From THE HILL:
Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the powerful Republican who has spent weeks working on a healthcare reform compromise, is urging Democrats not to abandon bipartisan talks despite growing pressure from liberal activists and White House officials.
Grassley reacted Wednesday to news reports of growing sentiment among White House officials that Democrats should pass a partisan healthcare reform package, relying entirely on Democratic votes.
Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over paying for a healthcare overhaul, struck a conciliatory tone a day after Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) called on Democrats to scrap their proposals and start over.
Kyl’s statement and earlier statements from Grassley have led Democratic leaders to more carefully weigh the prospect of passing a reform package without any Republican votes — going alone, just as many liberal activists have demanded.
“The Republican leadership has made a strategic decision that defeating President [Barack] Obama’s healthcare proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day,” White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told The New York Times.
Liberal activists have also called on Democratic leaders to forget about trying to reach a bipartisan compromise with Grassley and other Republican members of the Finance Committee’s “Gang of Six” — Sens. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).
Their criticism of Grassley intensified in the wake of several public comments.
Last week, Grassley told an audience in Iowa that they had “every right to fear” an end-of-life counseling proposal in the House healthcare reform bill.
Then on Monday, Grassley said in a television interview that he would not vote for a healthcare reform deal, even if he thought it was a good one, if it did not win widespread support from Republican colleagues.
“It isn’t a good deal if I can’t sell my product to more Republicans,” Grassley told MSNBC.
The White House has spent the past two days insisting that nothing has changed in its position on healthcare reform: President Obama still prefers to have a “public option” – that is, a government-run health-insurance plan that would compete with private insurers – in the package, despite indications that he’s willing to give that up.
But maybe it is, in fact, time for the White House to change tack on reform, political analysts say. One idea is for Mr. Obama to come out with his own healthcare legislation.
“The initial strategy of letting Congress put this together and work out details was good and smart – kind of the anti-Clinton strategy – but at some point, he needs to spell out that items A, B, and C must be in this, or else it’s not worth passing,” says Julian Zelizer, a political scientist at Princeton University in New Jersey.
Sixteen years ago, when President Clinton tried to enact comprehensive health reform, he presented a large, detailed bill to Congress and wound up with nothing. This time around, congressional committees have been central in negotiating and crafting different versions of reform.
But at a certain point, only the president has the clout – and the megaphone – to drive the process home.
One issue is whether the preternaturally cool Obama can channel a bit of President Johnson, who famously charmed and threatened Congress on his way to the creation of Medicare in 1965.
Even if Obama can’t become LBJ, “I do think he could take a couple of pages out of his book,” says Democratic media strategist Peter Fenn. “He’s got to be less Mr. Nice Guy and a little bit more Mr. Tough Guy.”
And that includes drawing a line in the sand over what he wants in the legislation. The result may be that he winds up with nothing, but that’s a risk he has to take, Mr. Fenn says.