"Making the case" vs. a line in the sand

UPDATE: Two professional negotiators, Jerome a Paris and BenGoshi, discuss Obama’s negotiating strategy on health care reform.

Let’s say I’m trying to sell my house, and I have an interested buyer. I could tell the buyer one of two things:

1. The minimum offer I’ll consider for this house is $300,000.

2. This house is worth at least $300,000. Compared to the house down the street that went for $280,000, this house has an extra bedroom and a fully remodeled kitchen. In fact, my house has a bigger yard and more closet space than one in the neighborhood that sold for $310,000. Also, we just added more insulation in the attic and installed triple-pane windows, so you’ll spend less on utility bills than you would in a different house this size. Plus, this house is within walking distance of a good elementary school. But the bottom line is, my mortgage is expensive, and I need to sell my house this month. If you can’t pay me $300,000, I’m willing to consider another fair offer.

Which message is more likely to get me the offer I want: the one justifying my asking price, or the one making clear that I won’t settle for less?

George Stephanopoulos reported on Sunday,

[White House press secretary Robert] Gibbs says the President will make the case for a public option in his speech to Congress on Wednesday but he won’t issue a veto threat if it isn’t in the final package.

[…]

GEORGE: So he will do that and put his ideas on the table?

GIBBS: Were going to certainly..People will leave that speech knowing where [Obama] stands and if it takes whatever to get health care done the president is ready willing and able to do that. We are closer George than we have ever been before.”

Sounds like Obama will be making the same kind of case he and other administration officials have made before: we need a bill, we need to reduce costs, a public health insurance option is a good way to reduce costs, but the president is open to other ideas that accomplish the same goal. Disagreements over a public option cannot be allowed to derail the whole health care reform project.

Senior White House adviser David Axelrod got in on the act too:

Axelrod told NBC’s David Gregory that President Barack Obama “certainly agrees that we have to have competition and choice, to hold the insurance companies honest. … He believes the public option is a good tool. Now, it shouldn’t define the whole health-care debate, however.”

Then Axelrod was mad when the Associated Press interpreted his comments as a sign the White House is “backing off” from the public option.

Now imagine you’re a House or Senate Democrat on the fence. You understand the arguments for a public option, and you know the majority of voters support the idea. But you’re getting pushback from corporate lobbyists, and the president is telling you he’s “ready willing and able” to do whatever it takes to get a health care bill on his desk.

Any eloquent case Obama makes on Wednesday will be undermined if he signals that he will sign a bill with a “trigger” or some other fake public option.

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