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6/23/2009
HEALTH CARE DEBATE IN CONGRESS: WHERE IS OBAMA?

This should be worrisome to Democrats and Obama partisans because it is the essence of governing; getting things done in Congress.

The fact is, since the stimulus bill passed, only one or two of Obama’s major agenda items or policy prescriptions has made it to the floor of the House or Senate - yet. Climate change - a much watered down version of what the president wanted (itself evidence that he is not fighting for his agenda with the usual vigor that presidents are wont to employ on centerpiece agenda items) is due to hit the floor of the House this week but other than that, the list of legislative initiatives in limbo is a long one:

1. EFCA. Despite pouring half a billion into his election campaign and those of other Democrats, unions are still having a devil of a time coming up with a legislative majority in either body.

2. TARP II. Dead in the water with no visible movement from the White House in getting it restarted.

3. Cap and Trade. This was the centerpiece of Obama’s climate change bill and was supposed to fund the health care initiative to the tune of some $700 billion. Alas, farm state lawmakers whose utility companies would be forced to charge out of sight prices for electricity have so watered down the program (and the senate is set to make even more drastic changes - perhaps even scrapping cap and trade altogether) that it not only won’t be bringing in much revenue but it won’t do what it’s advertised to do.

4. Immigration reform. Nowhere on the radar except for a vague promise to bring it up later this year.

5.. Health care. Several versions still moving through Congress.

The common thread in all of these initiatives is a lack of effort from the president to shape the debate in his own party. He has been very comfortable in allowing Congress their heads in forming legislation with very little obvious input from the president.

Bush was engaged on his major initiatives, with Karl Rove acting almost like a committee chairman at times in helping to shape legislation. Obama’s team is very adept at politics but I have yet to see the kind of engagement from the White House on legislation that a president needs in order to get most of what he wants.

Yes, the president tries to “sell” his programs. But his efforts are better suited to the campaign trail than the Big Chair in the Oval Office. The nitty gritty of “herding cats” in Congress is a matter that takes a lot of effort. And I allow for the idea that I may be mistaken, but I don’t see that effort forthcoming from the president or his top aides.

He appears to be most effective (from his point of view) where only the executive branch is involved. The auto takeovers and subsequent bankruptcies of Chrysler and GM have gone smoothly. Part of the reason there was some effective pressure put on the principles that smacked of goon tactics at times. Presidents bust heads in their own administration but the real test is in how they can cajole, plead, threaten, and reason with Congressmen in order to get what they want.

You would think a lot more would have been done in 6 months given the economic crisis and the administration’s admitted excuse to use it as a club to pass what they see is necessary legislation. Obama has imparted no sense of urgency to legislation (except for the stim bill), nor has he sought to leave many fingerprints on bills moving through committee.

Michael Tomasky argues pretty much the same thing in the Guardian and Steven Benen puts it into plainer language:

Tomasky’s argument, then, suggests it’s time to expand the elements these Dems are afraid of, and include the popular president. It’s time, Tomasky says, for Obama to show he can “scare people.”

Obviously, different approaches would be needed with different senators. There’s probably not too much the White House can do to scare Ben Nelson. But if the vote-counters are lining up support on, say, a genuine public option, I can imagine someone in the West Wing letting Joe Lieberman know, “The president is interested in hosting a town-hall event in Bridgeport, and he’s about to tell everyone in the state to call your office.” Or maybe calling Arlen Specter to mention, “Obama is going to talk about reform in Pittsburgh, and Joe Sestak might be there.”

Or maybe just telling the whole caucus, “If health care drags me down, I’m dragging all of you with me.”

There’s still time to see how all of this plays out, but when push comes to shove, it’s not too much of a stretch to think Obama might turn to his chief of staff for a few ideas on how best to scare members. When it’s time to “start banging some heads,” I suspect Rahm Emanuel might have a few ideas.

It is that kind of engagement that I am arguing is missing from the Obama White House. It raises questions about whether the president is still getting his feet wet or whether he really doesn’t have much of a clue how to govern.

Benen’s “town hall” idea is a case in point. Curiously, Obama’s forays into activating his grass roots network to help with Congress have so far met with limited success. Holding a “town hall” event to get citizens to deluge a member’s office with mail and phone calls wouldn’t be much of a threat given that fact.

Why not call the senator on the phone and use some of those community organizing skills to bring the member around? During the Reagan administration, it was Mike Deaver who would put out information on how many calls the president made to members of Congress or who he had in for a little personal lobbying. This was routine stuff and, I may be oblivious but has Obama made that kind of personal lobbying effort? I haven’t seen it so if he has, it has been under the political radar.

