The White House is always taking a "more active role" in health reform negotiations. This time it may be true.
Posted Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010, at 10:23 AM
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Close readers of newspapers accounts of the latest negotiations over health care reform may have noticed a weirdly condescending note in describing the White House's role. "President Obama has his sleeves rolled up and is in the middle of the discussions," Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., told the New York Times. Well, sure. The man is president of the United States, after all, and this is his No. 1 domestic priority and the most important piece of social legislation to pass two houses of Congress in four decades. Why, then, is it news that the White House is actively involved in shaping the bill?
Perhaps because the press has repeatedly asserted over the past seven months that the White House either was about to step up its involvement in shaping health reform or was already doing so, only to later conclude (at least implicitly) that this was untrue. Rep. Andrews attempted to make a virtue of Obama's timing. "He is choosing the right moment to be engaged," he told the Times. "His effectiveness will be higher because he waited until the last moment."
Maybe so. But we've heard variations on this theme before:
"The White House is expected to take a very active role in melding the two bills after keeping quiet publicly during negotiations in the House and Senate."
—"Health Talks Resume With W.H. Meet," Politico, Jan. 4, 2010
"With the Senate set to pass its health bill on Christmas Eve, President Barack Obama is planning to step up his involvement in the final health-care legislation, White House and congressional officials say."
—"Obama in Late Push on Health," Wall Street Journal, Dec. 24, 2009
"'The White House needs to step up here and needs to indicate what they want on the public option and whether it is important for them to get to 60 or not, and they need to implore both moderates and liberals in the caucus to get agreement on this, or they could see this bill fall on the Senate floor," said a Senate Democratic aide.
"'The White House has got to be more forthright and more forceful with members,' the person added."
—"Liberals To Barack Obama: Time To Step Up," Politico, Oct. 27, 2009
"With five bills through committee in Congress, the White House is poised to take a significantly more active role in shaping the final measure.
"The president, faulted by critics for stepping back and allowing lawmakers to draft multiple bills without clear, public directives from the administration, is also expected to get more involved."
—"Obama Ready To 'Dig In' on Health Care," Washington Examiner, Oct. 14, 2009
"Vice President Biden will step up his role in the Obama Administration's push for health care reform next week, with two speeches and a more concerted outreach to his former colleagues in the Senate, a senior administration official said Friday."
—"Vice President Biden To Step Up Role in White House Health Care Reform Push," ABC News, Sept. 18, 2009
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.
Graham Vyse is a Slate intern.
Photograph of Barack Obama by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images.