Getting Ready for Smashmouth Thursday?

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Somebody, find a referee with a loud whistle. Thursday's meeting between President Obama and the Republicans is now guaranteed to turn into a prime-time, smashmouth confrontation over the limits of federalism, not to mention the two major parties' sharply different philosophies of government.

The White House today unveiled its long-awaited proposal for reforming health care to the uniform disapproval of conservatives. Among other things, the bill includes tougher provisions against fraud as well as calls for government review of insurance increases (the industry can thank Anthem Blue Cross's recent tone-deafness for that insertion.) The price would be some $950 billion in spending - about $75 billion more than previous estimates. I'm still picking through the details but here's an initial rundown of the plan from the left and from the right.

Why now? Maybe the better question is why not now? In Washington, where perceptions have a way of becoming reality, this president could use a victory - any victory - and soon. On Sunday, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson bluntly advised Obama to "rapidly decide what we're doing on health care and then move to jobs and the economy." He added: "We need a national economic strategy." The president apparently agrees. The White House backed the $15 billion jobs bill which also won the support of five Senate Republicans when it came up for a Monday vote. A minor achievement, perhaps, but a sign that this president can push his agenda forward in the face of political opposition.

To be sure, Obama is determined to plow ahead on health care, even in the absence of an official seal of approval from the Congressional Budget Office, which says it doesn't yet have enough detail to offer an estimate. CBO approval didn't help the White House gain bi-partisan support for earlier versions of health-care reform. Barring a breakthrough, the White House now seems ready to use budget reconciliation if the Republicans dig in their heels.

And dig they will. House Majority Leader John Boehner dutifully ripped the proposal as doubling down on a "failed approach Americans have already rejected." Meanwhile, the usual voices who dominate the right wing of the blogosphere predictably blasted Obama for opening the door to all kinds of "isms" - none good. After feeling their oats the last couple of months, the Republicans find themselves facing a president who may be regaining his touch. Thursday is destined to be some kind of spectacle.
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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.

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