The aimlessness of Democrats on the health care issue as they are looking at several competing bills also suggests a lack of input by the president. It isn’t a question of expending political capital. He is head of the party and should be able to wrangle what he wants from Congress. It may be occurring at a level of which I am unaware but direction in this intra-party health care debate seems lacking. He is giving Congress their head and at this stage, it appears that the whole idea of a “public option” for health insurance - even in his own party - may be in danger.

We are far enough along in the Obama presidency to make judgments like this and my take is that either he doesn’t feel the need to get involved or he doesn’t know how to do it effectively. I’m not talking about press conferences, or town hall meetings, or his upcoming infomercial on June 24th with the Obamabots at ABC news. That’s all well and good and we know he can sweet talk with the best of them.

What we haven’t seen is the president getting in the trenches to fight for what he wants from Congress on specific bills. And unless he is prepared to do that, I don’t see how he will be a successful president.

By: Rick Moran at 8:15 am
20 Responses to “HEALTH CARE DEBATE IN CONGRESS: WHERE IS OBAMA?”
  1. 1
    lionheart Said:
    8:28 am 

    Obama is the youngest president in the history of our nation. His lack of life experiences alone would cause problems with governing. Couple that with the fact that he has never run a department, a company, and certainly not a government spells weak, ineffective leadership. Governments don’t run themselves, and he seems to be clueless. He is out of his league, and has surrounded himself with incapable cronys.

    I wouldn’t count on too many successes. Expect a lot of continued blaming of the previous administration, flowery speeches, scandals, and weakness.

    Believe it or not, I hope I’m wrong, but I would bet against my prediction.

  2. 2
    Michael Giles Said:
    9:50 am 

    Perhaps the White House is more aware of the POTUS actual popularity, as opposed to what the MSM keeps telling the rest of us. Polls that tell us that 89% of Americans are satisfied with their health care, may be giving Congress pause. Just as indications that Obama’s spending spree may not be the “slam dunk” it was thought to be. A real fight to pass legislation may reveal a lack of depth to Obama’s “popularity”. Which would dispel the “aura of invincibility” supposedly surrounding him. In fact, I think the constant indicators, that Obama himself is far more popular then his policies, may be nothing more then a reluctance of the public to speak badly of him, for obvious reasons.

  3. 3
    jackson1234 Said:
    12:44 pm 

    Hubris and misplaced moral certitude may make this young and inexperienced president reluctant to lobby for anything. Obama is, to paraphrase, guilty of at least one thing: he believes his own propaganda. Someone certain they are right may not feel any need to convince.

    Given how radical and ineffective his economic policies have been, I’m frankly glad he is ineffecutal in implementation of more of them. He has tried to throw Congess, led by his party, under the bus rather than take the lead. Good. He doesn’t seem to have a clue that the window of opportunity for unpopular legislation has started to close in anticipation of 2010. Tomasky apparently doesn’t, either.

    It very well may be May 2009 was the high (or low, depending on persepctive) mark of this Administration.

  4. 4
    Gayle Miller Said:
    12:55 pm 

    This is the classic “hot potato” and one that Congress is going to let BHO sink or swim with! His Majesty Obama thinks he can just order things by the stroke of his pen. This is a good clue as to how un-American is our president at the bottom of his soul! Who voted for this creep?

  5. 5
    Neo Said:
    11:14 pm 

    5.. Health care. Several versions still moving through Congress.

    You really have to wonder which one he will be pitching on his ABC infomercial.

    But beware .. White House officials suggest the president’s rhetoric shouldn’t be taken literally.

  6. 6
    busboy33 Said:
    11:26 pm 

    @Michael Giles:

    ” Polls that tell us that 89% of Americans are satisfied with their health care, may be giving Congress pause.”

    Can you give me a link to that poll? I was under the understanding that more than 11% of Americans don’t have healthcare (or have limited healthcare), so that would mean that many Americans are happy without healthcare, and everybody that has healthcare are %100 satisfied with it.
    I’m not attacking you . . . but that number strikes me as confusing, especially when another poll shows 75% support for a public option, so I’d like to get deeper into that poll.

  7. 7
    siva123 Said:
    4:29 am 

    The information you provided sounds good. There are good technicians and quality surgeon for hair restoration and different methods being applied for both men and women for hair loss treatment

  8. 8
    busboy33 Said:
    4:58 am 

    “Who voted for this creep?”

