December 2009: The Obama Presidency Roundup & the Healthcare Bill


The President delivers the Weekly Address


  • Deciphering the Obama polls: Finally, the latest poll, taken Dec. 1-6, showed the 52-35 split of approval against disapproval. – JTA, 12-15-09
  • Support for Obama Rises on War, Falls on Health Care, Polls Say: Americans are split on how they view President Barack Obama’s performance, backing his handling of the war in Afghanistan while raising concerns about his economic and health-care policies, two new polls showed.
    Obama’s approval rating on Afghanistan is 52 percent, according to an Associated Press-Gfk poll. That’s an increase of 10 percentage points from a survey a month earlier.
    The president’s support on the domestic front is shakier, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found. Thirty-two percent of those surveyed thought his health-care plan was a good idea compared with 47 percent who believed it was bad.
    Forty-two percent approved of Obama’s handling of the economy while 51 percent disapproved, the Journal/NBC poll said. The Journal/NBC survey found 47 percent approved of Obama’s performance overall compared with 46 percent who disapproved. His performance received 56 percent approval and 42 percent disapproval in the AP-Gfk poll. Bloomberg, 12-17-09
  • Obama Gives Himself a ‘Solid B-Plus’: So what grade does President Obama give himself after nearly a year in office? “A good solid B-plus,” he said, answering a question from Oprah Winfrey during a television special that aired on Sunday evening…. So what would make the year better? “If I get health care signed, we tip into A-minus,” Mr. Obama said…. – NYT, 12-13-09
  • HEALTHCARE Q & A A look at the Senate’s healthcare compromise: Senate Democrats, as an alternative to creating a government-run insurance plan, proposed creating a nationwide plan that would be operated by a nonprofit. Here’s a closer look at the idea… – LAT, 12-14-09


