Health Law Looks Shaky; Abortion Fight Renewed; China Won’t Blink

Health Repeal Debate is More Than Symbolism

“13 Percent”

-- The portion of American adults who want to see President Obama's national health care law preserved in its current form, according to a new Gallup poll.

Proponents of President Obama’s national health-care law in politics and the press have been atwitter over a recent AP poll that shows hard opposition to the law decreasing.

You know you have an unpopular initiative on your hands when, as the AP poll suggests, having only a third of Americans passionately committed to its repeal and the nation evenly divided on the subject in general is considered good news. Hooray!

The poll number that really matters, though, is from the latest Gallup/USA Today survey. It shows only 13 percent of Americans like the law as it is written.

The plurality in today's poll (32 percent) want the law repealed entirely. Twenty five percent want the law scaled back and 24 percent want it to be more liberal. So that’s 57 percent who want less of the law compared to 37 percent who don’t want any rollbacks.

On the critical political question – Did Democrats go too far with law? – the nation continues to say “yes” rather emphatically.

Remember the warnings from moderate Democrats who said it was unadvisable to jam through such large legislation without a national consensus and some bipartisan support? Numbers like these show you why.

So as House Republicans get underway with their repeal initiative today, the White House is very busy defending the law.

On Monday, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebeilus wrote a piece claiming that the law was part of the fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream for America. Today, her agency has published a claim that 129 million Americans would be unable to get insurance if Republicans had their way.

As much as Democrats pooh-poohed the repeal (Robert Gibbs called it “huff and puff”) they are marshaling lots of forces against it.

The reason is revealed in today’s Gallup poll. America doesn’t like the bill. A quarter of the country thinks it’s too stingy and 57 percent think it does too much. That means the president’s signature accomplishment and his great legacy builder is teetering atop 13 percent public approval.

That thin pillar is a real problem for the administration because modification of the legislation would likely mean its demise.

Democrats in the House and Senate express an increasing willingness to take on central elements of the plan they fought so hard to pass in March. But with most of the law still pending as part of a political calculation to give goodies first and icky medicine after the 2012 elections, big changes now mean that Obama’s legacy and clout would be very much in doubt.

Take away the less popular components of the law, particularly the requirement that all Americans buy insurance or enroll in a government program and the new taxes, and you are left with an utterly unworkable plan.

With a legal challenge that could potentially derail the law pending in the federal courts and a brutal 2012 map for Senate Democrats, members of the president’s party may not be willing to accept the Republicans’ opening offer of “repeal,” but may be willing to get on board with “replace.”

Whatever the president has scripted domestically for year three of his term will have to give way to an effort to defend the central accomplishment of his first two years. The political cost of seeing his law rolled back would simply be too great.

While mainstream news outlets will obsess over the fate of the House Republican repeal, remember that this is really the start of a long siege of a law that could change the nation and will almost certainly determine President Obama’s place in history.

Abortion Rules Mark First Big Challenge for Obamacare

“It seems clear to us that the new House leadership is threatening a whole series of attacks on reproductive rights…”

-- Donna Crane, policy director for the National Abortion Rights Action League, to The Hill.

The pro-life Democrats who voted for President Obama’s national health care law despite concerns about a loophole for federal funding of abortions took an absolute pasting in November.Only five of the 22 pro-life House Dems targeted for their support of the president’s law have returned to Congress.

So, as Republicans move ahead with their effort to repeal the law, one of the first successes in undermining it may come in the form of new federal restrictions on abortion funding.

Starting today, House Republicans will begin work on new language that would go beyond simply closing the loophole in Obama’s law and actually create new restrictions, including allowing medical professionals who express objections of conscience to refuse to provide abortion services.

With the March for Life set for Jan. 24, pro-lifers in both parties will soon be getting a sharp reminder of the political consequences of being opposed to the movement.

A political problem for Democrats here is that if they do sign off on a law designed to close a loophole, they are saying that the loophole existed in the first place. That would present president Obama with the choice of either vetoing popular, bipartisan legislation or admitting that his law could have funded abortion.

