Parties point fingers, W.H. goes solo

August 19, 2009

President Barack Obama now realizes he probably will have to pass health reform with Democratic votes alone, White House officials say.

The admission is a monumental shift in Washington’s top fight of the year, with the energy now shifting to differences among Democrats, rather than efforts to lure a critical mass of Republicans.

The aides call it more a prediction than a strategy shift, and blame the GOP.

“We were forced into this by Republicans,” one official said.

The administration is pointing to increasingly partisan comments by the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Charles Grassley of Iowa, who said while home for summer recess: “I’m not walking away from the table. I’m being pushed away from the table.”

Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee, said blaming the GOP is “laughable.”

“Apparently having a filibuster-proof majority, a 40-seat advantage in the House, and a president who was once really popular isn’t enough,” Spain said in a statement. “Maybe if people actually liked the bill, Democrats’ wouldn’t have such a tough time whipping up bipartisan votes, much less vulnerable Democrats within their own party.”

Despite the White House signals Wednesday, the bipartisan negotiations on the Senate Finance Committee are continuing. The staff speak daily and the six senators will soon hold their first conference call since the recess began.

“There is no directive at all to go it alone,” according to a source close to the negotiations.

Grassley issued a statement Wednesday morning saying the bipartisan talks should continue.

“I’ve said all year that something as big and important as health care legislation should have broad-based support,” Grassley said. “So far, no one has developed that kind of support, either in Congress or at the White House. That doesn’t mean we should quit. It means we should keep working until we can put something together that gets that widespread support.”

But West Wing and congressional aides are rewriting their strategy in an effort to eke out the votes they need, perhaps the bare minimum.

“It is fair to say the White House and the Senate Democratic leadership still prefer a bipartisan bill, and neither the White House nor us has made any decision to pursue reconciliation yet,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “We will not make a decision to pursue reconciliation until we have exhausted effort to pursue a bipartisan bill. But patience is not limited and we are determined to get something done this year.”

Even that will be hard. The House-Senate split over whether to include a government-run plan is likely to make the final bill “very tough” to sell to enough Democrats to pass, according to leadership aides.

A Senate Republican leadership aide said Democrats are trying to blame the opposition for their own problems.

“It’s nice spin to try and pin their problems on the GOP,” the GOP aide said. “But they have such big majorities in Congress that they don’t need a single Republican vote to move their agenda. We could all stay home and they would still have 60 votes in the Senate. This is about getting around the reasonable wing of the Democrat party, and the clearest indication yet that their own party is divided on government health care, cuts to Medicare and taxes on small business.”

Republicans plan to accuse Democrats of strong-arm tactics if they try to pass health care with simple-majority reconciliation procedure. White House aides say this is an option but not the desired one, because of potential blowback in next year’s midterms.

The White House officials were amplifying the lead story of Wednesday’s New York Times, “Democrats Seem Set To Go Alone On A Health Bill,” by Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is quoted as saying: ‘The Republican leadership has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama’s health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day.'”

Toughening his sales pitch, Obama will sit Thursday with conservative radio host Michael Smerconish in the Diplomatic Reception Room. Smerconish will broadcast his afternoon show from the White House. It’s the first radio show of this presidency to come live from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

In a report sure to cause a stir online and on talk shows, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reported on “Good Morning America”: “White House officials have talked privately about whether to use the Clintons more on health care.”

Former President Bill Clinton spoke in Pittsburgh this weekend to Netroots Nation, a huge progressive bloggers’ convention.

“There have also been discussions about whether to deploy Secretary of State Clinton,” Stephanopoulos said. “No final decision on that yet.”
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