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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama Ready To Lay Down Health Reform Markers

According to Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic today, the White House is finally prepared to pull the trigger on presidentially branded approach to health care reform, in the form of key markers he will expect any legislation to achieve:

Next week, President Obama is going to give Democrats a health care plan they can begin to sell.
He plans to list specific goals that any health insurance reform plan that arrives at his desk must achieve, according to Democratic strategists familiar with the plan. Some of these “goals” have already been agreed to, including new anti-discrimination restrictions on insurance companies. Others will be new, including the level of subsidies he expects to give the uninsured so they can buy into the system.
Obama will also specify a “pay for” mechanism he prefers, and will specify an income level below which he does not want to see taxed.
He will insist upon a mechanism to cut costs and increase competition among insurance companies — and perhaps will even specify a percentage rate — and he will say that his preferred mechanism remains a government-subsidized public health insurance option, but he will remain agnostic about whether the plan must include a robust public option.

It sounds like “ObamaCare,” which will finally begin to merit that term, will be consistent with what’s expected to pass the House, but flexible enough to accomodate what’s “doable” in the Senate.
One key goal will be to identify his administration and his party with reforms on health insurance practicies, such as exclusions of people with pre-existing conditions, that even Republicans claim to support:

The effect of this sales job, if it works, will be to associate the President with parts of the reform bills that are almost certainly likely to pass — assuming the Senate doesn’t bog down.

So: after months of Democratic anxiety over the President’s strategy of deferring to congressional committees, we’ll at last see if his Fabian strategy of gaining by delay in drawing his own lines in the sand will work.
It’s interesting that one long-time and generally nonpartisan Beltway observer, Norm Ornstein, has an op-ed in today’s Washington Post arguing that Obama has in fact chosen the best available strategy for achieving health care reform this year. We’ll soon now if that’s the case. But in any event, the White House’s planned moves should at least calm down progressives who had feared the President was happy to let his signature initiative rise and fall without ever saying exactly what he was willing to expend political captal to accomplish.

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