Monday, July 20, 2009

The Current Media Narrative

Never forget Steve's central point here . . .
I stopped by the Yahoo News page a few minutes ago and saw the lead headline at the top of the page that reads, "Public support slips for Obama's health plan, poll shows." It quoted a Reuters report that says:

Public support for President Barack Obama's handling of healthcare reform, the pillar of his legislative agenda, has fallen below 50 percent for the first time, a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Monday said.

I realize the current media narrative is "public turns on health care reform," but let's clarify this a bit, because it's nearly as misleading as the political attacks that have weakened support for reform in the first place.

The Post-ABC poll asked Americans if they approve of President Obama's handling of various issues. While he enjoys majority support in some areas, 49% approve of his handling of health care, 44% do not.

But that doesn't necessarily reflect opposition to "Obama's health plan." Maybe the president's support on this issue has fallen to 49% because some Americans are disappointed Obama hasn't already pushed the bill through Congress. Maybe they don't like the way he's empowered lawmakers to take the lead in writing the bill. Who knows? The poll doesn't really tell us.

The poll does, however, tell us a few relevant details. For example, when given a choice on who Americans trust more on reforming the health care system, 54% prefer the president, while only 34% back congressional Republicans.

Even more important, when the basics of the plan are described to respondents, including Republican-friendly phrasing ("government-run"), a majority of Americans support the reform proposal. This was left out of the Reuters report altogether.

In an article about poll support for "Obama's health plan," Reuters ignored the only question in the poll about support for Obama's health plan. Odd.

Think Progress: Obama hits back at DeMint’s threat: ‘It is about a health care system that is breaking American families.’

President Obama today reaffirmed his commitment to reforming health care to control costs, provide affordable coverage, and ensure quality care by introducing competition and transparency into the current system. In his speech, Obama also took aim at comments made by one of the most ardent opponents of health reform, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). DeMint last week declared that he would do everything in his power to kill health reform in the Senate. Obama struck back today by saying the debate “isn’t about me,” but rather a system that is “breaking American families”:

OBAMA: Just the other day, one Republican Senator said, and I’m quoting him now, “if we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” Think about that. This isn’t about me. This isn’t about politics. It is about a health care system that is breaking American families, breaking America’s businesses and breaking America’s economy.

Watch it:

Obama also extended his deadline for passing health reform. He previously called upon Congress to complete health care before the August recess, but today said, “Let’s pass reform by the end of this year.”

Ezra Klein: A Reality Check on Health-Care Reform

My basic experience with Twitter is that you can say a lot in 140 characters. But you can't do a very good job explaining what you just said. For instance, today I tweeted -- and yes, saying that makes me feel like an adorable little songbird -- "Am I the only one not particularly worried about developments with the health-care reform bill? What's surprising here?" A lot of people wanted me to explain that. So here we go.

There is nothing about this moment in the legislative process that was not predictable. Nothing. Zero. Not one statement by one player. Indeed, the single surprising development is that Olympia Snowe is now paying lip service to a public plan. But that's it.

The big news today is that Obama is slipping in the polls. The Washington Post's new poll, for instance, has him slipping all the way down to ... 59 percent? In the Gallup poll, his approval rating has, err, "fallen" from 56 percent to 61 percent. An average in the high-50s and the low-60s isn't necessarily the stratospheric ratings Obama registered in the immediate aftermath of his inauguration. But these are exactly the sort of solid numbers you would have predicted absent any major mistakes.

Congress, similarly, is performing at, or arguably above, expectations. Three separate House committees have agreed on the basic framework of a health-care reform bill. Two of those three have already passed the legislation. In the Senate, the two committees appear to be considering pretty similar bills. The Health Committee has actually passed its legislation already.

What else? It's proving difficult to find consensus on revenues. But that was always going to be true. And if consensus has been elusive, options have been plentiful: There are surtaxes and sin taxes and taxes on health benefits and savings in Medicare and changes to the itemized deduction rules. People can argue about which approach should be preferred. But they cannot argue that no viable approach exists.

