Morning Must Reads -- More health-care smack talk from the White House 

Washington Post -- Democratic leaders say health bill will pass

If the president cannot bear to part with Robert Gibbs, perhaps the time has come to conjure a new assignment for the pugilistic press secretary.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Gibbs chomped and snapped like a box turtle on its back and insisted arrogantly that by next Sunday, Obamacare would be the “law of the land.” Having just seen his March 18 deadline blown off by Steny Hoyer and other House Democrats, Gibbs might want to tone it down a bit. Lawmaking is hard. Passing an unpopular plan for a president in whom few have much confidence anymore is almost impossible.

Members of Congress admit they don’t have the votes yet, but will when it counts. Meanwhile, Congress is considering more and more complex ways to try to pass the legislation to overcome the trust deficit in the House when it comes to the Senate and the White House.

And remember, we still haven’t seen a bill.

Writer Dan Eggen passes on the optimistic timetable for the final vote (now only seven month overdue).

“House Democrats expect to receive a final cost estimate by Monday afternoon, when the House Budget Committee is scheduled to vote on the reconciliation package. It would then go to the House Rules Committee, where Chairman Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) could package it with the $875 billion measure the Senate passed on Christmas Eve. The package is also expected to include Obama's proposed overhaul of the student-loan system.

The full House is expected to vote on both measures by week's end, with the climactic moment coming as soon as Thursday but, more likely, Friday or Saturday, aides said.”


New York Times -- Millions Spent to Sway Democrats on Health Care

There may be $30 million spent this week alone in the districts of the 40 House members considered swing votes on Obamacare.

Writer Jeff Zeleny looks at the barrage of ads for and against the package in districts like that of Rep. Brad Ellsworth, the southern Indiana Democrat who voted for the House plan last fall but is now running for the Senate seat abandoned by Evan Bayh.

“The coalition of groups opposing the legislation, led by the United States Chamber of Commerce, is singling out 27 Democrats who supported the health care bill last year and 13 who opposed it. The organizations have already spent $11 million this month focusing on these lawmakers, with more spending to come before an expected vote next weekend.

An alliance of groups supporting the health care plan, which works closely with the White House and Democratic leaders, had been spending far less and focusing on fewer districts. But after pharmaceutical companies made a $12 million investment for a final advertising push, spending by both sides for the first time is now nearly the same.”


Higgins and Conway -- Swing Districts Oppose Health Reform

Let me be clear -- this is no poll that the White House would deign to read. It was done by a Republican pollster and ponders a question that the administration thinks is unworthy. Team Obama knows that some House Democrats from swing districts will lose over their health care votes, but that is just a small price (for someone else) to pay for getting the listing presidency back on track – and taking over 1/6th of the economy.

The President’s pollster heaped scorn on the op-ed by fellow Democrats Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell last week, so he’s hardly going to be interested in the observations of Heather Higgins of Independent Women’s Voice and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway.

But if I were a House Democrat I might take a look, whether the White House wanted me to or not.

The survey of 1,200 registered voters in 35 swing district reveals that the president’s health plan is bitterly unpopular – with 60 percent asking for a compete do-over.

“Seven in 10 would vote against a House member who votes for the Senate health-care bill with its special interest provisions. That includes 45% of self-identified Democrats, 72% of independents and 88% of Republicans. Three in four disagree that the federal government should mandate that everyone buy a government-approved insurance plan (64% strongly so), and 81% say any reform should focus first on reducing costs. Three quarters agree that Americans have the right to choose not to participate in any health-care system or plan without a penalty or fine.”


New York Times -- Contractors Tied to Effort to Track and Kill Militants

Only few publications could portray an effort to kill terrorists and jihadis as unambiguously bad.

Writers Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti turn in an unintentionally hilarious piece about the reporters who were drawn into a Pentagon black-ops program designed to gather intel and then kill the baddies under the Obamaian guise of fostering cross-cultural understanding.

The funny part is that reporters who sold their services at a premium price to the Defense Department to produce some blathery blog about cultural understanding in Afghanistan are so shocked that the military used the information they gathered for killing people. It may be hard to remember, but that’s still kind of the military’s job.

The real target of the piece is Michael Furlong, a front man and contractor for all manner of shadowy efforts over the years. The CIA doesn’t like the Pentagon doing secret squirrel stuff, especially using their former agent Furlong, and obliged with blind quotes about the dangers of “playing James Bond.”

But the funny part is the offended dignity of fake journalists working for the American military.

“In addition, at least one government contractor who worked with Mr. Furlong in Afghanistan last year maintains that he saw evidence that the information was used for attacking militants.

The contractor, Robert Young Pelton, an author who writes extensively about war zones, said that the government hired him to gather information about Afghanistan and that Mr. Furlong improperly used his work. ‘We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people,’ Mr. Pelton said.”


Fred Hiatt -- Obama's happiness deficit

Hiatt avoided the most obvious modern example for how to take the job of the presidency seriously without taking yourself seriously – Ronald Reagan.

But maybe that omission will help Democrats listen to his plea to Obama – lighten up, dude. Remember, you asked for the job and came to town full of hopeandchange.

“A year later, here's how they came across to People Magazine:

‘It was their first interview of the New Year on Jan. 8 in the rose-colored library on the ground floor of the White House. President Obama spoke in such a hush about the loneliness of his decisions on war and terrorism that one could hear between his words the tick of an old lighthouse clock across the room.’

Do Americans really want to hear the tick of the old lighthouse clock? Or would they prefer the good cheer that we associate with FDR or JFK, the jauntiness with which they took over the White House and made it theirs?

Less lugubriousness wouldn't necessarily buy him a health-care bill. But in the long run, Americans might find it easier to root for or with Obama if he'd show us, despite everything, that he's happy we hired him.”


--My column about the strange “Star Trek” motif of the Obama presidency is here.


--To get Morning Must Reads in your inbox every weekday click here.

About The Author

Chris Stirewalt


Washington Examiner Political Editor Chris Stirewalt, who coordinates political coverage for the newspaper and in addition to writing a twice-weekly column and
regular blog posts.

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