Public signals, private signals

PUBLIC SIGNALS, PRIVATE SIGNALS…. Publicly, President Obama has left no doubt of late that he remains fully committed to health care reform. He made this quite clear in the State of the Union, at a town-hall event in Tampa, at a town-hall event in New Hampshire, and again yesterday when talking to the Senate Democratic caucus.

But in each instance, the president has emphasized why reform must pass, while refraining from publicly giving Congress specific instructions as to how, exactly, to proceed. Are White House officials getting deeper into the strategy behind the scenes? Apparently, yes.

White House aides have privately told Dem Congressional aides that the White House supports the House passing the Senate health reform bill with a reconciliation fix, something that could give a bit more momentum to that approach, according to two Congressional staffers familiar with the discussions.

The private communications will lend a bit of cheer to those who had hoped the White House would use its heft to help Congress break its logjam by endorsing a specific route to getting reform done.

Obama and the White House have not publicly stated a preference on how they’d like Congressional Dems to proceed. But White House aides have privately made it clear to the Dem leadership that they support the approach many Dems are coalescing behind: The House passing the Senate bill, with fixes made by the Senate via reconciliation, the sources say.

Well, good. Ideally this wouldn’t be necessary, but it’s become quite clear lawmakers need some White House intervention. There’s been a fair amount of clamoring among congressional Dems for “marching orders,” and the more the president’s team signals the best way forward, the more likely it is reform will actually get done.

The next step, then, would be the president coordinating directly with House and Senate leaders, and perhaps publicly stating the preferred strategy. Obama will almost certainly also have to mediate which chamber will have to go first in advancing the initiative.

Speaker Pelosi insists the Senate must take the next step. Senate Majority Leader Reid insists the Senate literally, procedurally can’t go first, but acknowledged that there’s talk of asking the House to first pass a reconciliation fix, send that to the Senate for approval, and then have it ping-pong back to the House, which would then approve of the whole package and send it on to the White House.

That, Reid told reporters, “seems like a strong possibility.”

Senate leaders hope to have a decision in place about how to proceed by next week.