How not to sell healthcare reform

This struck me as a non-story if I ever saw one.

Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority’s co-operation in approving any overhaul, and are increasingly focused on drawing support for a final plan from within their own ranks.

Oh please. It isn’t Republican support they lack, it’s public support. And this is not the way to go about getting it. Democrats are technically right that they can get a bill through the senate even with one or two defections on their own side, using a special procedure to prevent a Republican filibuster. But with public opinion, previously well-disposed to reform, now leaning against the Democrats’ proposals–a result of the White House’s dismal failure of leadership on the issue–it would be political recklessness of a high order to pass reform by means of a ruse. Not least because the purpose would be to disempower dissenting Democratic senators, not just Republicans. What would centrist voters make of that? The go-it-alone threat surfaces every few weeks. Though complaints about Republican obstructionism are justified, the idea looks less credible now than before.

The NYT piece leads with supporting quotes from Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff. What a surprise. Mr Emanuel’s purpose in floating this story was presumably to distract attention from the administration’s continuing embarrassment over the public option. Is this negotiable or not? Is this necessary, in Mr Obama’s view, or not? The answer appears to be that it is still necessary, like before–but negotiable. Something not quite right there.

This week’s careful administration maneuvering on whether a public insurance option was an essential element of any final bill was seemingly part of the new White House effort to find consensus among Democrats, since the public plan has been resisted by moderate and conservative Democrats who could be crucial to winning the votes for passage if no Republicans are on board.

For the second time in two days, Mr. Obama did not mention health care on Tuesday, a marked departure from the aggressive public relations campaign he mounted in July and early August. The White House is striving to stay out of the fray, aides said, until the president can get away on vacation this weekend.

Careful manoeuvring? If that shambles was careful manoeuvring, heaven help us if this administration ever gets muddled. A vacation sounds like a good idea.

The administration should drop the public option. Politically, the disappointment of the Democrats’ hard-liners would be a plus for the administration, not a minus: their protests would reassure moderate opinion. Substantively, it would subtract little or nothing from the considerable virtues of the other aspects of the reform proposals, around which a broad popular consensus can still be built. This FT editorial on the subject gets it right. My congratulations to whoever wrote it.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

Clive Crook’s blog: A guide

Comment: To comment, please register with FT.com. Register for free here. Please also read the FT's comments policy here.
Time: UK time is shown on Clive's posts.
Follow the blog: Links to the Twitter and RSS feeds are at the top of the blog.
Schedule: Clive's column appears in the FT on Mondays and you can read an excerpt of it on this blog.
FT blogs: See the full range of the FT's blogs here.

Archive

« Jul Sep »August 2009
M T W T F S S
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31