Responding to ‘any confusion out there’

RESPONDING TO ‘ANY CONFUSION OUT THERE’…. Well, he certainly sounds serious about getting health care reform done.

Speaking at a winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee, President Obama covered some familiar ground, but tackled health care reform in a rather straightforward way.

“The easiest thing to do right now would be to just say, ‘Oh, this is too hard. You know, let’s just regroup and, you know, lick our wounds, try to hang on,'” the president told the party officials and activists. “We’ve had a long and difficult debate on health care, and there are some, maybe even the majority in this town, who say perhaps it’s time to walk away.

“But here’s the thing, Democrats — if we walk away, we know what will happen. We know that premiums and out-of-pocket expenses will skyrocket this decade and the decade after that and a decade after that just as they did in the past decade. More small businesses will be priced out of coverage. More big businesses will be unable to compete internationally. More workers will take home less pay and fewer raises. We know that millions more Americans will lose their coverage. We know that our deficits will inexorably continue to grow — because health care costs are the single biggest driver.

“So just in case there’s any confusion out there, let me be clear: I am not going to walk away from health insurance reform. I’m not going to walk away from the American people. I’m not going to walk away on this challenge.

“I’m not going to walk away on any challenge. We’re moving forward. We are moving forward. Sometimes, we may be moving forward against the prevailing winds. Sometimes it may be against a blizzard! But we’re going to live up to our responsibility to lead.”

I think this qualifies as “strong support” for getting health care reform done. Indeed, I like the fact the Obama emphasized this as a policy argument — even if Dems are afraid, even if the polls are discouraging, the country really needs this to pass. If Democratic lawmakers are too filled with anxiety to remember their own political self-interests, maybe they can feel motivated to act in the public’s best interests.

But the key is the next step. The president isn’t going to walk away from reform. Good. He’s ready to move forward. Excellent. He doesn’t want there to be any “confusion out there.” Got it.

The question, then, is what, specifically, the president plans to do now. Negotiations among lawmakers aren’t going anywhere, and both the House and Senate seem to be waiting for the White House to bring the relevant players together, chart out a way forward, and make this happen.

Looking back over the last several days, Obama has delivered some great speeches, making it abundantly clear that his commitment to health care reform hasn’t wavered. That, to a very real extent, gives the initiative a shot in the arm, and I don’t want to discount the significance of the comments.

But by all appearances, it’s now time to make the shift from talking publicly about getting this done to talking privately about how to get this done. I’d be delighted if lawmakers were able to finish the job on their own, but they’re not.