Barack Obama demanded bipartisanship and responsibility from Republicans last night, especially on health-care reform, but key Senate Democrats gave Obama himself something lower than a “good, solid B-plus” in his speech on that point. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) both criticized Obama for refusing to push for a more open approach to ObamaCare, with Landrieu casting Obama’s effort as “mailing in”:
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said health care reform “is on life support, unfortunately,” and the president should have been more specific with how Democrats should move forward.
“He should have been more clear, and I am hoping that in the next week or two he will because that is what it is going to take if it is at all possible to get it done,” Landrieu told reporters. “Mailing in general suggestions, sending them over the transom, is not necessarily going to work.”
The president’s criticism of the Senate in the speech was “a little strange, a little odd,” Landrieu said.
“Moderate Senate Democrats, who give the Senate the 60 votes, come from states that have to appreciate a broad range of ideas,” Landrieu said. For a president who ran on post-partisan platform, “it doesn’t do a great service to then say everything the House caucus passes without Republican votes, the Senate should take. It is the reverse.”
Pryor was asked whether the SOTU speech was a game-changer on ObamaCare, and his response can’t have the White House feeling terribly good:
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said it was “a real possibility that health care is at a stalemate and you can’t solve it this year.”
“It is hard to see how last night fundamentally changes it,” Pryor said.
Barack Obama had two big domestic policy goals last night — a public-relations pivot to jobs, and an effort to make one last push for ObamaCare. Obama came back repeatedly to health-care reform, criticizing Republicans for blocking it with cloture votes and demanding that Congress stop putting off reform. What that analysis left out was that Democrats had the 60 votes to pass ObamaCare in the Senate if it really was, as Obama has repeatedly stated, a common-sense and practical reform package.
Until last week when Scott Brown won the special election in Massachusetts, Republicans weren’t stopping it in the Senate — Democrats like Pryor, Landrieu, Nelson, and Lincoln had held it up. The package was too radical for their tastes. Moderate Democrats wanted a sense from Obama that the game plan would change enough to win their support, and that Obama himself would get involved in finding a path out of the Gordian knot into which Democrats on Capitol Hill have tied themselves. Instead, Obama blamed Republicans and offered no new ideas.
Last night, I live-tweeted the SOTU and offered my opinion on Obama’s performance. On delivery, I gave him an A; he was energetic, engaged, passionate, and humorous. But the substance was nothing more than a retread of every speech Obama has already given on health care and the rest of the issues mentioned in the address. The White House had tantalized his allies on the Left by strongly hinting that Obama would offer something new on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — which amounted to a one-liner offering the same promise Obama made in the campaign and all last year, which was to tell Congress to do something about it. The same was true on immigration reform. In fact, in both cases, Obama never even explicitly mentioned the policy (neither DADT nor “comprehensive immigration reform” was mentioned), but instead offered gauzy descriptions of the issues, and only briefly.
Obama may have done a masterful job while “mailing in” any actual policy effort, but that’s what this speech did. Obama told Congress to pass his agenda without any promise of engagement on his own behalf, and with no change at all from his voluminous speechifying in 2009.