As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Obama To "Change Focus," Demand Everything But What The Base Wants

Politico, the Web journalism product with an endless supply of trial balloons, sends another one up for the President, claiming that he will soon become more forceful in the health care debate.

Aides to President Barack Obama are putting the final touches on a new strategy to help Democrats recover from a brutal August recess by specifying what Obama wants to see in a compromise health care deal and directly confronting other trouble spots, West Wing officials tell POLITICO.

Obama is considering detailing his health-care demands in a major speech as soon as next week, when Congress returns from the August recess. And although House leaders have said their members will demand the inclusion of a public insurance option, Obama has no plans to insist on it himself, the officials said.

“We’re entering a new season,” senior adviser David Axelrod said in a telephone interview. “It’s time to synthesize and harmonize these strands and get this done. We’re confident that we can do that. But obviously it is a different phase. We’re going to approach it in a different way. The president is going to be very active.” [...]

On health care, Obama’s willingness to forgo the public option is sure to anger his party’s liberal base. But some administration officials welcome a showdown with liberal lawmakers if they argue they would rather have no health care law than an incremental one. The confrontation would allow Obama to show he is willing to stare down his own party to get things done.

“We have been saying all along that the most important part of this debate is not the public option, but rather ensuring choice and competition,” an aide said. “There are lots of different ways to get there.”

Clinton made a health care speech in a joint session to Congress in, I believe, September of 1993. It helped immensely at the time, and his approval ratings shot up. Obama, by contrast, has done a few prime-time news conferences, but not one address to the American people on television outside of the State of the Union. And that State of the Union was very strong, and it helped him. I don't know why they hadn't thought of this before.

That said, if he gets specific on the issues of insurance regulations and the level of subsidies for the uninsured and an overall price tag and a mechanism to pay for it and a level of income that cannot be taxed, and only "prefers" a public option, people will take notice. It makes sense to have a very specific bill, but hanging the one element that has excited the base out to dry will just intensify anger toward the President. It's not just bad policy, it's bad politics. The base is very dispirited right now, and they'll be the ones out there advocating for a reform bill to the Congress.

At current rates, any 2010 losses would not stem from any resurgence in conservative ideology -- Republicans are simply not making any significant gains anywhere -- but in a loss of confidence in Democrats. There's a way to change that dynamic -- deliver on the promises made the last two election cycles. Failure to do that would make cynics out of too many idealistic political newcomers, while turning off base activists who do the hard on-the-ground work of winning elections.

Seems pretty obvious out here, outside the Beltway, and the numbers bear it out, but there's no indication that Democratic Party leaders in DC -- from Obama to Reid -- are fully aware of how dangerously close they are to setting the stage for an electoral drubbing in 2010.

Because of scheduling, particularly the anniversaries of the Lehman collapse and 9/11, Obama won't be making this speech next week. I would guess it would be close to the September 15 deadline in the Finance Committee. He has time to think about what he wants out of his Presidency. I don't think his slogan was "any bill we can believe in." A firm commitment to every piece of reform except the mechanism to lower insurance costs will make people LESS excited about selling his plan, not more. He needs to understand this. We're not in a triangulating phase anymore.

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