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Mixed Messages On Health Care From White House

For those trying to get a sense of why the health care reform effort seems to be stuck in the mud, today's White House press briefing was instructive. Robert Gibbs faced a number of questions on the subject, and at times offered seemingly conflicting messages about the progress on legislation.

Notably, the press secretary conceded that "maybe" the president's goal of having legislation on the floor by August could not be met. "Obviously there's a lot of legislative nitty gritty that's got to be hammered out in the next three or four weeks, but I think the president sees progress," he said.

When Gibbs was asked where the president stood on specific proposals currently under consideration to pay for any overhaul, he repeated a long-standing policy not to comment. "The president is going to watch what plays out on Capitol Hill and see what happens," he said. Later, he added that the president "has outlined very strongly his principles," but that: "It's July 13, guys. We're not gonna get into drawing all these lines this early."

And yet, when asked about what seems to be a hands-off role from the president, Gibbs pointed to a meeting taking place at the White House today with key lawmakers, including Speaker Pelosi. And he also pointed to the vigorous effort of his team. "Given the amount of time that staff spends on Capitol Hill, I'm not entirely sure that's the case," he said.

After reacting somewhat indifferently to the idea that an August deadline might not be met, Gibbs later sounded greater urgency, hinting that the president would consider asking Congress to stay in session to finalize legislation.

"I think the president feels we can't afford to wait," he said.