Commentary Magazine


Topic: Neil Abercrombie

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Quit

The special election in Hawaii has turned into another Democratic fiasco. As this report explains:

Despite spending more than $300,000, frustrated House Democrats may abandon efforts to win a special election in Hawaii after quiet diplomacy failed to end a high-level party feud that threatens their prospects.

“It’s an extremely difficult race, since two Democratic candidates are splitting the vote,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“The local Democrats haven’t been able to come together and resolve that, so we’ll have to re-evaluate our participation.”

Recent public and private polls show Republican Charles Djou ahead in a race to fill out the remaining few months in the term of former Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who left Congress earlier this year to run for governor.

Now ballots are already out by mail (they must be returned by May 22), so this smacks of taking your bat and going home when you’re down five runs in the eighth inning. But however the Democrats spin it, the loss of a Democratic seat in Hawaii of all places is going to sting:

At first glance, the political stakes involved are scant — the winner is assured of serving in Congress only until this fall’s midterm elections, when all 435 House seats are on the ballot.

But the psychological impact of a Republican victory in the state where President Barack Obama was born could be considerable. GOP officials say they are on a path to take control of the House this fall, and seize every opportunity to claim momentum.

Obama has recorded robo calls for “a Democrat” without specifying which one, a tactic that seems, well, dumb. Involve the president but don’t tell voters who to support? It’s odd to say the least.

It is one more sign for Democrats that this is no ordinary year. Come to think of it, the Democrats might manage to lose key races in Hawaii and Illinois — vividly making the point that even among the president’s most ardent supporters, the voters have had enough of Democratic one-party government.

The special election in Hawaii has turned into another Democratic fiasco. As this report explains:

Despite spending more than $300,000, frustrated House Democrats may abandon efforts to win a special election in Hawaii after quiet diplomacy failed to end a high-level party feud that threatens their prospects.

“It’s an extremely difficult race, since two Democratic candidates are splitting the vote,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“The local Democrats haven’t been able to come together and resolve that, so we’ll have to re-evaluate our participation.”

Recent public and private polls show Republican Charles Djou ahead in a race to fill out the remaining few months in the term of former Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who left Congress earlier this year to run for governor.

Now ballots are already out by mail (they must be returned by May 22), so this smacks of taking your bat and going home when you’re down five runs in the eighth inning. But however the Democrats spin it, the loss of a Democratic seat in Hawaii of all places is going to sting:

At first glance, the political stakes involved are scant — the winner is assured of serving in Congress only until this fall’s midterm elections, when all 435 House seats are on the ballot.

But the psychological impact of a Republican victory in the state where President Barack Obama was born could be considerable. GOP officials say they are on a path to take control of the House this fall, and seize every opportunity to claim momentum.

Obama has recorded robo calls for “a Democrat” without specifying which one, a tactic that seems, well, dumb. Involve the president but don’t tell voters who to support? It’s odd to say the least.

It is one more sign for Democrats that this is no ordinary year. Come to think of it, the Democrats might manage to lose key races in Hawaii and Illinois — vividly making the point that even among the president’s most ardent supporters, the voters have had enough of Democratic one-party government.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Rep. Bart Stupak’s seat is now a “toss up.” The ObamaCare vote may turn out to be historic after all. Nate Silver proclaims: “Generic Ballot Points Toward Possible 50+ Seat Loss For Democrats.”

Charlie Cook: “As we head toward November’s mid-term elections, the outlook remains dire for Democrats. For the trajectory of this campaign season to change in their favor, two things need to happen — unemployment must drop significantly, and the public’s attitude toward the new health care reform law must become much more positive. Neither seems likely, though. Increasingly, it appears that for Democrats to turn things around, Republicans would have to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, or a ‘black swan’ — an extraordinarily unexpected event that causes a tremendous change — would have to swim to the rescue of the president’s party.”

