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Now come the politics of Obama's healthcare speech

March 3, 2010 |  2:12 pm


After President Obama on Wednesday made his latest pitch on how to proceed on healthcare, the political spotlight turned to the R-words: Republicans and reconciliation.

After a year of nasty partisan wrangling during which outnumbered Republicans proved that they couldn’t be outgunned, Obama formally proposed his compromise package, one that the White House argued incorporated many GOP ideas.

To get it passed, congressional leaders will have to use reconciliation, a process that requires just simple majorities, thus diminishing the GOP’s minority  power.

“I don’t know how this plays politically, but I know it’s right,” Obama said in an East Room speech Wednesday, sounding his main theme that....

...action was urgently needed and that he was willing to lead regardless of the political fallout.

But political considerations were at the heart of Obama’s speech.

The president never used the word reconciliation, which Republicans have brandished like a club. But Obama left no doubt that he would advocate its use, though he repackaged it in less-threatening clothes.

“I believe the United States Congress owes the American people a final vote on healthcare reform,” Obama said. “Now it deserves the same kind of up-or-down vote that was cast on welfare reform, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, COBRA health coverage for the unemployed, and both Bush tax cuts – all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority.”

Polls show that when called a majority vote, Americans tend to have fewer problems with the procedure than when it is called by its multi-syllabic version.

If Obama and the Democrats have tried to defuse the political issue surrounding procedure, there is still the problem of content.

In his speech, Obama continued to stretch out his hand to Republicans, noting that the heart of the plan --  financial exchanges --  is a proposal that Republicans should back because it is "an idea that many Republicans have embraced in the past.” Obama promised to include other GOP ideas as well.

Earlier, the White House posted an extensive list of GOP proposals it said it had incorporated into the final package. Though it is unlikely Republicans will now support the overall plan, the list was long enough to raise another question:

Will liberal Democrats be able to support a bill that is so far from what they had wanted going into this debate more than a year ago?

And that is the crux of Obama’s political problem:

In the search for any victory to assuage voter unhappiness with Washington’s gridlocked process and the lack of healthcare overhaul, has he alienated the very core of his House and electoral support needed to win passage of this healthcare package and to protect Democrats in November’s mid-term election?

-- Michael Muskal

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This item also appeared on DC Now.