Why Barack Obama Should Sit Back and Wait
A lot of commentators are beginning to call for President Obama to take charge of health care directly. Put on your fierce face with Congress, advises Michael Tomasky. Bang some heads together, agrees Todd Gitlin. Be Lyndon Johnson, urges Robert Reich.
Don't, says Ezra Klein.
At least, not yet. It's true that last week was a bit grim on the health-care front. But amid the bad news, there was an encouraging trend: The damage was localized. David Gregory's tweets notwithstanding, the HELP Committee's CBO fumble was understood as ... the HELP Committee's CBO fumble. The Finance Committee's decision to wait a bit longer on health reform was understood as internal to the Finance Committee. The Tri-Committee proposal out of the House was covered as the lower chamber's opening bid.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton exhausted his political capital guiding the development of the legislation. Barack Obama, by contrast, has saved his to push for its passage. Once Finance and HELP and the House Tri-Committee have laid down their markers, then the White House will, and should, get involved. They'll have to figure out which edges need to be sanded off for political passage and which priorities are too important to sacrifice on the altar of senatorial ego. But there's no reason to rush that moment. For now, the White House should have as little to do as possible with the various legislative products. Let the committees absorb the blows of the bad weeks. Let the early coalitions present themselves. Let the Republicans show their strategy in the mark-up sessions. Let the CBO score all the different options. Let the legislature familiarize itself with different revenue options. Wait. Wait and wait and wait. Wait until Congress has pushed this as far upfield as it's able.
Then open up the White House. Then have Obama on TV. Then have Rahm on the phone with legislators. Then take Olympia Snowe for a ride on Marine One. The White House can exert explosive force on a piece of legislation, but it can only do so effectively for a short period of time. That was the mistake Clinton White House made in 1994. By the time their legislation was near reality, administration officials were so deeply involved that they couldn't add external momentum. It is not a mistake that Rahm Emmanuel, who watched it all happen firsthand, means to repeat.
Related: The lessons of 1994.
Photo credit: Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press Photo
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