Sunday, February 14, 2010

The earth beneath their feet: Obama recasts health care reform

Reading the Obama Administration's letter setting out the terms of the Feb. 25 health care summit, it struck me that the obvious has crept up on us by inches. It's this: moving in his own deliberate fashion, President Obama has doubled down on health care reform.  Rather than gather his Democratic flock in the immediate aftermath of the Massachusetts debacle, he has moved the political ground beneath them as well as the Republicans.  He has issued a put-up-or-shut-up to the whole Congress. Of course, he knows that only the Democrats have something to put up. But he is going to make them put it up -- even if they vote it down. 

Look at how the work order, so to speak, is framed (the letter is under the signature of Rahm Emanuel and Kathleen Sebelius):
We have seen again in recent days that when it comes to health care, the status quo is unsustainable and unacceptable. The proof is right in front of us: just last week, a major insurer, Anthem Blue Cross, announced plans to increase premiums for many of its policyholders in California by as much as 39 percent on March 1.

As the President noted this week, if we don’t act on comprehensive health insurance reform, this enormous rate hike will be "just a preview of coming attractions. Premiums will continue to rise for folks with insurance; millions more will lose their coverage altogether; our deficits will continue to grow larger."

Now is the time to act on behalf of the millions of Americans and small businesses who are counting on meaningful health insurance reform. In the last year, there has been an extraordinary effort to craft effective legislation. There have been hundreds of hours of committee hearings and mark-ups in both the House of Representatives and Senate, with nearly all of those sessions televised on C-SPAN. The Senate spent over 160 hours on the Senate floor considering health insurance reform legislation and, for the first time in history, both the House of Representatives and Senate have approved comprehensive health reform legislation. This is the closest our Nation has been to resolving this issue in the nearly 100 years that it has been debated...[snip]

Since this meeting will be most productive if information is widely available before the meeting, we will post online the text of a proposed health insurance reform package. This legislation would put a stop to insurance company abuses, extend coverage to millions of Americans, get control of skyrocketing premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and reduce the deficit.

It is the President’s hope that the Republican congressional leadership will also put forward their own comprehensive bill to achieve those goals and make it available online as well. As the President said earlier this week:

I’m looking forward to a constructive debate with plans that need to be measured against this test: Does it bring down costs for all Americans as well as for the Federal Government, which spends a huge amount on health care? Does it provide adequate protection against abuses by the insurance industry? Does it make coverage affordable and available to the tens of millions of working Americans who don't have it right now? And does it help us get on a path of fiscal sustainability?

These are priorities that we all share, and the President is looking forward to examining with you and your colleagues how we can best achieve the most effective reform possible.

This is a bid to foreclose the possibility that legislation will not be passed.  For those committed to forestalling legislation that would  "make coverage affordable and available to the tens of millions of working Americans who don't have it right now" the summit is indeed a "trap" -- insofar as they feel that the invitation to make the case for failing to meet this goal is not an opportunity.

Obama is doing it his way.

Update: Jonathan Cohn and Steve Benen both seize on the letter's promise to post a "health insurance reform package" to tease out the extent to which the Democratic leadership is actively negotiating a plan to reconcile House and Senate bills.

Update II: John Judis notes that a crucial part of the plan is for Obama to repeat his September performance and ggive enough of a bounce to public approval of health care reform to stiffen Democratic resolve.

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