Obama Sets the Ground Rules
President Obama prefaced his push for broad health-care reform today with a 120-person summit at the White House, inviting a gaggle of politicians and wonks, including some of the very people responsible for torpedoing President Clinton’s health-care proposal. Every option, Obama assured the gathered, “is on the table.” Then he proceeded to detail the options that are not.
“The status quo is the one option that is not on the table,” he said in his opening remarks. Also, everyone should have low-price coverage. Sorry, conservative free-marketers. Everyone should be able to keep the health care they’ve got, he said later, insisting that was a principle on which everyone could agree. Except, of course, for single-payer liberals who want private enterprise out of health care. In fact, Obama had tough words for his allies on the left: “I’m talking to you, liberal bleeding hearts out there,” he said in a closing question-and-answer session, warning them that America can’t afford simply to cover everyone without battling back costs.
So why have a summit? First, to appeal to lawmakers’ egos, as he did with his fiscal responsibility conference last week. But the president is also trying to establish the terms of the debate. And he's insisting that consensus has been established on principles that conveniently push policymakers toward his pragmatic position on reform. Obama, who made a point of saying that his campaign-era proposal wasn’t perfect, is probably sincere when he says he wants Congress to fiddle with his stated plans -- perhaps by including a mandate that everyone buy health coverage, which he resisted before the election. Debate the details. But don’t mess with the bottom line.
Little surprise, then, that the president ended with this rhetorical juxtaposition: “I just want be sure I don’t get in the way,” but, “the White House will be providing some guideposts and guidelines” on how best to reform health care. Still unclear is what happens if Congress ignores Obama’s guideposts.
| March 5, 2009; 6:43 PM ET
Categories: Stromberg | Tags: Stephen Stromberg
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