Obama Set to Engage on Health Care
“We’re entering a new season,” senior presidential adviser David Axelrod told Politico. “It’s time to synthesize and harmonize these strands and get this done." That will begin as early as next week, when President Obama puts his full weight into health-care reform. It will begin, as these things often do, with a speech. Not a town hall, or a press conference, or a Q&A, but a speech. Early word is that it will happen either in the Oval Office or before a Joint Session of Congress. It will be the first time Obama has the full force and symbolism of the office to define the debate on health care.
On some level, this was always the plan. Bill Clinton exhausted his political capital early. He began health-care reform by giving a speech and developing his own bill. That meant he had no capacity to change the dynamics once Congress got hold of the legislation. The Obama administration, conversely, has purposefully avoided a major address or an articulation of specifics. That way, they hoped, they could keep Obama's political capital relatively separate from the first phases of the reform fight, and then use it to push whatever Congress developed across the finish line.
The problem is that Obama hasn't managed to wall himself off from health-care reform. Since he didn't propose a bill, he got tied to the House bill. Since he didn't forcefully enter the debate, the media reported on his news conferences and town hall meetings as if they were the White House's failed attempts to set the agenda. Obama's popularity has fallen and support for "his" bill — a bill that doesn't exist — has plummeted.
Objectively, the fact that he hasn't given a speech on health-care reform or defined his own bill or begun to really pressure the Congress means, in practice, that he has a lot left of tools left in his toolbox. What's not clear is whether he has the political capital left to use them effectively, or whether the last few months saw him robbed of something he hadn't even had a chance to use.
Photo credit: By Charles Dharapa — Associated Press
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