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First thoughts: Going big

Obama and Democrats go big -- and score… Comparing the long health-care debate to the long Democratic presidential nomination fight… What worked for Obama and what didn't… Gotta give Nancy Pelosi her due… Boehner vs. Frum on the GOP's opposition… Breaking down last night's votes… The impact on the upcoming midterms… Few were happy with the abortion compromise with Stupak… And Hillary speaks to AIPAC this morning.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Going big: No Drama Obama has proved to provide nothing but drama. Late last night after hours of debate, the U.S. House of Representatives passed historic health-care legislation by a 219-212 vote, sending it to President Obama's desk for his signature. The House also passed a reconciliation bill with fixes to the legislation (as well as a student loan overhaul) by a 220-211 vote, which the Senate will take up this week. "We proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things and tackling our biggest challenges," Obama said after the House passed both pieces of legislation, adding later: "This is what change looks like." Going big is consistent with his stated desire during the presidential campaign to change the trajectory of America (remember when he said he wanted to be more Reagan than Clinton during the primary campaign?) It also countered Sen. Lamar Alexander's argument at last month's bipartisan health summit that Congress doesn't do big well -- passing comprehensive health, energy, and immigration changes. "We don't do comprehensive well," he said back then. "Our country is too big, too complicated, too decentralized." And now we'll find out.

*** Shades of June 2008? Are we alone in seeing comparisons between the long health-care debate and the long Democratic nomination fight of 2008? Both were extended due to the opposition's political victories (Scott Brown's win vs. Hillary's wins in OH and PA). Both resulted in tough news cycles for Obama (the narrative about his disappointing first year in office vs. the Wright/"bitter"/"why has he been unable to seal the deal?" stories). Both saw a lot of overheated rhetoric (the Tea Party protests vs. the PUMA ones). And on both, Obama was ultimately victorious due to the math (the Dems' congressional majorities vs. the delegate count) and due to his perseverance to simply outlast his opponents. Ultimately, the long Democratic nomination made Obama a stronger general-election candidate, because it forced him to focus more on the economy, it gave him additional opportunities for one-on-one debates, and it ended up putting IN and NC in play. And that long fight also gave him the confidence that eventually he can wear down his opposition. That said: What lessons did he learn from the health debate? 

*** What worked, what didn't: What DIDN'T prove to work for Obama and the Democrats was allowing the Senate (and especially the Senate Finance Committee) to take as long as it did; losing Olympia Snowe (and her public-option trigger); enabling process to dominate the debate; allowing much of the debate, for months, to center on the public option -- a topic Obama never discussed during the presidential campaign; and underestimating, early last year as the White House embarked on health care, how bad the economy turned out to be. But what DID work was going big rather than small; tying the fate of his presidency to the bill's success; holding that bipartisan health-care summit, which served to rally Democrats behind the legislation; trusting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to get 216 votes; becoming Candidate Obama again; and allowing Congress to steer much of the legislative work before taking control of the wheel. Indeed, his approach -- hands off at first, all hands on deck at the end -- worked.

*** Give Pelosi her due: Of course, last night's passage wasn't Obama's success alone. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her lieutenants were able to get the votes needed to pass the legislation -- something that many thought was unlikely after Scott Brown's win two months ago. As the New York Times wrote on Sunday in a piece detailing how Democrats saved health care after Massachusetts: "It is the story of how a struggling president partnered with a pair of experienced legislators -- Ms. Pelosi and, to a lesser extent, Mr. Reid -- to reach for a goal that Mr. Obama has often said had eluded his predecessors going back to Theodore Roosevelt. Their journey over the last two months, interviews with White House aides, lawmakers, outside advisers, lobbyists and political strategists show, involved tensions, resolve, political spadework -- and a little bit of luck." Also, the DNC's issue arm, OFA, also seemed to work closer to the "an intended" model than they have so far. As the Tea Party movement gained more prominence, the White House needed OFA to work and it appears, while not as prominent, it did. The biggest example may be the flips of No voters to Yes.  
 
