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Obama Drafts Health Care Fallback Plan

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus confers with an aide during Tuesday’s health care bill markup. The White House is quietly assembling a bill that it could unveil if Baucus’ proposal falls short in the Senate.

The existence of White House proposals helps explain Obama’s specificity during his Sept. 9 health care address to Congress in naming a 10-year $900 billion price tag for “the plan I’m proposing.” During his remarks, Obama gave no details about how he arrived at the number. But Obama aides had by then worked out their preferences in enough detail that they were able to run the numbers.

Some on Capitol Hill have felt frustrated that the White House put out a number but failed to provide a road map for getting there. But others are content to have the White House stay out of the fray and let lawmakers take the lead.

The failure to share details of what the White House wants fits with a strategy that aims to allow lawmakers leeway in crafting a bill. The strategy appears deeply informed by the failure of President Bill Clinton in 1994 to get Congress to act on health care.

Several administration officials and advisers are veterans of the Clinton effort, which featured a detailed White House proposal that became a magnet for criticism from opponents. Some believe the effort by the White House to steer the debate is what led to failure.

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