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This Week In Congress - February 26, 2010

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I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson of Capitol News Connection. This Week in Congress...

The Senate gaveled in on Monday with one job to do. Jobs. Namely, a $15 billion jobs bill, featuring infrastructure projects and tax breaks all narrowly targeted to create some jobs. Preferably yesterday. Prior to the vote, Majority Leader Harry Reid still sounded preoccupied with the notion that Republicans might decide to run interference.

REID: If someone could explain to me what’s wrong with this bill, I’d be happy to listen. What is wrong with this legislation?

Well – too small by some accounts (House Democrats had wanted and already passed a much bigger bill, but big bills are tough to swallow, especially right now). While fiscally conservative Democrats grumble that even this small bill is ‘not completely paid for.’ Notice a theme here? The potholes and speed bumps on the road to economic recovery legislation certainly are not all partisan in origin.

Soon enough, Reid would have his answer. Five Senate Republicans crossed party lines to vote in favor on the final procedural hurdle, clearing the way for the final vote Wednesday morning. Senator Barbara Boxer now, with the results:

BOXER: The vote on this was 70 to 28, Mr. Leader. I think this is start of a trend. I hope it is.

Twenty-four hours later, focus would shift again from jobs… back to health care. When the eyeballs of an entire, anxious nation would have the option to go inside Blair House for President Obama’s much anticipated health care summit. Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer is a Democrat who has expressed high hopes for what this Congress and this administration may accomplish. But the summit…

BLUMENAUER: You’re not going to work though complex issues like this under the glare of TV lights and electronic microphones. That’s not how people work.

Be that as it may, dawn broke and the klieg lights shone bright on Thursday. For every talking-point, mini-speech and off-point monologue over the course of the next several hours, there were some illuminating moments… One with Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who’s also a medical doctor.

BARRASSO: ‘What’s it cost?’ ought to be the first question. And that’s why sometimes people with catastrophic health plans ask the best questions, shop around, are the best consumers of health care.

When it was the President’s turn to speak, he questioned whether Barrasso would be happy if all members of Congress could have just high deductible coverage combined with health savings accounts. No script here.

OBAMA/BARRASSO: Mr. President, having a high deductible plan IS an option…[talking over each other, arguing]

While a handful of lawmakers took part in the summit, most remained back on Capitol Hill. And stewed about ‘what next.’ Many Republicans focused on the possibility that Democrats could still use their power to force through a bill - public option and all. Some Democrats, meanwhile, worry about just the opposite.

GRIJALVA: There has to be governmental public aspect to this reform, otherwise we don’t believe it’s going to be as efficient and really save money and really cover people.

As co-chair of the Progressive caucus, Congressman Raul Grijalva and fellow liberals immediately began penning a strongly a letter to President Obama and the leadership.

Next week, it’ll be time to see whether small is really the new ‘big.’ The tension is between those in Congress who now favor more incremental approaches – both in health care and in all things jobs-related – and those, like Grijalva, who say that a new push is coming to re-grow the bills.

That was This Week in Congress. I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson, Capitol News Connection.


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