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Time for the White House to Stand and Deliver

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The way Barack Obama ended his State of the Union -"We don't quit. I don't quit". - has already become a rallying cry for Democrats. I have seen that quote now in Democratic Party fundraising emails and call to action emails, have seen numerous Democrats make reference to it in different ways. Like his "fired up, ready to go" line from the campaign, it is fast becoming the mantra of Obama supporters around the country.

Right now, on health care, it is time to show that those words really mean something.

It's OK that we aren't hearing much in the news about the what-to-do-now health care discussions going on between House, Senate and White House leadership, because we don't need to know every tactic, procedural maneuver, or random policy fix being thrown against the wall to see what sticks. I'm fine with leaders huddling together in private before a strategy is announced, and checking back quietly with their troops to see who can support what. All that is part of the normal legislative process. What makes me nervous at this point is any sign of drift.

On the House side, I have no worries at all. Pelosi is working her caucus hard, negotiating effectively with the Senate, and keeping health care alive by sheer force of will. It will be very tough to get 218 votes for any health care bill, but Pelosi is truly formidable and might be able to swing it. In the Senate, things are tougher: lots of bruised feelings about the earlier scramble to get 60 votes, lots of angst about the Scott Brown victory, procedural hell any way you turn, and sheer exhaustion on the issue, all make things tough. But getting 51 votes for a bill is always easier than getting 60, so the Senate is likely to be able to vote for something in the end.

It's the White House where I think there's a problem. People involved in the negotiations describe to me a sense of drift coming from 1600 Pennsylvania, a lack of leadership on pulling everyone together and coming up with a plan for how a health care bill gets done. The White House can't impose its will on Capitol Hill, but sources tell me they are just not showing much leadership, that they have been way too passive since the Brown victory.

The House and the Senate each have their own rhythms, their own sets of political dynamics and paths to a majority vote on health care. They don't always work together very well, or like each other very much. To get health care reform passed, the White House needs to assert itself. They have to be very active in working through both the policy compromises and the legislative sequence for getting this bill done. They need to work effectively with Reid and Pelosi on their respective strategies for getting to 51 and 218. The White House needs to have their act together to get health care through its final stage.

It will take a little time to work the bill through the Senate reconciliation process, and then to find 218 votes in the House, but if a plan on how to get all that done isn't decided on in the next week, health care reform probably won't get done. To come so close and not pass anything would be one of the great tragedies in American history, a sign that our generation's big change moment will not be happening. The White House needs to step up, stand up, and get the deal done.

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