Morning Must Reads -- Once more from the top. This time with feeling. 

New York Times -- Obama to Urge Oversight of Insurers’ Rate Increases

Here’s what to expect with the president’s merged version of the House and Senate health bills due out today: something very similar to the Senate plan with a few new gewgaws and gimcracks to appease House liberals and to offer hos team a new sales pitch.

The heart of the new pitch seems to be a new federal board charged with approving insurance rates. Since the Obama plan would make insurance companies into something akin to national public utilities, this would be the federal public service commission that would oversee them.

It also helps answer the question of what the president intends to do when his package increases premiums for Americans with insurance. It’s simple: He will forbid it.

The news hook for the new sales pitch is the announced rate hike from California’s Anthem Blue Cross, driven skyward as California’s economy implodes and heavy state-level regulations require lavish coverage and forbid bare-bones plans. The White House suggests that the new commission would forbid the rate hike. What the commission would do when the company attempted to close is unclear.

For those who were hoping for something very different from what was on the table so far, you will be disappointed.

( My column on the president’s political calculus for going all in on health care is here)

Writers David Herszenhorn and Robert Pear raise the question of why none of the Democrats in Washington are listening to Phil Bredesen. He’s a two-term governor of a Red state with a universal coverage program. He’s a former HMO CEO who has helped fix the state’s Medicare program.

But so far, Bredesen’s advice to slow down and remember the unintended consequences to states has gone unheeded in the White House and Congress.

“Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, a Democrat, said: “Governors have something unique to contribute. Washington, D.C., is full of think tanks, theoreticians and advocacy groups. Governors are the ones whose feet are on the ground. We have a sense of what will work and what won’t work. Our perspective is not the only one. But we can bring some practicality to this discussion.”


Washington Post -- In the Senate, a test for Democrats' scaled-down jobs bill

Harry Reid bets that not all Republicans would dare vote against something called a jobs bill.

Reid is using the fight over the jobs bill to quash challenges inside his own caucus and to force Republicans to submit to his version of bipartisanship.

Sen. Max Baucus and a few others Dems had worked out a deal for a big package of boutique tax cuts and entitlement extensions. The Baucus bill was likely to have substantial GOP support, so Reid killed it.

With most betting that Reid will not be back again next year and a bust of a legislative year just completed, Reid is fending of pretenders to the majority leader’s throne and trying to keep Republicans in their place with a smaller, more partisan bill.

Writer Ben Pershing tells us that with the plan to cram through Obamacare pending and a raft of other nettlesome votes just ahead, Reid thinks he needs to look tough.

“Beyond the jobs bill, this week Reid plans to bring forward extensions of unemployment insurance and COBRA health benefits, both of which are scheduled to expire Feb. 28. A handful of other bills, including the USA Patriot Act, are due to expire at the same time.”


Wall Street Journal -- Progress in Marjah, But Civilian Trust Elusive

News today that despite very restrictive rules on the use of allied airpower 27 Afghan civilians were killed by a NATO air strike has prompted a series of condemnations from the local government we are propping up and deep apologies from our commanders.

The allies may have killed tens of thousands of French civilians in the Normandy campaign of 1944, but driving the Wehrmacht out and liberating France was deemed worth the cost.

Now, fighting an indigenous force in a police action aimed at the political reengineering of Afghanistan, the only acceptable civilian casualty number is 0.

Writer Michael Phillips’ field report from Marjah gives us a great sense of the scope of the operation -- spread out over a 6-mile by 12-mile grid that comprises mostly sparsely populated hamlets.

Phillips’ story is about the bizarre world in which expect our boys to fight, or, more often, not fight.

“As the shooting tapered off, and a sandstorm kicked up, the Marines spotted six or eight unarmed men leaving the area. The troops say the insurgents frequently drop or stash their weapons when they're done fighting for the day, knowing the American and Afghan forces won't shoot unarmed people.”


Wall Street Journal -- GOP's Demographic Wager: Wooing Latino Candidates

Democratic strategists know that 2010 is going to be terrible, but are still long-term optimists because by the end of the decade, American voters will be younger and less white than they are today.

The assumption is that the two-decade wave of Hispanic immigration will produce a Democratic majority like the one that other mostly Catholic immigrants of the last century helped build.

Writer Peter Wallsten looks at the efforts of the institutional GOP to engage Hispanic voters after getting creamed in the Demographic in 2008. One advantage is that the Democratic Party is generally hostile to socially conservative voters and entrepreneurship. Democrats also tend to offer mostly laxity on illegal immigration and welfare programs as their main selling point – it’s a demographic aid but doesn’t offer much for upwardly mobile Hispanics.

Anyone who heard Marco Rubio’s dynamite speech to CPAC this year knows that there is such a thing as a Hispanic conservative, but the question is whether the immigration orthodoxy will prevent the GOP from broadening its appeal.

“Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, a group that advocates for strict limits on immigration, said strategists who urge a softer stance will be hard-pressed to find "any Republicans who want to stay in office who want to take their advice."

A more conciliatory approach, Mr. Beck said, would turn off independent voters, who tend to support more restrictive immigration policies, particularly at a time of high unemployment, and whose movements back to the GOP in recent months are likely to spur big gains for the party this November.”


New York Times -- Obama to Propose New Reading and Math Standards

The downside to the president’s proposed replacement for the No Child Left Behind law is that there are no penalties for failure. The current law strips funding and allows parents to yank their children out of schools that don’t meet very basic standards. This -- and mind-numbing amounts of standardized testing -- has been the main complaint of the nation’s teachers’ unions about NCLB.

What the president and his Secretary of Education argue is that by making the upside good enough (they call it “A race to the top”) schools will be motivated by getting their part of $14 billion, not avoiding the consequences of failure.

Today, the president will roll out his idea for the new “college- and career-ready” standards to which schools would be subject in order to get a taste of the cash.

“The four Democratic and Republican leaders of the House education committee announced last week that they were working together on the latest overhaul of the law.”


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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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