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Obama offers the case against paring the bill back

bhoside.JPGFrom his interview with George Stephanopoulos:

If you ask the American people about health care, one of the things that drives them crazy is insurance companies denying people coverage because of preexisting conditions. Well, it turns out that if you don't -- if you don't make sure that everybody has health insurance, then you can't eliminate insurance companies -- you can't stop insurance companies from discriminating against people because of preexisting conditions. Well, if you're going to give everybody health insurance, you've got to make sure it's affordable. So it turns out that a lot of these things are interconnected.

Now, I could have said, well, we'll just do what's safe. We'll just take on those things that are completely noncontroversial. The problem is the things that are noncontroversial end up being the things that don't solve the problem. And this is true on every issue.

The interview is classic Obama: Measured, calm, analytical. In a sense, it's comforting. But in another sense, it's not. It's easy enough to see what Obama thinks should be done. But he explicitly shies away from saying what Congress should do, and why. Having explained why paring the bill back won't work, he never says that it shouldn't be done.

Indeed, much of the interview reads like a very smart political analyst offering a powerless but perceptive summary of the situation in Congress. Obama clearly understands what's going on in the country and what animates his policy agenda. The question is what is he going to do about it, or maybe more to the point, what is he going to be seen to be doing about it?

At this juncture, perceptions and narratives are important, and one of the few people in the country who could impact the conversation over health-care reform is instead commenting smartly on what's driving it. But anybody can do that job. I can do that job. Obama has bigger fish to fry.

Photo credit: Susan Walsh/AP.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 21, 2010; 10:41 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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My main concern with Obama has been whether he has the backbone to move the national agenda on key issues and get things done.

The answer appears to be "no."

I'd really like to see him speak with passion about why we need to pass healthcare reform now.

Posted by: fuse | January 21, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

I remember the turning point for Obama. After New Hampshire he stopped giving those big, passionate barnburner speeches and instead settled for Mr. Spock-ness. I think he calculated that white people would feel more comfortable with a black man if he didn't display a lot of passion, but I also think this incarnation is truer to his self.

It doesn't matter. He needs to turn on the vision and passion. It's what we need from leaders.

Posted by: wagster | January 21, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

dear president obama

for the sake of the country, what is left of the frayed workings of our congress, for the health and welfare of your suffering and ill fellow americans, for the spirit, morale and hope that this country needs to move forward, and for the bond you have with those who worked so hard for your candidacy, please do everything in your power to get this health care reform bill passed as quickly possible.
though there may be other alternatives, the will, resolve and patience of the american people will not outlast the process and the consequences will be like shark-infested waters.
precious time has been spent on this, when there are so many other issues that need fixing and attention, please help us to move forward quickly and at least begin health care reform.
at this late point, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.please dont let hope crumble. we must act now.

Posted by: jkaren | January 21, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

A serious question here. What makes you think that Obama is not pushing for what Congress should do BEHIND THE SCENES? Would it not be very counter-productive for Obama to be seen publicly "bossing around" Pelosi and Reid - as if he could?
To me, embarassing powerful people in public does not seem to be a smart thing to do. It might make for good teevee and get the pundits talking about how forceful you are, but it doesn't sound like good politics to me.

Posted by: donovong | January 21, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I think that someone needs to LEAD the party at this point - to convince the country that passing the bill is the right decision, but more critically to convince house democrats that this is the right decision. Obama is the leader of the democratic party, and the only person with the political capital and charisma to do so.

Reid and Pelosi already appear to favor passage of the senate bill. I am sure they would APPRECIATE some help from BO. There should really never have been a question of NOT passing the bill. That there is such vacillation is a testament to the democrats essential weakness.

Obama needs to lead the way and get this bill passed ASAP - apart from the fact that it's the right thing to do for the country and the party it will also rewrite the narrative around the MA loss.

Democrats need to develop some backbone to go with their principles. Strong and wrong is not good (Republicans) however right(er) but too weak to get anything done is no better!

Posted by: lazza11 | January 21, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Lead, dammit! Lead!

Why do I get the feeling that Obama thinks of himself as a junior senator who doesn't have the stones to speak up and tell his more seasoned colleagues what should be done?

Posted by: JEinATL | January 21, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

I couldn't be more disappointed in President Obama, a man I gave money and time to electing in 2008. The cowardice of the Democrats in Congress is breathtaking.

Posted by: mayelinden | January 21, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Obama knows if the bill passes like it is he's a one termer.

Posted by: obrier2 | January 21, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

No 'donovong'; there is no such thing which is likely to happen that Obama is working behind the screen with Congress. He would have talked differently and that would have needed.

I think I am with Paul Krugman here - 'give up on Obama'.

He is showing remarkable political instinct to 'immolate' himself - in stead of making strong political stance and leadership.

I am afraid, but it seems he is like Skywalker turning into Darth Vaer - succumbing to dark Forces. The more we delude ourselves about this President that he will bring Domestic Reform (I am fine with his Foreign Policy); we will have more disappointment down the line.

His Banking Reforms - he will have to prove that it is more than some simple talk. But the way he is leaving his supporters and his own HCR bill to 'dogs'; there are no hopes.

The hope guy has vanished. Nothing much to believe there. Ted Kennedy torch did not pass to this man called Barack Obama.

