- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2011

President Obama has come a long way from the heady campaign days of 2008, when he promised to televise negotiations over his health care reform live on C-SPAN. Now, the White House is conceding that parts of the accelerating debate with Congress over the future of programs such as Medicaid and Social Security should probably be done in private.

“The administration is committed to openness and transparency. We are also committed to getting things done,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters one day after Mr. Obama said revamping entitlement programs requires a “quiet” conversation between Democrats and Republicans.

Mr. Carney, in his first public briefing as the new press secretary, noted Mr. Obama did not suggest that “every discussion about entitlement reform” would take place behind closed doors, however. “We’re just saying that, you know, the president’s committing to getting something done.”

That approach is a far cry from candidate Obama’s pledges on the stump in 2008, when he celebrated transparency as a cornerstone of his campaign and vowed to give voters unprecedented access into government decision-making.

The promise did not survive the tense political battle over health care, and the administration endured some uncomfortable moments as congressional Democrats twisted arms and made special deals to secure votes. Mr. Obama himself lamented the process after November’s midterm elections, saying his administration was “in such a hurry to get things done that we didn’t change how things got done.”

President Obama speaks on the America's Great Outdoors initiative Wednesday during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. (Associated Press)
President Obama speaks on the America’s Great Outdoors initiative Wednesday during a ... more >

The absence of any clear direction from the White House over what to do on Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security in Mr. Obama’s budget this week underscores the delicate politics of the issue, one the president himself hinted at in Tuesday’s press conference.

“This is not a matter of you go first or I go first,” Mr. Obama said Tuesday. “This is a matter of everybody having a serious conversation about where we want to go and then ultimately getting in that boat at the same time so it doesn’t tip over.”

While he said he expects some “posturing on television,” Mr. Obama said lawmakers could make progress by having a “responsible and initially probably somewhat quiet and toned-down conversation.”

It’s not clear when that conversation will begin. Mr. Obama hosted Democratic congressional leaders at the White House on Wednesday, but Mr. Carney said the “focus right now” is on the fiscal 2012 budget proposal.