KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Orszag, Sebelius and Emanuel Take Lead Roles In Health Debate

Various news outlets examined the powerful roles members of the Obama administration are taking in the health care debate.

The Wall Street Journal reports that amid concerns that "costs will spin out of control" for Obama's health-care plan, "as much as anyone, it's White House budget director Peter Orszag's job to save it. Mr. Orszag is the administration's point man for controlling health-care spending. So when the director of the Congressional Budget Office, which Mr. Orszag used to run, testified eight days ago that none of the health plans pending on Capitol Hill would control long-term spending, Mr. Orszag knew that meant trouble. … The next day, a Friday, he sent a letter to Capitol Hill detailing a proposal he had been more quietly pitching for weeks -- creating a new agency with power to cut spending and implement changes in Medicare, the giant health program for the elderly. He also attached proposed legislative language. It was the most specific that the White House, which has tried to articulate principles and leave details to lawmakers, has been on any aspect of the legislation." 

"It is up to Mr. Orszag to help the president deliver on two bold promises: to provide near-universal health care without adding to a budget deficit already at record levels, and to reduce health-care costs for regular Americans and businesses" (Meckler, 7/24).

In a story headlined "Move over, David Beckham. Bend it like Peter Orszag!" Politico reports that Orszag also deserves credit for the phrase 'bend the cost curve:' "Between 2007 and 2008, while he served as director of the Congressional Budget Office, Orszag routinely used it in congressional testimony. After President Barack Obama tapped Orszag, the president adopted the term to explain his fiscal agenda. In a January interview with CNBC, then President-elect Obama told John Harwood, 'We want to see, are there things that we can do now under my watch to start bending the curve towards a lower deficit?'" (Libit and Abrahamson, 7/24).

Meanwhile, "Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius emerged from a meeting with leading Senate Democrats on Thursday to reiterate President Barack Obama's support for a government-run insurance option as part of health care reform," Roll Call reports. She "argued that the public plan option would fulfill the president's goal of lowering costs and improving access by injecting competition into the health insurance market. Sebelius met with numerous Democratic Senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.)." Sebelius said "'Competition holds down costs; choice is good for consumers. The public option, I think, competing with private plans, can be any number of things. … Absent a public option, you really would have very heavy-handed regulation of people moving in on top of the private market'" (Drucker, 7/23).

And in an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is still trying to pass a health care bill in the House before the August recess. Emanuel said that the August deadline was important because "having a deadline focuses the mind." But "many members of Congress have raised concerns about leaving incomplete legislation unfinished over the summer to be picked apart. Emanuel dismissed the idea that this would bring down the bills, noting that 14,000 people a day lose their health insurance." He also "shrugged off Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-S.C.) comments Wednesday that health care is Obama's 'Waterloo' and remarks Thursday by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) that Republicans are plotting the bill's demise on a 'week by week' basis. 'At least they're honest about their motivation. Their view about health care is about defeating President Obama,' he said. 'Politically, I actually appreciate what they said.'"

Emanuel also said it was important to keep the advocates who have been opposed to reform in the past on board, but "not at all costs. That has been a key part of this." But "at the end of the day, Emanuel expects a bill-signing ceremony. 'We will have a bill by the end of the year for the president to sign on health care that controls costs, expands coverage and provides choice,' Emanuel said. But he declined to predict how, exactly, the president and Congress would get there. 'I don't want to fast forward the movie; you're just gonna have to watch the movie all the way through,' he said" (Fulton, 7/24).

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