Democrats back down from some health care demands as Republican opposition intensifies.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 21 2009 6:40 AM

Democrats: Let's Make a Health Care Deal

The New York Times and Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with Democratic leaders in Congress making it clear they're ready to compromise on health care legislation to make sure members of their own party don't bail. It seems likely that, despite White House pressure, bills won't make it through the House and Senate before the August recess. Yesterday, President Obama insisted he's not giving up on the timetable, but suggested a little flexibility by emphasizing the need to "pass reform by the end of this year." The Washington Postalso leads with health care but focuses on looking at how Republicans are making a concerted effort to link health-care legislation with the economic stimulus bill, which they have described as a failure.

USA Todayleads with a poll that shows Obama's approval ratings on specific domestic issues are on the decline. The president has a 55 percent approval rating, which "puts him 10th among the 12 post-World War II presidents at this point in their tenures." Things look far worse for the president on specific issues. Disapproval of how he is handling the economy now stands at 49 percent, and 50 percent disapprove of his approach to health care policy. Almost 60 percent of Americans say Obama is pushing for too much government spending.  The Los Angeles Timesbanners news that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and top California lawmakers have reached a deal to close the state's $26.3 billion deficit. Rather than broadly increase taxes, the agreement calls for deep cuts in government services, and also a variety of accounting tricks to balance the state's budget. California's elderly and poor will be the most affected if the plan that would cut billions in social services is approved by lawmakers.

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Democratic leaders in the House suggested that the proposed income surtax on the wealthiest households could be scaled back, particularly considering it's one of the main factors that has made fiscally conservative Democrats nervous about supporting health care reform. Aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi say she wants the surtax to be paid only by individuals making at least $500,000 and families making $1 million or more. That way it can be referred to as a tax on millionaires. For its part, the Senate doesn't seem too interested in imposing a surtax, and the NYT points out that the House Democrats don't want to take the politically risky move of voting for a tax increase if there's little chance that it'll end up in the final bill. Democrats also seem more open to the idea of taxing generous health insurance plans, and Obama suggested he wouldn't object as long as it "doesn't put additional burdens on middle-class families."

Emboldened by polls that show Obama's approval rating on specific domestic issues is on the decline, Republicans have been stepping up attacks on health care. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said that Obama is "conducting a dangerous experiment with our health care" and "a reckless experiment with our economy." Republicans continued to increase pressure on Democrats to ignore Obama's deadline. There's still a chance some key Republican senators will support the legislation that is being written in the finance committee. The chairman of that committee, Sen. Max Baucus, has said he's determined to come up with bipartisan legislation but refused to commit to getting a bill to the floor of the senate before the August recess.

As all eyes focus on what legislation might come out of the Senate's finance committee, the WP takes a look at how Baucus has benefitted from being its chairman. Health-related companies and their employees gave Baucus' political committees almost $1.5 million in 2007 and 2008. And he still has no problem getting people with interest in the legislation to fork over thousands of dollars to attend his fundraising events. Last month, Baucus began to refuse contributions from health care political action committees, but lobbyists and executives are still opening up their wallets. And when Baucus hears from industry players, he's likely to know them personally. Many of his former staff members, including two chiefs of staff, have been snapped up as lobbyists by the industry.

Simply being a corporate lobbyist doesn't automatically mean a reflexive opposition to the administration's plans. In fact, the NYT points out that, to the surprise of many, lobbyists that would typically be up in arms are siding with the White House's agenda on issues such as health care, energy, and financial regulation. Many lobbyists and industry group have come to the conclusion that they're better off trying to negotiate details with the administration, rather than publicly fighting with a popular president. Some insist this won't last much longer, but meanwhile liberals say Democratic leaders have been too quick to compromise in order to get support from industries. Conservatives aren't too happy either, partly because they're not getting much help from the industry to campaign against Obama's agenda.

The NYT fronts, and everyone goes inside with, news that the lone surviving gunman of last year's terrorist attacks in Mumbai elicited gasps in a courtroom when he confessed to having taken part in the assaults that killed more than 170 people. Even his attorney was surprised by the confession. "I don't think I am innocent," said 21-year-old Ajmal Kasab. "My request is that we end the trial and be sentenced." It's not clear whether the court will accept his guilty plea, but he said he was confessing because the Pakistani government recently acknowledged he was a Pakistani citizen. Kasab then proceeded to tell the court that he joined the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba for the money, and explained how they trained for the attacks.

Everyone notes that July has already become the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. USAT also points out that another grim milestone was reached yesterday when the combined death toll of in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan surpassed the 5,000 mark. Four American soldiers were killed by a roadside explosion yesterday in Afghanistan, bringing the number of Americans who have died in July in Afghanistan to at least 30. The previous deadliest month was June, when 28 died. The British military has lost 17 servicemembers this month as coalition troops are carrying out an offensive to try to kick the Taliban out of the Helmand Province.

The WP asked a few notables to nominate a public figure who could meet Walter Cronkite's "standard of trustworthiness." Showing how "[t]rust has been shattered into a million little pieces," as the Post's Philip Kennicott put it, there is hardly a consensus choice. Some couldn't even bring themselves to pick someone. "If the standard is Walter Cronkite, forget about it," says Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. "The era of universally trusted people is gone if not forgotten." But Oprah Winfrey makes the list a few times, as does Jon Stewart and Barack Obama. "I guess Anderson Cooper would be my answer, because he always has that slight bit of cynicism when it's deserved," says John Waters. "I always said there are only two reasons to have television: war and pornography. So I guess if it's war, I'd look at him. And I guess if I had to look at any newscaster in a porno film, I'd pick him."

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