The White House and Senate Democrats won't buckle to demands from liberals that they revise their health care strategy, officials said today.
White House advisers and Democratic strategists concede that President Obama's poll numbers are at post-inauguration lows, and that the public has grown queasy about the health care debate. But they insist that the discontent has its roots in disenchantment over Washington's ways. They note that large majorities of voters disapprove of how Republicans are handling health care in Congress and that President Obama remains the most popular active politician in the country.
Steve Schale, Obama's Florida campaign director in 2008 and a Democratic party strategist, said via Twitter that Obama "is DC's adult. Make [the] GOP show its cards, give mods a few wins, and go sell it. He's still the U.S.'s most credible poll."
In a statement today, Sen. Max Baucus said he was committed to a bipartisan bill. "The Finance Committee is on track to reach a bipartisan agreement on comprehensive health care reform that can pass the Senate," he said. Republicans and Democrats, and their staffs, will hold a conference call tomorrow to discuss their progress.
A White House official conceded today that Obama would have to weather anger from liberals for a while.
More worrisome, officials said, was the growing belief that Obama's brand is being tarnished. A new Pew poll shows
that voters don't think Obama is working with Republican leaders, and that a plurality blame Republican leaders. They believe that Obama's favorability rating declines, largely from independents (and within that group, women), can be reversed if he reminds these voters of the bipartisan instincts in his bones.
Another Pew poll finding underscores a second White House strategy: because conservatives are paying more attention to the health care debate than liberals, the White House needs to double down on its efforts to convince liberals that passing health care will be a major accomplishment. That's one reason why Obama will be speaking directly to his Organizing for America base tomorrow.
House Democrats are on a different track, and it's hard to see how it intersects with the White House's. Leaders plan to redouble the sales pitch for a public plan, reasoning that if they can move public opinion a few degrees -- largely by exciting liberals -- they can help their colleagues respond to conservative pressure. Privately, White House aides have communicated to the House leadership that the onus on changing minds about the public plan is on Congress, not on the president.
In private, White House officials are selectively attending to threats that interest groups will work to defeat Democrats who oppose a "public option" in the House and Senate. RIchard Trumka, likely the next president of the AFL-CIO, threatened over the weekend to withhold union support from those politicians. The White House isn't scared. An AFL-CIO official close to Trumka said that no one from the administration has been in touch with him to protest his words or endorse him.
The president continues to operate under the belief that liberals will warm to the bill when presented with a goodybag that includes includes an individual mandate, community rating, guaranteed issue, and a minimum required package. There's no chance, really, that a bill WON'T feature these reforms. Quietly, to secure and keep Democrats on board, the White House is going to bargain, providing inducements, like more money for favored projects, etc., in order to secure individual votes.
On the other hand, the left is getting tired of being given the proverbial back of the hand by a White House that looks at the world in increments of four years, rather than two.
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is a former contributing editor at The Atlantic