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Politico Mike Allen explains why the clock is not Obamacare’s friend right now

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

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HH: Joined now by Mike Allen of Politico.com, the country’s preeminent political reporter. Michael, Merry Christmas to you.

MA: Merry Christmas to you, Hugh.

HH: Last time I saw you was actually in the East Room of the White House at the White House Christmas party for journalists. This may surprise you, but I wasn’t invited this year.

MA: Well, I’ll be happy to give you a full report. The President and the First Lady seemed to be in good holiday spirits, happy to be at their end of Pennsylvania Avenue, not the other one.

HH: I want to know if Keith Olbermann and Bill Press were there this year.

MA: You know, I didn’t spot them. But the television party’s tonight. Last night was the dinosaurs, the print guys.

HH: Oh, the print guys, they split them up, because we were at the same one last year. Well, I think it may be at least three more years until I get to come back, Mike. Mike, there’s big, big meeting at the White House today. Jon Kyl, who started the show off, was talking about the fact that Democrats don’t have 60 votes yet, and the President had them in to, you know, kind of try and muscle in the 60 votes. What do you hear?

MA: Well, we hear that for the first time, for the first time, Senate Republicans see a path to killing this. The conventional wisdom, the inevitability narrative that everybody’s been buying into, is starting to crumble this week, because it’s always been real, like, thread the needle, bank shot, tough thing to sort put together the 60. But now, you can almost see more ways that it doesn’t happen than it does. The White House still thinks it’s more likely to pass than not, they’re still hopeful to get it by Christmas, which means that the House would try to deal with it in early January. They’re going to try and do it without going through the formal Conference process, because if you do, you have to have three votes, Hugh, to get to Conference. That’s another three places for this to derail. Time to push back. The President does not want January 20th to come and go, for all the anniversary shows and stories to be written, to be hung on him failing to get his signature initiative. Hugh, you can remember what the 100 days coverage was like? Well, the one year coverage will be even bigger.

HH: Mike Allen, how can they possibly avoid the Conference unless Nancy Pelosi persuades a majority of Democrats, I mean, not a majority, all of the Democrats necessary to pass the Senate version? Do they actually think that those, they’ll accept the no public option at least without a fight?

MA: Well, you’re right about that, and it’s Speaker Pelosi who could do it, and she recognizes her place in history could be affected by this. But on the Democratic side…excuse me, on the Senate side, the progressives, the liberals, have sort of gone through their stages of grief, right? I was told that you couldn’t have just jumped to this place, because I think it’s obvious that we’re now going to go back to the bill that we had in September, the Baucus Finance Committee bill, key points of that are the state-appointed exchanges. There’s not going to be any new federal bureaucracy. There will be individual and employer requirements, but weaker than in the House version. That’s probably what we’re going to wind up with. But that’s very different from the House version, and the House liberals and progressives haven’t gone through all their stages of grief. And so I don’t know how they could just, like overnight, accept the gist of the Senate bill, which is what they’re being asked to do, to avoid the Conference. The mechanism is being called Ping Pong Ping, and that is, the bill will ping over from the Senate, and rather then the two houses coming up with a middle of the road version that blends both of theirs, the House will just take up the Senate bill. So you can skip a step. Now the House surely is going to want some changes in that, so then it will pong back to the Senate, which will fuss with it. It will ping back to the House back for final passage. I don’t see how you do that in just a couple of legislative days, which is basically what they want to do.

HH: Now plus, if you go back to the Senate with any changes at all, you still get another cloture vote. Let me ask you about Ben Nelson and abortion, and Jim Webb in deficit and Medicare cuts. These are the two weak links in the Democrats right now in the Senate, Mike Allen. Do they expect Ben Nelson to cave on abortion?

MA: They do, and I don’t think that this…I don’t know exactly how, but I don’t think that this bill is going to wind up floundering on that. But it’s one of the rabbit holes we could go down, it’s one of the delays. When you counted out the days to get to adjournment on December 23rd, it could be December 24th, we’re due December 23rd, and leaving a couple of days at the end for, I think, a Defense approps bill, there are only two extra days in the calendar, if you’ve got the ideal circumstance of the Senate compromise holding together, and the CBO, the Congressional Budget estimate coming back today. Well, that hasn’t occurred yet. And so I don’t see how they have the time to keep to the sort of schedule that they want to do. The big problem, that’s why the President had to crack heads at the White House today.

HH: Mike Allen of Politico.com, thank you, Merry Christmas, Mike, hopefully we talk to you next week. If not, have a Merry, Merry.

End of interview.

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