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Obama Shows Up At WH Press Briefing, Threatens Recess Appointments

President Obama popped in on the White House press briefing today for one of his first question-and-answer sessions since July. And the two big topics where this White House health care summit scheduled for February 25, as well as the subject of bipartisanship and both parties working together in Washington. To that end, the President said that, if his nominees for routine appointments keep getting held up in the Senate for no good reason, he would consider moving many of them through recess appointments “in the upcoming recess” which begins next week.

On health care, the President reiterated his pledge to get a bill done, similar to his Organizing for America compatriots today. He called the rate hike by Anthem Blue Cross in California a “preview of coming attractions,” and while he acknowledged there was little he could do about that, he maintained this is why a reform bill is so important. “I don’t have authority to issue an order lowering everyone’s rates, if I could, I would have done that already…. There’s no shortcut in dealing with this issue… Without some action, it is very unlikely that we see any improvement over the current trajectory.” He added that this was the first year in history where more people were getting health care from the government than the private sector, and that the erosion of the employer-based system had to be shored up by something that controls costs and covers more people.

Speaking about the issue with nominees, Obama said that, while he respected the Senate’s role to advise and consent, “qualified nominees have been held up despite having overwhelming support… That’s not advise and consent, that’s delay and obstruct.” He made note of the blanket hold, recently lifted, by Richard Shelby, and the 96-0 vote to confirm Martha Johnson to run the General Services Administration, which took 9 months. President Obama today asked Republican Congressional leaders to put a stop to all the holds on his nominees, and he said that if they persisted, “I will consider making several recess appointments during the upcoming recess.”

The President proceeded from the expectation that the Feb. 25 health care summit would actually take place, although he did not agree to any of the list of demands put forth by Republicans in their recent letter, particularly the idea of scrapping the bill entirely and starting over. He said that he’s starting from scratch only in the sense that he would be open to ideas that meet core goals of coverage expansion and cost containment. What he would not do, he said, is to agree to every single aspect of a Republican wish list for health care without getting them to vote for it. “Bipartisanship can’t be, I agree to all the things they believe in or want, and they agree to nothing that I believe in or want. That cannot be the price of bipartisanship … that’s not how it works in any other walk of life.”

It’s unclear how much more the President can concede on these points, anyway. The Senate health care bill is chock full of concessions to Republicans already. Presumably the idea of the meeting is to add on, or pretend to add on, one more layer of that, and then advance to a vote to get this done.

Obama said that the process of the last year had the effect of contaminating the substance of the bills. He thinks that a public airing of the relevant parts will actually increase public support in the process and the policy. In exchange, Republicans get a public showcase for their ideas.

He said that the White House has not refined the agenda for the health care summit, though he did say that he wanted to make sure the CBO would be available to answer questions. “Let’s establish some common facts,” the President said.

Other topics included energy, financial regulation, Iran’s nuclear program, and jobs.

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David Dayen

David Dayen