White House preps for next stage

WHITE HOUSE PREPS FOR NEXT STAGE…. When it comes to health care reform, from the administration’s perspective, July didn’t go quite according to plan. August was a mess, though not entirely an unexpected one.

But as September gets underway, and lawmakers return from a hot, five-week recess, the White House is preparing for the next stage in the fight for reform.

President Obama is planning for “a new season” of more hands-on advocacy for his troubled domestic priority, an overhaul of the health care system, according to his advisers. Among the likely steps would be a nationally televised speech that close allies have urged, and a 10-year price tag for the overhaul below the $1 trillion mark.

Mr. Obama met on Tuesday with advisers including Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, and David Axelrod, a senior strategist, to prepare for Congress’s return to work next week after a month in which many lawmakers have been spooked by contentious townhall meetings and polls registering slipping support for the president and his health care plans.

“We’re obviously entering a new season here and this issue has been debated and discussed and chewed over at great length now,” Mr. Axelrod said in an interview. “There are a lot of ideas on the table and now it’s time to pull those strands together and finish the work.”

Axelrod wasn’t specific about who would pull those strands together and finish the work, but the implication suggests a more active, hands-on role from the White House, which would probably be welcome news on the Hill.

As for specifics, Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei report this morning that Obama and his team plan to specify exactly what the president expects to see in the legislation. This includes the likelihood of “a major speech,” which may come as early as next week — the same week lawmakers return to the Hill.

One assumes plans are still in flux, but the Politico report said the president will not “insist on” the inclusion of a public option. “We have been saying all along that the most important part of this debate is not the public option, but rather ensuring choice and competition,” an aide said. “There are lots of different ways to get there.”

This is not to say the White House will call for dropping the public option, only that Obama will start directing lawmakers with specifics that he expects to be in the final bill, and the public option won’t be one of them. What will? Marc Ambinder reported yesterday the instructions will include specific consumer protections, details on the level of subsidies for the uninsured, and preferred financing options. Obama will insist on a “mechanism to cut costs and increase competition among insurance companies,” and that he sees a public option as the best way to make that happen. But he’s prepared to let lawmakers meet that goal as they see fit, and the “trigger” option preferred by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) may be part of the mix.

As for bipartisanship, the AP reports that Axelrod conceded that Chuck Grassley’s and Mike Enzi’s recent antics “were not exactly consistent with good-faith negotiations.” I’m glad he noticed.