParle pick through the mail...)
- 10:13 AM: Alex Koppelman By the way, Nancy-Ann deParle, referenced in Mike's last post, is the director of the White House Office for Health Reform.
- 10:13 AM: Mike Madden This budget-oriented approach Obama is taking now -- explaining how the long-term federal deficit problem is due mostly to healthcare costs -- was the tack the White House took for a long time last year. And it didn't entirely move voters. Which is why he segued from dry Medicare budget projections into a much more personal story about taking his daughters, Malia and Sasha, to the emergency room for childhood illnesses.
- 10:15 AM: Mike Madden Obama: "Everybody here is profoundly sympathetic, and wants to make sure we have a system that works for all Americans." And now he's picking through previous statements by GOP lawmakers. First one? John McCain. Who doesn't really want any credit for bipartisanship in his Arizona Senate primary against tea party-backed J.D. Hayworth, but...
- 10:16 AM: Mike Madden "This became a very ideological battle," Obama says. "It became a very partisan battle. And politics, I think, ended up trumping common sense." He didn't take this on (as he said in the State of the Union) because he thought it was good politics. And indeed, his Gallup poll ratings back that up.
- 10:17 AM: Alex Koppelman Obama now talking about his mother and the cancer that killed her, as well as the experience she had with health insurance. This is a fairly frequent theme for him whenever he talks about healthcare, and that makes sense, considering that the story is fairly representative, and that it shows he has personal knowledge of what's at stake here.
- 10:18 AM: Mike Madden Now he's laying out the basic concept of the healthcare reform package, starting with the healthcare exchanges for people who can't get coverage through their jobs.
- 10:19 AM: Mike Madden "We think it is a plan that works with the existing system," he says. Which is actually part of the reason many progressives have soured on the plan -- instead of trying to completely overhaul the way healthcare is delivered (and paid for) in America, the White House is essentially trying to tinker around the edges. Though maybe with a bill as far-reaching as this one admittedly is, "tinker" is a little too soft.
- 10:19 AM: Alex Koppelman
- 10:20 AM: Alex Koppelman The video I just posted is an ad on healthcare reform and Obama's mother that his campaign ran.
- 10:21 AM: Mike Madden Obama says he wants this to be a discussion, not an exchange of talking points. Probably wishful thinking. Here's Mitch McConnell, handing off to Lamar Alexander of Tennessee to start.
- 10:24 AM: Mike Madden Alexander (who I'm going to call "Lamar!" here, out of nostalgia for his failed presidential campaign that used that as its tagline) says he has some ideas the GOP would like Obama to use as he starts over on healthcare reform. Lamar! is going to be disappointed, though, if he actually expects Obama to start over from scratch. That isn't going to happen.
- 10:25 AM: Mike Madden Lamar! tells Obama about a friend who told him, "You've got to kill that healthcare bill, but we've got to do something."
- 10:25 AM: Alex Koppelman One point about Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who's talking now -- he's the former governor of Tennessee. That's relevant because of a little controversy from earlier in the week, when House Republicans made a stink about the fact that governors were not invited to this summit, just members of Congress. Of course, Obama just met with the nation's governors, but the point was pretty strictly political anyway, so the House GOP just ignored that little detail.
- 10:26 AM: Steve Kornacki Lamar is probably the GOP's best public face, at least in this room. Of course, that was his calling card when he ran for the GOP presidential nod in '96 with the slogan: "ABC -- Alexander Beats Clinton."
- 10:26 AM: Mike Madden Lamar! wins the GOP sweepstakes for being the first person to mention that the bill is about 2,700 pages long. I've never been entirely sure why that's supposed to be an argument against legislation that involves something as complicated as the U.S. healthcare system. But it seems to be working, precisely because it helps remind voters how complicated the bill is. Unfortunately, complicated = scary in a 30-second ad.
- 10:26 AM: Steve Kornacki PS: Hi everyone.
- 10:28 AM: Mike Madden Morning, Steve. You and I will have to avoid spending this whole summit looking back fondly on losing presidential primary campaigns. There are quite a few ex-next-presidents in the room, from Vice President Biden to Chris Dodd, to John McCain and, of course, Lamar!
- 10:29 AM: Mike Madden Lamar! takes pains to note how often the GOP mentioned, on the Senate floor, their step-by-step plan for reducing costs. Republicans are very sensitive about accusations they don't have a plan.
- 10:29 AM: Alex Koppelman Speaking of Lamar!'s 1996 campaign, if you missed the guide to the players at the summit today, check it out here. I bring it up only because it contains a joke about Alexander's signature flannel shirt from that campaign, and I subscribe to the Calvin Trillin rule that any joke good enough to be made in print once should be re-used as often as possible.
- 10:29 AM: Mike Madden That plan, in a nutshell: tort reform, open insurance plans across state lines, and tax-free health savings accounts. Most experts don't think it's really enough in the long run to do much.
- 10:30 AM: Steve Kornacki And let's not forget attendees who lost elections to ex-next-presidents -- like Tennessee's Jim Cooper, who lost a 1994 Senate race to Fred Thompson!
- 10:31 AM: Mike Madden Lamar! has a request on how to make this bipartisan: "Before we go further today, the Democratic congressional leaders and you, Mr. President [should] renounce this idea" of using the budget reconciliation process to finish passing healthcare reform. As I said before, Lamar! is going to be disappointed.
- 10:32 AM: Mike Madden By the way, Salon crunched the numbers on reconciliation. The 50 votes the Senate Democrats might rely on to pass a reconciliation measure represent nearly 70 percent of the nation's population.
- 10:33 AM: Mike Madden A reader has complained about my exclamation marks; Salon likes to respond to reader requests, so Lamar! will hereby go back to being Alexander.
- 10:34 AM: Alex Koppelman White House pool report, on Obama and Biden's walk to the summit:
President Obama and Vice President Biden, surrounded by agents and others, emerged from the White House gate at 9:58 AM.
President: "Hi, guys." Waves to pool. Biden waves, too.
Reporter: Comment to make?
President: "Looking forward to listening."
Reporter: Do you have a Plan B?
President: (Keeps walking, doesn't respond for a moment, then says) "I've always got plans."
- 10:34 AM: Steve Kornacki Lamar's reminders about how civil rights was passed in bipartisan fashion ring hollow. The parties were ideologically diverse back then. Richard Russell and Hubert Humphrey were both Democrats! Margaret Chase Smith and Homer Capehart were both Republicans. Of course there was "bipartisanship!"
- 10:34 AM: Alex Koppelman And yes, if you're wondering, White House pool reports are pretty much always that exciting.
- 10:35 AM: Mike Madden The GOP is already looking past the summit (as are Democrats), and Alexander's remarks now are an attempt to paint the reconciliation process as unfair and partisan. He noted, as Democrats are sure to point out, that it's been used before for all sorts of things -- including welfare reform and tax cuts.
- 10:36 AM: Mike Madden It may not be a good sign that the GOP was able to agree to let Alexander speak for both the House and the Senate, and yet the Democrats seem to want both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to speak. At a summit convened by the president of their own party.
- 10:38 AM: Mike Madden By the way, Alexander voted for a budget reconciliation measure used to pass the Bush tax cuts.
- 10:39 AM: Alex Koppelman Good point, Mike. Problem for the Dems here is that they basically need both Pelosi and Reid to speak. Pelosi needs to rally her troops, and if she didn't speak, that might only increase the resentment in the House about the disproportionate share of attention that the Senate has gotten throughout this process. And Reid needs to speak because he's desperately trying to stay employed.
- 10:40 AM: Steve Kornacki Love Pelosi's shout-out to John Dingell...the same guy she knifed to install Waxman as Energy and Commerce chairman -- and the same guy she tried to knock out of Congress when she backed Lynn Rivers in the '02 primary....
- 10:41 AM: Alex Koppelman Pelosi is killing me right now. Also, she's killing healthcare reform one word at a time. Her speech is just terrible. I think Biden is asleep -- or maybe just wishing he was elsewhere. His eyes are closed.
- 10:42 AM: Mike Madden "Most people sitting around that table -- they don't want to hear about process," Pelosi says. Which is exactly right. But unfortunately, the main thing holding up the final passage of the bill is... a fight about process between House and Senate Democrats.
- 10:43 AM: Alex Koppelman Reid, too, looks incredibly pained. It's like he knows how many people have stopped paying attention right before his time on camera.
- 10:45 AM: Alex Koppelman Now we're on to Reid's remarks -- notably, he started off with a story about a Nevada resident. This is national television time for a guy whose prospects for reelection look very, very bad right now, and so he's going to make the most of it, politically-speaking.
- 10:45 AM: Steve Kornacki Oh god. The "entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts" line is getting really old.
- 10:46 AM: Mike Madden How seriously are Democrats taking the politics of healthcare reform? The Democratic National Committee just sent me an e-mail fact-checking something Sen. John Cornyn said on Twitter. And yes, the e-mail was much longer than 140 characters.
- 10:47 AM: Alex Koppelman Yeah, well, that's just your opinion, Steve. The fact is that's a great line. (It's actually terrible, as was this joke. But I couldn't resist.)
- 10:47 AM: Mike Madden The opening remarks by Pelosi and Reid both serve as a good reminder that becoming leader of a legislative caucus requires absolutely no communications skills.
- 10:48 AM: Steve Kornacki It's become John McCain/drunken sailor line of 2010....
- 10:48 AM: Mike Madden If I hear McCain tell that drunken sailor joke again, I will need a lot of healthcare. Because I will have jumped out of a window.
- 10:49 AM: Steve Kornacki Exactly, Mike -- remember when Pelosi and Reid teamed up for the SOTU response in '05? And remember how Dems decided to start giving it to non-Congresspeople after that?
- 10:49 AM: Alex Koppelman Reid talks reconciliation, Senate procedure that will allow Democrats to avoid filibuster. Reconciliation "isn't some thing that's never been done before," he says, rightly.
