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That looks sort of, but not exactly, like White House leadership

gibbspointsJPG.JPG

Ask and ye shall receive, I guess. The White House came out with their clearest statement yet on the effort to achieve the public option through the reconciliation process: “There are some that are supportive of this,” Robert Gibbs said. “[But] there isn’t enough political support in the majority to get this through.”

For supporters of the strategy, that's not going to be very satisfying: Maybe there would be more supporters if the president took up the cause! It will also intensify the efforts of activists who want to prove that there is sufficient support, which means individual senators will be under even more pressure to sign the letter, which means this isn't likely to go away quietly. The White House is using the Senate as a sort of human shield here.

For opponents of the strategy, Gibbs's comments will be taken as evidence that the White House opposes the effort. I think that's actually the right interpretation, particularly given that Gibbs later emphasized Obama's intention to discuss "consensus ideas" Thursday, but it would be nice if the White House would just say what it means rather than leaving people to guess.

Photo credit: By Charles Dharapak/Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  February 23, 2010; 2:41 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Next: Numbers take time

Comments

The politicians can discuss the public option at the summit, on television.

Obama has actually played the whole healthcare thing pretty well so far, though he made a few minor mistakes last year.

The "oppose/favor" on healthcare continues to close the spread:

http://www.pollster.com/polls/us/healthplan.php

as I predicted here two months ago. Another prediction: a month after the summit, the spread could close to 4 or 5%, almost statistically insignificant.

P.S. One thing the Republicans can do is throw out a complicated policy idea, and make the President jump to a response with some wonky insider stuff. The President should be clear throughout the summit when he is changing between speaking like a normal person, and going into his wonkspeak. If the Republicans throw him a technical curveball and he responds by sounding like some heartless Washington policy insider, the public is going to hate it.

Posted by: Lee_A_Arnold | February 23, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Looks like shell-shock to me.

Posted by: leoklein | February 23, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

The "public option" boomlet has conspicuously neglected to mention what "public option" they're talking about. The "full Medicare rates" one that never made it out of committee? The one that (barely) passed the House? The "opt-in" that never passed the Senate? The "Medicare buy-in" compromise?

It's really amazing to see so much energy over a purely theoretical concept. And one that's unlikely to make much (if any) difference to the end bill.

In any case, get mad now. Next week, we'll still need to pass the bill.

Posted by: dailykos2 | February 23, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Ayup. Atrios was right to say that the administration's non-committal position made it perfectly clear that the PO was never gonna happen. The PO died back in August, frankly.

And Digby is correct to observe, as she did last week, that the Dem leadership is playing a very dangerous game with the base by resurrecting the possibility of a PO only to toss it away again. But they've played that game all along for reasons that remain cryptic. Did they think healthcare reform was something they could screw up and the base wouldn't bat an eye? Boggles the mind.

Bottom line, though: Pelosi doesn't have the votes in the House. At least the long national nightmare is drawing to an end.

Posted by: scarlota | February 23, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Love your writing, Ezra. But is it really so hard in this instance to read between the lines? The White House doesn't think the public option is worth the uphill battle so late in the game. And they're right. They've already lost too much political capital to bring in what has become a particularly controversial component of health care reform and try and get it in via reconciliation. As much as they may not want to admit it, public option proponents lost the messaging battle. The Republicans succeeded in defining the public option as a big government takeover, and the Democrats failed to effectively rebut that charge. There are consequences to losing those battles. The left wing of the Democratic Party is going to have to swallow its pride, pass the package without the public option, and live to fight this fight another day.

Posted by: sdavis1979 | February 23, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, looks like you are finally realizing that the king has flaws. You are correct to point out that Obama has failed to lead in anything. He left healthcare to Poison Pelosi (who got too greedy) and has never pulled his head out of the sand! Gibbs, too, is a joke as a press secretary....so pomous! Obama "double-talked" his way through the election; but has found it difficult to pull off now that "this dog has caught the bus!" Taxpayers don't trust simply because they don't understand!

visit: http://eclecticramblings.wordpress.com

Posted by: my4653 | February 23, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

I was really hoping for a healthcare bill that increases taxes for everyone and stifles economic growth. What are the odds of getting that through Congress?

Posted by: fallsmeadjc | February 23, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

It is hard to think that Obama and team don't know how absolutely spineless their actions make them look - unless they are completely in the isolation ward or want to look spineless.

This is NOT the change we need and the change Obama PROMISED.

Jimmy Carter looks like a world class leader of his country compared to this administration's give in the bully approach.

I am so disappointed, that words can't do it justice. I can't imagine voting for any Repub or Indep. that might make a national candidate. But I can't imagine voting for Barry the Coward either.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | February 23, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

In other words: "Please don't make us live up to our promises! We secretely promised the lobbyists that we would drop this at the last minute to get 60 votes, and we risk being exposed as liars."

Next, we'll have a energy bill that pays polluters billions to not reduce pollution -- and their lobbyists will be happy, too!

