Leadership from the White House Is Still Not the Problem

I don’t usually disagree with Ezra too much on healthcare reform matters, and he seems to have a pretty good handle on the political machinations involved, so seeing this from him surprises me a bit:

One other point on the public option: This has been a complete and utter failure of White House leadership. They need to give this effort their support, or they need to kill it by publicly stating their opposition. But they can’t simply wait for someone else to make the decision for them, which has been their strategy until now.Review Android Smartphone

On the one hand, I think Atrios is basically right to point out that, in releasing their own plan, the White House has staked out their position on reform, although I think the more relevant question is what the Senate will do here. Basically, I very much doubt that the White House is going to try to stomp out an effort to pass a public option in the Senate if 50 votes are actually there for it. But that’s the tricky part, because it isn’t really clear how many votes are there. It seems safe to assume that Lieberman, Nelson, Lincoln, Pryor, Bayh, Landrieu Carper, and Conrad are definite votes against it. Add in Jay Rockefeller, and assume Lautenberg won’t be able to mke the vote, and all you have left are 49 Democrats, assuming that all of them would vote for the public option, something that’s far from guaranteed. But maybe they could! It’s the uncertainty that makes it difficult to take a firm public stance. There’s also the question of whether the House could find the votes to pass a public option without the Stupak language. What I think the White House has managed to do is to find the easiest path through the minefield. If the votes for a public option via reconcilliation do materialize in the Senate, and the House can pass the same package, it will be much easier for the White House to sign off on it than it would be to backpedal away from public support for the public option, again, in the event that the votes for it can’t be found in Congress.

On the other hand, I really don’t see what good the White House can do either way here. Obama might be able to bring a few Senators on board by lobbying them to support the effort but most of that work would need to be done behind the scenes. Public support from the White House at this juncture would only raise the stakes and amplify the cost of failing to get the votes. Conversely, if liberal activists and lawmakers have their hopes up about a public option revival and don’t view this as a quixotic effort, then explicitly stamping out the effort isn’t going to make them feel any better about its failure so much as it guarantees they’ll be pissed off at the White House, probably for the remainder of Obama’s tenure in office. And if they haven’t gotten their hopes up, there’s no reason not to see if the movement can’t pick up more momentum. 50 votes in the Senate and 218 votes in the House is a higher hurdle than most people realize at this point, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The White House has been reluctant to gamble on too many moves to this point, and I’ve largely supported that, but in this case, I really do think they ought to put the money down to see another card. They won’t lose that much more than they’re already in for if they don’t see the card they need.

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