James Jones‘s underwhelming description of the state of U.S.-Israeli relations: “ongoing and fine and continuous.” Continuous? Well, good to know we’re not ending the relationship — and at least we’re past the point where the Obami can say “rock solid” with a straight face. Meanwhile, the White House denies that there has been any change in its policy toward the Dimona nuclear reactor. It’s hard to know what to believe at this point, which itself is evidence of the shabby state of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The best thing about the Obami’s Israel policy? The lack of consensus and total disorganization. “Although the public fireworks between top U.S. and Israeli officials may have died down in recent days, a fully fledged debate has erupted inside the Obama administration over how to best bring Middle East peace talks to fruition, let alone a successful conclusion.” Thank goodness.

Sarah Palin declares that “this administration alienates our friends. They treated Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai poorly  and acted surprised when he reacted in kind. And they escalated a minor zoning decision into a major breach with Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East.  Folks, someone needs to remind the President: Jerusalem is not a settlement. Israel is our friend. And the critical nuclear concerns of our time are North Korea, who has nuclear weapons, and Iran, who wants them. So, ‘yes we can’ kowtow to our enemies and publicly criticize our allies.Yes, we can. But someone ought to tell the President and the Left that just because we can doesn’t mean we should.”

How’s that “imposed peace deal” going to work again? “Officials say Gaza’s only power plant has stopped operating because of a lack of fuel caused by the ongoing dispute between Palestinian political rivals. Gaza’s Islamic militant Hamas rulers and their Western-backed West Bank rivals have argued over who should pay for the fuel for the plant.”

Jamie Fly and John Noonan on nuclear nonproliferation: “Our unwillingness to penalize countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria for their illicit activities only empowers them. It sends the message to other states potentially seeking nuclear weapons that the path to a weapon can be pursued with few repercussions. If President Obama were truly concerned about the future of the international nonproliferation regime, he would follow his recent disarmament ‘accomplishments’ with some serious action to ensure that rogue regimes realize that there is a price to be paid by those who choose to pursue nuclear weapons.”

John Yoo‘s prediction on Obama’s Supreme Court pick: “The president’s low approval ratings and the resurgence of Republican electoral victories in New Jersey, Virginia, and, most importantly, Massachusetts, means that Obama will not pick an ideological warrior who will spark a fight in the Senate. No Dawn Johnsen’s or Larry Tribe’s here. Appointing someone on the extreme left of the Democratic party would be a political gift to the Republicans — it would only continue the drive to the left that is promising big gains for the Republicans in the November election and would frustrate Obama’s other priorities.”

Meanwhile, Obama withdraws the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, who had been tapped to head the Office of Legal Counsel. Could it be that the Democrats don’t want any knock-down-drag-out-fights over left-wing  ideologues?

Could a Republican win the special House election in Hawaii? “This is a three-way race featuring two Democrats, former Rep. Ed Case and Hawaii State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, squaring off against Republican Charles Djou. It is a winner-take-all contest between the three candidates, competing to replace Neil Abercrombie, who left Congress to run for governor. . .Right now, the race is close: according to a Democratic source, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has conducted an internal poll showing Case at 32%, Djou at 32%, Hanabusa at 27%, and 9% undecided.” Well, like they say, as goes Massachusetts so goes Hawaii. Not really, but this year it might be true.

Rep. Bart Stupak’s seat is now a “toss up.” The ObamaCare vote may turn out to be historic after all. Nate Silver proclaims: “Generic Ballot Points Toward Possible 50+ Seat Loss For Democrats.”

Charlie Cook: “As we head toward November’s mid-term elections, the outlook remains dire for Democrats. For the trajectory of this campaign season to change in their favor, two things need to happen — unemployment must drop significantly, and the public’s attitude toward the new health care reform law must become much more positive. Neither seems likely, though. Increasingly, it appears that for Democrats to turn things around, Republicans would have to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, or a ‘black swan’ — an extraordinarily unexpected event that causes a tremendous change — would have to swim to the rescue of the president’s party.”