Plus, if Democrats go along with the new, more stringent measures, they risk alienating the well-funded and very passionate pro-choicers in their base.

China Can Afford to Ignore Most U.S. Demands

“$110 billion”

-- Value of loans made by China to developing nations in the past two years -- $10 billion more than the World Bank’s outlays.

Obama insiders were a bit braggy in the New York Times today talking about how their boss wouldn’t be bowed by China again. Sure, President Hu Jintao backed Obama down at every key meeting before, but this time the White House is ready.

The administration is touting its one-two punch of an all-out charm offensive on the social front – two dinners, grand tours, meetings on the Hill – and a careful laying out of the Obama China agenda by his lieutenants in the weeks leading up to the visit, which begins today.

By having advance pressure on currency, defense, human rights and trade, the President hopes to make more use of his time with Hu. This is a variant of Obama’s take on the 2010 elections – he just needed to do a better job explaining himself.

But like swing state voters, it may be that Hu heard Obama loud and clear before, but just didn’t care.

And as we’ve seen in China’s lurch toward militarism and nationalism of late, the fast-growing nation seems more inclined to chart its own path than take any cues from the debtor nation seeking its favor on issues like trade and currency.

Consider the finding from the Financial Times that China hasn’t just been lending to us in a big way, but also to the developing world. While the World Bank doled out more than $100 billion, an unprecedented sum, during the Panic of 2008, China loaned at least $110 million.

One of the reasons that America funds the World Bank is to prevent big countries from using debt to take advantage of small ones. The World Bank insists on good government and fiscal reforms in its debtors, but doesn’t use debt for leverage the way developed nations once did.
China, though, is making loans with energy reserves and other crucial resources as a kind of collateral. While the U.S. is supporting the World Bank bureaucracy, China is putting weak nations in hock.

The red carpet treatment for Hu and stern talk from Tim Geithner may seem impressive in Washington, but it may not move the ChiComs.

Obama Starts Process on Rule Review

“As the executive order I am signing makes clear, we are seeking more affordable, less intrusive means to achieve the same ends—giving careful consideration to benefits and costs.”

-- President Obama writing in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed.

President Obama announced today a review of federal regulations as part of his outreach to the business community and the start of his 2012 campaign.

The promised review, described in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, is characteristic of the president’s other policy moves. There will be lengthy deliberation that will only conclude when a balance between consumer protection and commerce has been reached.

This Solomonic effort is being met with a bit of a nervous welcome in the business world. Much like the president’s discussion of tax reform, they know that this review means that what they gain in clarity will be offset by the imposition of new burdens.

Remember that Obama has made more use of rulemaking and executive power than his predecessors. The EPA, the FDA, and his office of consumer protection have all broadly expanded their reach in the past two years.

The start of this review process will please some in industries favored by the administration, especially high tech concerns, but worry others in disfavor, like heavy industry.

Cheney Can Cause Trouble for Obama With Praise

“I think he's found it necessary to be more sympathetic to the kinds of things we did.”

-- Former Vice President Dick Cheney on NBC praising President Obama’s security policy shifts.

Dick Cheney won his 2009 showdown with President Obama on Guantanamo Bay when Democrats refused to allow the president to close the prisoner of war camp.

Now, Cheney is praising Obama’s more aggressive tactics in the war against radical Islam. In an interview with NBC, Cheney lauded Obama for using aerial drones to conduct a secret war on al Qaeda and for doubling down in Afghanistan.

Cheney said his revised assessment stems from Obama having grown up about the policies he once attacked Cheney and George W. Bush for employing.

It is praise that Obama could certainly live without. It drives home for the dispirited liberal base the fact that on the central issues of war and peace that first caused them to swoon for Obama, the president now resembles Bush and Cheney, the objects of their most intense hatreds.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“China can push us around -- and its neighbors in the Western Pacific -- knowing we're slightly restrained in responding because they are our banker to a large extent. And that is a huge shift in power… It is starting, and the world can see it.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”