Health Debate Finds New Leaders; Congress Misses Some Old Ones
The cast of characters spearheading the health care debate in Congress doesn't contain all of the usual suspects.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C, arrived in the spotlight last week after comparing "the president's health-care fight to Napoleon Bonaparte's final defeat," the Washington Post reports. Since then, he has been "sharpening his opposition to President Obama's attempt to overhaul the health-care industry. The Republican has used fiery rhetoric to create a sense of urgency on the matter, making himself a champion of conservatives in the process." Though Republican leaders in Congress have distanced themselves from DeMint, conservatives, like those at the Heritage Foundation, have warmed to his protests (Rucker, 7/28).
Meanwhile on the other side of the aisle, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., has taken a central role in the health care debate as the acting chairman of the Senate health committee (Sen. Ted Kennedy, the chairman, is fighting brain cancer). Today, the New York Times reports, "the pharmaceutical industry has helped finance efforts to bolster his image back home as he braces for a potentially bruising re-election contest. The industry's campaign-style push for Mr. Dodd, part of a larger effort to highlight the work of certain lawmakers around the country, portray him as a defender of ordinary citizens in brochures sent to more than 100,000 homes in Connecticut and in a 30-second television spot that ran for three weeks. For Mr. Dodd, the support provided by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, the industry's lobbying arm, comes at a politically sensitive, if not awkward, time. He is trying to combat a perception that he has become too close to powerful interest groups in Washington after 28 years in the Senate" (Hernandez, 7/27).
"In big-time politics, personalities matter," the Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib writes in his "Capital Journal" column. "In this case, it's the absence on the front lines of four big personalities -- Rep. John Dingell, Sen. Ted Kennedy, former Sen. Tom Daschle and Sen. John McCain -- that helps explain why Congress and the Obama administration are having such a hard time getting something done."
Seib writes that while these politicians could guarantee results, "at the end of the day, getting a big piece of legislation is, like a business deal or contract negotiation, a flesh-and-blood exercise that comes down to a small group in a room deciding whether they understand and trust one another enough to take a chance. Under other circumstances, these four men would have been the leading figures in that process." But, Dingell was ousted from his central role as the Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman, Kennedy has brain cancer, Daschle withdrew from a senior administration post big because of tax questions, and McCain lost his maverick chops in last year's presidential bid (Seib, 7/28).