Karl Rove Doesn't Get Why A President Would Want To Understand His Own Policies

July 30, 2009 10:57 am ET — Matt Finkelstein

While Rove served under a president who famously said, "I don't do nuance," Obama wants to understand the details of how his policies actually work -- and how to make them better.

Karl Rove thinks President Obama is trying to "scare" not only voters but also the Congressional Budget Office into accepting his plans for health care reform.  According to Rove:

Damaging reports from the CBO had earlier provoked some Chicago-style intimidation, with the president summoning CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf to the Oval Office. It's safe to assume that they didn't talk about the Chicago White Sox.  Imagine if Mr. Bush had done that after the CBO released numbers that undercut the centerpiece of his domestic agenda. "White House thuggery" and "intimidation" would have been the theme of nearly every editorial writer in the country.

He's absolutely right; their conversation surely didn't focus on Obama's favorite baseball team. But that's hardly evidence of foul play.  By Elmendorf's own account, the president was simply trying gather opinions on how to lower costs.  Since the CBO has been critical of recent proposals, Elmendorf's assessment was relevant.  Here's his description of the meeting:

I was invited to the White House to meet with the President, his key budget and health advisers, and some outside experts.  The President asked me and the outside experts for our views about achieving cost savings in health reform.  I presented CBO's assessment of the challenges of reducing federal health outlays and improving the long-term budget outlook while simultaneously expanding health insurance coverage-just as we had explained these challenges in a letter to Senator Conrad and Senator Gregg last month.  I also described CBO's view of the effects of the health legislation we have seen so far, as I did last Thursday in a hearing at the Senate Budget Committee and a mark-up at the House Ways and Means Committee.  In addition, I discussed various policy options that could produce budgetary savings in the long run, drawing on CBO's Budget Options for Health Care released in December, our letter to Senators Conrad and Gregg last month, and my comments last Thursday.  Other participants in the meeting expressed their own views on these various topics.

People have asked whether it was exciting to meet the President and be in the Oval Office:  Yes, and my kids will be jealous when they get back from summer camp and hear about it.  Of course, the setting of the conversation and the nature of the participants do not affect CBO's analysis of health reform legislation.  We will continue to work with Members of Congress and their staffs, on both sides of the aisle, to provide cost estimates and other information as health reform legislation is considered.

Now, one could argue that Elmendorf didn't need to meet with the president personally.  But that's part of what makes Obama different.  While Rove served under a president who famously said, "I don't do nuance," Obama wants to understand the details of how his policies actually work -- and how to make them better.  Perhaps that's something Karl Rove just can't understand. 

Steve Benen has more on Rove and the politics of fear.

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