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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
"Many advocates of sweeping health care changes—which would include health coverage for virtually every American, greater competition among insurers and incentives to increase the quality of care instead of the number of medical procedures performed—welcomed the president's more direct role."
—"Obama Plans Speech To Congress on Health Care," Associated Press, Sept. 3, 2009
"'President Obama is going to have to step up now,' [Sen. Tom] Harkin said. 'He's taken the right course of action by letting Congress do its thing. But now he's got to step up and tell the American people, "Here's what I think we ought to do" and fight for it.'"
—"Harkin: Obama's Turn To Step Up," Des Moines Register blog, Sept. 2, 2009
"Our senior Washington correspondent Peter Barnes has more on the 'very active' role one senior advisor says the president will directly now take."
—"Obama To Take Active Role in Health Care," Fox Business News, Sept. 2, 2009
"Mr. Obama and his top aides have immersed themselves in the Senate Finance Committee process. The president talks to Mr. Baucus several times a week, people briefed on their conversations say. Mr. Obama has also held a few calls with the panel's ranking Republican, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa."
—"Obama Is Taking an Active Role in Talks on Health Care Plan," New York Times, Aug. 12, 2009
"Obama, who has taken a largely hands-off role in crafting health care legislation, will play a more active role in working out differences between House and Senate versions of the reform bills, [White House Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs said."
—"White House Resists Calls for Compromise on Health Care," San Francisco Examiner, July 29, 2009
"Several senior Democratic advisers to the White House are urging President Obama to further step up his personal involvement in the health care debate, as administration allies privately warn the president's push for a major reform bill is hitting major roadblocks at a critical juncture on Capitol Hill."
—"Democrats Fear Obama Health Care Plan 'On the Rocks', " CNN, June 19, 2009
"Obama has taken on a more direct role in shaping the healthcare reform legislation being written on Capitol Hill as well as trying to shape public opinion in his favor."
—"Obama Offers More Cuts To Pay for Health Reform," the Hill, June 13, 2009
"The White House, backing away from President Barack Obama's "it's-all-on-the-table" approach initially advocated, prepared to get louder and more involved in the details of a health care overhaul that officials once were content to leave to Congress, administration officials said Saturday."
—Obama Team Plans More Active Role on Health Care," Associated Press, June 7, 2009
"Unlike the last president to attempt a healthcare overhaul—Bill Clinton, who submitted a 1,342-page bill to Congress in 1993—Obama has left the drafting to lawmakers. But the letter to Senators Edward M. Kennedy, chairman of the health committee, and Max Baucus, chairman of the finance committee showed that Obama is now taking a more active, public role."
—"Obama Lays Out Health Overhaul," Boston Globe, June 4, 2009
E-mail Timothy Noah at firstname.lastname@example.org.