Thursday, August 20, 2009

Is the White House Leaving Congress Behind on Health Care?

While I wrote a bit ago about the "waffling" of the White House on the public option, it seems that it might just be a temporary situation. A mixture of town hall rancor, partisan finger pointing, and Obama's support plummeting at terminal velocity has stopped the Hope-mobile in its tracks. It's only natural that the White House would give a little ground before things get worse for the Democrats. But as Republicans get cocky about their temporary victory, it seems the White House may just go it alone:

President Barack Obama now realizes he probably will have to pass health reform with Democratic votes alone, White House officials say.

The admission is a monumental shift in Washington’s top fight of the year, with the energy now shifting to differences among Democrats, rather than efforts to lure a critical mass of Republicans.


Indeed, splits among Democrats in Congress are also dragging down the chances of successful health care reform, although the administration has held multiple meetings with blue dog democrats, who are concerned about not only the public option but most importantly how to pay for it. With inter- and intraparty conflict weighing down White House hopes of an expeditious bill passage, it the White House has focused on the "moral" side of healthcare:

With his health reform efforts on the ropes, President Barack Obama is courting the religious community with an unabashedly moral message that played little role in the White House’s earlier arguments for changing America’s health care system.

Speaking on a conference call Wednesday evening with what organizers estimated were 140,000 members of churches and religious groups, Obama also suggested that some critics of his health care
proposals were violating the Biblical commandment against lying.

[...]

In an odd bit of messaging, Obama urged the religious communities, many of which offer outreach and even sanctuary to illegal aliens, not to believe reports that health reform would cover foreigners in the U.S. illegally.

“That’s not true. It does not provide health insurance for those individuals,” Obama said.

Obama also insisted the plan would not provide government funding for abortion.


A couple interesting things to note: Obama, like most figures in American politics, is using a normative approach to his campaign when justification on empirical grounds has failed. Additionally, instead of making his moral approach universal, he's turning to religion. Like Bush, Obama is trying to whip up religious fervor in what he hopes will become another American moral crusade.

Secondly, Obama here is not trying to appeal to progressives. He is trying to focus on an interest group that contains a good deal of both conservatives and liberals, but tend to lean more towards the middle or right.

Lastly, what of the public option?

During the afternoon call, Obama did not address the hottest issues in the health reform debate at the moment: whether the White House-backed plan will include a government-run health plan open to all Americans, known as the “public option.”

Before Obama spoke, his domestic policy adviser, Melody Barnes, did get a question about the president’s stance. She did not answer it immediately, but later returned to the subject. She assured participants that Obama still supports a public option, though she said there might also be other ways to reduce costs and give Americans more choices.


Like I said, his backpedaling is only temporary. Could he be leaving Congress behind? It wouldn't surprise me if the White House distances itself from the finger-pointing and shouting in Congress while formulating a strategy to regroup successfully. But is this what he means by post-partisan or non-partisan politics? Clearly not. This is more indicative of what has been for at least 70 years an imperial presidency.

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