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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.

By Stephen Stromberg  | March 5, 2009; 6:43 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Next: Rove and Miers in the Hot Seat, Finally


If he didn't provide any guideposts or guidance he would be accused of letting the discussion run amok and not providing leadership. Helping frame the conversation doesn't have to equate to getting in the way. You're making unjustified inferences.

Posted by: jcindy | March 5, 2009 9:44 PM | Report abuse

"perhaps by including a mandate that everyone buy health coverage,..."


Before he tells me what I have to spend money on, he needs to fix it so I can get a job first. How can I buy health insurance? I live in the woods and steal electricity and wireless internet service.

If I could afford health insurance, I'd have bought it already.

I have hepatitis C, which is both fatal and curable, but years after they invented a cure, I still have to die from it because I can't afford the shots.

That's really, REALLY sick.

-- faye kane, homeless brain
See more of my smartmouth opinions at

Posted by: FayeKane_HomelessSmartypants | March 5, 2009 11:15 PM | Report abuse

Every option is on the table that we put there, everyone will have input whom we ask and the legislature should feel welcome to wordsmith our proposal a little. That outreach for a new millenium.

Posted by: dpascover | March 6, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

The ground rules have been set, the players are in position,the planet is still revolving,so why are we so,so deep in debt?What happened to My Country?Someone please answer me,and don't use Mr.Bush as an excuse,He's gotten blamed for the Chicago Fire,The Sinking Of the TITANIC,Eruption of Mt. ST.HELENS.I want to know ,how can a 47 year old man run a 233 year old country,juggle with trillions and trillions of dollars with 2 years in the Senate 2 years on the campaign trail,community organizing,and a lifetime of lessons from Rev.Wright?Did I miss something,Where is the POLITICAL EXPERIENCE?

Posted by: brunonbaby | March 7, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

This is one case when Obama is dead wrong. He seems to believe that it will be very expensive to improve our rotten health care system. Actually there's a way we can have better universal health care at no more than we are now paying (see 5. below). Here are the facts (cf.

1. We waste $100 - $200 Billion a year on the high overhead of insurance companies.
2. We waste 200 - $400 Billion a year on doctors filling out forms for insurance companies.
3. I don't know the compliance cost of patients fighting with insurance companies, but it must also be in the 100's of Billions.
4. We pay the highest drug cost in the world to drug companies that spend twice as much on profit and three times as much on "marketing" as they spend on research.
5. Because of the above, we could give Super Medicare (few limitations, no co-pays, no deductibles and complete drug coverage) to everyone at no more cost per person than we are now paying.

Other countries with single payer systems get better health care as measured by all the basic public health statistics and they do it at less than half the cost per person. If we build on our rotten system, we will get a health care system with rotten foundations.

Posted by: lensch | March 10, 2009 7:05 PM | Report abuse

"What happened to My Country? Someone please answer me,and don't use Mr.Bush as an excuse."

"Wall St. got drunk." Don't you remember?
And now the country is under new management: the campaign is over, and the Republicans lost the election. Funny you should mention "experience." At seven weeks Obama is outperforming Bush at seven years. At this rate, by the end of his first year he'll have cleaned St. Ronnie's clock.

Posted by: fzdybel | March 11, 2009 12:55 AM | Report abuse

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