By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
For weeks, ever since Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, Democrats have put health care reform legislation on hold, and we’ve been left wondering what the next move would be. Well, now we know.
President Obama has summoned Democratic and Republican leaders to Blair House, across the street from the White House, for a half-day meeting on Feb. 25 to iron out their differences and produce a bipartisan health care reform bill. And he wants the whole exchange broadcast on C-SPAN.
Now, as a Democrat and big Obama supporter, I know I’m supposed to bounce up and down with glee at this historic attempt at bipartisanship. But, pardon my lack of excitement, I think the whole thing’s a waste of time and will do nothing but unnecessarily prolong the process, muddy the waters, and give Republicans one more opportunity to stab Obama in the back. In fact, I’m willing to bet that this year’s Blair summit will accomplish even less than last year’s beer summit.
Maybe that kind of bipartisan meeting would have been helpful a year ago, but not now. We’ve already spent 14 months trying to get both sides together on health care reform. At this point, it’s clear there’s no way Mitch McConnell and John Boehner will agree to anything. They want nothing but the status quo. They want health care to fail. They want Obama to fail.
God knows, Obama’s tried. He went up to Capitol Hill to talk to Republicans. He invited them down to the White House, one on one. He met twice with the House Republican Caucus. Every time, they’ve refused to meet him halfway. Heck, they haven’t even met him one-quarter of the way. And it doesn’t look like they’re going to be any more cooperative on Feb. 25.
As a precondition for that meeting, John Boehner has demanded that Obama drop both the House and Senate bills and start from scratch. Mitch McConnell insists that Democrats must first promise never to use reconciliation to pass a health care reform bill. And, two weeks before sitting down at the table, Eric Cantor has already dismissed Obama’s Feb. 25 summit as a “dog and pony show.” At this point, it’s not even clear they’re going to show up.
Here’s what I don’t understand: After being rebuffed so many times by Republicans over the last 14 months, why is President Obama still reaching out to them? Does he really think they’re suddenly going to join hands with Democrats and sing “Kumbaya”? This week, the president told White House reporters he considers himself “an eternal optimist.” To Peanuts fans, he looks more like Charlie Brown, convinced that this time Lucy won’t yank the football out from under him.
Yet Obama has decided to give Republicans one more chance. I hope he makes clear to them it’s their last chance. Give him credit for trying, but if Republicans don’t come to the table on Feb. 25 with good ideas and a willingness to compromise — instead of just showing up with the same old lies — President Obama should forget about trying to get bipartisan support and focus on Democrats instead.
That’s the best plan, which Democrats in Congress should have initiated a long time ago. Bang out the differences between the Senate and House bills, take the best of each, come up with the strongest possible bill and then ram it through the Senate, using reconciliation, with Democratic votes only. They don’t need 60 votes. Under the rules of the Senate, only 51 votes are needed to pass legislation. And, even after Scott Brown’s victory, Democrats still have 59. They have the power. They just need to use it.
A year ago, Americans overwhelmingly approved of President Obama’s leadership on universal health care. Today, according to the latest Gallup poll, only 36 percent do. The reason, I believe, is because Obama and Senate Democrats have focused too much on the process and not enough on the product. Americans still want health care reform, they just don’t like the delays, backroom deals, and partisan bickering involved in the process. And they don’t care whether reform passes with bipartisan support or not.
Americans love Social Security and Medicare, even though few Republicans voted for either program. And Americans will love universal health care, even if no Republicans vote for it. Bipartisanship is overrated.
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