Where things stand on health reform

WHERE THINGS STAND ON HEALTH REFORM…. As of this morning, we can say with some confidence that health care reform still has a pulse. Everything else is up in the air.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) reportedly “ripped into” White House senior adviser David Axelrod the other day, insisting that President Obama and his team will have to do a lot more heavy lifting to prevent reform’s demise. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reportedly leaned on Axelrod, too.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had a meeting with the president yesterday afternoon, but left with no “discernible progress” on the issue.

So, despite my arguments about lawmakers recognizing what needs to be done on their own, and not waiting around for “marching orders,” it seems the fate of health care reform is dependent almost entirely on the president’s direct intervention. Democrats, Jonathan Cohn noted, “need a shove,” which can apparently only come from Obama.

With that in mind, the president spoke at an Organizing for America event in D.C. last night, and as the NYT reported, “presented his clearest plan yet to move forward with comprehensive health care legislation.”

Mr. Obama said he would first work with Congress to enact a jobs package that would encourage new hiring, which he said was “the thing that is most urgent right now, in the minds of Americans all across the country.” But he also said that he would take the time to refute false statements and misunderstandings about the health care legislation and to hear alternate ideas from Republicans.

After “several weeks” of work, he said, he would be prepared to live with whatever decision is made by Congress, but he also warned that voters, too, would be watching and would decide at the polls in November whether lawmakers had made the right choice.

I’m not exactly sure what the president has in mind — which, I suppose, is not a good sign — but based on what he said last night, Obama wants to see congressional Democrats settle on a final bill. At that point, he’d like to convene a public meeting with GOP leaders, Democratic leaders, and health care experts, with everyone getting a chance to “just go through these bills.” The president added, “Let’s walk through them in a methodical way, so that the American people can see and compare what makes the most sense. And then I think that we have got to move forward on a vote.”

I suspect the president believes if there’s a full airing and public discussion about the Democratic plan, the proposal won’t be so scary to so many.

But in the meantime, I can only hope the White House is prepared to help Democrats work out their differences, and shape a legislative strategy. Reform is still likely to fail without the help.