    I did. So did the overwhelming majority of your countrymen.

  9. 9
    lionheart Said:
    7:14 am 

    busboy33: 53% to 47% is hardly an “overwhelming majority”. And I have a feeling that a significant percentage of that 6% that gave him the win are rethinking the wisdom of their vote.

    Hope doesn’t pay the bills, and change isn’t necessarily good (going from bad to worse is change too). Leadership doesn’t manifest itself by holding up their finger in the wind to see which way the prevailing winds are blowing, and I get the feeling that Obama does a lot of that.

    Of course, I could be wrong, and I hope I am.

  10. 10
    jharp Said:
    9:02 am 

    “HEALTH CARE DEBATE IN CONGRESS: WHERE IS OBAMA?”

    Interesting question. There are two schools of thought. One, that Obama should be hard selling now. Or two he should sit back a save his thunder for crunch time.

    And I have no idea which is best and have heard very well thought out arguments for both strategies. But I will say this. Obama is smart and has been quite successful at getting things done.

    I am leaving my trust in Obama. I believe he will choose the correct path.

  11. 11
    busboy33 Said:
    9:02 am 

    “53% to 47% is hardly an ‘overwhelming majority’. ”

    touche! Given recent elections, it certainly seems larger than it is, but you are correct.

  12. 12
    Gayle Miller Said:
    9:12 am 

    And I know a great many in that “overwhelming majority” who are currently rethinking their foolish vote! I work in D.C. and in this town, it is easy to hear the rumbles!

  13. 13
    funny man Said:
    9:40 am 

    I’m a conservative and in my opinion you really underestimate Obama. That is a big mistake. Why should he get involved in the Health Care debate now? He’ll wait, look where the majority is, and then move. I guarantee you something will pass before years end. Next year it will be a watered down version of Cap and Trade and same with Immigration reform. At the end of the day Obama will have significantly changed the system and it won’t be what we like.

  14. 14
    lionheart Said:
    10:07 am 

    jharp:

    Save his thunder for crunch time

    What real leader does that? Can you imagine an athlete not producing his best effort, so he can be the hero at “crunch time”? Or a General not really trying to win a battle, so he can do better later? Furthermore, it doesn’t make sense, because his credibility is being eroded (see the recent Rasmussen poll on strongly approve versus strongly disapprove).

  15. 15
    busboy33 Said:
    11:51 am 

    @Gayle Miller:

    Are there alot of people who aren’t pleased with some/all of what Obama has done or hasn’t done? Sure.

    Are there alot of those same people who are saying “Damn, if only McCain and Palin were in the White House all our troubles would be solved”? I haven’t heard any.

  16. 16
    Michael Giles Said:
    1:01 pm 

    “Are there alot of those same people who are saying “Damn, if only McCain and Palin were in the White House all our troubles would be solved”? I haven’t heard any.”

    That could be because people who voted for McCain and Palin tend to be those people that don’t believe that government (i.e., those people “in the White House”) is the answer to solving the majority of our troubles.

  17. 17
    Michael Giles Said:
    1:09 pm 

    busboy33 said;
    “Can you give me a link to that poll? I was under the understanding that more than 11% of Americans don’t have healthcare (or have limited healthcare), so that would mean that many Americans are happy without healthcare, and everybody that has healthcare are %100 satisfied with it.”

    You’re making the mistake of assuming that lack of health insurance, equals lack of healthcare. Don’t confuse the two.

    Here is the link to the poll.
    “According to a recent ABC News/USA Today/Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 89 percent of Americans are satisfied with their health care.” Source

  18. 18
    Michael Giles Said:
    1:17 pm 

    Sorry about the link. I tend to screw them up more often then not. In case the link still doesn’t work, here’s the URL to copy paste.

    http://kudlow.nationalreview.com/post/?q=OGE5OWFjYWU1OWNhOTMxNzAxYzQ1ZDFlMTdhN2QyNzU=

  19. 19
    busboy33 Said:
    4:13 pm 

    Link didn’t come through, but the quote you provided led me to the poll:

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2006-10-15-health-poll1.htm

    Interesting numbers. I’m not entirely comfortable that the poll represents what the quote implies, but an interesting poll nonetheless.

  20. 20
    Michael Giles Said:
    8:14 am 

    Busboy33:
    Here is the URL for the original Kaiser survey:
    http://healthreform.kff.org/
    Having read the actual report, I must say that I can find no support for the 89% figure quoted in the National Review article. Perhaps I overlooked it, perhaps they just have their figures wrong.

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