  • Now Democrats must sell health plan to voters With passage looking likely for the Senate healthcare measure, Democrats facing reelection next year must pacify an impatient electorate. Republicans plan to campaign on healthcare too. With a healthcare overhaul inching closer to reality, Democrats looking to next year’s midterm elections plan to market the bill as a way to help voters who are focused more on unemployment and the economy. The chances of passing healthcare legislation rose significantly Monday, with a Senate vote that put it on track to clear the chamber by Christmas. And so party strategists are shifting gears: “We can’t just pass it,” said pollster Celinda Lake. “We have to sell the plan.”… – LAT, 12-22-09
  • Democrats Face Challenge in Merging Health Bills: Even as the Senate took a significant step toward passing its version of a sweeping overhaul of the health insurance system before Christmas, Democrats were grappling Monday with deep internal divisions over abortion, the issue that most complicates their drive to merge the Senate and House bills and send final legislation to President Obama…. – NYT, 12-22-09
  • President Obama visits Boys & Girls Club in Northeast D.C.: President Obama swung by the Richard England Clubhouse and Community Center in Northeast Washington on Monday to deliver cookies and holiday cheer and to read aloud from the award-winning Christmas tale “The Polar Express.”
    The president spent about 25 minutes at the facility, a Boys & Girls Club, according to a pool report. He arrived with cookies in the shape of the first dog, Bo; gingerbread men; maple leaves; and Christmas trees for the 27 children at the club…. – WaPo, 12-21-09
  • Obama to Name Chief of Cybersecurity: Nearly seven months after highlighting the vulnerability of banking, energy and communications systems to Internet attacks, the White House on Tuesday is expected to name a technology industry veteran to coordinate competing efforts to improve the nation’s cybersecurity in both military and civilian life. The decision to appoint Howard A. Schmidt, an industry executive with government experience who served as a cybersecurity adviser in the Bush administration and who also has a military and law enforcement background, is seen as a compromise between factions. Government officials and industry executives say there has been a behind-the-scenes dispute over whether strict new regulations are necessary to protect the network that increasingly weaves together the vast majority of the world’s computers…. – NYT, 12-22-09
  • Health Bill Passes Key Test in the Senate With 60 Votes: After a long day of acid, partisan debate, Senate Democrats held ranks early Monday in a dead-of-night procedural vote that proved they had locked in the decisive margin needed to pass a far-reaching overhaul of the nation’s health care system.
    The roll was called shortly after 1 a.m., with Washington still snowbound after a weekend blizzard, and the Senate voted on party lines to cut off a Republican filibuster of a package of changes to the health care bill by the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada.
    The vote was 60 to 40 — a tally that is expected to be repeated four times as further procedural hurdles are cleared in the days ahead, and then once more in a dramatic, if predictable, finale tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Both parties hailed the vote as seismic….. – NYT, 12-20-09
  • The political world’s winners and losers in health-care reform: With all 60 Senate Democrats (finally) lined up behind the health-care bill, the legislation looks likely to be approved by the world’s greatest deliberative body by Christmas Eve…. – WaPo, 12-20-09
  • Senate healthcare bill set to pass by Christmas: Democrats’ compromise on abortion with Nebraska’s Ben Nelson gives them the 60 votes to fight off GOP filibusters. Obama calls it ‘a major step forward for the American people.’ LAT, 12-20-09
  • Obama, Denied Full Victory on 2 Issues, Takes Validation: President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, likes to say that the only thing that is not negotiable is success. The last 48 hours offered a case study in how the president applies that maxim to governing. After weeks of frustrating delays and falling poll numbers, Mr. Obama decided to take what he could get, declare victory and claim momentum on some of the administration’s biggest priorities, even if the details did not always match the lofty vision that underlined them. NYT, 12-20-09
  • U.N. Climate Talks ‘Take Note’ of Accord Backed by U.S.: With the swift bang of a gavel on Saturday morning, a prolonged fight between nations small and large over an international pact to limit climate risks that was forged the night before by the United States and four partners came to a somewhat murky end.
    The chair of the climate treaty talks declared that the parties would “take note” of the document, named the Copenhagen Accord, leaving open the question of whether this effort to curb greenhouse gases from the world’s major emitters would gain the full support of the 193 countries bound by the original, and largely failed, 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change…. – NYT, 12-20-09
  • Peggy Noonan: The Adam Lambert Problem “Wrong track” poll numbers aren’t just about the economy… The news came in numbers and the numbers were fairly grim, all the grimmer for being unsurprising. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll reported this week that more than half of Americans, 55%, think America is on the wrong track, with only 33% saying it is going in the right direction. A stunning 66% say they’re not confident that their children’s lives will be better than their own (27% are).
    It is another in a long trail of polls that show a clear if occasionally broken decline in American optimism. The poll was discussed on TV the other day, and everyone said those things everyone says: “People are afraid they’ll lose their jobs or their houses.” “It’s health care. Every uninsured person feels they’re one illness away from bankruptcy.” WSJ, 12-19-09
  • For Franken, No More Mr. Funny Guy: In the past month, Al Franken, the junior Democratic senator from Minnesota has publicly slugged it out with a GOP senator, privately rebuked another one and on Thursday took the unusual step of shutting down on the Senate floor a longtime member of his party’s caucus: Sen. Joe Lieberman…. – Fox News, 12-18-09
  • Abortion opponents watching Nelson on health care: Waiting at home for Nebraska’s Ben Nelson is the following message: “Merry Christmas and we thank you for your stance on pro-life issues so far, and we hope you continue to stand for what’s morally correct.” Matthew Grgurich left the message Friday, the same day he headed to a protest at the Democratic senator’s office near the state capital to make his point a second time. For years, Grgurich and his family of registered independents have voted for Nelson almost solely because of his strong stance against abortion. AP, 12-18-09
  • Senate Democrats block GOP filibuster: Senate Republicans failed early Friday in their bid to filibuster a massive Pentagon bill that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an unusual move designed to delay President Obama’s health-care legislation. On a 63 to 33 vote, Democrats cleared a key hurdle that should allow them to approve the must-pass military spending bill Saturday and return to the health-care debate. After years of criticizing Democrats for not supporting the troops, just three Republicans supported the military funding. The maneuvering came as Democrats were still trying to secure a crucial vote on the health-care legislation. Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), the last holdout in the Democratic caucus and the focus of an intense lobbying campaign by White House officials, rejected an abortion compromise aimed at bringing him on board. Nelson has said he would not support the package unless it explicitly bars use of federal money for abortion services. Washington Post, 12-18-09
  • Pelosi: Obama ‘must make his case’ on Afghanistan: There are signs President Obama may get roughed up — by fellow Democrats — before Congress grants him the money for his new Afghanistan strategy….
    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, usually one of President Obama’s fiercest loyalists, signaled today that she’s going to take a hands-off approach when it comes to funding for his Afghanistan surge…. “The president is going to have to make his case,” said Pelosi. The speaker said she’s advising members to “give the president some room” and “understand that the president has been dealt a very bad hand, because there was no plan in Afghanistan for years,” but thinks each lawmaker should make up his or her own mind…. – USA Today 12-16-09
  • Bills Pass on Debt and War Funds: The House worked on Wednesday to finish for the year. Above, staff members and others in a corridor outside the chamber. As the House finished its business for the year, lawmakers, in a rare show of bipartisanship, also easily approved a $626 billion Pentagon spending measure, wrapping up the annual spending bills almost three months behind schedule. The Pentagon measure, which passed on a vote of 395 to 34, pays for continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also included short extensions of the USA Patriot Act, the antiterrorism legislation enacted after Sept. 11, and several other expiring laws and programs as well as two more months in jobless pay and health care for the unemployed…. – NYT, 12-17-09
  • Lieberman’s Ties to Ex-Party Frayed by His Use of Swing Vote: Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s use of his swing vote to help quash a proposed expansion of Medicare marked the latest act in his deteriorating relationship with the Democratic Party.
    Along with forcing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) to drop plans to expand Medicare to people ages 55 to 64, Mr. Lieberman and a handful of other centrists also kept a government-run health plan out of the Senate health-overhaul bill.
    Mr. Lieberman’s positions have infuriated Democrats in a way that those of wavering Democratic senators, such as Nebraska’s Ben Nelson and Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln, haven’t. Those senators come from conservative states and appear to be searching for ways to support a health overhaul while reflecting their constituents’ views….
    Mr. Lieberman told reporters Tuesday that he is closer to supporting the health bill. “I’m getting toward that position where I can say what I’ve wanted to say all along, that I’m ready to vote for health-care reform,” he said. Republicans see Mr. Lieberman as a voice of conscience. “I’m proud of him for standing up for what he believes in,” said Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.)…. – WSJ, 12-15-09
  • Lieberman Pushes Shifts on Overhaul: Just the thought of Joseph I. Lieberman makes some Democrats want to spit nails these days. But Mr. Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, is not the least troubled by his status as Capitol Hill’s master infuriator — and on Monday he showed how powerful that role can be at a time when Democrats cannot spare a single vote…. – NYT, 12-15-09
  • Missing Bush-Era E-Mail Is Found: Computer technicians have found 22 million missing White House e-mail messages from 94 days in the administration of President George W. Bush, and the Obama administration is searching for more potentially lost e-mail from the Bush years, according to two groups that filed suit over the failure by the Bush White House to install an electronic record-keeping system…. – AP, 12-14-09
  • Obama implores top bankers to increase lending: President Barack Obama implored top bankers Monday to help keep the fragile recovery from faltering by boosting lending to small businesses and getting behind an overhaul of financial regulation. “We rise and fall together,” he declared. The bankers said they got the message. Some pledged to increase lending and exercise more caution over outside compensation for their employees… – AP, 12-15-09
  • Long-Term Care Is Latest Issue in Health Care Debate: Embedded in sweeping health legislation passed by the House and being debated on the Senate floor is a major new federal insurance program for long-term care… Advocates for older Americans and people with disabilities see the program as a long-overdue effort to address needs that will explode as baby boomers age. It is meant for people with severe disabilities who want to live in the community, though the benefits could also be used to help pay for nursing home care or assisted living. But critics say that the program is unsustainable and that it could ultimately create serious fiscal problems for the government…. – NYT, 12-14-09