- 10:49 AM: Mike Madden Does it really make sense for Reid to sit here and argue about reconciliation? Even Pelosi's deadly speech made the point that no one wants to hear about process.
- 10:50 AM: Alex Koppelman That's a good question, Mike. But I think the problem is that, as polls have shown, the public isn't really that knowledgeable about Senate procedure and about how efficient Republicans have been at blocking legislation. He's got national attention right now -- have to use the opportunity, I think.
- 10:51 AM: Mike Madden In between his snippy points about Senate reconciliation rules, Reid did refer to this Harvard study about 40,000 people dying each year because they don't have health insurance.
- 10:52 AM: Alex Koppelman Taegan Goddard makes a good point on Twitter: "By having Obama, Pelosi and Reid all make opening statements, Democrats are not staying on one message... they're all over the place..."
- 10:53 AM: Alex Koppelman Obama talks about everyone going over time, makes a joke about how it's inevitable because it's a group of elected officials. It's funny because it's true -- last night, I had a nightmare that I'd be liveblogging for three days straight, rather than the six hours this is scheduled to last.
- 10:53 AM: Mike Madden Exactly, Alex -- and now here's Obama trying to clean up the mess Democrats in Congress made of the opening remarks. Meanwhile, a lot of Democrats in Congress wish Obama had stepped in earlier in the healthcare reform process to help them out. Will it work -- for the summit, and for healthcare?
- 10:56 AM: Mike Madden Obama is now moving into the first subject-based breakout session, on cost containment. Expect Republicans to talk about tort reform here. The GOP seems to think healthcare would be a lot cheaper if you got the trial lawyers (who, gee, just happen to be major donors to Democratic political campaigns) out of the way. But Democrats are likely to point out that Texas,c which has capped medical malpractice awards, is home to one of the most expensive healthcare markets in the country.
- 10:58 AM: Alex Koppelman Alexander gets snippy: "Mr. President, if you're going to contradict me, I ought to have a chance to..."
- 10:58 AM: Alex Koppelman And Obama gets snippy right back. "Let me respond to what you just said, Lamar, because it's not factually accurate."
- 10:59 AM: Mike Madden If Republicans are going to try to make specious claims here, they may be in for a replay of Obama's visit to the House GOP retreat in Baltimore last month. Which would be good for Democrats.
- 11:02 AM: Mike Madden House GOP aides just e-mailed reporters with a roster of Republican lawmakers who aren't at Blair House and are "available to comment during the six-hour coverage." To book any of them, contact the House Republican Conference.
- 11:04 AM: Mike Madden Here's Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who's a doctor. He's also opposed to government doing, well, just about anything.
- 11:05 AM: Alex Koppelman One point I made in that guide to the members of Congress at the summit today is that the Republicans invited a decent amount of doctors, and that they're likely to emphasize the Dr. in front of those members' names. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just gave us a preview of how that'll work when he introduced Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who's a doctor. And by the way, he's a doctor. Also, did we mention that he's a doctor?
- 11:06 AM: Mike Madden Coburn thinks government could cut healthcare costs by 7.5 percent "tomorrow" by cracking down on Medicare and Medicaid fraud.
- 11:13 AM: Alex Koppelman Back to the fight between Alexander and Obama earlier, over cost containment and whether the Democratic proposals would raise premiums: Alexander argued, correctly, that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that "the average premium per person covered (including dependents) for new nongroup policies would be about 10 percent to 13 percent higher in 2016 than the average premium for nongroup coverage in that same year under current law."
But Obama countered him, again correctly, by pointing out that simply citing this statistic without further context is misleading. Alexander wasn't happy about being corrected in this way (to be fair, Obama wasn't exactly friendly during this exchange either) but Obama's right. Premiums would go up by that much, but it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. People would be paying more because they'd be getting more.
From the CBO report:
"Average premiums would be 27 percent to 30 percent higher because a greater amount of coverage would be obtained. In particular, the average insurance policy in this market would cover a substantially larger share of enrolleesâ costs for health care (on average) and a slightly wider range of benefits. Those expansions would reflect both the minimum level of coverage (and related requirements) specified in the proposal and peopleâs decisions to purchase more extensive coverage in response to the structure of subsidies."
That 27 to 30 percent number drops to the 10 to 13 percent overall number because of offsetting provisions that would decrease the cost of coverage.
- 11:15 AM: Mike Madden The White House tweets a link to a Washington Post piece on a CBO study of healthcare premiums. And simultaneously, a Mitch McConnell aide directs me to a CBO study as well. Basically, both sides have some ammo in that fight. CBO found premiums would go up under the reform bill for some people in the individual market. But Democrats point out that a lot of people can't get coverage that way without the reform bill. And as Alex just noted, CBO also found people would get more coverage for their higher premiums. People with employer-based coverage could see their premiums go up by 1 or 2 percent compared to what would happen without the bill passing -- or go down by 1 or 2 percent.
- 11:17 AM: Mike Madden A source tells me MSNBC has already broken away from the coverage of the summit. Apparently it was Steny Hoyer, the House Democratic whip, who prompted the flip.
- 11:21 AM: Alex Koppelman Was that like four different people trying to get Obama's attention by saying "Mr. President" or am I just hearing things again? The poor president -- it's like he's an elementary school teacher today.
- 11:21 AM: Alex Koppelman I wonder if they have to raise their hands to ask for permission to go to the bathroom...
- 11:22 AM: Steve Kornacki Obama addressing Coburn's points now. Remember that they actually got along pretty well when Obama was in the Senate. Teamed up on earmark legislation and Obama cited Coburn in debates as a GOPer he liked to work with.
- 11:22 AM: Mike Madden The cost discussion yielded... very little, either in the way of new policy discussion or bipartisan agreement. Coburn and Hoyer were barely talking to each other. Obama steps in at the end, like the grownup in the room, and asks what objections the GOP has to allowing individuals to buy insurance through a new exchange system instead of having to go out on their own.
- 11:23 AM: Steve Kornacki No, Alex, they don't raise their hands. They do this:
- 11:23 AM: Steve Kornacki
- 11:23 AM: Mike Madden ... And, Steve wins the live blog.
- 11:23 AM: Alex Koppelman On Twitter, Chuck Todd points out that we're 80 minutes in to the summit and yet not a single House Republican has spoken yet. That's good or bad, depending on your perspective -- the House GOP will likely provide a lot of the day's fireworks, but probably not a whole lot of substance.
- 11:23 AM: Alex Koppelman Speak of the devil, now we turn to House Republicans.
- 11:24 AM: Alex Koppelman Great, Steve -- now I'm going to have to spend hours of this Liveblog trying (and failing) to find a way to top that.
- 11:25 AM: Mike Madden This notion of association health plans that Rep. John Kline is pitching is yet another old GOP standby. George W. Bush mentioned it in his 2008 State of the Union address.
- 11:27 AM: Mike Madden Max Baucus, who sat patiently as Senate Republicans refused to come to an agreement with him all through last summer, now says "we are on the cusp, with not too much effort, to try to bridge a lot of gaps." Is Baucus the only one in the room who actually expected this summit to yield bipartisan consensus? Or is he just doing a clumsy job of pointing out the number of GOP ideas that made it into the Democratic bill?
- 11:30 AM: Alex Koppelman Considering how often Baucus is emphasizing points of agreement and the two sides not being that far apart, Mike, I'm pretty sure it's the former: He still seems not to have gotten the message that bipartisanship just ain't happening here. You'd think he would have learned that after his months of work in that area yielded nothing, but apparently not.
- 11:31 AM: Mike Madden Baucus: "The main point is, we basically agree. There's not a lot of difference here." Max! Give it up!
- 11:33 AM: Mike Madden Several Democrats told me yesterday they were hoping this summit would get past being just another recitation of talking points. Obama said the same thing. So far, they must all be pretty disappointed.
- 11:34 AM: Alex Koppelman Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., talking now; he hit for a while on a point that we're going to hear again and again from the GOP today: Tort reform.
- 11:34 AM: Alex Koppelman Mike, were those Democrats able to keep a straight face when they said that?
- 11:36 AM: Mike Madden A McConnell aide points out, correctly, that the CBO study I referred to before says people with employer-based insurance could see their premiums go up or down 1 or 2 percent compared to the status quo, that is, compared to what would happen if the legislation didn't pass. Premiums, though, are still going up, so chances are 10 years from now premiums would still cost more than they do right now -- with or without the bill becoming law.
- 11:37 AM: Alex Koppelman Obama to Camp: "The only concern I've got is, look, if every speaker -- at least on one side -- is going through every provision and saying what they don't like, it's going to be hard for us to see if we can arrive on agreements on things we all agree on." Take that, back-bencher!
- 11:38 AM: Alex Koppelman Fox News graphic fail: Rep. Rob Andrews "helped writed House health reform bill."
- 11:38 AM: Mike Madden Well, he is the chairman of the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Health, so Fox may not be wrong about that, actually... but actually, yes, Alex is right that "helped writed" is wrong, no matter what the facts are. Apparently I should write chyrons for Fox.
- 11:41 AM: Steve Kornacki Not that anyone's keeping track, right Mitch?
- 11:41 AM: Mike Madden McConnell actually manages to make Reid's snippiness about reconciliation sound high-minded! "To this point, the Republicans have used 24 minutes, the Democrats have used 52 minutes."
- 11:41 AM: Alex Koppelman Mike Madden is many things, but a copy editor is not one of them...
- 11:43 AM: Steve Kornacki For those who know New Jersey politics, watching Rob Andrews right now is pretty amusing. He's one of those people who was rehearsing his Inaugural Address in the bathroom mirror when he was 8. But things never quite worked out and here is a 50-something year-old guy stuck in the House. But today he gets to shine!
- 11:44 AM: Mike Madden Maybe the White House strategy all along was for a moment like they just had: members of Congress shouting at each other, Obama stepping in to sound reasonable.
