White House admits to health care strategy problems 

With a widely unpopular health care package entering the final throes of negotiation in Congress, a key White House official acknowledged the sales pitch has been mishandled.

With a widely unpopular health care package entering the final throes of negotiation in Congress, a key White House official acknowledged the sales pitch has been mishandled.

"We have to do a better job of explaining to the American people the principle things they will get out of this," Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told MSNBC. "The message is not getting through."

From the beginning, President Obama embraced a strategy of encouraging congressional buy-in of his top legislative priority by allowing lawmakers to craft their own health care bill.

But illustrating Emanuel's point, a recent poll by Gallup and USA Today found 48 percent of Americans would urge their representative in Congress to vote against the bill, while 46 percent said they would urge their member to support it.

The president in recent days has significantly stepped up his involvement in crafting a final version of the bill, including supporting a decision by Democratic leaders to skip an official conference committee reconciliation in order to work it out in private.

With his own job approval rating at 49 percent according to Gallup, Obama's prospects for leveraging his own popularity in support of health care legislation has limited application. And some of his key constituencies are falling away as the reform effort progresses.

"This is a moment that cries out for political courage, but we're not seeing enough of it," Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO said at the National Press Club.

Labor leaders, who met privately with Obama at the White House, are enraged by his support of a plan in the Senate version of the bill to tax so-called Cadillac health plans.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed questions about threats from labor that members, dispirited by the health care reform debate, may put in a lackluster showing at the polls in November.

"I think working men and women will ask themselves who is on the side of insurance companies and who is on the side of taking insurance companies on," Gibbs said.

But it's not just the unions that Obama has to worry about. Liberal Democrats across the board are unhappy with the plan, while moderates like Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California also have dropped their support.

Emanuel, who helped devise the plan to keep Obama out of the health care sausage-making until the end of the process, now concedes the White House could have done a better job with the message.

Emanuel, widely regarded as an effective and highly partisan enforcer for Obama, found himself answering rumors he wants to leave the administration to run for mayor of Chicago -- a report he denied.

But for the administration, the speculation was one more sign that closing the deal on health care reform remains more fraught than they initially thought it would be.

Asked why the poll numbers look bad for health care reform, Emanuel said that "part of it is the message not getting through," combined with a complicated legislative process.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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