Obama’s Focus On Health Care Crucial To Reform
"After a week of international diplomacy, President Obama returns to Washington this week facing an even greater diplomatic challenge: nudging the large and controversial health-care reform package toward consensus on Capitol Hill," The Washington Post reports. Despite media reports of challenges including "the virtual wall of opposition among Republicans," "resistance among conservative Blue Dog Democrats over the potential cost," and "nervousness among progressives that the White House might compromise too much on a public insurance option," officials at the White House "remain publicly optimistic." White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said that the issues are just part of "the nature of what we're doing," and that "we've never, on universal coverage, been this close to the goal line."
But "an administration loyalist who is deep into the health-care battle, and who was decidedly more optimistic a few weeks ago, offered a counter to Emanuel's assessment. 'I think the headlines are accurate,' he said. 'Things are not going as well as I would have liked for a lot of reasons.'" The Post reports that "pessimists are also correct in asserting that the battle has reached a critical stage and that, after significant movement earlier in the year, there are fissures opening up that threaten the prospects of crossing the goal line." The Obama administration has managed to keep stakeholders at the table and ad wars at bay, but "Part of the administration's success in keeping everyone involved, however, has relied on deferring the hardest decisions," such as how to pay for reform, "and that has disrupted the earlier momentum" in Congress (Balz, 7/12).
Meanwhile, USA Today reports that the August deadline for reform is increasingly in jeopardy. "Obama sought that deadline based on the belief that come fall, members of Congress will be focused on re-election campaigns and won't want to work on potentially controversial legislation. Near the end of last week's trip to Russia, Italy and Ghana, Obama told reporters that he doesn't consider August a 'do-or-die' deadline. But "I really want to get it done by the August recess." Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius "said Sunday that the White House will not mircromanage Congress. Any plan to overhaul the system 'needs to be owned by the House and the Senate," she told CNN's "State of the Union."
But "Some analysts question that strategy. 'The White House has trusted delegation as their political strategy; they're leaving it to the legislators,' says Darrell West, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution think tank. 'I think the White House really needs to show leadership, and I think if they did that many Democrats would follow.' Obama has speeches planned this week in New York and Michigan, and he said he will try to calm anxiety" (Hall, 7/13).
Bloomberg: "Grappling over how to pay for the bill and how much of a role government should play in insurance, Senate Democrats are increasingly saying they want Obama at the table," but "Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff, countered in an interview that some senators are 'quite happy about them doing their job, and the president doing his job.' Emanuel himself has gotten more engaged, visiting Capitol Hill at least twice last week. He met with House Democrats to assure them Obama was in favor of a government-sponsored insurance plan to compete with industry players such as Hartford, Connecticut-based Aetna Inc." (Jensen and Chen, 7/13).
Roll Call: "Despite President Barack Obama's claim Friday that the White House has jumped 'with both feet' into the ongoing health care negotiations, Capitol Hill critics are charging the president with treading too lightly and warned that a heavier hand is needed to keep the process on track. Although some disagree, Senate Democratic sources expressed worries in recent days that the push for health care reform could drown in a sea of Democratic infighting and Republican opposition without more direct presidential involvement. Lobbyists monitoring the health care talks - and some lawmakers - agreed.
'If this is your top domestic agenda item, you've got to get your hands dirty,' a senior Democratic Senate aide said. 'If you look historically, there's been too much White House involvement. This time, there hasn't been enough.'" (Drucker, 7/13).