James Jones‘s underwhelming description of the state of U.S.-Israeli relations: “ongoing and fine and continuous.” Continuous? Well, good to know we’re not ending the relationship — and at least we’re past the point where the Obami can say “rock solid” with a straight face. Meanwhile, the White House denies that there has been any change in its policy toward the Dimona nuclear reactor. It’s hard to know what to believe at this point, which itself is evidence of the shabby state of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The best thing about the Obami’s Israel policy? The lack of consensus and total disorganization. “Although the public fireworks between top U.S. and Israeli officials may have died down in recent days, a fully fledged debate has erupted inside the Obama administration over how to best bring Middle East peace talks to fruition, let alone a successful conclusion.” Thank goodness.

Sarah Palin declares that “this administration alienates our friends. They treated Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai poorly  and acted surprised when he reacted in kind. And they escalated a minor zoning decision into a major breach with Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East.  Folks, someone needs to remind the President: Jerusalem is not a settlement. Israel is our friend. And the critical nuclear concerns of our time are North Korea, who has nuclear weapons, and Iran, who wants them. So, ‘yes we can’ kowtow to our enemies and publicly criticize our allies.Yes, we can. But someone ought to tell the President and the Left that just because we can doesn’t mean we should.”

How’s that “imposed peace deal” going to work again? “Officials say Gaza’s only power plant has stopped operating because of a lack of fuel caused by the ongoing dispute between Palestinian political rivals. Gaza’s Islamic militant Hamas rulers and their Western-backed West Bank rivals have argued over who should pay for the fuel for the plant.”

Jamie Fly and John Noonan on nuclear nonproliferation: “Our unwillingness to penalize countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria for their illicit activities only empowers them. It sends the message to other states potentially seeking nuclear weapons that the path to a weapon can be pursued with few repercussions. If President Obama were truly concerned about the future of the international nonproliferation regime, he would follow his recent disarmament ‘accomplishments’ with some serious action to ensure that rogue regimes realize that there is a price to be paid by those who choose to pursue nuclear weapons.”

John Yoo‘s prediction on Obama’s Supreme Court pick: “The president’s low approval ratings and the resurgence of Republican electoral victories in New Jersey, Virginia, and, most importantly, Massachusetts, means that Obama will not pick an ideological warrior who will spark a fight in the Senate. No Dawn Johnsen’s or Larry Tribe’s here. Appointing someone on the extreme left of the Democratic party would be a political gift to the Republicans — it would only continue the drive to the left that is promising big gains for the Republicans in the November election and would frustrate Obama’s other priorities.”

Meanwhile, Obama withdraws the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, who had been tapped to head the Office of Legal Counsel. Could it be that the Democrats don’t want any knock-down-drag-out-fights over left-wing  ideologues?

Could a Republican win the special House election in Hawaii? “This is a three-way race featuring two Democrats, former Rep. Ed Case and Hawaii State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, squaring off against Republican Charles Djou. It is a winner-take-all contest between the three candidates, competing to replace Neil Abercrombie, who left Congress to run for governor. . .Right now, the race is close: according to a Democratic source, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has conducted an internal poll showing Case at 32%, Djou at 32%, Hanabusa at 27%, and 9% undecided.” Well, like they say, as goes Massachusetts so goes Hawaii. Not really, but this year it might be true.

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The Charge of the Democratic Health-Care Brigade

“Where are we now?” This seems to be the question in the wake of yesterday’s health-care summit. The scenarios going forward indicate the amazing political condundra facing the president and his party.

1) Pass the health-care bill without Republican support. Well, OK, but which bill and how? The House has already passed a bill. In order to secure passage, which came with just a margin of five votes, House leaders agreed to remove abortion coverage from it (the so-called Stupak amendment). Now, try to follow this. The bill that has been voted out of the Senate committee for consideration of the full Senate features abortion coverage. Republicans have enough votes to filibuster this bill. That’s why there’s talk of passing it through the process called “reconciliation,” which needs only 51 votes, which Democrats have.

2) Make the House vote for the Senate bill. The way to muscle this legislation into law is for the House to give up its bill, bring the Senate bill (after it’s passed with 51 votes) up for a vote, pass it, and have Obama sign it. But here’s the thing. The Senate bill doesn’t have the Stupak amendment, so the dozen or so House Democrats who insisted on taking abortion out of the bill so that they could vote for it face a terrible choice. They will either have to vote for it and betray their principles and their voters and the fight they waged before. Or they can say no and risk torpedoing the bill.