- 11:49 AM: Alex Koppelman Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., talking now. You've seen those Simpsons cartoons where Homer's brain lets him know that it's going to check out for a while? That's my brain when Schumer starts talking.
- 11:50 AM: Alex Koppelman Though, to be fair, he's actually doing a pretty good job today. Has some passion, which has been missing from the discussion.
- 11:50 AM: Steve Kornacki Schumer is talking. What do you think his imaginary friends in Massapequa think?
- 11:51 AM: Mike Madden Schumer sounded pretty reasonable there, compared to... everyone else in the room not named Obama. At least he wasn't yelling at anyone.
- 11:52 AM: Mike Madden Jon Kyl brought a copy of the bill along, the better to point out how long it is. Or at least, that's what that stack of paper next to him looks like. If it's actually just a prepared text for his remarks, this is going to go on for more than six hours.
- 11:55 AM: Mike Madden Obama tweaks Kyl for "talking about criticisms of the original bill" rather than ideas on how to move forward. But what was he expecting to happen?
- 11:56 AM: Steve Kornacki Someone in the comments section wants to know why we don't have any female Salon-ers doing this. Where are you, Joan?!
- 11:57 AM: Mike Madden By the way, Obama keeps talking about a hypothetical "Acme Insurance" that he's a hypothetical customer of. There actually is an Acme Insurance. No word on whether they also sell birdseed or explosive tennis balls.
- 11:57 AM: Joan Walsh Awwww, that's sweet. I'm lurking! It's hard to jump in midstream!
- 11:58 AM: Joan Walsh "There would be a riot in Congress if we said, 'let's have Congress have a high-deductible plan'" -- point to Obama
- 11:58 AM: Joan Walsh hey steve, we just lost 19 watchers when I jumped in. I'm sorry!
- 11:58 AM: Alex Koppelman "Lurking" = "slacking." (Just kidding, boss. Please don't fire me.)
- 11:59 AM: Mike Madden The Republican talking point right now is basically that there should be no minimum benefit for health insurance policies; that if people want to buy cheap plans that basically don't cover anything, people should be allowed to do it. That's also the reason Democrats won't go along with the GOP notion of "allowing people to buy insurance across state lines" -- they don't want insurance companies just setting up shop in whatever state has the least regulation. By just explaining that, Obama is probably helping his cause.
- 11:59 AM: Mike Madden And, a belated welcome to Joan. Who I see arrived just about in time for the lunch break.
- 11:59 AM: Steve Kornacki Total coincidence, I'm sure. Stay for a while. The water's warm!
- 12:02 PM: Alex Koppelman Re. Mike's point about Obama talking state-based regulation, the president then followed up with another key argument against the Republican argument that people should be allowed to buy across state lines. Let's say State X has the least regulation, and has the country's cheapest plans because they don't require insurers to cover much. Then healthy people will all want to buy their insurance from companies in State X, draining States Y, Z, etc. of the people who are inexpensive to cover; thus, overall costs in States Y, Z, etc. go up.
- 12:02 PM: Mike Madden Here's Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. -- whose district includes Florence, home of Rogers Bar-B-Q House, where I did some serious damage to my own health while covering the South Carolina Republican primary in 2008. Mmm... pulled pork.
- 12:05 PM: Mike Madden A lot of the rapid-response updates from Republican sources so far have focused on reconciliation. Reid had said earlier (and wrongly) that "no one has talked about" using that process to finish the reform bill. I've now gotten a handful of e-mails from the GOP pointing out that plenty of Democrats -- including Reid's own spokesman -- have been talking about it. Which only underscores that everyone knows what happens next: The summit ends, Republicans once again refuse to go along with the Democratic bill, and Democrats use reconciliation to pass a measure combining the House and Senate bills without having to worry about a filibuster.
- 12:05 PM: Joan Walsh Clyburn's overall point isn't made nearly often enough: We are paying with our tax dollars for a lot of people who have insurance -- but use emergency room care because their plans have a huge deductible -- as well as those who use emergency rooms because they have no insurance. I wish there was a way to total how much public $$ is ALREADY spent on the uninsured or underinsured...
- 12:05 PM: Alex Koppelman Since Mike brought it up and since I'm getting very hungry waiting for the lunch break, let me just point out that his opinion does not reflect Salon's, and that mustard-based barbecue sauces are just... wrong. Eastern N.C. barbecue is the way to go. We can all agree on pulled pork in general, though.
Hey, come on, this is TOTALLY relevant to healthcare reform.
- 12:06 PM: Mike Madden Obama: "I think this has, actually, been a very useful conversation."
- 12:08 PM: Mike Madden Joan, the figure I've seen for the cost of the uninsured is fairly high -- the Center for American Progress says it was $1,100 per family policy last year. And that's actually the cost in insurance premiums, not the cost to taxes; hospitals inflate the bills for insured patients to help them cover the costs of uninsured patients.
- 12:10 PM: Alex Koppelman Obama complains that Kyl used good talking point ("Does Washington know better?"), which works politically but keeps progress from being made. OK, I'll grant him that, to an extent, but... Obama makes this complaint a lot. Maybe he doesn't realize that he does the same talking point thing -- that, indeed, the complaint about talking points is a talking point for him -- but he does. And also, I imagine he does realize it. So it comes off a little insincere.
- 12:11 PM: Mike Madden Though Clyburn's point was a good one, and Schumer was effective before... Wouldn't Obama be better off if the Secret Service had refused to allow the Democrats into the room? "I'm sorry, sir, but you're a threat to the safety and security of the president's healthcare proposal."
- 12:13 PM: Joan Walsh Thanks, Mike -- I've seen that CAP figure, I just wish someone would capture ALL of the public costs of our current "private" system. Anybody listening over at CAP?
- 12:14 PM: Alex Koppelman Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., talking now. he's one of the Republican doctors that the GOP is emphasizing today. But he's also showing why, if he weren't a doctor and we weren't talking healthcare reform, he'd never get any camera time. Just as he did when he delivered the Republican response to Obama's address on healthcare to a joint session of Congress last year, Boustany's blowing his big opportunity. Pretty clear that no one in the room is even listening to him.
- 12:19 PM: Mike Madden The GOP, Boustany says, would prefer "risk pools" for patients with pre-existing conditions, rather than requiring insurers to cover people whether they're already sick or not. But as Ezra Klein points out, those pools don't often work very well, because small groups of sick, poor people don't have enough political clout to get government to help make them manageable. There are about 200,000 people in those pools already. The GOP says the government should just throw some more money at them, and be done with it.
The healthcare legislation would, in contrast, make it possible for people with pre-existing conditions to get insurance -- rather than joining these haphazardly-funded and regulated risk pools.
- 12:22 PM: Mike Madden Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., is talking now. He's the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. He told me yesterday he didn't have high hopes for GOP cooperation: "If you look at many of the things the Republicans are asking for, they're in the bill. You had this moment when you had an articulation on the Senate side that [Republicans] really were going to invest in having President Obama fail. And they believe the most direct line to their success is through the failure of this administration... I wasn't a big fan of George Bush's, but I never wanted him to fail."
- 12:24 PM: Joan Walsh MSNBC has Pat Buchanan and Donna Shalala talking over George Miller, btw. Fail.
- 12:24 PM: Mike Madden Miller pointed out just now that he's had two hips replaced, and would never be able to get coverage on the individual market (if he didn't have good coverage from being a member of Congress). As someone who's had type 1 diabetes for more than 20 years, I find that point particularly compelling; these high-risk pools that Boustany wants would essentially trap me in them, if I didn't have insurance through work. (Through my wife's work, actually, though Salon also provides health insurance for employees.)
- 12:25 PM: Mike Madden John McCain is speaking now. Will he play to the bipartisan spirit he used to talk about? Or to the Arizona GOP primary voters?
- 12:26 PM: Alex Koppelman McCain answered your question very quickly, Mike: GOP primary voters. But we knew that.
- 12:26 PM: Steve Kornacki McCain: "I say that with respect." Translation: "I say that with a complete lack of respect."
- 12:26 PM: Joan Walsh MSNBC still with Shalala, trying to move to McCain...
- 12:27 PM: Steve Kornacki Will McCain out of habit start talking about federal spending on bear fertility programs?
- 12:27 PM: Mike Madden McCain always finds a way to boil every issue in government to his favorite topic: earmarks.
- 12:28 PM: Steve Kornacki McCain clearly believes Americans are watching this and thinking, "Man, did we blow that choice in '08."
- 12:28 PM: Steve Kornacki I would characterize McCain's tone as: "misplaced righteousness."
- 12:29 PM: Alex Koppelman Since others have brought up McCain's earmark obsession -- this isn't quite bear fertility programs, but here's a post I wrote last year about him attacking an appropriation to study pig odor. It was an earmark that was easy to poke fun of, but in fact is a pretty important issue.
- 12:29 PM: Mike Madden Obama: "We're not campaigning anymore. The election's over."
McCain: "I'm reminded of that every day."
- 12:30 PM: Alex Koppelman A little tiff between McCain and Obama, that Obama got at the root of with that quote Mike just posted. Also pretty interesting to note, along those lines, that McCain had no problem talking over Obama, which is not usually something you do to the president.
- 12:32 PM: Steve Kornacki Right, Alex. Everyone else deferred to Obama when he interjected. But not McCain.
- 12:32 PM: Alex Koppelman I love these constant assertions by politicians -- not just today, this is a constant thing -- about what the American people care about. It's not like they really know, or that they'd care if they did; they just want a better way to say, "This is what I think."
- 12:32 PM: Mike Madden Well, Lamar didn't defer to Obama, either. In fairness. But then again, he also thinks he should have been president.
- 12:33 PM: Alex Koppelman Yeah, I think the format of this generally sort of encourages less deference to the president than you might otherwise give. But it did feel like McCain's rationales for that might have been a little different than Alexander's.
