Missing From SOTU: Guidance on How to Pass Health-Care Reform

On the surface, Obama made it clear in his State of the Union address that he wanted Congress to pass health-care reform. He admitted that it's been a politically rocky road, but beseeched legislators to "find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people."

This is good—the Democrats would be in a pretty horrible place if Obama had come out against the signature piece of legislation in his freshman year. But, unfortunately, Obama didn't say anything particularly useful and instructive for the gathered legislators. Namely, he did not explain how exactly Congress should get health-care reform passed. He did not say, "Pass the Senate bill" or "Start from scratch and hammer out a new bill." And as wonky and specific as this stuff might sound, it's exactly what Congress wanted (and I think needed) to hear. Besides, we heard it on other issues: when it came to job creation and clean energy, Obama outlined very specific proposals that he wanted Congress to pass.

Obama's State of the Union address will likely further concerns that the White House has been noticeably absent in pushing health-care reform forward. As Ezra Klein wrote today, most of his Hill sources are wondering where the White House leadership has been. "Every Hill office I've spoken to in the past week," he writes, "has had the same complaint. 'Where,' they ask, 'is the White House?' " By and large, Democrats seem to agree: they should pass health-care reform. What they need is help with how exactly they do that.

In terms of providing a road map, Obama was not there tonight. Obama asked Congress not to "walk away from health-care reform." But he did not give them a clear path to walk forward.