Pulpit Bulls

Policy, Politics, and What's In Between

Should Obama NOT Do More On Health Care?

Posted by Eric on June 23, 2009

So says Ezra Klein. Yesterday I worried that Obama needed to get out there and make the case to Senators and the American public about the necessity of reform and a public option, but Ezra thinks this type of argument is misguided:

For now, the White House should have as little to do as possible with the various legislative products. Let the committees absorb the blows of the bad weeks. Let the early coalitions present themselves. Let the Republicans show their strategy in the mark-up sessions. Let the CBO score all the different options. Let the legislature familiarize itself with different revenue options. Wait. Wait and wait and wait. Wait until Congress has pushed this as far upfield as it’s able.

Then open up the White House. Then have Obama on TV. Then have Rahm on the phone with legislators. Then take Olympia Snowe for a ride on Marine One. The White House can exert explosive force on a piece of legislation, but it can only do so effectively for a short period of time. That was the mistake Clinton White House made in 1994. By the time their legislation was near reality, administration officials were so deeply involved that they couldn’t add external momentum. It is not a mistake that Rahm Emmanuel, who watched it all happen firsthand, means to repeat.

That’s a reasonable argument, but I’m not entirely convinced. Though the mistakes of 1994 aren’t being repeated, I worry that the administration may be so jittery about Clinton’s failure at reform that they are making the inverse of Clinton’s errors. Whereas Clinton tried to push a very specific package and froze out many Democrats and the entire Republican caucus, I fear Obama will leave all specifics to congress and yield too much to an obstinate and deeply unpopular Republican caucus. And if the legislature comes to a consensus for a weak and toothless health care package, it may not matter how hard Obama drums support for deeper reforms. Once enough Senators come out on the record against a public plan, it will be an excruciatingly difficult task to force them to back down. And that’s a very real possibility.

This isn’t to say that the administration shouldn’t save a trump card or two for the end, but it would be reassuring if the White House was doing and saying more now.

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