It’s even more interesting than that, because three votes for the bill will not be recorded for it the next time it comes up — one due to death (John Murtha), two due to resignations (Neil Abercrombie and Robert Wexler). So what will House Democratic leaders do? They can try to put the arm on leftist Democrats who resisted voting for the original bill on the grounds it didn’t go far enough. In which case, they can win this.

Ah, but here’s the rub. They can’t possibly believe that the political situation last fall, when the House voted for its version of the bill, is the same today. Every House member is up for re-election, and polling suggests a catastrophe in the making for Democrats, in part due to the meltdown in support for health-care legislation (now 25 percent, according to CNN this week). Pelosi and Co. surely know they will not get  every single one of the 215 votes they scored last time (absent the Stupak dozen). They may be grasping at straws, but simple survival instinct will cause a major panic at the prospect of having to cast this vote. And there’s no knowing what people will do in a panic except that they will try at all cost to save their own skins.

3) Let it die in committee. Even if the Senate does pass the bill through the 51-vote reconciliation process — a big “if,” because it will ignite a major populist revolt that could have terrible consequences for Democrats in shaky Senate seats up for re-election in November —  the combination of bad poll numbers and the Stupak problem probably mean that the “pass the Senate bill” option is off the table, and so the normal Washington process will go forward. House and Senate negotiators will have to meet to harmonize their two bills. They will then agree on a single unitary piece of legislation. That unitary piece of legislation must then go back to the full House and the full Senate for final passage, at which point it is sent to the president, who can sign it into law.

The chances this will happen are increasingly remote. The attempt to pass the harmonized bill would reignite every firestorm over health care, at a time when support is only likely to decline still further. Tea Parties would erupt. Republicans will build forts with the 2,000-page bills and stack them to the inside of the Capitol Dome. Avoiding this horror show is the reason for the “pass the Senate bill” strategy. Democrats cannot allow it to happen. It would be best, at that point, to let the bill die in committee, with serious claims that the differences between the bills just couldn’t be breached. That will look terrible, but it’s the better of the two options.

4) The suicide mission. If the health-care bill collapses, the Obama presidency will be dealt a staggering blow from which it could recover, I would guess, only with a really extraordinary economic turnaround. The political calamity for Democrats in November will still take place; the president will lose the entirety of his capital with elected officials in his party; the media, sniffing a loser, will turn slowly but surely on him; and the conviction inside his own camp that he can work wonders with his silver-tongued patter will dissipate, causing a complete crisis of confidence inside the White House.

It would be better for him, unquestionably, for the legislation to pass, as a practical political matter. One could argue that the fate of his party really does rest on Obama’s shoulders, so it would be better for Democrats as well. But not for individual Democrats. So what happens if the Obama-Pelosi-Reid strategy for health-care passage is an order to House Democrats to carry out a suicide mission? That is hard to say. ObamaCare is the Democratic object of desire. One imagines that even those Democrats who don’t want to vote for it support it in their heart of hearts. So perhaps they can be appealed to on the grounds of liberal principle.

I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like this in American political history. Every way you look at it, Democrats are boxed in, forced to choose between extraordinarily unattractive options. What makes it especially noteworthy is that this was a calamity they summoned entirely upon themselves.

“Where are we now?” This seems to be the question in the wake of yesterday’s health-care summit. The scenarios going forward indicate the amazing political condundra facing the president and his party.

1) Pass the health-care bill without Republican support. Well, OK, but which bill and how? The House has already passed a bill. In order to secure passage, which came with just a margin of five votes, House leaders agreed to remove abortion coverage from it (the so-called Stupak amendment). Now, try to follow this. The bill that has been voted out of the Senate committee for consideration of the full Senate features abortion coverage. Republicans have enough votes to filibuster this bill. That’s why there’s talk of passing it through the process called “reconciliation,” which needs only 51 votes, which Democrats have.

