Washington Prowler

Obama in Rude Denial

And he's happy to blow off the Europeans -- could they be missing Bush?

By 3.29.10

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IT'S ALL A GOP PLOT
The White House political and legislative operations were said to be livid with the announcement by several large U.S. companies that they were taking multi-million or as much as a billion dollar charges because of the new health-care law, the issue was front-and-center with key lawmakers. By last Friday, AT&T, Caterpillar, Deere & Co., and AK Steel Holding Corp. had all announced that they were taking the one-time charges on their first-quarter balance sheets. More companies were expected to make similar announcements this week.

"These are Republican CEOs who are trying to embarrass the President and Democrats in general," says a White House legislative affairs staffer. "Where do you hear about this stuff? The Wall Street Journal editorial page and conservative websites. No one else picked up on this but you guys. It's BS."

On Friday White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Obama senior advisor Valerie Jarrett were calling the CEOs and Washington office heads of the companies that took the financial hits and attacked them for doing so. One Washington office head said that the White House calls were accusatory and "downright rude."

The companies are taking the charges because in 2013 they will lose a tax deduction on tax-free government subsidies they have had when they give retirees a Medicare Part D prescription-drug reimbursement. Many of these companies have more than 100,000 retirees each. AT&T may have more than three-quarters of a million retirees to cover. 

"Most of these people [in the Administration] have never had a real job in their lives. They don't understand a thing about business, and that includes the President," says a senior lobbyist for one of the companies that announced the charge. "My CEO sat with the President over lunch with two other CEOs, and each of them tried to explain to the President what this bill would do to our companies and the economy in general. First the President didn't understand what they were talking about. Then he basically told my boss he was lying. Frankly my boss was embarrassed for him; he clearly had not been briefed and didn't know what was in the bill."

It isn't just the President who didn't understand his own proposal.  Late Friday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Rep. Bart Stupak, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations panel, announced that they would hold hearings in late April to investigate "claims by Caterpillar, Verizon, and Deere that provisions in the new health care reform law could adversely affect their company's ability to provide health insurance to their employees."

Neither Waxman or Stupak -- who betrayed the pro-life community by negotiating for more than a week with the White House to ensure his vote on the health care bill -- had anything more than a cursory understanding of how the many sections of the bill would impact business or even individual citizens before they voted on the bill, says House Energy Democrat staff. "We had memos on these issues, but none of our people, we think, looked at them," says  a staffer. "When they saw the stories last week about the charges some of the companies were taking, they were genuinely surprised and assumed that the companies were just doing this to embarrass them.  They really believed this bill would immediately lower costs. They just didn't understand what they were voting on."

NOT WHAT THEY EXPECTED
So much for President Obama's promises to build better relations with America's friends and allies overseas. Just 15 months into his administration, Obama has managed to alienate most of the major European allies, this time having a State Department functionary announcing in Brussels that U.S.-EU summits will no longer be held annually, and only when there are particular issues to be decided.

State Department officials, some of whom were holdovers from the Bush Administration, say the reasoning for the U.S. to end the annual summits, which had been held since 1991, was in part due to Obama and his team's feeling " slighted" by European leaders and their staffs, such as French president Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, both of whom have come away less than impressed with Obama's style and substance.

During Obama's much heralded European visits last year, he and his team were met with lukewarm enthusiasm by his fellow leaders. Obama responded by, as host last November, meeting with his counterparts for only three hours and sending Vice President Joe Biden to spend the rest of the time in the summit, including the official lunch. Other than a 15-minute meeting in the morning with Merkel (which on the schedule was supposed to be a half-hour), the summit meeting, Obama had an almost open schedule on that day, with only a late-afternoon meeting with Sen. Blanche Lincoln on the agenda.

Then in February Obama announced that he would not attend a U.S.-EU Summit in Madrid, Spain, scheduled to take place in May, thus ensuring the meeting would be canceled.

The Obama Administration got off to a rocky start diplomatically when it embarrassed British Prime Minister Gordon Brown by giving him official White House presents -- U.S. formatted DVDs that could not played in Great Britain due to different formatting, for example -- that created the impression Obama didn't seem to care much for Brown.  He later, in meeting Queen Elizabeth II gave her an iPod, loaded with podcasts of his major speeches.

"People may not have liked some of the Bush Administration's style, but at least President Bush came to meetings and was gracious," says a current State Department staffer. " I won't say that the Europeans are missing Bush, but they feel that President Obama just doesn't care about the 'special relationship' that has existed between American and Europe. He's made it worse, not better."

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