Monday, February 8, 2010

The Health Care Summit—Who’s Gonna Win the Photo-Op?

Getting Democrats and Republicans to constructively engage on health care is the best way to make progress.

To date, the Democrats have blown health care reform once again by being too arrogant in thinking they could just ram their version through.

The Republicans have no health care proposal. Their “black book” list of ideas they handed the President in Baltimore is a collection of second and third tier proposals at best.

So, what is the Blair House meeting about?

Well, I am not optimistic that it will be about real bipartisanship and a good will attempt to change the game.

It will more likely end up being an opportunity for each side to simply continue the petty bickering and once again try to convince a majority of voters their ideas really aren’t so bad.

Obama hopes his health care details will finally appeal to viewers as they realize he holds the only real plan. The problem with that logic is that the Democratic health care reform “well” has already been irretrievably “poisoned”.

The Republicans would like voters to believe their list of ideas will appeal to voters but the reality is that all of the attention they will now get will likely lead to a consensus, particularly among independent observers, that the Republicans, save for their tort reform proposals, aren’t holding any real cards.

I doubt either side will end up winners here.

The Democrats will only reinforce the sense they just don’t get it and Republicans will continue to come across looking like they think voters have forgotten that they were the bums who lost the last two elections.

When the day is done, I will suggest the Republicans are right about this: They all need to start over.

When Baucus and Grassley were in the midst of their Senate Finance negotiations last summer, I said I didn’t see them being able to accomplish anything—not because they couldn’t have. To me, the real problem was that the talks were taking place at the far out edges—left and right. Republicans were being told that bipartisanship was the same thing as capitulation—“Our bill is the only way.”

Republicans, including the Republican members of the “gang of six” in Finance last summer, had and have no plan. But, in Finance, they were quite willing to agree to a far-reaching bill that would have covered tens of millions of those presently uninsured. Things got a lot closer than most people realize. I do think the Democrats can eventually—although not likely in this election year—bring lots of Republicans onboard a new initiative that first takes the current bills off the table.

Real bipartisanship will occur when both sides find common ground in the middle and begin to work their way as far out toward both the left and right as they can and still hold the needed votes. It is about starting in the middle where they agree.

It's my sense that Blair House will be about the same old here’s my plan and if you want to be bipartisan you will come on board with my ideas. It will not be middle-out and it will fail to jumpstart anything for that reason.

Presuming that is the Obama strategy, the best thing the Republicans could do is call for new negotiations with no preconditions and let the Democrats just continue defending the plan that has already been roundly rejected.

They really do have to scrap it all and start over.
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