The Health Care Summit Was Fine. Question Time Would Be Better.

| Fri Feb. 26, 2010 11:22 AM EST

The health care summit hosted by President Barack Obama on Thursday predictably did not yield any bipartisan breakthrough. But as I explained in my column, it was quite valuable:

It clarified the situation. Though much of the conversation consisted of participants pushing pre-existing talking points, the debate made the obvious really obvious: Obama and his Republican foes are miles apart in ideological and policy terms. As the hours went by, Obama engaged in wonky exchanges with the Rs—sometime calling them out on key factual disputes, such as whether the Congressional Budget Office said his overhaul would lead to higher premiums. (Obama got the better of that argument.) But all this back and forth kept illustrating the basic divide. The Republicans do not believe it is Washington's mission to take major action to challenge the insurance industry and extend coverage to most of the nation's citizens without health insurance. Instead, they want to move, as they repeatedly said, "step by step." But the Democrats believe that the only way to cure the health system of its ills is to adopt comprehensive change.

This gabfest highlighted the irreconcilable differences. The Rs don't think the Ds and government can handle such a big and expensive job. The Ds don't think the Rs and the insurance industry can remedy the problems with small measures. And the meaning of all this unavoidable: if the president and the congressional Democrats want to pass any version of comprehensive health care reform, they will have to do it by themselves, using whatever legitimate legislative procedures are available. The summit clarified the situation.

The health care summit also showed the value of direct engagement between the president and the opposition—and the need for establishing the practice of Question Time. After Obama and House GOPers last month held a gripping Q&A at a Republican retreat, a cross-partisan group of bloggers, techies, and political consultants (myself included) initiated the Demand Question Time campaign, calling on Obama and the Republicans to hold such public and televised sessions on a regular basis. Neither the White House nor the House Republican leaders have yet signed on. But the health care summit has been cited by political observers as a sequel to that earlier face-off.

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