Obama to Address Joint Session of Congress

Per Mike Allen:

President Barack Obama will address a joint session of Congress on health care reform in prime time on Wednesday, Sept. 9, a senior official tells POLITICO.

Obama plans to give lawmakers a more specific prescription for health care legislation than he has in the past, aides said.

I would say it's about time that Barack Obama stood up and gave a speech like this (or why didn't he give this speech earlier?), but realistically the 9th is about the earliest point at which such a speech could be effective. The August recess was bound to be difficult for the President, as recesses past have been for many a previous President, as the megaphone and attention move away from him. But with attention returning to Washington, both from the viewing public and the member of Congress, President Obama has the opportunity to renew and refocus his efforts, rally the troops, and get the ball rolling towards meaningful healthcare reform. The stakes are high, yes, but I have a feeling he has the strength and fortitude to rise to the occasion.

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GOP for Reconciliation Before it Was Against It

With the GOP's top budget negotiator in the Senate, Judd Gregg, moaning about the Democrats' potential use of the reconciliation process to enact healthcare reform legislation, it's worth pointing to a piece from Fox News (of all places) on the love previously shown to reconciliation by none other than Senator Gregg (h/t First Read).

Republicans are not exactly strangers to using the reconciliation process to create new programs. They tried to open drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge in 2005, with Gregg telling reporters at the time: "The president asked for it, and we're trying to do what the president asked for."

Former President George W. Bush got his massive tax cuts through the Senate, as well, when Republicans used the reconciliation tool.

This is one of those fake controversies by the Beltway, of the Beltway and for the Beltway. Everyone in Washington knows that the reconciliation process has been used by Republicans to ram through policy changes in the past, that the current Republican complaints are mere politics rather than legitimate concerns over process. What's more, it is also the case that the American people simply do not care as much about these process debates as do those in the establishment media. If healthcare reform gets passed, voters aren't going to harp on exactly how many votes it took -- a 60-vote supermajority or a 51-vote regular majority -- they are going to focus on what the new legislation means to them and to their country.

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3/4 of Americans Back Choice of a Public Option

NBC News (.pdf) and The Wall Street Journal decided to drop the question from their August polling, so SurveyUSA went ahead and polled Americans on their sentiments towards a public option using the very question NBC and The Journal had previously used in June. The numbers are quite remarkable:

In any healthcare proposal, how important do you feel it is to give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance--extremely important, quite important, not that important, or not at all important?

Extremely important: 58 percent (41 percent in June 2009 NBC/WSJ poll)
Quite important: 19 percent (35 percent in June 2009 NBC/WSJ poll)
Not that important: 7 percent (12 percent in June 2009 NBC/WSJ poll)
Not at all important: 15 percent (8 percent in June 2009 NBC/WSJ poll)

Total important: 77 percent (76 percent in June 2009 NBC/WSJ poll)
Total unimportant: 22 percent (20 percent in June 2009 NBC/WSJ poll)

It's not clear why the pollsters behind the NBC/WSJ poll omitted this question this time around, but it certainly appears that public support for the option of a government-run plan has not at all diminished in the past two months despite the onslaught from the right and an unfavorable media climate.

Indeed, what's particularly interesting about the latest numbers from SurveyUSA is the breadth of the support for a public option as part of health insurance reform. Looking at the partisan breakdown of the question, even 71 percent of Republicans believe a public option to be important -- including a whopping 58 percent who believe it to be extremely important. Even two-thirds of conservatives in the country back a public option, per this polling.

So why, then, are some in Congress so skittish about giving the public a choice -- one that they seemingly want -- between private insurance and a program administered by the federal government?

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WSJ: Dems Could Split Bill, Use Reconciliation

Last month, in a conference call with liberal bloggers, President Obama made clear that he was open to using the reconciliation process to lower the vote threshold in the Senate for healthcare reform from 60 to 50. Now it appears that very strategy is being seriously considered:

The White House and Senate Democratic leaders, seeing little chance of bipartisan support for their health-care overhaul, are considering a strategy shift that would break the legislation into two parts and pass the most expensive provisions solely with Democratic votes.

[...]

In recent days, Democratic leaders have concluded they can pack more of their health overhaul plans under this procedure, congressional aides said. They might even be able to include a public insurance plan to compete with private insurers, a key demand of the party's liberal wing, but that remains uncertain.

Other parts of the Democratic plan would be put to a separate vote in the Senate, including the requirement that Americans have health insurance. It also would set new rules for insurers, such as requiring they accept anyone, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions. This portion of the health-care overhaul has already drawn some Republican support and wouldn't involve new spending, leading Democratic leaders to believe they could clear the 60-vote hurdle.

Per Jonathan Weisman and Naftali Bendavid, who reported the story for The Wall Street Journal, there is a better than even chance that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, working in consultation  with the Obama administration, will move forward in this regard -- passing the easier parts of healthcare reform in normal order, and passing the more difficult parts using the budget process. In such a case, the Democrats could afford to lose as many as 10 votes in the Senate (including that of Ted Kennedy, who has not been seen in the Senate for months) while still enacting the more contentious portions of reform, namely a public option.

This, of course, is a trial balloon, and it's not yet clear that the Senate will move forward in this regard. But it is most certainly a positive development for the cause of reform to see Harry Reid, Barack Obama and the rest of the Democratic leadership taking a harder stance to gain a stronger bargaining position.

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Senate Dems Hit GOP for Lack of Health Plan

Take a look:

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