The opposition is, as you'd expect, organizing. Republicans are becoming more strident in their criticisms. Industry players are growing nervous and restive. But anyone who didn't expect an eventual fight over the single largest piece of domestic legislation passed in decades was being strangely optimistic. Centrists are making skeptical noises, but their arguments are vague and general. The administration is dangling the IMAC proposal so Blue Dogs and moderates can say they've done something serious on entitlement reform.

Meanwhile, Obama hasn't even showed his hand yet. He hasn't stepped into the process aggressively or given a big speech. He hasn't activated his grassroots network or begun making threats on Capitol Hill. He hasn't pushed. Word is that his involvement begins this week. That is to say, it begins when most of the bills are written, a few of them are passed, and the finish line is in sight. That's quite different from 1994, when Clinton exhausted his political capital long before the legislation was presented to Congress.

Does this mean health-care reform will pass? Or that the final bill will be a glittering accomplishment? Nope! But it is to say that things seem basically on track. They're getting harder in predictable ways. The problems that are arising are problems that everyone knew would have to be solved. The danger was never that we'd get to this place. It was that we wouldn't.

Sudbay: Obama's conference call with bloggers on health care reform

As we've noted throughout the day, the pace is really picking up around the health care reform debate. And, the President is becoming much more engaged. Around 5:30 pm, Obama had on a on-the-record conference call with progressive bloggers. He was joined at the White House by David Axelrod, Nancy Anne DeParle and the White House online guy, Jesse Lee. This was Obama's first serious interaction with the progressive blogosphere. And, yes, AMERICAblog got invited. I joined to the call for us. Anyone who reads this blog knows that health care reform is a key issue for both John and me -- and we want real reform to pass.

The President gave brief remarks about the health care reform debate, noting that the blogs can cut through the conventional wisdom and debunk the myths about this legislative battle. (Yes, we can and we do.) Obama wants to keep up the pressure on Members of Congress, because the default position in DC is "inertia." That's true. But, Obama and Axelrod seem keenly aware that the operating position of the GOP is to defeat health care reform. Both mentioned the comment made by Senator DeMint about health care being Obama's "Waterloo." I'll link to the transcript when it becomes available.

Obama took questions from John Amato from Crooks and Liars, Jonathan Singer from MyDD, David Dayen from D-Day, Cheryl Contee from Jack and Jill Politics, Gerald Weinand, formerly of Turn Maine Blue who launches later tonight (what a way to start), and Joan McCarter from DailyKos. The questions covered a range of topics. Cheryl asked if the public option would cover the self-employed and small businesses. Obama responded that those would be "primary beneficiaries of the public option." McJoan noted that some on the Senate Finance Committee were still working on a "co-op" (which would substitute for a public option.) Obama didn't seem convinced, noting co-ops are "hard to get off the ground." He added, a "robust public option is the best way to go."

Before he left, the President mentioned his criteria for reform: Does it cover all Americans; Will it drive down costs over the long-term; Will it improve quality; Are prevention and wellness included; Does it contain insurance reforms on issues like pre-existing conditions; does it provide relief to small business; and, is there a serious public option. He warned that the different bills coming from the House and Senate may not have all of those provisions, but the conference committee will be critical.

I didn't get a question to Obama, but asked Axelrod, who stayed on the call along with DeParle, when they're going to give up on bipartisanship -- especially since we know the GOP's agenda is to kill reform. I noted that both he and the President quoted DeMint. Axelrod also mentioned Bill Kristol's column telling Republicans to "kill it" (captured along with other right wing rants on this video.) Axelrod maintained there were still a few GOPers who didn't listen to Kristol, but added, "Ultimately, the goal is to get fundamental reform." It is. And, the GOP's goal is to kill reform to damage Obama and the Democratic Party -- even if that means great damage to the American people.

The White House appears to be pulling out all the stops.

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