Obama Admin’s Messaging Confused
First we have hints by Obama that the public option isn’t critical to health care reform.
“The public option, whether we have it or we don’t have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform,” Obama said at the town hall event in Colorado. “This is just one sliver of it. One aspect of it. And by the way, it’s both the right and the left that have become so fixated on this that they forget everything else.”
That’s followed up by Kathleen Sebelius, HHS Secretary, and Robert Gibbs, White House Press secretary, dropping the same sort of hint. First Sebelius:
Sebelius said that what the president sees as essential is to set up competition to private insurers in the healthcare system. But she said that doesn’t have to come from a public health insurance option.
“Well, I think there will be a competitor to private insurers,” she said on CNN. “That’s really the essential part, is you don’t turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing. We need some choices, we need some competition.”
“What the president has said is in order to inject choice and competition. . . people ought to be able to have some competition in that market,” Gibbs said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Asked if he was hedging on support for a public plan, Gibbs said, “The president has thus far sided with the notion that that can best be done with a public option.”
Gibbs and Sebelius both leave their sentences unfinished – “but it doesn’t have to be the public option which introduces that competition”.
Like 1200 insurance companies wouldn’t compete in a real open market and not the rigged market the government has established – but that’s a post for another time.
You can’t help but draw the conclusion that the administration is backing away from support for the public option if their nebulous goal, “competition”, is still the final result of the bill.
That flies right in the face of the House’s liberal caucus, 77 liberal lawmakers who have said the public option is a must. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) told CNN on Sunday it would be “very difficult” for her and other liberals to support legislation that does not include a public option.
“The only way we can be sure that very low-income people and persons who work for companies that don’t offer insurance have access to it, is through an option that would give the private insurance companies a little competition,” she said.
Johnson added that House liberals have already told Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that she should insist on White House support for a public option.
In fact, the liberal caucus has stated in the past that it won’t vote for a health care bill without a public option.
An administration official said tonight that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “misspoke” when she told CNN this morning that a government run health insurance option “is not an essential part” of reform. This official asked not to be identified in exchange for providing clarity about the intentions of the President. The official said that the White House did not intend to change its messaging and that Sebelius simply meant to echo the president, who has acknowledged that the public option is a tough sell in the Senate and is, at the same time, a must-pass for House Democrats, and is not, in the president’s view, the most important element of the reform package.
A second official, Linda Douglass, director of health reform communications for the administration, said that President Obama believed that a public option was the best way to reduce costs and promote competition among insurance companies, that he had not backed away from that belief, and that he still wanted to see a public option in the final bill.
“Nothing has changed.,” she said. “The President has always said that what is essential that health insurance reform lower costs, ensure that there are affordable options for all Americans and increase choice and competition in the health insurance market. He believes that the public option is the best way to achieve these goals.”
Confusion reigns. Any reasonable person listening to the president in Grand Junction might have taken his remarks to mean exactly what has been reported – that the public option isn’t critical to the final bill as long as something is in there to increase “competition”. That something, of course, could be the co-op plan (or the trigger plan) being pushed in the Senate.
I bring all this up to point out that what was considered a media savvy group during the election campaign seems to have either forgotten how to impose message discipline or, if that’s not the case, hasn’t yet realized that scrutiny of every word, phrase and nuance and the comparison of what is said by various players in the administration and Congress is standard operating procedure among the old and new media.
Their world changed in a way on January 20th that I still don’t think they quite understand. Then they were able to get away with glib nonsense and glittering generalities then. But now they’re forced to deal with warring factions (many times within their own party) who aren’t going to be satisfied with anything but specifics. Every word uttered is going to be analyzed and spun. And situations like this make the administration seem confused, defensive and not on top of their game. It also gives the public even less reason to feel confident about giving them the power over their health care for which they’re asking.
All in all, not a stellar performance by the administration thus far.