- 12:34 PM: Steve Kornacki OK, fair enough. But Lamar didn't sound so pissy when he did it!
- 12:34 PM: Alex Koppelman Yeah, exactly, Steve.
- 12:34 PM: Mike Madden HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius explains why, if you want to force insurers to cover people even if they're expensive to insure, you also have to require people to buy insurance: Otherwise, you wind up in "a death spiral." Which is a goofy-sounding name for what happens when healthy people all opt out of insurance, leaving only very expensive sick people in the risk pool.
- 12:38 PM: Mike Madden What's interesting is that none of the Democratic members there so far have made any mention of the progressive ideas that got dropped from the bill. When Obama discussed the public option last fall as being a compromise between moderates and progressives who wanted single-payer, that was effective. But now, the GOP has free rein to bash the existing legislation as radical and overreaching, and there's no counterpoint from the left that lets Obama remind people how moderate it actually is.
- 12:40 PM: Mike Madden Just behind Eric Cantor, White House press aide Ben Finkenbinder is captured on the C-SPAN camera feed looking like he very much regrets having taken what he probably thought -- up to now -- was the best job of his life.
- 12:42 PM: Steve Kornacki Why Cantor's "The American people are against this!" lament rings hollow with me: I don't think there's any way to move an overhaul of the healthcare system through Congress without it polling poorly. Public support can only come later, once the overhaul is implemented.
- 12:42 PM: Mike Madden Eric Cantor makes the very point Democrats were hoping to make: Republicans simply cannot agree to work with them on this bill. "We really need to set this aside," he says.
- 12:42 PM: Alex Koppelman Judging from Twitter, Mike, I think Ben Finkenbider has something in common with most of the reporters covering this today. And judging from his face, I think Finkenbinder also has something in common with Obama.
- 12:43 PM: Mike Madden Obama: "The truth of the matter is, healthcare's very complicated. We can try to pretend that it's not, but it is." Even just doing the things Republicans wanted "would generate a lot of pages."
That's the kind of comment he was making at the Baltimore House GOP retreat, and it's the kind of comment that had Democratic operatives wondering where the White House had been hiding him since the 2008 campaign.
- 12:44 PM: Alex Koppelman Obama makes probably the best argument in favor of government regulation: We could have cheaper meat if we stopped inspecting meat, and cheaper drugs if we stopped testing them beforehand. No matter how much deregulation talk there is, no one wants to go back to the days before "The Jungle."
- 12:48 PM: Mike Madden If the White House is smart, they're about to upload these last several minutes of Obama explaining why insurance reform is needed to YouTube.
- 12:49 PM: Alex Koppelman A little more backstage detail from latest White House pool report:
"Aside from the invited guests, there are about a dozen staffers in the room flanking the table. There was no sign of Rahm Emmanuel. (sic)
"There are also four television cameras in set positions. Two in the back of the room and one flanking each side. The pool is seated along the back wall.
"Some of the guests have open three-ring folders that outline the health care proposals including Dodd, whose doodles â drawn on the Blair House tablet provided to the guests â look like hieroglyphics.
"Most of the guests remained seated through the morning session. Boehner did leave briefly, from 11:32 a.m., returned at 11: 39 a.m.
"White House staff said that this was the first time Blair House has hosted such an historic summit. As to lunch, the president is expected to walk back across Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. The invited guests will be provided lunch in another room. White House staff did not know the menu but pledged to find out what was being served."
- 12:49 PM: Mike Madden He's essentially explaining how insurance works -- or how it doesn't.
- 12:51 PM: Mike Madden Cantor pushes back with a politically useful line: "We just can't afford that... In a perfect world, everyone would have everything they want."
- 12:51 PM: Steve Kornacki Cantor: "Mr. President, we have a very difficult bridge to gap here." Translation: "We can't run against you this fall if we work with you on this!"
- 12:51 PM: Alex Koppelman Biden speaks for the first time today.
- 12:51 PM: Mike Madden Meanwhile, the Senate Republican Policy Committee has just provided reporters with a document entitled, "159 Ways the Senate Bill is a Government Takeover of Healthcare."
- 12:52 PM: Steve Kornacki Biden asks for ten seconds. Takes 20. Not bad!
- 12:52 PM: Joan Walsh Very pithy, Mr. VP!
- 12:53 PM: Joan Walsh Mike, when you say Cantor's line -- "we can't afford that" -- was politically useful, to whom? I think it helped Dems. He looked so callow: Sorry, kids, we just can't afford a new SUV!
- 12:53 PM: Steve Kornacki Louise Slaughter. The only actual coal miner's daughter in Congress!
- 12:54 PM: Alex Koppelman Obama just counted off five more speakers for right now -- starting to think the lunch break that was supposedly going to happen almost an hour ago will never come. Readers should feel free to deliver lunch for Steve and me.
- 12:54 PM: Mike Madden Rep. Louise Slaughter points out that eight states have allowed insurance companies to define being a domestic violence victim as a pre-existing condition.
By the way, it's worth noting that the only Republican woman in the room, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, hasn't spoken yet. Whereas Democrats have featured Slaughter, Pelosi and Sebelius.
- 12:55 PM: Mike Madden Joan, pollsters have been saying a lot of voters are so skittish about the economy and the debt that those sort of "too much money" arguments are working.
That's not to say they should work, just that they are working.
- 12:56 PM: Alex Koppelman Congrats to Louise Slaughter for being the only one in the room today who will reference Lee Iacocca. Now if only someone would ask, "Where's the beef?"
- 12:57 PM: Mike Madden As you can tell from her twangy Appalachian accent, Louise Slaughter represents Buffalo, N.Y.
- 12:58 PM: Mike Madden The House calls a vote, mercifully forcing Obama to call a lunch break. Leftover Malaysian food, here I come!
- 12:58 PM: Alex Koppelman Obama says the House has had to schedule a vote, they're going to break for it.
- 12:58 PM: Alex Koppelman Scheduled to be back at 1:45.
- 12:58 PM: Mike Madden Steny Hoyer, with the line of the day: "There are buses outside."
- 12:59 PM: Steve Kornacki There 'd better be a bus for George Miller, now that we know about his artificial hips and knee problems!
- 1:00 PM: Steve Kornacki Brett Baier on Fox just now: Obama was asked by Lamar to take reonciliation, "also known as the nuclear option," off the table.
- 1:01 PM: Alex Koppelman If you had any doubt that the Democrats are going to use reconciliation to get a bill (though probably not one with a public option) through the Senate, wonder no longer: Democratic National Commitee just sent out a fact-check by PolitiFact, which verified Harry Reid's quote from earlier today, "Since 1981, reconciliation has been used 21 times. Most of it's been used by Republicans."
- 1:02 PM: Steve Kornacki There he goes again: Baier says that republicans have been supplying quotes from Dems "talking about just that, the nuclear option."
- 1:03 PM: Mike Madden Steve, as you (and many readers) know, reconciliation is not the nuclear option. The nuclear option was a proposal by Senate Republicans to have the filibuster ruled out of order. Permanently. Whereas reconciliation is just an already existing process that allows certain narrowly defined legislation to pass the Senate with a majority, avoiding the need to get 60 votes to end a filibuster.
- 1:05 PM: Alex Koppelman Obama's comments to the press pool as he walked back to the White House for lunch:
"I don't know if it's interesting watching it on TV, but it's interesting being part of Establishing there are some areas of real agreement, starting to focus on what the real disagreements are. If you look at the issue of how much government should be involved, the argument that Republicans are making really isn't that this is a government takeover of healthcare but rather that we're regulating the insurance market too much. That's a legitimate philosophical disagreement, we'll hopefully be able to explore it more in the afternoon."
- 1:06 PM: Steve Kornacki AB Stoddard on Fox is dazzled by the Republicans' "A-Team." Because they have doctors!
- 1:06 PM: Alex Koppelman I, frankly, don't know how Obama can say that Republicans aren't arguing this is a government takeover of healthcare, since that is exactly what they often argue. I guess it's an attempt to reframe the debate, but doesn't really do anything for me.
- 1:07 PM: Steve Kornacki Right, Mike. Which is why I want to do a running count of how many times a Fox personality casually drops a reference to "the nuclear option." This is intentional branding on their part.
- 1:09 PM: Mike Madden John Cornyn on MSNBC, talking reconciliation: "This is a very complicated procedure. It's going to be ugly if it's deployed."
- 1:11 PM: Steve Kornacki We're in the intermission phase right now, while the House guys and gals are bused to and from the Capitol for a vote. But we're keeping an eye on the commentary on cable news channels, which may be just as entertaining as the summit.
Here in New York, we have Fox on. I'm thinking of starting a new drinking game: one shot every time a Fox anchor says "nuclear option." Of course, if we do that, I'll be drunk in 3 minutes.
- 1:11 PM: Mike Madden What Republicans don't want you to realize, of course, is that the vast majority of the bill passed both the House and Senate through what lawmakers like to call "regular order" -- that is, under the usual rules, which the GOP has decided mean 60 votes are needed to do anything in the Senate.
The reconciliation bill would only be used to combine the House and Senate bills, in ways that just about everyone agrees would improve the final product -- taking out the "Cornhusker kickback" that Ben Nelson got, making it easier to afford the mandatory health insurance, easing the tax on high-value healthcare plans.
But that distinction will get lost, every time a Republican talks about the process, from now until the 2010 elections (and beyond).
- 1:13 PM: Mike Madden Fox analyst now saying "the bottom line" is that rates would increase 10-13 percent under reform bill. He ignores the fact that only 13 percent of all insurance premiums are purchased on the individual market -- and for the 70 percent of consumers who get insurance through their employers, the effect on cost would be negligible.
- 1:14 PM: Steve Kornacki Waiting for the first Fox analyst to bring up tort reform -- a.k.a. the source of 90 percent of healthcare costs.
