Nancy-Ann DeParle

If the Supreme Court justices decide to throw out the Affordable Care Act, even partially, we should be clear about the reasons for the failure. It won’t be because Justice Department lawyers bungled their job. Rather, the case will have been lost outside the courts. The White House and its allies in Congress are the ones who failed to do a critical part of their job: to explain and defend to the public not only how the law works, but the constitutional case for upholding it. Leading Democrats didn’t just fail at this task.

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I was surprised by how little coverage White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Alan Krueger got for his speech yesterday about income inequality (text, video). It was the second major White House speech on income inequality, the first of course being President Obama's widely covered Dec. 6 speech in Osawatomie, Kansas (which I wrote about here).

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Welcome to TNR’s 2011 List Issue. In putting the issue together, we had one major priority: to avoid creating a power list featuring anyone who regularly dominates headlines. Instead, we had a different idea: What if we revealed something about D.C. by documenting who quietly wields power? From there, we began to hatch other ideas for lists, and we realized that—while they can certainly be cheap gimmicks—lists can also convey a lot about a city. Below is the first list from the issue: Washington’s most powerful, least famous people.

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This is the second of a five-part series explaining, in remarkable detail, how Obama and the Democrats came to pass health care reform. (Click here to read part one.) Be sure to come back Monday for the third installment, which examines just how nasty negotiations got in Congress—bruised egos, threatened careers, the works.   Workhorses It was an intimate gathering at Ted Kennedy’s home in Washington—just the senator, his colleague Max Baucus, and three senior staffers who worked with them on health care.

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How They Did It

When the president and his closest advisers huddled in the Oval Office last August, they had every reason to panic. Their signature piece of legislation, comprehensive health care reform, was mired in the Senate Finance Committee and the public was souring on it. Unemployment was on the march, and all this talk about preexisting conditions and insurance exchanges barely registered above the Fox News pundits screaming, “Death panel!” Suddenly, health care reform was under attack everywhere—even in the West Wing. All week, the group had debated whether to scale back the reform effort.

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[This is a guest post by Jonathan Cohn; photo from White House Flickr stream] During the debate over health care, there were a handful of moments when President Obama presided over a serious discussion of whether to pull back--that is, to give up on comprehensive reform, at least for the moment, and hunt for quick agreement on a much smaller bill. One of these moments came in early August, as polls showed the public was turning against reform and the prospects of getting legislation out of the Senate Finance Committee seemed bleak.

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What would it take to get Susan Collins on board with the health reform bill? After months of sending hot and cold signals about the bill, the Maine Republican made remarks yesterday that suggested she might be willing to support the legislation if certain amendments were put through.

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Topic number one in health care reform right now is the public option--and, in particular, Senator Harry Reid's decision to push a bill that includes an "opt-out" proposal. But Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, had relatively little to say about it on Tuesday, when she appeared at TNR's health reform conference. Her keynote address barely touched upon the subject.

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Click here to read Jonathan Cohn's take on the comments made by Nancy-Ann Deparle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, about the public option at today's TNR health care conference. What good can the public option do if not enough people can access it? That’s the question that Senator Ron Wyden has been raising a lot lately. And he did it again this morning, at TNR's health care reform event.

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It's too early to guarantee that health care reform passes. It's not too early to think about what should happen next. What will it take to make the final reform plan work--to make sure that it really provides affordable coverage while realigining the health care system to produce higher quality, less costly care? And what can be done now, as the debate moves onto the House and Senate floors, in order to make success more likely?

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