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What's really behind Obama's sudden plea for troubled health reforms today

July 17, 2009 |  4:25 pm
Democrat president Barack Obama makes an unscheduled plea for healthcare reforms 7-17-09 in the White House

Friday afternoons and evenings -- as we've mentioned here previously -- are usually a dumping ground for political news its originators do not want noticed much. Especially entering warm summer weekends.

The flip side of that adage is that there's rarely much competition for the news at those times. Tah-dah! Not by accident Friday nearly an hour late but what else is new, President Barack Obama (despite the shattering death of his beloved teleprompter earlier this week) staged an unscheduled media availability to insert himself into the news.

Not much competition, so he got lots of coverage. And since he walked out afterward without deigning to take any questions, there was no chance of anything else detracting from the message he wanted to insert: Healthcare now!

The president knows his keystone program is in deep trouble and losing momentum. That's why his organization is sending out all those e-mails and organizing local discussion groups to mobilize grassroots support and why he drags the subject into everything he talks about. Why he even dragged it into a speech Thursday night celebrating the NAACP's centennial. And he'll no doubt focus on the same subject in his weekly address tomorrow (Text here as always at 3 a.m. Pacific Saturday).

"Now is not the time to slow down," he pleads.

Which sounds much like winter's successful argument for urgent passage of the economic stimulus bill, whose benefits have yet to appear. We gotta do this now doesn't always work the second time around.

Obama insists Congress get a healthcare reform program drafted before its members leave on....

... Aug. 7 for their next long vacation. Why? Because members may get an earful back home from the 70% of Americans who say they are satisfied with their healthcare plans and the estimated 98% who don't want higher taxes to pay for reforms that benefit others now and maybe them later someday, who knows.

And if Obama doesn't get his beloved healthcare reforms this year when his party has such firm control of both chambers of Congress, 2010 is a midterm election year when such immense spending will be even more controversial and when, historically, the White House party loses members in Congress. (And  unemployment rates are predicted to continue rising.)

Obama insists healthcare reform must not increase the federal government's budget deficit, whose digits already outnumber the space on non-federal calculators.

No mention by the president in today's remarks about the Republicans. They say they're for reform, but add, holy moley, look at the costs! Obama's current problem is actually crumbling support among Democrats, dozens of whom are beginning to waver over the scale of such spending, whether some of it eventually gets covered by savings or not.

They know that conveniently predicted future government savings have a way in Washington of not actually ever materializing. But by then it's too late.

And recent estimates by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office not only bruise but basically destroy the administration's argument about costs and savings.

Moments after he didn't answer any media questions this afternoon, the White House Twittered news of his next news conference, a prime-time deal next Wednesday -- 6 p.m. Pacific, 9 p.m. Eastern, 2 a.m. Thursday GMT.

Obama has mentioned several times recently the nation's 24-hour news cycle, as if it's a regrettable reality of modern life. He did it again today as if there had been some mounting demand for him to speak out on the healthcare debate now.

The truth, of course, is that the White House, better than many in recent years, plays the 24-hour news cycle like a concert violinist, as if the youthful Obama studied music in Austria instead of whatever he studied in Indonesia. That skill was a significant factor in his successful $750-million election campaign.

The point, of course, of today's unscheduled appearance and next Wednesday's formal news affair is to drive the D.C. agenda around what the White House wants to talk about -- healthcare reform. And force it onto the Sunday talk show schedule, a political pulse the White House monitors so closely because it helps set the talk agenda for the start of a new week.

The news conference has emerged as a favorite weapon in Obama's bully pulpit arsenal; remember, a few weeks ago Obama called one to get himself on video record about Iran's violent protests and images after Sen. John McCain's emotional Senate speech on Neda, which, of course, had nothing to do with the news conference scheduling.

Remember also, when the president was asked about that at the news conference, Obama smiled dismissively and said, "What do you think?"

Which, if you accept the president's invitation and do think about it, isn't really an answer.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Jason Reed / Reuters

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