- 1:17 PM: Steve Kornacki Linda Douglass on Fox now, being interviewed by Megyn Kelly...
- 1:17 PM: Mike Madden The White House has dispatched Linda Douglass, the spokeswoman for the Office of Health Reform Policy, to Fox News. Where she's likely to have a tough time.
- 1:18 PM: Mike Madden Despite the rigorous intellectual tests required to get onto Fox's air, it doesn't seem like Megyn Kelly is as well-briefed on what's in the healthcare bill as Douglass is.
- 1:18 PM: Alex Koppelman Re. Cornyn saying reconciliation will be ugly, Republicans haven't been making a secret of that. Reconciliation does allow Democrats to avoid a filibuster, but it opens a whole lot of loopholes for Republicans to exploit; they can bring up a ton of objections and amendments and keep the process at a snail's pace if they want.
- 1:19 PM: Mike Madden Right, Alex -- which is why most of the bill can't be passed through reconciliation, only narrow "fixes" to the Senate bill.
- 1:19 PM: Steve Kornacki Yes, Megyn Kelly, WE KNOW, Obama's healthcare plan polls terribly! No one likes sausage-making.
- 1:20 PM: Steve Kornacki I remember when the polls in the summer of 1993 showed that the majority of Americans were against Bill Clinton's budget and wanted to tear it up and start over. Congress passed it anyway -- without a single GOP vote -- and a decade of economic growth and deficit reduction ensued.
- 1:20 PM: Mike Madden Part of me wishes an Obama official would just say, "You know what? You don't like the plan? Vote for someone else next time. This is important." Polls aren't actually like rolling, ongoing elections -- if voters don't like something, the system already includes a way for them to do something about it. And it doesn't require Megyn Kelly's help.
- 1:21 PM: Steve Kornacki Did Fox want us out of Iraq when that was polling terribly?
- 1:21 PM: Mike Madden Well, no, but that involved terrorism. And 9/11.*
* Not really.
- 1:22 PM: Steve Kornacki Right. That was "presidential leadership." But when Obama does what he thinks is right, it's "arrogance."
- 1:24 PM: Mike Madden Speaking purely as a Washingtonian, it's nice to see it snowing behind Megyn Kelly in New York -- and NOT behind Linda Douglass on the White House lawn in D.C.
- 1:25 PM: Alex Koppelman Since we're all Liveblogging Fox now: Megyn Kelly citing the exact same stat that Republicans have been citing all day. It's like Fox gets Republican talking points or something! (If you missed my dissertation on this earlier, you can go back in the Liveblog and look for it, or here's the summary: Republicans correctly point out that CBO says Dem plan would lead to 10 to 13 percent rise in premiums. Dems correctly point out that's because people will be paying more in order to get more, that premiums will rise because coverage will be broader. Mike also makes a good point about these increases will affect a relatively small number of people, though the GOP is portraying it as applying to basically everyone.)
- 1:25 PM: Mike Madden Fox running clips of Democrats bashing the nuclear option from Andrew Breitbart's Web page. He's a very pleasant fellow who doesn't like to scream at reporters.
- 1:25 PM: Steve Kornacki Megyn Kelly: "Is the president prepared to sign a bill that comes to him after being muscled through the Senate on a 51-vote?" Think about how that sounds for a second.
- 1:26 PM: Alex Koppelman It sounds like dictatorship, Steve. Dictatorship!
- 1:27 PM: Mike Madden I agree with Megyn. It is horrifying that the Senate Democrats would try to pass something on a 51-vote margin. Don't they know Republicans have a 41-59 majority?
- 1:28 PM: Mike Madden And, this is why cable news is bad for the English language: "Is it fair now? What's good for the goose, if you will."
- 1:29 PM: Alex Koppelman I have no doubt that Megyn Kelly's interview with a Republican senator will be just as confrontational as her interview with a staffer from a Democratic White House. Also, the word gullible isn't really in the dictionary -- look it up!
- 1:29 PM: Mike Madden I realize they didn't do this on purpose, but it is very entertaining that the horrible, evil process that is about to divide Washington even more is called "reconciliation."
- 1:32 PM: Mike Madden Cornyn is right that "Congress doesn't have the confidence of the American people." But I'm not sure starting over and admitting that the last year was a big waste of time is the way to change that.
- 1:36 PM: Mike Madden Oh, here's Fox replaying the Alexander/Obama exchange and not showing the part where Obama explained the actual facts involved. How clever!
- 1:36 PM: Steve Kornacki One of the problems with watching Fox is that there's no Jack Cafferty to tell me how DUMB and OUT OF TOUCH everyone in Washington is.
- 1:41 PM: Steve Kornacki The buses are back!
- 1:41 PM: Steve Kornacki Bipartisanship can resume!
- 1:43 PM: Steve Kornacki Did I just see that wrong, or is Fox about to promote a YouTube video of Reagan in the mid-'60s arguing against "socialized medicine" -- a.k.a. MEDICARE?
- 1:44 PM: Mike Madden No, you saw it right. I was on the phone, had the sound off, but I certainly admired the visual.
- 1:45 PM: Alex Koppelman Steve, a good reason to shill for Joe Conason's latest piece in Salon, about Republican cognitive dissonance on Medicare.
- 1:50 PM: Mike Madden Should someone tell Fox's Megyn Kelly that medical malpractice liability insurance only makes up 2 percent of the more than $2 trillion that the U.S. spends on healthcare? Or should we just let her keep talking about it anyway?
- 1:53 PM: Alex Koppelman I had considered offering odds on the summit being late getting started again, and now I'm kicking myself for not doing so. Eight minutes late and counting... Anyone want to propose an over/under bet?
- 1:53 PM: Mike Madden I'll take the over, whatever the line is.
- 1:53 PM: Steve Kornacki Also, the doctor she just had on (without a second guest to offer an opposing view) really ought to read this before trying to scare people about the Massachusetts model:
- 1:54 PM: Mike Madden Speaking of the Massachusetts model, I wonder if they'll go after Mitt Romney about that the next time he appears on Fox? Somehow seems unlikely...
- 1:55 PM: Steve Kornacki When it comes to Mitt, the argument changes to: He made a good decision for his state. But other states shouldn't have to do it!
- 1:55 PM: Mike Madden Eric Cantor, apparently, thinks his line about "we can't afford" this bill was politically effective, too. He just repeated it on Twitter.
- 1:57 PM: Mike Madden Democratic sources basically telling me the summit is doing what they expected: show that Republicans are more interested in complaining about the process and the existing bill than do much about it.
- 1:59 PM: Alex Koppelman Fox now interviewing people at a Sun City retirement community in Huntley, Ill. about the summit and the healthcare bills. Great place for Fox to do interviews: Old and incredibly white -- almost 95 percent white, in fact. For one thing, it's Fox's audience; for another, it basically guarantees that everyone interviewed will be receptive to Republican arguments.
- 2:00 PM: Mike Madden I'm disappointed no one at that Sun City community has told them, "Keep your government out of my Medicare!"
- 2:01 PM: Steve Kornacki One of our interns, Rozina, tells me that CNN is reporting that Obama had chicken for lunch. Your No. 3 news network, ladies and gentlemen....
- 2:02 PM: Mike Madden The healthcare summit is back live again. And Charlie Rangel doesn't appear to know how the agenda is supposed to work.
- 2:02 PM: Alex Koppelman Dear Joan and Steve: Please tell me we'll be liveblogging again tomorrow, for this.
- 2:03 PM: Mike Madden The DNC e-mails reporters with a link to an AP story that says what Salon already told you: both Lamar Alexander and Obama had some facts on their side in the debate over premiums, but Obama was closer to the truth.
- 2:05 PM: Mike Madden Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., says "it would have been helpful if we had this 9 months of a year earlier." Which, of course, they did.
- 2:05 PM: Alex Koppelman Hey, speaking of Medicare, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., opens the afternoon session up by talking about it. And then we're back to complaints about process. Enzi has a lot of those complaints, apparently.
- 2:06 PM: Steve Kornacki He wants more pens!
- 2:09 PM: Alex Koppelman Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who's not at the summit, weighs in on Twitter: "Obama & Reid still open to reconciliation. If they try to ram this through, I'll use every tool to stop it." He links to this post on his Web site.
- 2:09 PM: Steve Kornacki Just a reminder: Tom Harkin told our Mike Madden last night that the public option is pretty much dead: www.salon.com
- 2:11 PM: Alex Koppelman MSNBC has stopped carrying the summit -- they're now showing the Olympics. CNBC hasn't picked up its sister network's slack, either. CNN and Fox still carrying the summit, though.
- 2:12 PM: Steve Kornacki Courtesy of Salon's Kerry Lauerman, an exchange from yesterday that makes the Obama-McCain tiff seem like nothing:
- 2:13 PM: Mike Madden John McCain was complaining earlier about the deals that PhRMA, the drug lobby, got in the healthcare bill. "One of them that was particularly egregious, and I won't go through the whole list, was PhRMA," he said. "PhRMA got an $80 billion deal and in return for which they ran $150 million worth of ads in favor of, quote, 'health reform.'"
As it happens, in order to attend the healthcare summit, McCain had to cancel his other plans for today -- a fundraiser sponsored by BGR PAC, which is the political action committee run by Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, a lobbying firm. And (maybe you can guess where this is going?) in 2006, the last year for which OpenSecrets.com lists records, PhRMA paid the lobbying firm $200,000.
That's not to say the deal PhRMA cut is any less unsavory; McCain is probably right to point out the problem. But he's not quite as pure on the issue as he'd like people -- especially people who vote in Republican primaries in Arizona -- to believe.
- 2:16 PM: Alex Koppelman Seems like the cable networks are getting pretty antsy; Fox now talking over the summit for the first time.
- 2:21 PM: Mike Madden A spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio (who hasn't said a word yet today), Michael Steel, sends over this comment: "It's notable that the Democrats won't talk about the actual bill. They know the American people can't stand it, and they can't defend it."
