COMMENTS: Obama Orders Climax to Healthcare Debate, Again

All three newscasts chose the corridors of Congressional power for their lead item. NBC kicked off from the House of Representatives, where Chairman Charles Rangel of the Ways & Means Committee relinquished his gavel while his ethics undergo scrutiny. CBS and ABC both chose the White House, as Barack Obama decided to put an end to negotiations over healthcare reform and to submit the legislation to a final up-or-down vote: "Every idea has been put on the table. Everything argument has been made. Everything there is to say about health care has been said." The looming climax to the year-long healthcare debate was Story of the Day.

The President had already called a halt to deliberations last September and this January, NBC's Chuck Todd reminded us: "This is not the first time Obama has tried to end the debate." ABC's Jake Tapper noted the stagecraft of the announcement, with the President "flanked by medical professionals in TV friendly hospital clothes." CBS' Chip Reid reminded us one more time of the bill's key points: regulation of the insurance industry, coverage for the uninsured, expansion of Medicaid, subsidies for the poor to pay for premiums, taxes on the rich to pay for subsidies.

So does the White House have the votes? NBC's Todd reckoned so: "Republicans seemed to concede that Democrats would probably pass something--and shifted their focus to how it would play at the ballot box." Political analysts on the other two networks were not so sure. "The truth is top strategists in the White House, the Senate and the House simply do not know if they can get the votes. They put the odds at about 50/50 right now," opined George Stephanopoulos on ABC. CBS consulted Bob Schieffer (at the tail of the Reid videostream) of Face the Nation: "House leaders say they can get those votes for him by the time this comes to a vote but as of tonight, as of right now, they do not have the votes."


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