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Obama's authority hangs in the balance

Mark Mardell | 15:24 UK time, Monday, 15 March 2010

This is a critical week for President Obama's authority. His senior adviser David Axelrod predicts they will have enough votes to pass a healthcare bill this week. The president's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, says the same.

David Axelrod

But the man in charge of getting enough votes in the house, James Clyburn, says he hasn't yet got them, although he's "very confident". If they are all stating reality as they see it, the White House is taking a staggering risk.

The president has delayed his long-planned Asian trip to lobby reluctant Democrats. He is gambling a lot on his own powers of persuasion to sway the 35 or so members of his own party who are inclined to vote "no".

To lose the healthcare vote because of Republicans is one thing. It opens the way to the obvious strategy of blaming the opposition for failure. This at least fires up the base.

But to lose because not enough Democrats vote for the president's own policy, his flagship legislation, would be a catastrophe.

The White House would have a go of course, and would still blame the Republicans. But it would be hard get round those Democrats who opposed, whether because they are worried about losing in November, or because they see the proposals as too liberal on abortion.

Even if the House does pass the legislation by next weekend, there is still the tricky political business of the Senate vote. But the bill would be in sight of safe haven, if not quite home and dry.

My inclination is to believe that politicians just don't take risks like this, they don't go into a room unless they know where the exit is, that the math adds up and this is about the theatre of moral pressure.
But I may be wrong.

The most interesting column I have read today argues that Barack Obama's fault as president is that he's not enjoying the job enough. He'll be enjoying it even less this time next week if enough on his own side turn against him.

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