2) Make the House vote for the Senate bill. The way to muscle this legislation into law is for the House to give up its bill, bring the Senate bill (after it’s passed with 51 votes) up for a vote, pass it, and have Obama sign it. But here’s the thing. The Senate bill doesn’t have the Stupak amendment, so the dozen or so House Democrats who insisted on taking abortion out of the bill so that they could vote for it face a terrible choice. They will either have to vote for it and betray their principles and their voters and the fight they waged before. Or they can say no and risk torpedoing the bill.

It’s even more interesting than that, because three votes for the bill will not be recorded for it the next time it comes up — one due to death (John Murtha), two due to resignations (Neil Abercrombie and Robert Wexler). So what will House Democratic leaders do? They can try to put the arm on leftist Democrats who resisted voting for the original bill on the grounds it didn’t go far enough. In which case, they can win this.

Ah, but here’s the rub. They can’t possibly believe that the political situation last fall, when the House voted for its version of the bill, is the same today. Every House member is up for re-election, and polling suggests a catastrophe in the making for Democrats, in part due to the meltdown in support for health-care legislation (now 25 percent, according to CNN this week). Pelosi and Co. surely know they will not get  every single one of the 215 votes they scored last time (absent the Stupak dozen). They may be grasping at straws, but simple survival instinct will cause a major panic at the prospect of having to cast this vote. And there’s no knowing what people will do in a panic except that they will try at all cost to save their own skins.

3) Let it die in committee. Even if the Senate does pass the bill through the 51-vote reconciliation process — a big “if,” because it will ignite a major populist revolt that could have terrible consequences for Democrats in shaky Senate seats up for re-election in November —  the combination of bad poll numbers and the Stupak problem probably mean that the “pass the Senate bill” option is off the table, and so the normal Washington process will go forward. House and Senate negotiators will have to meet to harmonize their two bills. They will then agree on a single unitary piece of legislation. That unitary piece of legislation must then go back to the full House and the full Senate for final passage, at which point it is sent to the president, who can sign it into law.

The chances this will happen are increasingly remote. The attempt to pass the harmonized bill would reignite every firestorm over health care, at a time when support is only likely to decline still further. Tea Parties would erupt. Republicans will build forts with the 2,000-page bills and stack them to the inside of the Capitol Dome. Avoiding this horror show is the reason for the “pass the Senate bill” strategy. Democrats cannot allow it to happen. It would be best, at that point, to let the bill die in committee, with serious claims that the differences between the bills just couldn’t be breached. That will look terrible, but it’s the better of the two options.

4) The suicide mission. If the health-care bill collapses, the Obama presidency will be dealt a staggering blow from which it could recover, I would guess, only with a really extraordinary economic turnaround. The political calamity for Democrats in November will still take place; the president will lose the entirety of his capital with elected officials in his party; the media, sniffing a loser, will turn slowly but surely on him; and the conviction inside his own camp that he can work wonders with his silver-tongued patter will dissipate, causing a complete crisis of confidence inside the White House.

It would be better for him, unquestionably, for the legislation to pass, as a practical political matter. One could argue that the fate of his party really does rest on Obama’s shoulders, so it would be better for Democrats as well. But not for individual Democrats. So what happens if the Obama-Pelosi-Reid strategy for health-care passage is an order to House Democrats to carry out a suicide mission? That is hard to say. ObamaCare is the Democratic object of desire. One imagines that even those Democrats who don’t want to vote for it support it in their heart of hearts. So perhaps they can be appealed to on the grounds of liberal principle.

I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like this in American political history. Every way you look at it, Democrats are boxed in, forced to choose between extraordinarily unattractive options. What makes it especially noteworthy is that this was a calamity they summoned entirely upon themselves.

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RE: President Obama, Meet Reality

Saner liberals are nervous. Ruth Marcus, who is rooting for ObamaCare to pass, can do the math. Yeah, there might be 50 votes to jam through the Senate whatever can be jammed through via reconciliation, but what about the House? She writes:

With the House down a few members, 217 votes will be needed for passage. The original House measure passed with 220 votes — with 39 Democrats defecting. But two of those yes votes are gone: John Murtha of Pennsylvania died; Robert Wexler of Florida resigned. A third, Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, is leaving at the end of the month to run for governor. The lone Republican voting for the measure, Joseph Cao of Louisiana, is no longer on board.

