WASHINGTON (CNN) – In a session with journalists today, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel sounded more optimistic about health care reform than many of his fellow Democrats. In fact, he made a point of telling reporters that secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke with the president today, said "I wish I was this close in '94," when she unsuccessfully attempted to shepherd her bill through Congress.
That said, Emanuel clearly understands the hurdles that lie ahead-particularly with members of his own party. Yet he insisted that the committees working on legislation in the House and the Senate are not as far apart on major matters as has been portrayed. Moreover, he added the status quo is unacceptable. Any measure, he said, must be deficit-neutral, bend the health care cost curve downward, and include one of the president's favorite plans, 'MedPac', which would empower an independent executive agency to curb health care costs.
When asked whether the president needs to outline a specific plan on health care, Emanuel made it clear the president is involved, and has no intention of doing so. "We made a choice...(to offer) broad oputlines and let the legislative process work," he said. "...(When you start with a bill) every change becomes a defeat. I've done that story line." But, he added, "don't think we are waiting...we are not sitting back like the Maytag man."
He went out of his way to compliment members for "working through a tough issue. "There's lots of members, lots of sausage making," he said-and went out of his way to compliment three GOP senators - Mike Enzi, Olympia Snowe and Charles Grassley - who are working to get a bill out of the Senate Finance Committee. "I have a great deal of admiration for their courage... in the face of a tremendous amt of political pressure they are acting …with a ...sense of public responsibility," he said.
He was less complimentary, to say the least, of those Republicans who are opposing any democratic-driven measure. "The prescription drug bill was 900 billion, and paid for on a credit card. You might not like the 'pay-fors,' but they're there....the party that is sitting there compaining about the deficit has nothing but a pool of blood (red ink) around them."
Not surprisingly, Emanuel predicted this Congress can get something done. He did allow that the peril of having the health care debate hang around over the August recess is that "the interest groups (could) come out and change course." But he reminded reporters that "the insurance companies have made a calculation that reform is better than not...they're seen as the biggest burden in the system as it exists."
In other words: jump ship at your own peril.