Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

The Rose Garden: Obama Aides Lay Groundwork for Health Reform

The president, of course, is also involved, having spoken directly with HELP Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) as well as Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who both attended a private meeting with Obama last week.

Another senior Obama aide with his fingers already deep in the issue is OMB Director Peter Orszag, according to White House and Congressional officials.

Orszag, with his number-crunchers at the OMB, has the resources and background to perform some of the economic analysis demanded by lawmakers and their aides. During his preceding stint at the Congressional Budget Office, Orszag was an ardent proponent of the idea that the government must address health care costs in order to mitigate a long-term explosion in the government’s financial obligations.

Orszag is a driving force behind the White House argument that health overhaul is necessary to drive down costs in Medicare, which is facing huge financial challenges as the nation ages. The strategy of selling health reform as a cost cutter is a critical component in the strategy to blunt arguments by Republicans that the price tag of Obama’s health plans will be a huge drain on the budget, at the very least in the short term.

But it is DeParle who is firmly leading the effort, traveling to Capitol Hill nearly every day Congress is in session and meeting so far with more than 60 lawmakers from both parties.

“She has a good reputation over here — she’s not new to the Hill,” one Senate aide said. “She’s familiar with Capitol Hill, and the Members are familiar with her.”

DeParle, described by one White House colleague as a “whirling dervish,” is also conferring avidly with a panoply of health care stakeholders, including providers, insurers, pharmaceutical companies, patients’ rights advocates and business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business.

In addition to her experience in health care, DeParle has also served as a director on corporate and nonprofit boards and as a managing director at a private equity firm, which may ease her relations with business interests — some of whom are very concerned with the possible direction of the legislation.

“She’s meeting with anybody who’s got a good idea,” said Linda Douglass, the administration’s spokeswoman on health. “Groups that opposed [health care reform] in the past are all eager to give us their opinions this time.”

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