8 a.m. ET: What was only theoretical yesterday morning is reality today, as President Obama now has firm plans to address a joint session of Congress on health care next Wednesday night. But while the schedule may now be clear, the substance isn't yet.
Is it possible that the centerpiece of Obama's "new strategy" is simply selling the public -- and, more importantly, the press -- on the idea that there is a new strategy? The New York Times reports that administration aides said Obama "would be more specific than he has been to date about what he wants included in the plan" but is "unlikely to unveil a detailed legislative plan of his own." David Axelrod, the public face of this strategy shift, said listeners to Obama's speech would get "a clear sense of what he proposes and what health care reform is not." Does that mean much of the address will again involve knocking down "myths" about death panels and the like? Beyond the public insurance option, will Obama rule anything else in or out next week?
It's not surprising that the White House is unwilling to telegraph exactly what Obama is going to say a week before the address. It's likely that Obama himself doesn't know yet what he's going to say; reportedly, he only just decided Tuesday to speak to Congress instead of holding a prime-time press conference or an Oval Office address. But the administration does risk setting itself up for failure, raising expectations for a fresh-sounding speech laden with specifics that could end up being dismissed by reporters -- who have been covering health care nonstop for months -- as nothing new or special.
USA Today notes, "Only twice in the past 16 years has a president addressed Congress on a single topic" -- Bill Clinton in 1993 on health care, and George W. Bush in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks. Mickey Kaus argues that Obama's previous big public moments on health care showed him to be "stunningly ineffective as a salesman -- especially when it came to reassuring seniors worried about rationing," and that "the speech itself seems a sign of weakness." The timing of this speech, the AP writes, "underscores the determination of the White House to confront critics of Obama's overhaul proposals" and also indicates "that top Democrats have all but given up hope for a bipartisan breakthrough by Senate Finance Committee negotiators."
Multiple reports suggest that the White House plans to increase its courtship of Olympia Snowe, the lone GOP member of the Gang of Six who still sounds amenable to a deal. Get familiar with the concept of "the Snowe trigger": Marc Ambinder writes that administration aides "are floating the idea" to reporters that Obama is "secretly negotiating with ... Snowe over a health care compromise that would phase in a government-funded health care alternative if private insurance companies fail to meet quality and cost benchmarks over a certain period of the time." The Wall Street Journal reports "the overhaul under discussion would include a requirement for most individuals to buy insurance; a federally operated exchange where individuals and small businesses could buy insurance; and tax credits to help people buy plans." Ezra Klein says there are two different camps within the White House, one that's "focused on preserving the basic shape of the bill" and a universal plan, and one that "believes the bill needs to be scaled back sharply in order to ensure passage."
Another day brings another new poll casting Obama's performance to date on health care in a negative light. The latest CNN/Opinion Research survey showed 48 percent of respondents in favor of Obama's reform plans and 51 percent opposed, though those numbers are relatively unchanged since CNN's June survey. (One explanation for why selling reform has been difficult: The poll also found that 87 percent of respondents believe the U.S. economy is still in recession.) The WSJ takes a broad look at how Obama's health-care push "went astray," concluding that "the president and his allies may have 'overlearned' the lessons of" Clinton's health-care failure, working hard to win the support of industry stakeholders" while paying too little attention to "the wooing of public opinion."
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