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The Long Game Strategy

"It's always darkest before the dawn," goes the old saying. The Washington version is that it's always darkest before the deal. Legislators have a tendency to seem maximally rebellious in the days before a piece of legislation is actually finished. The reason is intuitive enough: That's when threats have an effect. A Blue Dog who talked down health-care reform six months ago couldn't have gotten a quote in his local paper. A Blue Dog who talks it down now gets a front-pager in Politico and a solicitous phone call from Rahm Emmanuel asking what, exactly, would make the bill more appealing.

And as I argued yesterday, I don't even think it's particularly dark. I seem to be rare in having been quite a bit more pessimistic at other points in the process than I am at this juncture. But either way, it's worth making one point on the White House's agonizing decision to largely hold the president in reserve until this week, and its legislative hardball until conference committee: This isn't a new strategy.

In fact, it's a pattern. It was White House officials' approach to stimulus. It was their approach to the summer months of the general election. It was their approach to the months leading up to Iowa in the primary campaign. They have a habit of holding their fire till long after supporters are screaming for them to enter the fray. They have a tendency to take a long view of a project -- whether that project is a campaign or a bill -- and identify the point of, hopefully, maximal impact, and ignore the calls to respond to bad news cycles that precede that chosen moment. That leaves a lot of their allies in agony as they wait for the White House to defend itself, but it's worked pretty well so far.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 21, 2009; 4:15 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Next: "I Don't Do Policy," Says RNC Chairman Michael Steele

Comments

Bottom line to watch:
- Who is taxed – individual benefits or health care industry or rich people
- MedPAC accepted or not
- Mayo Clinic criticism is heeded or not.

With all the drama and visceral reaction of last few days, the message has reached – Dems and White House must square the ‘price / bill’ head on with no waving of hands in paying costs.

Everything else, as they say, matters least; including ‘darkness or red sky of dawn’.

Posted by: umesh409 | July 21, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

If they had spent the "stimulus" money on getting the price of health care down, instead of propping up companies that don't deserve it, Bush II style, maybe the August snowball wouldn't be melting.

Posted by: staticvars | July 21, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

OK, you're an optimist on this Jason Bourne saga. The amnesia is understandable since in '92 you were a wee tot.

But sometimes being late is fatal: the last train of the night having departed before you got to the station; your date for the night departing with friends to party because you were an hour overdue; etc.

The USA Today/Gallup poll is very ominous:
[hat tip http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/07/poll-obamas-ratings-fall-in-net-negative-territory-on-economy-and-health-care.php?ref=fpb ]

"Obama's overall approval rating is 55%, with 41% disapproval. That might sound solid enough, but in fact it puts him 10th among the 12 post-World War II presidents at the equivalent point in the term."

"On the economy, his approval is 47%, with 49% disapproval, down from a 55%-42% rating in May. On health care policy, he is at 44%-50%, another upside-down rating."

"In addition, 59% say his proposals involve too much spending, and 52% say the proposals call for too much expansion of government power."

The train pulled into the station, whistled 3 times and departed while Obama was in a SUV convoy talking about hoping to make the train. The GOP and reluctant Dems will be talking these poll numbers all through the August break.

Listen carefully to their well-rehearsed line: "The American people have rejected Obama's overreach on health care".

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | July 21, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

The problem with what is going on here IS the viewing of this as a game, by the media and clearly by Obama himself. He sees it as something he personally must win -- meaning, forcing some kind of legislation through by a deadline he imposes. Some people are beginning to see that this attitude is not consistent with wanting what is best for the public. How could it possibly be? How could it be that massive legislation should happen without the president knowing fully what is in it, yet saying it must be done when he says it must be? That is just not the behavior of a president who has the country's best interest at heart. As a game, it truly is about him and whether he can prevail.

Posted by: truck1 | July 22, 2009 9:04 AM | Report abuse

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