The Obama administration continued its pattern of leadership once again this weekend with a passive-aggressive stance on a key part of the signature item on Barack Obama’s domestic agenda. Advisers from the White House flooded the media zone yesterday to signal Congress that they would accept a bill without a so-called “public option,” or government-run insurance plan. This comes in the vacuum of any statement from the President himself to the contrary:
The television airwaves were filled Sunday with rat-a-tat over reforming the nation’s health-care system, as top administration officials hit the talk show circuit and interest groups waged a record advertising blitz.
President Obama’s team, preparing for an intense round of private negotiations on Capitol Hill, used public appearances to set the parameters for the negotiations.
Obama continues to support the concept of a government-sponsored insurance option, but “he is not demanding that it is in” the final legislation, Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “He thinks it’s the best possible choice.”
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, in two television appearances, noted that the public option could provide much-needed competition, but that “it’s not the defining piece of health care.”
Well, Obama had an opportunity to send that message himself six weeks ago in front of a joint session of Congress. In fact, his advisers had laid the groundwork prior to that speech that Obama would send the message that the “public option” was only one of several potential ways to supposedly increase competition among insurers. Obama surprised everyone by fully endorsing the public option, throwing moderates for a loop and extending the debate for another two months over a clause that has become the poster child of the legislation.
Is this leadership? It’s a passive-aggressive approach that leaves both progressives and moderates in Obama’s own party twisting in the wind. Obama wants his advisers to take all of the flak from progressive action groups that will result from a retreat on government-run health insurance, but doesn’t have the stomach to take that hit himself. The end result is confusion among legislators on Capitol Hill, and further entrenchment on either side of the issue.
It’s the executive version of voting “present”. The debate on health-care reform has gone on for over five months now. Can the President be bothered to take a public position himself, or does he need to keep eating his waffle for a few more weeks?