[Posted by Karl]
The night before the Potemkin summit on ObamaCare, a story appears in the Wall Street Journal:
President Barack Obama will use a bipartisan summit Thursday to push for sweeping health-care legislation, but if that fails to generate enough support the White House has prepared the outlines of a more modest plan.
His leading alternate approach would provide health insurance to perhaps 15 million Americans, about half what the comprehensive bill would cover, according to two people familiar with the planning.
Reporters like Jake Tapper have mentioned a fallback position, but have not made it a story of its own. It apparently bothered the Obama adminsitration enough to launch some damage control through Ezra Klein:
Plan B has been around for awhile. In August, discussions raged in the White House over whether to pare back the bill. The comprehensive folks won the argument, but people also drew up plans for how you could pare back the bill, if it came to that. More thinking was done on this in the aftermath of the Massachusetts election, when Rahm Emanuel and some of the political folks again argued for retreating to a more modest bill. As you’d expect, these conversations included proposals for how that smaller bill would look.
At this point, I could quote some White House sources swearing up and down that that’s all this is. A vestigial document that’s being blown out of proportion by a conservative paper interested in an agenda-setting story. They’re furious over this story. None of the quotes are sourced to the White House — not even anonymously — raising questions that the whole thing is sabotage. But it hardly matters. There’s no Plan B at this point in the game, and most everyone knows it.
Klein does raise an interesting point about the sourcing to anonymous “officials.” So maybe the paragraph that should leap out in the WSJ story is this one:
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel didn’t devise the smaller policy, the official said. But Mr. Emanuel argued that it wasn’t feasible to pass a comprehensive bill and counseled a lesser version, according to several people familiar with the conversations. Others argued that Democrats were going to take a political hit by voting for a health-care bill no matter what, and they should opt for a sweeping measure whose benefits would be easier to highlight.
Why did a source feel compelled to tell the WSJ’s Laura Meckler that Rahm did not “devise” the smaller policy? Maybe because Rahm is under siege:
[T]the White House chief of staff and his allies have sought to defend Emanuel against a growing chorus of critics who blame him for nearly everything that has gone wrong in Obama’s first year.
One of the more surprising details to emerge from this back and forth is that Emanuel’s allies are letting it be known around town that he never wanted to make it the administration’s top priority for Year One. That may come as a surprise to Democrats on the Hill who’ve been lobbied relentlessly by Emanuel to get a bill done — and fast.
“There are some at the White House and elsewhere who clearly want Rahm’s head, and he needs to defend himself,” said an Emanuel friend, speaking on condition of anonymity. “That’s why there’s a CYA operation going on.”
Emanuel’s aides say that he’s focused on passing health care reform and maintain that he’s not spending any more time than usual spinning or working the press. But since the shocking victory of Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts last month, which some Democrats blamed on Emanuel, they have been swamped with press interest, with at least four major profiles of the colorful former Illinois congressman in the works.
That’s four in addition to the recent Dana Milbank piece in the WaPo that gushed over Rahm, while slamming a number of his colleagues:
Obama’s problem is that his other confidants — particularly Valerie Jarrett and Robert Gibbs, and, to a lesser extent, David Axelrod — are part of the Cult of Obama. In love with the president, they believe he is a transformational figure who needn’t dirty his hands in politics.
Obama’s greatest mistake was failing to listen to Emanuel on health care. Early on, Emanuel argued for a smaller bill with popular items, such as expanding health coverage for children and young adults, that could win some Republican support. He opposed the public option as a needless distraction.
The president disregarded that strategy and sided with Capitol Hill liberals who hoped to ram a larger, less popular bill through Congress with Democratic votes only. The result was, as the world now knows, disastrous.
But “Capitol Hill liberals” does not fully cover it. We know (again courtesy of the WSJ’s Laura Meckler, by wild coincidence) that this was an Emanuel-Axelrod dispute. Given this backdrop, the story may be “sabotage” — but it could still be an inside job.