Throughout his campaign for the White House, after his election victory, and as soon as he assumed office, President Obama made it clear that reforming the health care system would be at the top of his agenda. Reiterating that sentiment, Obama said recently that health care is his "highest legislative priority over the next month." And the American public agrees. A recent Gallup poll found that nearly 60 percent of Americans said they favor Congress passing major health care reform this year. And while the relevant committees in the House and Senate are hard at work on legislation, Republicans and conservatives, in and out of power, are doing everything they can to stand in the way of major reform. The right is taking its lead from GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who authored a memo laying out a rhetorical strategy for conservatives to demonize Obama's proposal. Luntz recently admitted that he is urging Republicans to attack reform as a "government takeover" regardless of what the actual legislation says. But Republicans (and some Democrats) have added another obstructionist tactic: delay. As White House budget director Peter Orszag said last Sunday, "The typical Washington bureaucratic game of -- 'if you don't have a better alternative, just delay in the hope that that kills something' is partly what's playing out here." "There are those who are advocating delay just as a desperation move to try to kill this," he said. Orszag is right: Opponents of reform in Congress are proposing amendments that would maintain the status quo and have resorted to a delay-and-kill strategy.
Hold And Delay: Building on Luntz's plan, Senate Republicans made every attempt to delay the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee's reform measure by offering nonsensical amendments, eliminating affordability measures for middle class families, offering non-starter alternatives, arguing that the committee should terminate hearings, and fear-mongering over the measure that eventually passed. Former Bush chief of staff Andrew Card argued yesterday that health care reform needs to be slowed down, calling it "contrived haste." "Let's do it smart, not fast," Card said. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne reported that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), one of the few GOP senators negotiating reform, is "under immense pressure from Republican colleagues not to deal at all." A memo written by veteran GOP consultant Alex Castellanos is being circulated among Republican leaders insisting that it is "crucial for Republicans to slow down what it calls 'the Obama experiment with our health.'" RNC Chairman Michael Steele delivered a speech yesterday that was "based, almost word for word," on the Castellanos memo.
'Go For The Kill': While some conservatives want to delay reform to weaken the bill, most simply want to kill it outright. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) said that the GOP should hold the line until the August recess so members of Congress can go home and hear from their "outraged" constituents. "If we're able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him," he said. It "could be" Obama's "Waterloo," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich concurred. "I think that's a good way to put it," Steele said in response to DeMint. (Steele also called Obama's reform efforts "risky experimentation" despite his own confusion of the issue. "I don't do policy," he explained.) The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, a key architect of obstructing reform in the early 1990s, wrote yesterday that Republicans should simply end the reform movement altogether. "With Obamacare on the ropes, there will be a temptation for opponents to let up on their criticism, and to try to appear constructive, or at least responsible. ... My advice, for what it's worth: Resist the temptation. This is no time to pull punches. Go for the kill."
Media Take The GOP's Bait: In a speech on health care yesterday, Obama struck back at DeMint's comment that defeating reform will "break him." "This isn't about me. This isn't about politics," Obama said. "It is about a health care system that is breaking American families, breaking America's businesses and breaking America's economy." However, many mainstream media figures appear to be letting the GOP's rhetoric sink in to their coverage of the debate, as the Washington Post observed yesterday: "Cable news programs repeatedly declare the president's health care program is teetering or embattled despite a week in which Obama's proposals were endorsed by the doctor and nurses associations and committees in both legislative chambers passed major bills." Indeed, as Media Matters noted, three House and Senate committees have passed reform bills and the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association have endorsed Democrats' reform efforts. Yet, the media narrative still caters to Republican talking points. "Is his plan in serious peril?" CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked last Friday. CNN's Jessica Yellin asserted that "the White House is feeling really nervous right now. I mean, they know that this thing is a mess." "The conventional wisdom here is that [Obama is] on the ropes here on health care," NBC's David Gregory claimed. Yet, in a candid acknowledgment, NBC's Chuck Todd conceded the media has "created this drama."
By Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ian Millhiser and Nate Carlile. To receive The Progress Report in your email inbox everyday, click here.