President Barack Obama has left Democrats as confused as ever over how the White House plans to deliver a health care reform bill this year, following two weeks of inconsistent statements, negligible hands-on involvement and a sudden shift to a jobs-first message.
Democrats on Capitol Hill and beyond say they have no clear understanding of the White House strategy – or even whether there is one – and are growing impatient with Obama’s reluctance to guide them toward a legislative solution.
At a White House meeting Thursday with Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed frustration with the slow pace of the negotiations and the president’s decision not to weigh in publicly on a path forward, according to a Democratic source familiar with the meeting.
And some Democrats feel that every time they look to White House for clarity, they hear something different, as though the strategy is whatever the president or his top advisers said that day.
Take the past two weeks. Since Democrats lost the Massachusetts Senate race, Obama or his top advisers have suggested all of the following: breaking the bill into smaller parts, keeping it together in one comprehensive package, putting it at the back of legislative line and needing to “punch it through” Congress, as Obama himself said Tuesday.
The latest comment came during a Thursday fundraiser when Obama described the “next step” as sitting down with Republicans, Democrats and health care experts. “Let's just go through these bills — their ideas, our ideas — let's walk through them in a methodical way so that the American people can see and compare what makes the most sense,” Obama said, describing a process that could take weeks, if not longer.
He first floated the idea during his State of the Union speech almost three weeks ago, but top congressional aides in both parties said Friday that they still have no idea what the president was talking about.
Even the White House struggled to explain what Obama had in mind. On Friday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said there was no meeting on the schedule.
At the same fundraiser, Obama seemed to acknowledge for the first time that Congress may well decide to scrap health care altogether – an admission that blunted his repeated and emphatic vows to finish the job.
“I’m not sure where the White House is right now,” said Ralph G. Neas, a longtime progressive activist who is now the head of the National Coalition on Health Care. (CONTINUES HERE)