ELECTIONS 2010, 2012….

  • Giuliani says he won’t run in 2010: Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor viewed by many New York Republicans as a potential savior for the struggling party, won’t run for political office in 2010, choosing to concentrate on his law and consulting businesses. – Boston Globe, 12-22-09
  • TOP OF THE TICKET Democrats will invoke Bush in 2010 Next year’s election will be a tough fight for the party in power, but it’s got a plan: It’s an axiom in U.S. politics that the party in power in the White House loses seats in off-year elections. So every Democrat is girding for the fight in 2010. But Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters last week that Democrats have a plan: Remind voters of George W. Bush…. – LAT, 12-20-09
  • McCain, Distanced From Race, Raises Senate Voice: Senator John McCain, facing a possible primary challenge, is more visible now than at any time since losing his 2008 White House bid.
    Yet at the age of 73, one year after his defeat by President Obama, Senator John McCain of Arizona is trying to make the most of the platform where he has always been most comfortable, the United States Senate.
    The Republican Party’s leadership vacuum has given Mr. McCain an opening, and he is charging through it, tacking right on some issues and loudly embroiling himself in battles with the White House and Democratic leaders over health care, stimulus spending, foreign policy and the style of the Obama presidency. He is more visible now than at any time since the end of his presidential campaign.
    “Let’s do what the president said last October a year ago,” Mr. McCain said the other day at one of what has become a geyser of appearances on the Senate floor, in Capitol hallways and at news conferences. “Let’s all sit down together, Republicans and Democrats, with C-Span in the room, and negotiate so that the American people can see what’s going on here.”… – NYT, 12-14-09