*** Boehner vs. Frum: As for the Republicans, House Minority Leader John Boehner gave a fiery speech before the votes, in which he argued that Democrats would pay a political price for passing the legislation. "Shame on us. Shame on this body. Shame on each and every one of you who substitutes your will and your desires above those of your fellow countrymen," he said. "If we pass this bill, there will be no turning back. It will be the last straw for the American people. In a democracy, you can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it. If we defy the will of our fellow citizens and pass this bill, we will be held to account by those who have placed their trust in us." On the other hand, conservative writer David Frum contended that last night was the GOP's "most crushing legislative defeat since the 1960s." His reason: "At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama's Waterloo -- just as healthcare was Clinton's in 1994… This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none." This debate will dominate the conservative blogosphere. Check out today's DAILY RUNDOWN; former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist seems to walk the line of "they'll run on repeal" but doesn't seem enthusiastic that it's the right call.

*** Breaking down the vote(s): In last night's 219-212 vote approving the Senate health bill, 34 Democrats voted no, while no Republican voted yes. The 34 Dems voting no: Adler (NJ), Altmire (PA), Arcuri (NY), Barrow (GA), Berry (AR), Boren (OK), Boucher (VA), Bright (AL), Chandler (KY), Childers (MS), Davis (AL), Davis (TN), Edwards (TX), Herseth Sandlin (SD), Holden (MO), Kissell (NC), Kratovil (MD), Lipinski (IL), Lynch (MA), Marshall (GA), Matheson (UT), McIntyre (NC), McMahon (NY), Melancon (LA), Minnick (ID), Nye (VA), Peterson (MN), Ross (AR), Shuler (NC), Skelton (MO), Space (OH), Tanner (TN), Taylor (MS), and Teague (NM). The 220-211 vote approving the reconciliation fixes was pretty similar, but there were a few differences. Lynch (MA) and Lipinski (IL) voted FOR it, while Jim Cooper (TN) -- who voted for the Senate bill -- voted AGAINST the reconciliation bill.

*** The 2010 impact: Of course, last night's activity will certainly have an impact on the November midterm elections. One obvious person to watch is Indiana Rep. Brad Ellsworth, who voted "yes" and is now running for the Senate. Some other vulnerable House Dems who voted yes include John Boccieri (OH), Betsy Markey (CO), and Scott Murphy (NY) -- all three of whom voted "no" last year but switched their votes last night. Then again, there were vulnerable Dems who voted "no" who are still going to face tough GOP challenges: Frank Kratovil (MD), Zack Space (OH), and Harry Teague (NM). 

*** You know what they say when no one is happy…: As it turned out, the agreement that the White House/Dem leaders reached with Bart Stupak on abortion yesterday made neither the pro-choice or anti-abortion interest groups happy. Said National Right to Life: "A lawmaker who votes for this bill is voting to require federal agencies to subsidize and administer health plans that will pay for elective abortion." The Susan B. Anthony List stripped Stupak of his "Defender of Life" award. On the other hand, pro-choice were angry – but  Said NARAL: "On a day when Americans are expected to see passage of legislation that will make health care more affordable for more than 30 million citizens, it is deeply disappointing that Bart Stupak and other anti-choice politicians would demand the restatement of the Hyde amendment." Added Planned Parenthood: "We regret that a pro-choice president of a pro-choice nation was forced to sign an Executive Order that further codifies the proposed anti-choice language in the health care reform bill." 

*** Besides health care…: In non-health care news today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses AIPAC at 9:00 am; other speakers include Steny Hoyer (D), Eric Cantor (R), Lindsey Graham (R), Chuck Schumer (D), and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Also today, Geithner speaks on financial reform at 4:30 pm ET before the American Enterprise Institute.

Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 43 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 50 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries: 57 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 225 days

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