Surprise Obama Press Conference Gives Clue on Health Care Reform

Did Obama work a secret message into the policy talk?

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The photos from yesterday's White House press conference are mostly of Press Secretary Robert Gibbs making fun of Sarah Palin--he wrote notes on his hand as she had for her Tea Party convention speech. But the bigger story was that President Obama made a surprise visit--his first solo press conference since July. While some commentators debate whether the impromptu appearance was inspired by Washington Post and New York Times criticisms, others are focusing on the message: bipartisanship and health care reform. Buried in there, are there some anxiously awaited clues about what the president intends regarding this millstone of a bill?

  • The Message: Friendly Full-Speed Ahead, decides Politico's Ben Smith. "The message of the day seems to be a general openness to bipartisanship, but he's still talking health care. The news that Anthem Blue Cross was raising premiums in California 'is just a preview of coming attractions,' he says."
  • Little Legislative Momentum--This Is Pre-Cleanup  Salon's Mike Madden notes that one of Obama's priorities at the meeting was a jobs bill, but Congress won't be able to vote on that, through a combination of House recess and snowstorms, "until the week of Feb. 22 at the earliest. In the end, the meeting Tuesday, and Obama's impromptu presser, aren't likely to do much to actually move legislation along. But the White House tone could help change voters' minds about who's to blame if it stalls."
  • Agreed: 'Bipartisanship' Is About Blame  Andrew Malcolm for the Los Angeles Times argues that all the talk of bipartisanship coming out of the White House is merely to cover a "dirty, ... elephantine secret of the current Washington circus ... : The Democrats have controlled Congress since the 2006 elections." What does that mean? Bipartisanship isn't actually necessary, "unless it's about positioning for blame." So all the meetings with Republicans and talk of bipartisanship at the press conference is just setting up a blame route for the 2010 elections when voters complain about lack of progress--which Malcolm suggests they may.
  • President Backing Away from Universal Heath Care? Morgen at Verum Serum points out that, when asked about health care, the president mentioned only three goals: "control costs, implement some new insurance industry regulations, and 'make health insurance more available to folks in the individual market.'" They key there is that the last part, Morgen argues, "seems to fall well short of the President's original goal of universal coverage, and which could be accomplished a number of ways other than having the federal government pick up the bulk of the cost for the uninsured." Is this a step back? Tom Maguire at JustOneMinute agrees with Morgen that it might be. Does it make health care reform more feasible?
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