‘The concern-addressing stage’

‘THE CONCERN-ADDRESSING STAGE’…. We rarely see or hear about the White House’s aggressive lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill to secure support for health care reform, which makes this behind-the-scenes NYT report pretty interesting. As Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported, “After months of cutting deals and stroking drug makers, hospitals and doctors, the president’s aides are laying the groundwork for a final round of Congressional arm-twisting, with Mr. Obama increasingly in a hands-on role.”

Dan Pfeiffer, the White House deputy communications director, told her, “We are at the concern-addressing stage…. This is a political and policy challenge of epic proportions, and it takes a lot of effort and attention to achieve it.”

Whether the operation the West Wing has put in place is effective remains to be seen, but it’s nevertheless impressive. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel oversees two working groups: Nancy-Ann DeParle’s policy group and Jim Messina’s political group. Both spend their time “trying to learn who has problems with the legislation, what those problems are and what it will take to win each member’s vote.”

Everyone in the White House — and the cabinet — is levering every possible contact. When a lawmaker raises a concern about reform in a media interview, he or she gets a prompt response. When Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) expressed concerns about the effects of Medicaid expansion on her state’s budget, DeParle showed up at the senator’s home, charts in hand, for a three-hour chat.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who’s been personally lobbied by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, told the Times that President Obama “is leaving no stone unturned.”

That’s largely true, though some stones are apparently being ignored.

Republicans who have been most outspoken about their opposition to the White House say they have been left out of the outreach effort, and some are irked. “The strategy seems to be like a shooting gallery at the state fair; if you hit one target, you win the prize,” said Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Republican conference.

Alexander was referring to Maine’s Olympia Snowe, though it’s worth noting that Maine’s other senator, Susan Collins, has also received considerable attention from the White House.

But these details aside, it seems awfully foolish for conservative GOP lawmakers to complain that the White House isn’t reaching out to them. Why would Obama’s team bother? Or more to the point, when has the White House’s outreach to the Republican caucus ever produced positive results?

Congressional Republicans have spent months trashing reform through an often-vile misinformation campaign. Their goal is to defeat this effort by any means necessary.

That the president’s team has decided not to bother talking to them reflects an encouraging level of common sense.