Obama Finds New Way To Say Nada

(CBS)
Max Baucus had a glazed-over look as he listened to Barack Obama spin the Democrat retreat on health insurance reform as a victory for the American people. Maybe the Montana Senator was absorbed in contemplating the sundry X's and O's surrounding his recent political embarassment. Or perhaps he was simply hoping to pick up a pointer or two from the president because Baucus - make that the entire Blue Dog Democratic contingent in the United States Senate - could use a good spinmeister to repair their tattered relations with their party's liberal wing.

But everyone turned out to hear what the president had to say and let's give the man credit: He is getting awfully good at this. The president said absolutely nothing but it still sounded, well, presidential. Mr. Obama allowed that while his meeting today with Democratic Senate leaders had been "very productive" and that they were on the "precipice" of reaching an accord, differences still remained. (Actually, the president stuttered as he said "s..s..still remain." Freud, anyone?)

Any liberals hoping that Mr. Obama might announce a last-minute Lazarus-like resurrection of the public option (or the Medicare buy-in) came away disappointed. Joe Lieberman, who wasn't invited to the White House kaffeeklatch, has already put the kibosh on that. Anyway, the president isn't interested in wasting any more time or political capital. Instead, the new plan is to play small ball and get whatever possible in the current circumstances where Democrats still can't command a filibuster-free majority in the Senate.

So the president laid it on thick with the happy talk. He went on about how the different factions had reached a "broad consensus" to find legislation that will protect every American from the worst practices of health insurance industry (referring to the practice of some insurers to drop or deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.) He also said the group had agreed on reforms to reduce the costs of health care and strengthen Medicare, calling this the largest deficit reduction plan in a decade. That remains to be seen - especially since whatever legislation comes out of the sausage factory still doesn't include any mechanisms with which to cap costs.

"These aren't small changes, these are big changes," President Obama said.

Are they? Fair enough but then why did the Progressive Change Campaign Committee issue this video hit job on Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel? And why did Howard Dean decide to tell Vermont public radio's Bob Kinzel that it was time to put a fork in health care reform legislation (at least in its current incarnation?)

"This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate," according to a snippet released by Kinzel to Greg Sargent at The Plum Line. "Honestly the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill, go back to the House, start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill."

Dean, who speaks for many within the party, obviously meant to send a message. But so did the president and he has no plans to spice up the half a loaf being put on the table.
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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.

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