Obama 2.0: Why The Timing of Health Care Reform Matters

The deadline for passing health care reform has slipped several times, from the August recess to the end of the year, and now to the State of the Union.  The media has covered the slippage like a teenager smirking when a parent reels off threats while imploring him to clean his room.  The parent can’t make him do it, and the media knows there’s nothing President Obama can do to make Congress meet the deadline.  But the State of the Union deadline has real strategic importance for the Democrats; missing it could cost them dearly in the 2010 elections.

The State of the Union address is the traditional time for re-setting an Administration’s agenda, for putting in place the themes that will carry the President’s party through the fall congressional elections.  The State of the Union this year is particularly important because the Obama Administration is in desperate need of a “re-boot,” a chance to re-align its core message and policy initiatives to be more in sync with voters’ fears about the economy and concerns about the excesses of the Democratic Congress.   The President’s approval ratings have fallen markedly, as have Congress’sAlthough congressional Republicans continue to be dazzlingly unpopular, as of now, they stand to reap the benefit next November of the public’s broader dissatisfaction with government.

Former President Clinton reportedly told the Senate Democratic Caucus earlier this month that getting health care reform passed this year was critically important because it would enable the party to refocus on jobs, infrastructure and education in 2010.  Those are vital parts of the Obama 2.0“re-boot” (I’ll have some thoughts about other important elements in a later post).

But if health care reform is still pending by the State of the Union speech, re-booting the Administration to “Obama 2.0” will be virtually impossible because the media’s focus will be on the day-to-day back and forth on the President’s signature initiative.  Oh, and by the way, if the State of the Union deadline for passing health care reform isn’t met, what makes you think that Congress will pass it by Presidents’ Day, or Easter, for that matter?  Clean your room!

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