I was invited by the White House to participate in a conference call for bloggers with the President of the United States. The call took place beginning at 5:30 this evening. I was going to do a long piece on what transpired, but that is no longer necessary. Joan McCarter wrote up an excellent synopsis for Daily Kos and John Amato recorded the call and uploaded it to Crooks & Liars. There is also a write-up from David Dayen. Everything you need to know about this call can be learned through those sources.

I think all the bloggers who were invited on the call probably have some differences with the Obama administration, but we all are united in wanting to help him pass what they are calling a ‘robust public option’ as part of the health care plan. This created an interesting dynamic. The call was on-the-record, so behind the scenes strategizing wasn’t an option. After Obama spent about twenty-five minutes talking to us and answering questions, he turned the call over to his political strategist David Axelrod and the Director of the White House Office of Health Reform, Nancy Ann DeParle.

There were a couple of substantive questions on health care policy, but most bloggers wanted to get some ideas on the administration’s needs, strategy, and bottom line. Yet, because the call was on-the-record, neither Obama nor Axelrod was going to say anything much different that what they would say to Jake Tapper or David Gregory. They certainly weren’t going to say anything that might alienate powerful chairmen like Max Baucus or Kent Conrad.

The first question came from John Amato who wanted to know if Obama would force Congress to stay in session if they couldn’t complete their work before the August recess. Obama didn’t say yes or no. Instead, he said that he had contacted the key chairpeople the day after he was elected to let them know that health care reform was going to be his number one priority, and that there was therefore no excuse for delay.

Jonathan Singer followed with a question on the possible use of the budget reconciliation process (which only requires 50 votes) if the Senate can’t pass a health care bill before October. Obama danced around a little but essentially said that he would use reconciliation in that scenario because doing nothing is not an option.

Joan McCarter wanted to know if the administration was considering a co-op alternative to the public option that has been espoused as a compromise by Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad. Obama explained that co-ops don’t have the scale or resources to compete with corporate insurers, but that he had advised his team to take a careful look anyway.

In the end, Obama made an observation that I have made many times before. The House is going to introduce several different bills from different committees (Health & Education, Energy & Commerce, and Way & Means) and so is the Senate (HELP & Finance). All of those bills will eventually be combined into one, so it doesn’t matter tremendously if one of them lacks the public option. The whole thing is going to go down after the House and Senate have each passed their bills, when those bills have to be reconciled in a Conference Committee. It is the Conference Committee that will produce the final product. What Obama wants right now is for the House and Senate to each pass a single bill before they go into the August recess. That will be the completion of the first step.

When they come back in September, they will have the vote on the reconciled bill. If the Dems can get 60 votes in the Senate, then Obama will sign it, and it will become law. If the Dems can’t get 60 votes in the Senate by October 15th, then they will revert to the budget reconciliation process that only requires fifty votes. The latter process is inferior for a variety or reasons that I will not go into right now, but it can get the job done if it becomes necessary.

The main things that Obama, Axelrod, and DeParle want from the bloggers are to put a human face on health care fiasco in this country, to explain why the status quo is unsustainable, to demonstrate why the system works for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries but not for the average Joe or the federal budget, to combat the arguments of the Right, and to amplify the evidence of obstructionism coming from people like Bill Kristol and Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

It’s not anything different from what we were doing already.

But they also want you, the reader, to get involved and call your representatives. Call them and tell them all the things I listed above.

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