“Bi-Partisan Health Care Summit” Or Political Theater? (Update)
The GOP has every reason to be wary of and, in fact, refuse to participate in the televised “bi-partisan” health care reform summit the President is calling for on NPR unless a number of preconditions are met. The reasons are many, but perhaps the primary one has to do with the fact that this isn’t a summit proposed to begin bi-partisan talks on reforming health care, but instead, an attempt to shame Republicans into supporting the present Senate bill passed. The president refuses to abandon it and reset the health care reform debate at the beginning.
After months of behind closed door negotiations, it’s suddenly “sunshine” time. Why in the world wouldn’t Republicans be suspicious? It’s hard not to conclude (especially after the results of the televised meeting at the GOP retreat) that this is nothing but political theater designed to show the Republicans as “obstructionists” and the “party of no”.
What the televised “summit” will likely consist of is Obama and the Democrats pushing for acceptance of the same bill now pending and the Republicans saying “no”. The desired outcome is to have them say it right there in the open on TV. Of course they’d love to have enough Republicans submit to the pressure and commit to passage as an outcome. That’s most likely not going to happen. The most likely scenario has the Republicans say “no” and Democrats claim “see we tried to include them, but they refuse” and use that as a justification for reconciliation. As Democrats see it, it would be a win-win for them with a chance to make the GOP look bad.
The House Republican leadership has sent a letter to the President in which they question all of this. You can read it here. My favorite part of the letter comes after a series of very pointed questions are put to him:
Your answers to these critical questions will help determine whether this will be a truly open, bipartisan discussion or merely an intramural exercise before Democrats attempt to jam through a job-killing health care bill that the American people can’t afford and don’t support. ‘Bipartisanship’ is not writing proposals of your own behind closed doors, then unveiling them and demanding Republican support. Bipartisan ends require bipartisan means.These questions are also designed to try and make sense of the widening gap between the President’s rhetoric on bipartisanship and the reality. We cannot help but notice that each of the President’s recent bipartisan overtures has been coupled with harsh, misleading partisan attacks. For instance, the President decries Republican ‘obstruction’ when it was Republicans who first proposed bipartisan health care talks last May.
The questions mentioned address reconciliation, starting over and other important ones. It’s a letter that makes it clear that the House GOP leadership is very suspicious of the intent of the so-called summit – and rightfully so.
Of course that doesn’t mean they won’t end up playing along. The possibility that the summit would turn into a “bash the GOP” event is something they just won’t be able to stand and will show up in an attempt to avoid that. Instead, they’ll just play into Democratic hands. If I were them, I’d instead issue a statement saying that the GOP has concluded there is no good faith attempt on the behalf of the administration or the Democrats toward bi-partisanship in the summit citing their refusal to reset the debate and include the GOP from the beginning. As a consequence the Republicans see no utility in trying to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear of legislation they already universally oppose.
I don’t know about you but I’d respect them much more if they did that than if they show up and play along in a bit of political theater that is designed primarily to cast them in a bad light for the benefit of the opposition.
UPDATE: White House (non)response to the GOP’s letter.