- 2:24 PM: Alex Koppelman Fox News joins MSNBC in cutting away from the summit. CNN going to commercial, but Wolf Blitzer's beard promises me they'll come back to it. Clearly the cable networks have realized this isn't exactly a barn-burner.
- 2:24 PM: Mike Madden Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., is about to launch into a litany of the evils of the health insurance industry: "They're terrible. They're in it for the money."
One of the mistakes the administration made early on was trying to work with insurers -- which deprived Obama of a natural villain to play against.
- 2:25 PM: Steve Kornacki And yet Rockefeller doesn't want a public option -- to provide competition for those horrible insurers -- passed by reconciliation.
- 2:26 PM: Mike Madden Good point, Steve -- and another example of why the Senate's love for its own self as an institution gets in the way of things members might otherwise want to do.
- 2:27 PM: Mike Madden Rockefeller: "This is a rapacious industry that does what it wants."
- 2:29 PM: Mike Madden The latest White House pool report has some thoughts from members in the room:
"Sen. Wyden spoke briefly with the pool. He said the morning session was a time to stake out positions and he hoped the afternoon would bring out ideas for compromise.
Sen. Rockefeller also spoke briefly to the pool where he defended the Democratic bills saying that the public does not have a clear sense of the details within the bill. He suggested that public displeasure mostly surrounded the 'sausage making' process that had stretched on longer than he preferred."
- 2:29 PM: Mike Madden Also, this: "Sen. Dodd also pointed to his scrap paper saying the only doodles were a few squares drawn at the top. The hieroglyphics were briefly scribbled notes. (Someoneâs reading the pools.)"
- 2:32 PM: Mike Madden Nancy Pfotenhauer, last seen explaining that the parts of Virginia that helped Obama win the state in the 2008 election were distinct from "the real Virginia," has surfaced as a spokeswoman for Patients First, sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a corporate-funded group that's been paying for people to take buses to anti-tax protests.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Pfotenhauer isn't impressed by Obama's performance today. A statement from her just landed in my inbox: "Away from his lectern and podium, President Obama looks as impatient in his seat as an 8-year-old boy in English class. Meanwhile, the Republican members of Congress have a fire in their bellies that, frankly, has been missing far too long from the GOP."
- 2:33 PM: Alex Koppelman Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., now talking. As I said in my preview of the summit today, think of her as a light version of another congresswoman with the initials M.B.: Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
- 2:34 PM: Mike Madden Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the only GOP representative at the summit who isn't a white man, has finally surfaced. She's accusing the administration of "siding with protecting those insurance companies" because they won't let insurers sell policies across state lines. The theory is, apparently, that insurance companies would be hurt by that change, because customers could pay less in other states.
In fact, the reason insurers want to do this is so they can set up shop in the state that has the least amount of regulation governing what they must cover. But Blackburn is rolling along, and she shouldn't let reality get in her way.
- 2:35 PM: Alex Koppelman To expand on Mike's point, Blackburn's just getting in on what's become a trend in Republican talking points lately. In their formulation, legislation that corporations oppose -- including increased regulation -- is actually just Democrats cozying up to those corporations. It's a weird phenomenon, a result of the explosion in populist rhetoric on both sides of the aisle.
- 2:36 PM: Mike Madden The master of this kind of pro-corporate populism, of course, is the inimitable Glenn Beck. His show's message frequently boils down to: "Only the corporations can save the workers from the unions!"
- 2:39 PM: Alex Koppelman More from the White House press pool, this an interview with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois:
"Do you [think] the public option will come up at all today?"
Durbin A: "It might ... We've kind of been through this battle in the
Senate ... and you lose a handful of Democratic votes on the public
option." (Adds he supports public option)
Q: How do you think it's going?
A: "I think it's going well. The president is really doing his very best
to find some basic common ground ... He's identified some key
principles" where there is some agreement
Q: Any surprises so far?
A: "No. Working with these people for a long time, I could give some of
their speeches and they could give mine."
Q: Expect bipartisan deal to form? Are differences being bridged?
(Paraphrased, off mic)
A: "It's a longshot."
"I'm glad the president is trying, the American people want him to try
to find some common ground ... I hope we get it done."
Pool Q: "What happens tomorrow?"
Durbin A: "If nothing comes of this we're going to press forward. We
just can't quit. This is a once in a political lifetime opportunity to
deal with a health care system that is really unsustainable ..."
Pool Q: Does reconciliation start tomorrow?
Durbin A: "I wouldn't go that far. We will sit down in leadership and if
we have some helpful Republicans, this could be an easy assignment. But
if not, it could be a little harder."
- 2:41 PM: Mike Madden Obama cops to a change in position. "When I ran in the Democratic primary, I was opposed to the [individual] mandate... I was dragged kicking and screaming to it."
But he says there were two reasons he changed his mind. One, cost-shifting -- patients with insurance wind up paying extra money to cover the costs of treating patients without insurance, who hospitals must care for anyway. And two, because otherwise risk pools will shrink into the "death spiral" that Sebelius mentioned earlier. If you don't require everyone to buy insurance, the only people who do buy it will be the people who already know they need it. Which means they won't be able to afford it, and healthy people won't be able to afford it once they want it, either.
- 2:42 PM: Alex Koppelman Hey, it's Joe Biden again!
- 2:43 PM: Alex Koppelman "I think it requires a little bit of humility to be able to know what the American people think," Biden says, echoing point I made earlier. Has he been reading this Liveblog? I think we just have to assume he is, because that would amuse me.
- 2:43 PM: Mike Madden Biden says this debate "probably has an echo" of the debate in the 1930s on Social Security.
I'm now counting the seconds before Democrats remind reporters that Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan would replace Social Security with private vouchers to buy retirement investments.
- 2:49 PM: Mike Madden Biden and Obama appear to be wearing nearly identical suits and ties.
- 2:50 PM: Mike Madden Someone's cell phone is ringing with a very jaunty Sousa march in the background. Either that, or C-SPAN is trying to play them off the TV early.
- 2:52 PM: Alex Koppelman A reflection of just how responsible Obama's very successful (for him) meeting with House Republicans was for the decision to set this summit up: Via former Salon reporter Michael Scherer on Twitter, the GOP's stopwatch for the morning session today says that Republicans spoke for 56 minutes and Congressional Democrats spoke for 50 minutes. Obama alone spoke for more time than either of those groups -- 58 minutes.
Funny thing about that, by the way, is that it represents the Republicans accepting Obama's way of looking at this, which he laid out earlier: "There was an imbalance on the opening statements because I'm the president and so I made... I didn't -- I didn't count my time in terms of dividing it evenly."
- 2:55 PM: Mike Madden Paul Ryan's comments on costs here seem aimed more at general voter anxiety about the budget than at the specific proposal on the table. Obama is virtually guaranteed to reply with something about how the bill is paid for; Ryan still scores points with voters, though, by talking about how expensive it all is.
- 2:56 PM: Alex Koppelman Right, Mike. Also, Ryan scoring points with voters generally right now by doing a very good job speaking right now. He's a rising star in the Republican Party, thought of as their resident wonk in Congress, and he's showing today that he can make his policy points work politically too.
- 2:56 PM: Mike Madden Paul Ryan: "If you think they want a government takeover of healthcare, I would respectfully submit you're not listening to them."
Of course, the bill isn't a government takeover of healthcare, so while that may be true, it's also irrelevant.
- 3:00 PM: Mike Madden While we listen to Republicans passionately defend Medicare, it's worth looking back to the 1965 vote to set the program up. Which passed the Senate, 70-34, and the House, 307-116. A total of 83 Republicans voted for Medicare, out of those 377 votes in favor of the program.
(Only 85 of them voted against it, which mostly serves as a reminder of how few Republicans were in Congress in 1965. But the point, still, is that Medicare was carried legislatively by Democrats.)
- 3:00 PM: Alex Koppelman Speaking of which, not to air too much internal Salon dirty laundry here, but I think I may actually still owe Mike some money from a bet we made during the 2008 campaign about Ryan being a possible running mate for John McCain.
Full disclosure, though it pains me -- I said Ryan was worth watching on that score, Mike said he wasn't, he was right. But watching this today, you really do have to think he could end up being a major figure in the GOP pretty soon, if not somewhere on a national ticket in 2012 or 2016. The fact that he's a pretty nondescript white guy from a blue state hurts him, but there are ways around that, and there are circumstances in which that could be advantageous for balancing out a ticket.
- 3:01 PM: Mike Madden If Tom Coburn thinks seniors don't want the government to fill the Medicare part D donut hole, which is what he's saying now, he's wrong.
- 3:02 PM: Joan Walsh Yes, Alex, gambling is against the Salon code of ethics, check your employee handbook! I think Ryan's worth watching too -- plus he's from Wisconsin!
- 3:03 PM: Alex Koppelman I asked in my preview today (sorry for continuing to reference it, but hey, I was just so right!) which John McCain we'd get today, the "maverick" or the angry McCain left over from the campaign. Clearly, it's the angry McCain.
Just now, after interrupting Obama, he was red-faced and ready to pounce on the president. But Obama responded by saying he basically agreed with the point McCain made, leaving the senator totally flustered.
- 3:05 PM: Alex Koppelman Rep. Xavier Becerra arguing with Ryan now. C-SPAN camera cut to Obama, who had a bemused little smile on his face.
- 3:08 PM: Steve Kornacki Paul Ryan is to the GOP of the Obama era what John Kasich was to the GOP of the Clinton era.
- 3:10 PM: Mike Madden So, he'll be governor of Ohio someday?
- 3:14 PM: Steve Kornacki ...after he wages an ill-fated bid for the '16 GOP nod....
