Obama and Smerconish

OBAMA AND SMERCONISH…. President Obama sat down this morning with conservative radio talk-show host Michael Smerconish, who broadcast his show live from the White House today, for a substantive and interesting discussion. One exchange, in particular, stood out for me.

A caller from Philadelphia, who said he “worked hard” in support of the Obama campaign last year said he’s “getting a little ticked off,” because he’s afraid the president’s “knees are buckling a little bit” on health care. “It’s very frustrating to watch you try and compromise with a lot of these people who aren’t willing to compromise with you,” the caller said. Obama responded:

“Well, look, I guarantee you, Joe, we are going to get health care reform done. And I know that there are a lot of people out there who have been hand-wringing, and folks in the press are following every little twist and turn of the legislative process. You know, passing a big bill like this is always messy. FDR was called a socialist when he passed Social Security. JFK and Lyndon Johnson, they were both accused of a government takeover of health care when they passed Medicare. This is the process that we go through — because, understandably, the American people have a long tradition of being suspicious of government, until the government actually does something that helps them, and then they don’t want anybody messing with whatever gets set up.

“And I’m confident we’re going to get it done, and as far as negotiations with Republicans, my attitude has always been, let’s see if we can get this done with some consensus. I would love to have more Republicans engaged and involved in this process. I think early on a decision was made by the Republican leadership that said, ‘Look, let’s not give them a victory and maybe we can have a replay of 1993-94 when Clinton came in; he failed on health care and then we won in the midterm elections and we got the majority.’ And I think there’s some folks who are taking a page out of that playbook.

“But this shouldn’t be a political issue. This is a issue for the American people. There are a bunch of Republicans out there who have been working very constructively. One of them, Olympia Snowe in Maine, she’s been dedicated on this. Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, others — they’ve been meeting in the Senate Finance Committee. I want to give them a chance to work through these processes.

“And we’re happy to make sensible compromises. What we’re not willing to do is give up on the core principle that Americans who don’t have health insurance should get it; that Americans who do have health insurance should get a better deal from insurance companies and have consumer protections. We’ve got to reduce health care inflation so that everybody can keep the health care that they have. That’s going to be my priorities, and I think we can get it done.”

This was an interesting response — to a great question — for a few reasons. First, I don’t think I’ve heard the president say he “guarantees” that health care reform will get done before this. Second, the more he reminds folks about how the right has consistently been hysterical about Democratic reform ideas, the better.

But the part about Republicans also seemed new — he said some GOP officials are opposing reform simply to help the Republicans’ chances in the 2010 midterms. That’s obviously true, but as Greg Sargent noted, “I’m pretty sure Obama has not gone this far before.”