After Katrian, most Americans stopped believing we had a President and Bush became 'lame duck'. With what all that Obama is doing, he is on that way...

Posted by: umesh409 | January 21, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

It's 24 hrs post election. This is not the venue to give away the sausage-making strategy. Look, I think he made a mistake in not being more vocal and passionate explaining the sub-parts of the bill but today is not the time to gee up the populace. The calmative effect *was* the aim here. Settle down the newscycle bleating for sensation and get back to business: a lot of backroom intra- and inter-party talks/strategies will no doubt be canvassed in the days ahead.

Posted by: peackles | January 21, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Obama's failure to seize the moment is breathtaking.

It is plainly clear that he does not understand two important things: (a) how thing get done in Washington, and (b) the role of the president in framing the conversation. He looks silly at best waiting around powerless to do anything while Congress dithers. He's the freaking PRESIDENT! Do something, for chrissakes.

The way things are going, the 2008 election and his presidency will go down as the greatest missed opportunity in our lifetimes. Maybe he'll be just a tragic figure. Too bad we're stuck with him.

And fwiw, the last thing we need from HIM is reasoned analysis. I don't want to hear about his diappointment either. I want to see him ANGRY. I want him to FIGHT! (But I don't know if he has it in him.)

Posted by: JJF44 | January 21, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

*The hope guy has vanished. *

I would not say that Obama has "turned to the dark side" or "vanished." Instead, I would argue the opposite-- that Obama has displayed all of the weaknesses here that he was suspected of having: not having enough fight in him, staying too much above the fray, not having any interest in driving the narrative.

Posted by: constans | January 21, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

'peackles' fair enough to say that. But this is not early months in 2008 where we could 'buy' into this story. This after repeated dead lines last year for HCR were blown through; this was after months were wasted in Summer in not answering calls of 'death panel' and chasing Grassley and Snow; this after Reid wastes crucial months chasing PO; this is after Obama failed to bring any significant measure to help Small Businesses to get Credit; and so on.

Man - where is the credibility left here? I support Obama policy of not pursuing Public Option, but huge number of Base is gone with that. Next Labor accepted many compromises to get 'excise tax'. And now the last group of Left Base who stayed with Obama in supporting this HCR, all those persuaded with Ezra for still believing this thing called HCR, that group is also on the road for dogs to eat.

You see as many have pointed, the basic compact between Politicians and their base is broken here. President Obama does not care for how people backed him, why people backed him and now he is betraying them. The real tragedy is if he is under the impression that by doing that (pissing the base) he is bringing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (that Rahm who carries that impression and he advises the President); that is not true. We all see the path on which President is, it is a train wreck.

Posted by: umesh409 | January 21, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

*I support Obama policy of not pursuing Public Option*

Bargaining away the public option as the first available chit was what got us into this situation in the first place. Umesh, you really have tried to portray yourself as the "reasonable Democrat," and that just makes your arguments sound weaker because it's this milquetoast attitude that got the Dems into this situation to begin with.

The *reason* there's little credibility left is because the party was really willing to bargain away just about everything and by the end, acted perfectly happy to give up.

Posted by: constans | January 21, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

It's amazing how often even our most astute analysts forget that Congress is a seperate branch of government - in fact, the legislative branch. Everyone talks about what Obama should "do". But all he can "do" is talk, threaten and cajole. Congress needs to ACT. Who knows what goes on behind the scenes, but Obama talks like a President that our Constitution actually called for. But oh how we crave to be led.

Posted by: ashulman1 | January 21, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

If the votes weren't there in the Senate, then they weren't there in the Senate. That's not Obama's fault. If Specter hadn't switched parties and voted with his former party, it's doubtful we'd be hearing all this Obama criticism because people would be blaming Republicans--because the votes weren't there.

But I still fault to some extent Obama for other reasons. As T.R. Reid says in his book "The Healing Of America," all of our peer nations have decided that everyone should have access to affordable, quality health care. Once one makes that fundamental decision, there are different ways to structure the system. But that decision has to be made first.

But we were never asked to make that decision. Instead, the debate turned into "what's in it for me?" And when 85% seem happy with what they have, you've got an uphill argument. Now, that argument can still be made: you could lose your job and become one of the uninsured; your premiums could and will keep going up far faster than you can afford; your employer will eventually stop offering insurance when it gets too expensive; failure to get a handle on medical expenses will ruin households, businesses, and government budgets. But these are not "here and now" concerns and so may not carry much weight. And they are ancillary to the basic question of what values we have as a society.

Right now, our society allows people to die because they can't get access to health care because they can't get insurance. If that's the choice we're making, we should admit it and put health care reform aside. But someone has to make us realize that we're making that choice. If Obama has pushed that aspect, perhaps the other arguments would have been easier to make.

Posted by: dasimon | January 21, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

You're the President! Be a leader. Stop reacting to Congress and make them react to you. Demand that the House pass the Senate bill. Demand it because universal coverage is the core principle of the Democratic party. Demand it because not to do so ensures Democrats go down in flames in November.

Demand it because it is the right thing to do!

If you don't, you'll demoralize millions of voters like myself.

You're not a professor anymore. You're the president.

Posted by: orteleus | January 21, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

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