We've already done a jobs bill that is basically a corporate tax break! Can't you give us some credit for being progressive?

Posted by: rat-raceparent | February 23, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

sdavis wrote: "As much as they may not want to admit it, public option proponents lost the messaging battle. The Republicans succeeded in defining the public option as a big government takeover"

That's about as dead-wrong as you can get. The PO is the most popular part of heath reform. Just because news channels (that collect $$$ from health insurers) repeated that lie, doesn't mean the country didn't see right through it. We did. And, we want the PO!

Support for this bill collapsed when the dems caved and gave the PO up. Maybe that was the plan all along, I suspect it was. But, that is when support for health reform collapsed. When insurers bought their golden ticket to gouge the heck out of us...

Posted by: rat-raceparent | February 23, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

"there isn’t enough political support in the majority to get this through"

That's it?!? They're moving on just because they can't pass it?!? What kind of progressives are they?!?

Posted by: ostap666 | February 23, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

"P.S. One thing the Republicans can do is throw out a complicated policy idea, and make the President jump to a response with some wonky insider stuff. The President should be clear throughout the summit when he is changing between speaking like a normal person, and going into his wonkspeak. If the Republicans throw him a technical curveball and he responds by sounding like some heartless Washington policy insider, the public is going to hate it."

Lee,

I agree that the smartest thing the Republicans could do would be to show up with a basketful of oddball complicated ideas nobody has ever seen before that would leave Obama and the Dems tongue-tied and scratching their heads.

But, since that would be the smart play and since we are taking about Republicans, I expect that instead they will sing the same tired old songs they have sung all year about having been shut out, and backroom deals, and the need to start from scratch.

Only a tiny percentage of the public will actually see this thing in its entirety, so a big question will be how the (truly) mainstream media selectively soundbites it and spins it.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 23, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, it's gutless of you not to say YOU are against the public option too, since that is what you are calling on them to say, even though I hardly see where there is room for confusion in what they have no said. Or do you think they should be waltzing into a bipartisan summit having caved to their base? WTF?

I think the summit is unbelievably dumb, and it would be fine with me if they'd just get behind the PO and do reconciliation without a communications strategy. Of course, without that I'm not sure a bill should pass. YOU really should be clear whether YOU think the summit was a good strategy, and then regardless of that, say whether YOU think the WH should kill the PO boomlet dead, or embrace it going into the summit and why. Because while you don't need to lead the effort, your JOB is to analyze and expound on what should be done. YOU'RE being just as -- nay more -- coy than they are, and you have no good excuse at all!

Beyond that, I simply don't understand what you are saying the consequences of their being noncommittal up until now (or even ongoing, depending where you are actually coming down on that question in this post) are? What is going to happen that is so bad?

Posted by: michaeljamesdrew | February 23, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps the political pressure will break in much the same way as it did before, and end up with a Medicare expansion, but without Droopy Joe able to kill it this time?

Speaking as a progressive, that would be my ideal (realistic) outcome. I'd rather expand the system that does work than invent a new one that probably won't.

Posted by: burndtdan | February 23, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Not arguing against it, not arguing that it's bad politics, the only defense is their own impotence.

The Democrats do love to seem weak, don't they?

Posted by: adamiani | February 23, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

WTF? It's started already??

"Hoyer: Comprehensive health bill may be no go"

By ERICA WERNER, Associated Press Writer Erica Werner, Associated Press Writer – 1 min ago

Posted by: onewing1 | February 23, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Okay... seems to me that the President did take up the banner supporting the 'public option:"

+ all through the campaign,

+ in his first "non-State of the Union" address shortly after being inaugurated,

+ as the House and Senate embarked on this process last spring,

+ throughout the summer while people were all "wee-weed" up over the phony "death panels' and town halls,

+ at the speech given to the joint session of Congress on healthcare (you remember, the speech he had to give to "keep hope alive," and where Joe Wilson of SC channeled his inner "Big Daddy" and teleported himself back to the days of Jim Crow and cats on hot tin roofs, "You Lie!"),

+ as the House passed their version around Thanksgiving

+ despite the Senate passing a bill without it on Christmas Eve,

+ and every time he's been asked since.

So if after all of that, the House and Senate still cannot pass a "public option" or reconcile their differences WITH it in the final compromise version they worked on before the WH announced the bipartisan summit, why does the President need to come out now? He's been there all along and they haven't been able to do it.

So at this late hour, I think the President is saying, "We'll start without it, and if we get far enough -- and you guys and gals prove YOU really want it in the bill -- I'll help you get there. But if you don't, here's the compromise package I want to see."

Posted by: jade_7243 | February 23, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Yep, well said, jade.

Posted by: michaeljamesdrew | February 23, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

As far as bipartisan theatre, isn't it more useful for the president to be pulled from the left as well as the right?

It's all to his and Democrats advantage if progressive legislators give him a hard time about the PO during the health care summit.

The House has to pass the bills so in the end it is their decision.

Posted by: philogratis | February 24, 2010 5:48 AM | Report abuse

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