The White House’s welcome intervention

THE WHITE HOUSE’S WELCOME INTERVENTION…. From the outset, Obama administration officials thought it best to let Congress do the heavy lifting in shaping health care reform proposals. It was, after all, one of the supposed lessons of early 1990s — the process is less likely to work if the White House drafts the bill and tells lawmakers to pass it.

And for the most part, things have gone largely according to plan. Any day now, the Senate Finance Committee will pass a reform bill, at which point legislation will head to the Senate floor for the first time. When it does, the White House’s role will grow from that of an active outsider to “the central player.”

Senior White House officials are scheduled to be in the room throughout negotiations to merge competing Senate health care bills from the Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees, with the expectation that they will make key decisions to mediate disagreements. In advance of the floor action to follow, Obama and top administration officials have been lobbying Senate Democrats to secure support for a final package.

“The White House presence in the merger will be huge, and it has to be,” a senior Democratic Senate aide said Monday. “President Obama will have to weigh in on the most difficult issues.”

Barring delays, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will host talks in his office later this week with Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and HELP Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), along with several White House officials, including Rahm Emanuel, Nancy Ann DeParle, and Peter Orszag.

Note, no one seems to mind that the president’s team is getting more hands-on in its involvement. Indeed, lawmakers seem inclined to cede control and follow the White House’s lead.

With the public option still polling well, no Dems want to be blamed for its demise, and Senate Dems — mindful that they’ll take it on the chin if it’s not included — are handing some responsibility to the White House to signal the way forward…. Senate Dems are in effect saying to Obama: “Tell us what to do. It’s your call.”

Under the circumstances, this works nicely for everyone on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue.