September 4, 2009

September 4, 2009 | Commentary on Health Care

What Did They Learn in August?

Vacations are to rest, relax and enjoy. But for Congress and President Obama, this summer's vacation was no picnic.

During Washington's August recess, the floor collapsed beneath the left-wing agenda. Obama fell 16 points in the Gallup Poll and continues to slide.

Representatives and senators will swing back into session Tuesday. The big question is: Have they learned anything?

They certainly want us to think they have. White House aides claim we will see a "new season" with a "new" President Obama. But what does that mean? A fancier teleprompter? Or might he borrow Hillary Clinton's infamous "reset button?"

According to POLITICO, Obama's White House team "are putting the final touches on a new strategy . . . by specifying what Obama wants to see in a compromise health care deal and directly confronting other trouble spots." Senior advisor David Axelrod said, "We're going to approach it in a different way. The president is going to be very active."

According to Axelrod, the President will offer more specifics on his ideas. Obama plans to launch his re-start by meeting with congressional leaders and delivering a major health care speech to Congress on national TV.

The Left believes the problem is their communication, not their ideas. Rep. Keith Ellison (D, MN), claims, "A clear, articulate president will do the trick.'

But an angry public wants a different approach, not just different packaging.

Still, liberals and the media insist the problem is that Obama just hasn't communicated clearly enough. Or forcefully enough. Or that he and his allies are victims of myths, lies and misinformation.

They want the fiery passion of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. To the Left, the problem is that people don't listen because Obama isn't saying things the right way. To everyone else, the problem is that Obama isn't listening and what he says isn't right.

Obama fans say part of his problem is that he has let Congress run the show, so far. But if that's the problem, things will only get worse for the president. Due to his loss of political capital, Obama must rely more than ever on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It will take heavy-handed tactics (and trading of votes and pork projects) to squeeze reluctant votes from Democrats who have seen voters' wrath up close and personal.

"Reconciliation" is the much-discussed hardball way to pass a bill through the Senate. The process -- immune to filibustering -- requires only 50 votes (plus the Vice-President's) for passage, rather than 60. But Pelosi's problem is that, unlike Senators, each and every House member must face fired-up voters next year. Rasmussen says 57% of likely voters (and 70% of independents) are ready to replace the entire Congress. That's a strong headwind for Pelosi to buck.

Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) already blundered by saying, "I will vote against the interests of my district" on health care overhaul. Few other representatives want him as their role model -- unless they relish unemployment.

Former Speaker Denny Hastert--no stranger to hardball--says Pelosi "probably made a strategic mistake by not jamming a (health care) bill through before they went home for break." Once they go home for summer break and meet with constituents, Hastert says, "I think they get a little cold feet."

Hooray for cold feet!

It was a long, hot summer for Washington's politicos. Autumn may bring cooler weather, but the American public remains heated up.

Ernest Istook is recovering from serving 14 years in Congress and is now a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Ernest Istook Distinguished Fellow
Government Studies

First Appeared in Human Events