  • Weekly Address: President Obama Says Health Insurance Reform Will Protect Patients and Hold Insurance Companies Accountable: Remarks of President Barack Obama Weekly Address December 19, 2009 Over the past few decades, there has been an intense struggle in Washington between the lobbyists for the insurance industry and the interests of the American people over what has been called a Patient’s Bill of Rights – a set of rules to protect Americans from some of the worst practices of the health insurance industry; rules to ensure that all Americans are getting the care they need from their doctors and the care they deserve from their insurance companies….
    But now – for the first time – there is a clear majority in the Senate that’s willing to stand up to the insurance lobby and embrace lasting health insurance reforms that have eluded us for generations. The question is whether the minority that opposes these reforms will continue to use parliamentary maneuvers to try and stop the Senate from voting on them.
    Whatever their position on health insurance reform, Senators ought to allow an up or down vote. Let’s bring this long and vigorous debate to an end. Let’s deliver on the promise of health insurance reforms that will make our people healthier, our economy stronger, and our future more secure. And as this difficult year comes to a close, let’s show the American people that we are equal to the task of meeting our great challenges.
    Thanks for listening, and on behalf of Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and Bo, happy holidays, from our family to yours. – WH, 12-19-09
  • Blair: I would have removed Saddam Hussein anyway: Despite doubts about Iraq’s WMDs, Blair was defiant about the need for regime change in Baghdad for the sake of peace in the region. He told the BBC: “I can’t really think we’d be better with him and his two sons still in charge, but it’s incredibly difficult and I totally understand.
    “That’s why I sympathize with the people who were against [the war] for perfectly good reasons and are against it now, but for me, you know, in the end I had to take the decision. “It was the notion of him as a threat to the region, of which the development of WMD was obviously one. He used chemical weapons on his own people, so this was obviously the thing that was uppermost in my mind.”… – CNN, 12-12-09
  • Reaction to Obama plan to buy Illinois prison: Reaction varied Tuesday after the Obama administration announced plans to buy the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois to house up to 100 terrorist suspects now detained at the U.S. Naval detention center in Cuba AP, 12-15-09


  • Julian E. Zelizer “Delaying health benefits is a big risk”: We will find out in the next few weeks whether the Senate can pass a health care bill and if it can reach agreement with the House on the details. But if the two houses do pass legislation, one thing seems likely — there will be a huge delay in starting most of the benefits.
    Under the House bill, much of the program won’t kick in until 2013. Under the proposed Senate bill, the date is 2014. This delay poses a political risk.
    The design of public policies, the political scientist Eric Patashnik has argued in a new book, plays a key role in its success or failure. When pushing legislation of this magnitude it is important to have voters “buy-in” as quickly as possible so that the program can achieve stable footing.
    If benefits are quickly distributed, the program will develop a political coalition that can protect it from attack. The delay in the current proposals will give opponents of health care reform substantial time to attack, right as Americans start to learn about the mandate they will face for purchasing health care.
    Under the Senate bill, opponents will have a midterm (2010) and presidential election (2012) cycle to make their argument…. – CNN, 12-14-09
  • 2010 Key Year for Obama Afghan Strategy 2009 will be remembered as the year U.S. military priorities shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan. And 2010 will be the year of the ‘Afghan surge’: Retired U.S. Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich, now a professor of History and International Relations at Boston University, says creating security and responsive government in Afghanistan may be impossible and is not necessary for U.S. national security.
    “I fear that three years from now, he won’t have achieved the results that he expected, and he’ll be faced with a decision at that point, either to extend the mission and pay even greater costs, on the one hand, or he’ll have to acknowledge failure at the cost of having expended several hundred billion dollars and, no doubt, having lost several hundred additional American lives,” he said. VOA, 12-19-09
  • Julian Zelizer “Youth is a Double-Edged Sword for the President Obama is the fifth-youngest president of the United States”: “Ideally, what you get from a young president is seeing beyond the status quo,” says Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton. He adds: “Youth creates a level of freshness—someone who will look at ideas in a different way and who is not confined to old, stale answers to problems.” And a young president often is seen as having an advantage in stamina and emotional energy that can help in tackling problems that older leaders wouldn’t touch. Today, for example, Zelizer says that Obama is attempting to get beyond the decades-old debates of baby boomers on Vietnam, abortion, civil rights, and other issues as he tries to usher in a new era of activist government and deal with long-term issues such as stimulating the economy and overhauling the healthcare system. Of course, with less than a year on the job, it remains to be seen how effective he will be. “On the negative side,” Zelizer says, “inexperience is a problem.” A young president inevitably requires on-the-job training… Adds Zelizer: “Experience matters—you can’t get around it. People who’ve gone into battle before are more ready for the next battle.” – US News, 12-7-09
  • Robert Dallek warns … Obama’s risking failure: U.S. history is littered with war blunders President Obama would be wise to note that bad advice often precedes momentous wartime decisions. As President Obama moves ahead with his expansion of the war in Afghanistan, history suggests that he has a better chance of being wrong than right. Judging from the experience of Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, miscalculations about war and peace are all too common. Despite receiving counsel from the best and the brightest in each of their generations, these presidents received poor advice that each should have resisted…. – USA Today (12-9-09)
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