This is desperation time. The president’s signature agenda item, nationalized health care, is going down the tubes, and his own standing with the public is crumbling. So he’s going to give a speech on health care and be more specific, but not too specific. He’s signaling that the public option isn’t needed, but he’s not going to tell us he’s given up on it. Does this sound promising? This has all boiled down to a frantic effort to save Obama from political humiliation. As the New York Times reports:

“It’s so important to get a deal,” a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to be candid about strategy. “He will do almost anything it takes to get one.”

That cringe-inducing admission likely doesn’t warm the hearts of liberals who are convinced the president is on the verge of blowing their once-in-a-generation chance to get government-run health care. And what’s more, you get the sense that the White House is moving toward something that virtually no one will like:

So far, the administration’s ideas of concessions are likely to fall far short of the fundamental changes that Congressional Republicans seek.

For now, White House officials said, Mr. Obama remains committed to the goal of insuring all Americans and still prefers to foster competition for insurance companies by creating a new government insurance program, or public option.

White House officials are combing the versions of health care legislation approved by four of the five Congressional committees with jurisdiction on the issue, both to find common ground and to jettison provisions — some relatively minor — that have drawn fire from critics on the political right.

To avoid some of the most heated criticism voiced in recent weeks, White House officials said they would have no objection if Congress scrapped proposals to have Medicare pay for counseling on end-of-life care.

Critics said such counseling could lead to pressure on patients to forgo expensive treatments for terminal illnesses. Mr. Obama has said it is ludicrous to suggest that “we want to set up death panels to pull the plug on Grandma.”

White House officials said Congress could also drop proposals requiring the government to create school-based health clinics and collect nationwide data on health and health care by race, sex, sexual orientation and “gender identity.”

[. . .]

If Mr. Obama does not gain traction by making these concessions, his allies on Capitol Hill said, they may have to consider bigger changes. For example, they said, rather than requiring all Americans to carry health insurance, Congress might start by requiring coverage of children, or families with children.

While such a change would deeply disappoint many of Mr. Obama’s supporters, it could have two potential political benefits, reducing the initial cost of any bill and reducing the size of cuts needed in the future growth of Medicare.

You can hear Paul Krugman howling already. But what is evident here is that there isn’t any great health-care crisis that needs solving. Some expanded coverage here, some insurance regulations there. And the president gets out of a jam. Right now, the only crisis is Obama’s political nosedive — and it remains an open question whether liberals disappointed by his failure to deliver on their dream of nationalized health care will help him out of his jam. And Republicans now smell blood in the political water. Maybe he should have been nicer to them (remember the days of “I won”?) back when he was a “sort of God.”

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