Axelrod: ‘Great Political Mistake’ To Walk Away From Health Care

January 28, 2010 1:45 pm

President Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod said that despite saying jobs is his No. 1 priority and offering no deadline for getting health care passed, the president remains intent on getting a plan passed so Democrats can get on with campaigning on its merits.

Axelrod said today during a briefing with reporters and opinion-makers he would not entertain “what happens if it doesn’t work,” because it would be “a great political mistake to walk away from this issue.”

“There were plenty of people who said before the speech last night, just stand up there and say ‘It’s over.’ Say ‘We tried,’ and move on because it’s too politically difficult,” Axelrod said. “And that’s not what he did and we are working closely with folks on the Hill to develop the way forward and get this done and that’s all we’re focused on, on health care, is getting it done.”

Axelrod, who has worked with Obama for years, said the president wants to allow Democrats time to process the new political reality of 59 Senate seats but he wants them to “go back at it soon.”Presented with Democratic complaints that Obama was not more specific in his health care remarks during his State of the Union, Axelrod said he would not discuss tactics.

“When heads cool a little we will decide the best way to move forward,” he said. “We haven’t transitioned away from it … we are going to take the steps we think hold out the most promise to getting this done.”

Axelrod refused to tip his hand about where those talks would be headed beyond detailing the difficulty of working with such a diverse caucus and that the White House-Capitol Hill negotiations remain very active.

Asked about reconciliation, Axelrod said it could only be used for portions of the bill but did note wryly, “reconciliation is a tool that is there to be used.”

He also declined to give any sort of timeline for getting it done, saying that Obama used deadlines last year to “drive the legislative process.” He does believe Democrats will be able to successfully campaign on its passage once it does.

“I don’t know anybody who has put more chips in the middle of the table on this than he has,” Axelrod said.

While attempting to work with Republicans (Obama is addressing their retreat in Baltimore tomorrow), the president has no illusions that it would be easy to get the GOP to cooperate with the midterm elections looming large, Axelrod said.

But he said supporters who gave $25 during the campaign “want us to make the maximum effort to see if we can put together coalitions to get things done.”

“We may have to work with what we have here … the country needs to know that we tried to do it, that we reached out that we tried that opportunity,” Axelrod said. “We’re going to make a good faith effort, it has to be on them, it’s not going to be on us.”

Axelrod said the party plans to highlight obstruction tactics, including the record number of filibuster attempts for legislation that ultimately passed with wide support.

In 2009, Republicans “didn’t pay enough of a price for what was a determined strategy not to work with us,” he said.
More from the Axelrod briefing here and here.

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