- 3:14 PM: Steve Kornacki ...and gets his own show on Fox News at 3 AM on weekends (or whenever Kasich's slot was)
- 3:16 PM: Mike Madden Chuck Grassley is displaying very clearly why Max Baucus shouldn't have wasted so much time last summer trying to negotiate with him. He's opposed to cuts in Medicare, but he thinks the bill costs too much. He doesn't agree with the fundamental assumption in the legislation, that expanding insurance risk pools is the only way for the rest of the bill to work. And he's not very polite about it, either.
- 3:20 PM: Mike Madden To be clear: Republicans are talking a lot about "cuts to Medicare," but really, the proposed cuts are all to Medicare Advantage, which is an optional HMO within Medicare. The original Medicare program works like a fee-for-service insurer; you show up at your doctor, they treat you, Medicare pays them back.
Medicare Advantage, on the other hand, is run by private health insurers. Democrats, and the White House, say cuts to that program can save money because the private insurers make money on it. Republicans appear to be either ignoring the distinction, or pretending that these private insurers are participating in a program even though they lose money on it.
- 3:24 PM: Mike Madden Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. (who is really not the ideal speaker five and a half hours into this thing, if you're trying to keep viewers engaged), does make a good substantive point that Obama and Biden have both touched on: healthcare costs are rising so fast they'll bankrupt the country if nothing gets done.
- 3:24 PM: Alex Koppelman House Minority Leader John Boehner talking for the first time today. Starts off in bipartisan fashion -- waiting for the other shoe to drop.
- 3:27 PM: Alex Koppelman Here's that other shoe: Boehner calls reform "dangerous experiment," says it'll "bankrupt" America. And of course -- like his colleague, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor -- Boehner has a copy of the bill with him in order to show that it's long and thus scary.
- 3:28 PM: Mike Madden Boehner brings up abortion, the first time anyone has gone there.
- 3:29 PM: Alex Koppelman Interesting that Boehner was the first to bring up taxpayer funding and abortions, as that's likely to be a big issue in getting what Obama proposed earlier this week passed in the House. Can understand why Democrats wouldn't want to talk about it for just that reason, but surprising that Republicans haven't hammered it.
- 3:31 PM: Alex Koppelman Boehner asks, predictably, for Obama and Democrats to scrap everything they've done so far, promises -- with a smirk on his face -- that if that happened, they could get a bill passed in the next few months. Obama doesn't sound happy about this.
- 3:31 PM: Steve Kornacki Not a bad smackdown of Boehner right there....
- 3:32 PM: Mike Madden Here's Jim Cooper, the Blue Dog Democrat from Tennessee whose eventual opposition to the Clinton healthcare reform plan in 1993 helped bring it down.
- 3:33 PM: Alex Koppelman Obama says Boehner just going "back to the standard talking points that Democrats and Republicans have had for the past year." Adds, "That doesn't drive us to agreement."
Well, yeah. Because Boehner has no interest in agreement. Not saying that as a slam on him -- just reality. He and other Republicans have decided, and they may well be right, that it's politically much better for them to just fight against a bill rather than compromise on one.
- 3:33 PM: Steve Kornacki Jim Cooper, lest we forget, was one of the biggest Democratic thorns in Bill Clinton's side when he tried to do healthcare reform. Cooper's alternative plan became popular with those looking to latch on to something, anything to oppose "HillaryCare" and helped derail the entire reform effort. He thought it would help him back in Tennessee, but he still lost badly in the '94 Senate race to Fred Thompson.
- 3:33 PM: Steve Kornacki ...and I see now that Madden beat me to the punch.
- 3:34 PM: Mike Madden Cooper is also one of the biggest deficit hawks in Congress. It's possible this time around that he'd wind up getting on board with reform because the ballooning healthcare costs are just so deadly to the long-run fiscal state of the nation.
- 3:34 PM: Alex Koppelman I should add that Obama is well aware Boehner has no interest in agreement. He's playing his own game here, too. By talking about things that don't "drive us to agreement," he's working to frame himself and fellow Democrats as reaching across the aisle and Republicans as obstructionist. That's an important dynamic to set up as we head towards reconciliation in the Senate.
- 3:35 PM: Mike Madden ... And in fact, he voted for the bill.
- 3:35 PM: Steve Kornacki ...and he's no longer a young man in a hurry looking to win a Senate seat.
- 3:36 PM: Alex Koppelman McCain talking about tort reform. At least it's not earmarks, but again, seems like this is about his primary.
- 3:36 PM: Mike Madden Right, Steve -- he actually could be, theoretically, vulnerable to a more liberal primary challenger these days.
- 3:36 PM: Steve Kornacki McCain specializes in getting worked up about things that barely save any money.
- 3:39 PM: Mike Madden Since McCain brought up Texas and tort reform, I'll repeat what I said earlier: Texas, which has capped medical malpractice awards, is home to one of the most expensive healthcare markets in the country.
- 3:40 PM: Mike Madden Obama: "I think the American people sometimes aren't all that interested in procedures inside the United States Senate."
- 3:40 PM: Alex Koppelman On Twitter, the Republican National Committee says, "Stand with Leader Boehner and tell Pres Obama to scrap this bill," asks supporters to sign this petition.
- 3:42 PM: Alex Koppelman Obama's right about the lack of interest in Senate procedures. And right now, that's a problem for him. It means voters are open to Republican arguments about Democrats ramming healthcare down their throats through reconciliation, in large part because they're not aware how things work in the Senate and how -- and why -- legislation has been dying in the Senate in this Congress.
- 3:43 PM: Steve Kornacki I love the "Stand with Leader Boehner" thing. Like the title "Leader XXX" has currency with anyone outside of the Capitol building.
- 3:44 PM: Alex Koppelman Although that's not really the context in which Obama said that, to be clear. He was really defending reconciliation, saying Americans more interested in results than process.
- 3:44 PM: Mike Madden Good news for Democrats worrying about the November elections: Both Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer, who are likely to vie for the Democratic leadership job if Harry Reid loses, have proven today that they're much better at speaking to actual human beings than Reid is.
- 3:45 PM: Steve Kornacki That's true. The bottom-line is that no matter how it gets done, polls will show that Americans believe healthcare was "rammed down their throats."
- 3:45 PM: Alex Koppelman Funny you should mention that, Steve. Compiling the list of attendees today reminded me of something I've noticed before: Boehner and his staff never, so far as I can tell, refer to him as the minority leader, always Republican leader or just leader.
- 3:45 PM: Mike Madden Healthcare reform, basically, is like a throat culture.
- 3:48 PM: Steve Kornacki Pelosi did that when I covered her, too. (Back in '05/'06.) It was always "Leader Pelosi." And I laughed then, like I do now with Boehner, at the idea that this was supposed to somehow command respect from the masses.
- 3:50 PM: Mike Madden Well, this pretty much sums up the whole summit: they're about to run out of time, and they're just now getting to the section that Obama says is "the core" of the healthcare bill.
- 3:52 PM: Mike Madden By the way: The House voted the other night on a bill to strip an anti-trust exemption from health insurance companies. It was fairly popular, passing 406-19. All 19 "no" votes came from Republicans, including Boehner (or Leader Boehner, if you're a staffer).
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer sends over some thoughts on that subject: "Representative John Boehnerâs vote on whether to outlaw anti-competitive practices by big health insurance companies tells Ohio voters what he values more, protecting insurance company profits over helping his constituents afford health care. Considering that Boehner has received $939,276 from the insurance industry, a vote to let them keep manipulating the market to drive up their profits while families suffer is all the more outrageous.â
- 3:54 PM: Mike Madden Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., thoughtfully introduces himself "for people who might not know me."
That may cover a fairly large number of the audience.
- 3:59 PM: Mike Madden Barrasso is getting very sappy now, talking about how doctors get stethoscopes to listen to their patients. The implication: lawmakers are not listening to the American people.
The appropriate response, of course, would be that if the people don't like this bill, they can vote out the people who supported it. Congress isn't required to abandon things just because polls show they're unpopular while they're working on it.
- 4:00 PM: Mike Madden Obama gets Barrasso to say he thinks everyone in Congress should have only a catastrophic healthcare plan. And Obama asks him if he would feel the same if he only made $40,000 a year.
- 4:02 PM: Mike Madden Earlier, John Boehner declared the U.S. has "the best" healthcare system in the world. That may or may not be the case. But there's no question that the U.S. has the most expensive healthcare system in the world.
Here's a chart showing the spending per capita by nation. As you can see, the U.S. is by far the outlier.
- 4:03 PM: Alex Koppelman Release that just landed in my e-mail inbox from the Republican Study Committee, a conservative group in the House, says:
"A number of Washington Democrats have railed against the notion that they should need 60 votes in the Senate to pass their government takeover of health care. The 60 vote threshold for moving forward with legislation in the Senate was devised to protect against the tyranny of the majority. It exists to ensure that legislation has widespread support before it is enacted.
"Now, a recent CNN poll shows that 73% of Americans want Congress to either start over on health care reform or drop the issue completely. In spite of such widespread opposition, Democrats are threatening to ram their bill through with the votes of just 50 Democrat Senators and Vice President Biden.
"That right there shows why the 60 vote threshold is necessary. It prevents blind partisanship from overriding the wishes of the American people."
The argument that the filibuster -- the RSC never uses that word, you'll notice, they call it "The 60 vote threshold for moving forward with legislation in the Senate," as if it's standard policy -- "was devised to protect against the tyranny of the majority" is basically right. But it's still not the greatest argument to make politically, considering that the filibuster has also been used in an attempt to protect and extend the tyranny of the majority. Two classic examples of the procedure, for instance, are the filibusters of the Civil Rights Acts of 1960 and 1964.
Beyond that, the fact of the matter is that the underlying bill has already passed the Senate with 60 votes. Reconciliation, the procedure that prohibits filibusters and takes the Senate back to the days of the simple majority, will be used to pass fixes to that bill.
- 4:05 PM: Mike Madden Waxman: "If I heard the kind of rhetoric that I've heard over and over again from some of the Republicans, I wouldn't want your plan, either."
