It’s not entirely up to Obama

IT’S NOT ENTIRELY UP TO OBAMA…. It’s tempting to think that President Obama, with an electoral mandate, reasonably strong approval ratings, and a like-minded Congress, can have any kind of health care reform package he wants. The White House would draw certain lines in the sand — a bill with no public option, for example, would draw a veto — and lawmakers would follow his lead.

But Ezra Klein noted yesterday that FDR, Truman, Nixon, Carter, and Clinton all tried to reform health care, and all of them came up short. “[I]t’s not a matter of presidential messaging, or toughness, or will, or strategy,” Ezra said, adding, “The executive simply has limited power here.”

Matt Yglesias agrees.

I know a lot of people on the left who seem to have voted for Barack Obama because they liked his progressive agenda, then gotten excited when Obama won the election because they liked his progressive agenda, then Obama proposed progressive measures to the congress and they were excited, then it turned out that key congressional players like Collin Peterson and Rick Boucher and Max Baucus were less left-wing than Obama so actually legislative outcomes would be considerably less left-wing than Obama’s campaign proposal. It’s all well and good to be disappointed with this situation but it doesn’t make a ton of sense to me to do what a lot of people seem to be doing and becoming disappointed with Obama. […]

On foreign policy and some other matters the president has tons of discretion and it’s a different story. But big-picture domestic legislation in the modern era is controlled by Congress.

And Congress isn’t designed to be an especially constructive branch.

There are a whole host of institutional obstacles to health care reform, including a timid congressional majority, a reactionary congressional minority, an easily-misled public, and a media that’s reluctant to sort out fact from fiction when outlets aren’t just passing along what both sides of an argument have to say.

The president has taken on a daunting challenge, and I hope he realized what he was getting himself into. But in the bigger picture, while Obama brings some tremendous skills and qualities to the process, what reaches his desk isn’t entirely up to him.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.