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Borger: Congress needs 'Boss Obama'

  • Story Highlights
  • Gloria Borger: It makes sense for president to intervene in local politics
  • She says Obama also needs to flex political muscle in Congress
  • She says president needs to corral Democrats to support health compromise
  • Borger: Obama needs to cut deals to get health reform accomplished
By Gloria Borger
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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Editor's note: Gloria Borger is a senior political analyst for CNN, appearing regularly on CNN's "The Situation Room," "Campbell Brown," "AC360°" and "State of the Union With John King," as well as during special event coverage.

Gloria Borger says the president needs to use his political muscle to get Democrats to pass health reform.

Gloria Borger says the president needs to use his political muscle to get Democrats to pass health reform.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- First of all, let me stipulate that, as a purely political matter, I take no issue with President Obama's concern that Democrats could take a shellacking in 2010.

I have no problem with his political aides recruiting candidates and nudging (er, pushing) others aside, such as New York Gov. David Paterson. And it's a good idea that they're paying attention to redistricting fights in statehouses.

Boss Obama isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's a good thing.

Of course, there is that small matter of post-partisan Obama. Remember that guy? He's the candidate who wanted to take us beyond red states and blue states. He wanted to work with Republicans, not simply defeat them.

It was always a leap of faith, this notion that somehow partisanship could be swept aside in a Congress populated by members elected in increasingly partisan districts. Or that, because of Obama's considerable powers of persuasion and popularity, Republicans would decide to join hands with their Democratic brethren to find solutions to our toughest problems.

Didn't happen. Maybe it never could. The president's plans left the GOP cold -- and they found warmth and happiness in total opposition. It's the only thing that's working for them.

And so post-partisan Obama had to pass his economic stimulus package largely without Republicans. And he's going to have to do the same with health care.

So here's an idea: Why not let Boss Obama loose on Congress?

The White House plan to hand the power over to Congress failed miserably. So why not take it back, knock some heads (Democratic, that is) together, and get some version of reform passed. If the president can't be post-partisan, as he had hoped, he might as well try to be successful.

Of course, such a turn would require the president to take on a few folks within his own party. He will have to tell liberals to live with a plan without the public option; he will have to tell conservatives they're going to have to eat a higher price tag than they might like.

He may well have wanted to be the first president to rise above the petty politics of Washington, but now that he's here, there's another consideration: winning.

Remember Bill Clinton? In his first year in office, his liberal base complained about his budget, trade bills and cuts in social spending. And that was three years before he passed welfare reform -- and won a second term.

Yet there is still some resistance from the president. One Democratic source working on health care reform said "the president isn't there yet. He's still pushing for comprehensive reform and something approaching universal coverage."

As a result, "there's no center of gravity to be found in the Democratic party," the source said.

That's where The Boss comes in.

The president could outline a smaller bill -- strong on insurance reforms with a good downpayment on extending coverage. "There are plenty of Democrats high up who would be totally happy with that," said another Democratic source involved in the reform process. "There are just a bunch of Democrats who are not going to vote for a big bill."

It was the post-partisan Obama who let the health care debate get away from him. He let the House work its will and then let Democratic Sen. Max Baucus spend months in a wheelhouse, only to wind up with a plan that maybe one Republican will support.

Health reform needs a new narrative. It needs a political leader, willing to cut the deals to insure something gets done. Sure, the president wants something bigger; that's what he promised. But if it's not going to happen, he needs to start to boss some folks around a Plan B.

After all, Barack Obama may have pledged to dump politics-as-usual in Washington. But he did not take an oath of political celibacy.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

All About Barack ObamaHealth Care PolicyDemocratic Party

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