Monday, July 20, 2009

Obomba: The War President

The Note: July 20, 2009 8:34 AM


We’ll get to health care in a moment, but first a reminder that for all the bold domestic initiatives, President Barack Obama is a war president. Unwelcome and uncontrollable developments on the war front have a way of overshadowing everything else. Just ask Lyndon Johnson.

We are not there yet, but consider today’s headlines:

• U.S. soldier taken hostage. The Taliban released a 28-minute video of Pfc Bowe Bergdahl. It’s a typical propaganda video, featuring Private Bergdahl, clearly under duress, speaking about his family and against the war. The vigil in his tiny Idaho hometown dominated the network morning shows and will likely continue to do so.

• Another coalition soldier was killed late yesterday, bringing the death toll so-far this month (52) to the highest since the war started in September 2001.

• The death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan is on the verge of 5,000. A reminder of that toll will come later this week when, the LA Times reports, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is scheduled to visit Arlington Cemetery.

• A civilian helicopter working with NATO crashed, killing 16 aid workers. British and American fighter jets also crashed over the weekend.

• The Drug Enforcement Administration, belatedly perhaps, is surging its own agents into Afghanistan in an effort to target. The LA Times calls this “a new kind of ‘surge,’ targeting trafficking networks that officials say are increasingly fueling the Taliban insurgency and corrupting the Afghan government.”

• The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is going to miss a Congressionally mandated deadline to submit its plan for closing Gitmo. Does anybody outside of the administration think the gitmo prison will be closed by January?

• The NYT reports the even bigger detainee problem: the 15,000 held in nightmarish prisons inside Afghanistan. Under consideration: a new, U.S.-built Afghan prison “for the hard-core extremists who are now using the poorly run Afghan corrections system as a camp to train petty thieves and other common criminals to be deadly militants.” Could this Gitmo with a different address?

For now, President Obama seems to have the confidence of the public, most Congressional leaders and even Republicans for his Afghan policy. In today’s ABC News/Washington Post poll, 62 percent give him high marks on Afghanistan.

But President Obama’s political and national security teams know support may be fleeting. Privately, senior White House officials will tell you they have at most a year to start turning things around before losing Congressional Democrats who, if a Republican were in the White House, would already be demanding tangible progress, firm benchmarks, and a timetable for withdrawal.

The War at Home: Obama approval slides, especially on health care

Support for the domestic agenda, however, is beginning to crumble. The latest ABC News/ Washington Post poll has lots of troubling numbers for the White House, but none more than this: For the first time, less than 50 percent approve of his handling of health care.

In just the last month – a time when the White House has put health reform plans front-and-center in Congress – the president’s approval rating on the issue has slid from 57 percent to 49, with disapproval rising from 29 to 44.

The sliver lining for the White House: the public trusts Republicans even less. But, that may not matter much, the Republicans aren’t trying to pass the biggest, most expensive piece of health care reform in the history of the Republic.

The erosion of support has been most pronounced among independents, more of whom now disapprove of Obama’s handling of health care (49 percent) than approve (44 percent).

The poll also shows declining support for the president’s handling of the deficit, unemployment and of the economy overall. As usual, the president is more popular than his positions on the issues, but his personally approval rating (59 percent) has dropped below 60 percent for the first time in the ABC News/Washington Post poll.

“Until the economy heads up, his popularity is likely to continue down,” writes ABC News’ polling guru Gary Langer.

More Troubles

The New York Times finds some really bad news for the Obama Administration at the National Governor’s Association meeting in Biloxi, Mississippi.

The White House wants help from the governors to sell its health plan, instead it is finding they are terrified the states will be stuck paying for it.

“The sentiment among those who were could not have been more consistent, regardless of political party,” report Kevin Sack and Robert Pear. “The governors said in interviews and public sessions that the bills being drafted in Congress would not do enough to curb the growth in health spending. And they said they were convinced that a major expansion of Medicaid would leave them with heavy costs.”

More: “Although many governors said significant change in how the nation handles health care was needed, they said their deep-seated fiscal troubles made it a terrible time to shift costs to the states.

“Each of several health care bills coursing through Congress relies on a large increase in eligibility for Medicaid, the state and federal insurance program for the poor, as one means of moving toward universal coverage.

“Because the states and the federal government share the cost, any increase in eligibility levels, benefits or payments to doctors would impose new burdens on the states unless Washington absorbs them. In at least one of several bills circulating in Congress, the states would eventually pick up a share of the new costs, and the governors fear they cannot count on provisions in other bills that they will not bear costs.”

Does this make it any easier? The health bill may include taxpayer money for abortions.

Here’s a man-bites-dog story in the bailout era:

The CIT Group, which was denied another federal bailout last week, is on the verge of securing private funding to keep it afloat.

“The development appeared to vindicate U.S. regulators, who balked at appeals to help CIT. And it suggested that, unlike in recent months, private capital is available to plaster over cracks in the financial system.”

Tapper has been all over this one

The fired Inspector General of the Corporation for National and Community Service is suing to get his job back.

The Kicker:

“It’s not health care reform to dump more money into Medicaid.” - Gov. Phil Bredesen (D-TN)

“As a governor, my concern is that if we try to cost-shift to the states we’re not going to be in a position to pick up the tab,” - Gov. Christine Gregoire (D-WA)

“I’m personally very concerned about the cost issue, particularly the $1 trillion figures being batted around,” - Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM)

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