Obama’s New Health Strategy: Leadership
After eight months of letting Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid try to handle the most important domestic initiative of his administration, President Obama is reluctantly considering providing some leadership, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei report.
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.”
Top officials privately concede the past six weeks have taken their toll on Obama’s popularity. But the officials also see the new diminished expectations as an opportunity to prove their critics wrong by signing a health care law, showing progress in Afghanistan, and using this month’s anniversary of the fall of Lehman Brothers to push for a crackdown on Wall Street.
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.
Certainly, a major speech by the president will capture the nation’s attention. Presidential addresses are rare and therefore auspicious occasions that can change the game.
Oh, wait. Not anymore.
But at least the president has taken these months to carefully study the problem and gauge what’s politically possible so that we can finally have a single plan to focus on rather than getting wound around the axle on rumors of the numerous plans floating around congressional committees.
Aides have discussed whether to stick to broad principles, or to send specific legislative language to Capitol Hill. Some hybrid is likely, the officials said.
“I’m not going to put a date on any of this,” Axelrod said. “But I think it’s fairly obvious that we’re not in the second inning. We’re not in the fourth inning. We’re in the eighth or ninth inning here, and so there’s not a lot of time to waste.”
Obama’s specifics will include many of the principles he has spelled out before, and aides did not want to telegraph make-or-break demands. But Axelrod and others are making plain that Obama will assert himself more aggressively — a clear sign that the president will start dictating terms to Congress.
“His goal is to create the best possible situation for consumers, create competition and choice,” Axelrod said. “We want to bring a measure of security to people who have health insurance today. We want to help those who don’t have coverage today, because they can’t afford it, get insurance they can afford. And we want to do it in a way that reduces the overall cost of the system as a whole.”