Meanwhile, the president’s proposal does not include the anti-abortion language inserted in the House-passed measure by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), largely because the Senate would have difficulty fiddling with abortion language under the restrictive rules of the reconciliation process. So Stupak will be gone, and with him another five votes, perhaps more.

There are, Marcus explains, a few liberals like Dennis Kucinich to be wooed back to vote for ObamaCare this time around and some retirees who don’t care if they enrage the voters by voting for a bill they hate. But it still probably doesn’t get Obama to a majority. So Marcus frets: “My worry is that going for broke and failing will leave no time or appetite for a fallback, scaled-down plan. And the moment to do something on health care — not everything, but something significant — will have evaporated, once again.”

This is the essence of Obama: filled with grand plans and a grandiose conception of himself, but short on workable plans, legislative prowess, and strategic thinking. And underneath it all is a deep contempt for the wishes and concerns of average Americans. As Michael Gerson aptly sums up:

Americans have taken every opportunity — the town hall revolt, increasingly lopsided polling, a series of upset elections culminating in Massachusetts — to shout their second thoughts. At this point, for Democratic leaders to insist on their current approach is to insist that Americans are not only misinformed but also dimwitted. And the proposed form of this insistence — enacting health reform through the quick, dirty shove of the reconciliation process — would add coercion to arrogance.

But that, too, is quintessential Obama, the Chicago pol who never much cares what the little people think, because they and critics can be written off, delegitimized, and shouted down.

Unfortunately, with such a political persona, you generally wind up with legislative flops (e.g., the stimulus) or nothing at all. That might suit conservatives, who frankly prefer the status quo to Obama’s Brave New World of health care, but it sure must come as a blow to those who thought Obama would be a transformative president.

Saner liberals are nervous. Ruth Marcus, who is rooting for ObamaCare to pass, can do the math. Yeah, there might be 50 votes to jam through the Senate whatever can be jammed through via reconciliation, but what about the House? She writes:

With the House down a few members, 217 votes will be needed for passage. The original House measure passed with 220 votes — with 39 Democrats defecting. But two of those yes votes are gone: John Murtha of Pennsylvania died; Robert Wexler of Florida resigned. A third, Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, is leaving at the end of the month to run for governor. The lone Republican voting for the measure, Joseph Cao of Louisiana, is no longer on board.

Meanwhile, the president’s proposal does not include the anti-abortion language inserted in the House-passed measure by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), largely because the Senate would have difficulty fiddling with abortion language under the restrictive rules of the reconciliation process. So Stupak will be gone, and with him another five votes, perhaps more.

There are, Marcus explains, a few liberals like Dennis Kucinich to be wooed back to vote for ObamaCare this time around and some retirees who don’t care if they enrage the voters by voting for a bill they hate. But it still probably doesn’t get Obama to a majority. So Marcus frets: “My worry is that going for broke and failing will leave no time or appetite for a fallback, scaled-down plan. And the moment to do something on health care — not everything, but something significant — will have evaporated, once again.”

This is the essence of Obama: filled with grand plans and a grandiose conception of himself, but short on workable plans, legislative prowess, and strategic thinking. And underneath it all is a deep contempt for the wishes and concerns of average Americans. As Michael Gerson aptly sums up:

Americans have taken every opportunity — the town hall revolt, increasingly lopsided polling, a series of upset elections culminating in Massachusetts — to shout their second thoughts. At this point, for Democratic leaders to insist on their current approach is to insist that Americans are not only misinformed but also dimwitted. And the proposed form of this insistence — enacting health reform through the quick, dirty shove of the reconciliation process — would add coercion to arrogance.

But that, too, is quintessential Obama, the Chicago pol who never much cares what the little people think, because they and critics can be written off, delegitimized, and shouted down.

Unfortunately, with such a political persona, you generally wind up with legislative flops (e.g., the stimulus) or nothing at all. That might suit conservatives, who frankly prefer the status quo to Obama’s Brave New World of health care, but it sure must come as a blow to those who thought Obama would be a transformative president.

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