- 4:09 PM: Mike Madden We were mocking Fox News earlier, but it's worth noting this clip of anchor Shepard Smith blowing up at Sen. John Thune's GOP talking points:
- 4:09 PM: Mike Madden
- 4:10 PM: Alex Koppelman Unintentionally funny moment on the Republican National Committee's Twitter feed. RNC says, "Pres Obamaâs Individual Mandate Could Be Unconstitutional, And Eventually Challenged In Court." The second part of that sentence is true, but the NPR story the RNC linked to actually makes it clear that independent legal experts think it's obvious that the mandate would pass Constitutional muster, and that there's no case on the other side.
You can find plenty of people on the right who will disagree, of course, but everything I've seen on this so far indicates that non-partisan experts don't think those arguments are worth taking seriously.
- 4:11 PM: Mike Madden Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., who served with Obama in the Illinois state Senate, is telling old war stories now.
- 4:12 PM: Alex Koppelman Hey, some bipartisanship! Obama cut off Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., saying, "We're not making campaign speeches right now." Smell the post-partisanness, people.
- 4:13 PM: Steve Kornacki I love how Roskam likes to point out that the Obama he knew in Springfield isn't like the Obama who's now president. Of course, he never mentions how different the Republicans in Washington are from the Republicans in Springfield...
- 4:13 PM: Mike Madden Poor Ron Wyden, sitting next to Roskam, was invited at the last minute; so far, he hasn't said a word.
- 4:16 PM: Mike Madden Roskam says, proudly, that the GOP proposal would reduce the number of uninsured by 3 million people.
There are 48 million people without insurance.
- 4:16 PM: Steve Kornacki What's wrong with that, Madden? At that pace, we'd have full coverage within 1,600 years!
- 4:17 PM: Mike Madden Full coverage? Government takeover!
- 4:18 PM: Mike Madden Once again, as Obama speaks, I find myself wishing he could pull off some sort of partial coup d'etat -- overthrowing the Democrats in Congress and locking them up for the sake of the nation.
- 4:19 PM: Alex Koppelman Pretty sure Obama just screwed up the pronunciation of Boehner's name, calling him "Bonior." Can't blame him, really -- if you realize mid-sentence that you're on national television and you're about to mispronounce "Boehner," probably good to just totally veer off the track...
- 4:20 PM: Steve Kornacki Dodd dusts off the old Harris Wofford line!
- 4:20 PM: Mike Madden A smart friend points out that the Democrats have missed a huge opportunity here: talk about how Republicans love to support small businesses, and ask the GOP how they plan to help small businesses deal with the looming cost of healthcare if this bill doesn't pass.
- 4:21 PM: Steve Kornacki That's an easy one: tax cuts, of course. And TORT REFORM.
- 4:25 PM: Mike Madden Joe Barton cuts to the chase: "We think that we should use free markets to empower people and give them choices."
Free markets are exactly what got us to this crisis in health care so far, aren't they? The only part of the healthcare system people appear to love is the one run by the government: Medicare.
- 4:26 PM: Mike Madden And here, just for entertainment value, is a Twitter update written in the third person by Harry Reid.
- 4:26 PM: Alex Koppelman Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, speaking now. Says there's a fundamental disagreement between GOP and Dems on this -- which is good for Dems. But he does a surprisingly good job of spinning that, saying Republicans want to use free market to give people choice, Dems want to force things on them, as in the mandate. Not really true, of course, but effective.
- 4:27 PM: Mike Madden It's almost as if Republicans didn't even listen when Obama explained that medical malpractice makes up a trifling part of the healthcare cost problem!
- 4:27 PM: Alex Koppelman Barton now talking tort reform. Obama looks like he's having trouble keeping his eyes open.
Speaking of which, can someone get me some coffee, please?
- 4:29 PM: Mike Madden For the record, Barton says eliminating defensive medicine through tort reform could save $150 billion a year. Which is real money. Except that the U.S. spends more than $2 trillion each year, so saving $150 billion through the GOP's medical malpractice fetish only actually amounts to a 7.5 percent cut.
- 4:31 PM: Mike Madden Some Democrat suggests Obama should only call on Republicans who haven't talked yet. Better idea: Don't call on any Democrats! Let Obama do all the talking! He's so much better at it than the other ones are!
- 4:32 PM: Alex Koppelman Obama says Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. will be the last to speak today. It's definitely a "last, but not least" thing -- total symbolism. Obama himself hinted at that, bringing up something that had already been mentioned at least once today: Dingell was presiding over the House when that body passed Medicare.
- 4:33 PM: Mike Madden ... Also, Dingell was already in his 12th term in the House when FDR proposed Social Security.
- 4:36 PM: Alex Koppelman Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell now speaking for the first time today. Talks reconciliation, public opinion.
- 4:36 PM: Alex Koppelman McConnell echoes his House colleague, Boehner, says "solution" is to "start over" on bill.
- 4:37 PM: Mike Madden Mitch McConnell tries to claim that not only rich people use health savings accounts by pointing out that the median income of people who use them is $69,000.
That is $17,000 -- or about 33 percent -- more than the median household income in the U.S., which is about $52,000.
But who says the GOP is the party of the wealthy?
- 4:43 PM: Alex Koppelman Obama responds to McConnell, other Republicans who've been citing poll numbers by pointing out that when you ask people whether they like elements of the healthcare bills, majority says yes. It's true, and further evidence that polling gets too much credence in the wonderful world of politics. So much depends on the way you ask the question.
At the same time, though, Democrats would be wise not to fall back on that reasoning. (Obama's not the only one I've seen pushing it today.) It's not those specific elements that people will be thinking about when they go vote; it's the broader picture. And if voters don't like the bill -- even if it's because they didn't really know what was in it -- then they'll vote against the people who supported it.
Now, reform supporters like Obama are using this argument to make a case for passing the bill. On the policy side, they're right -- the American people really do want much of what's in the White House proposal. But at this point in the process, the policy side of things matters much less than what individual members think about the politics of the bill and how they're likely to be affected politically.
- 4:48 PM: Alex Koppelman We may be getting perilously close to actually being done -- Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who Obama said would be the last to speak, talking now. I'm not holding my breath quite yet, though.
- 4:50 PM: Alex Koppelman Dingell beats Republicans over the head with their own colleague, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who basically said calls for scrapping the bill and starting over again were partisan ploys. GOP can't like moderate Schwarzenegger, who they're often not wild about anyway, being used against them this way.
- 4:52 PM: Alex Koppelman "Why are we being so fussy about business in the people's House and the people's Senate being done by a simple majority?" Dingell asks. Very good job of distilling a point that other Democrats strangely unable to make so efficiently.
- 4:55 PM: Alex Koppelman As I feared, Dingell not really the last to speak; leader-types will get to close things out. Pelosi talking now -- we'll see if she can redeem herself after a truly lousy performance earlier.
- 4:59 PM: Alex Koppelman Pelosi now calling out individual Republicans on various statements they've made. Here in Salon's NYC office, we're a little perplexed -- an odd way to end a day that was supposed to be about bipartisanship. And she's not doing it particularly well, either. Next to her, Harry Reid looks uncomfortable.
- 5:01 PM: Alex Koppelman Obama: "Here's what I'd like to do -- and I'm going to take about 10 minutes." Over my shoulder, Salon food writer extraordinaire Francis Lam translates Obama's statement into, "Stay at work, Koppelman!"
- 5:01 PM: Mike Madden Obama is wrapping up now.
- 5:02 PM: Mike Madden Expect this to be one of his strongest rhetorical moments of the day, unless he's just worn out.
- 5:07 PM: Mike Madden He's pushing back on the idea that regulations are somehow a "big government takeover." This sounds reasonable and unfrightening. But is anyone still watching?
Fortunately for Obama, of course, being president means you don't have to worry if anyone's still watching when you speak -- his remarks are guaranteed to be replayed later on.
- 5:11 PM: Mike Madden Obama: "We'd love to have a five-page bill." But "baby steps don't get you to the place where people need to go -- they need help right now."
- 5:12 PM: Mike Madden Now he's explaining how the whole bill is woven together. If you bar insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, you need to require everyone to have insurance, so the policies are affordable for everyone.
- 5:17 PM: Mike Madden Obama: "Starting over... means not doing much."
- 5:18 PM: Mike Madden Body language of the Republicans listening to Obama wrap up is pretty hostile.
- 5:21 PM: Alex Koppelman That it is, Mike. They'd like him to wrap up, I think -- and I'm betting his own staffers would like him to do so as well, for political reasons and their own sanity. His 10 minutes has quickly turned into 20, and after everything that's come before, it's a little much.
- 5:21 PM: Alex Koppelman Sound of chair moving starts just as Obama indicates he's wrapping up. Half-hearted round of applause once he's done -- and we're out!
- 5:24 PM: Steve Kornacki Streaming video is tough to see: Did McCain walk out before Obama got to him?
- 5:27 PM: Mike Madden And after only 6 hours and 22 minutes, that ends the bipartisan summit. Which didn't really produce much in the way of bipartisanship. No one expected it to, though. The question is whether Obama and Democrats managed to explain the bill in a way that makes it sound less scary than Republicans wanted it to seem.
There's little doubt that Democrats are ready to move ahead, with or without the GOP. Obama basically said he didn't mind dealing with the healthcare bill during the upcoming political season: "That's what elections are for." Republicans are already shrieking about reconciliation and process arguments. Will that message trump the stuff people actually do like in the healthcare bill?
- 5:28 PM: Mike Madden Thanks for following the summit with us at Salon. Feel free to send your feedback on this little experiment to email@example.com, or directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 5:31 PM: Alex Koppelman A big thank-you to all the readers from me too -- as Mike said, hate (or love!) mail can be sent to email@example.com or to me, firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions, comments, suggestions all welcomed.