Health Care Summit: The Sham Before the Storm?

| Wed Feb. 24, 2010 6:47 AM PST

Is Thursday's White House health care summit merely a show? In a word, yes. At PoliticsDaily.com, I explain why:

At the White House daily briefing on Tuesday, press secretary Robert Gibbs said repeatedly the aim is to have an "honest discussion" about the best way to fix the nation's troubled health care system. But hasn't there been a year-long discussion already? It included hours of debate within House and Senate committees, hours of negotiations between Democratic and Republican senators that led to nothing, hours of debate on the House and Senate floor. Obama and the House GOPers covered health care reform during their historic Q&A session at a Republican retreat last month. There have been presidential speeches, scores of op-eds, a cacophony of cable chattering, a blitz of blogs, and maybe a trillion tweets.

Why more discussion? And how honest can it be? On Tuesday, House Republican Whip Eric Cantor called Obama's approach to health care "insanity." And House Republican leader John Boehner accused the president of having "crippled" the summit by releasing earlier this week his proposal, a modified version of the Democratic-backed legislation that was approved in the Senate with 60 votes and no Republican backers. These particular Republicans don't want a conversation; they want to kill the House and Senate bills that have passed. Cantor declared Obama's plan "is a non-starter." Boehner claimed, "The American people have spoken: They want us to scrap the Democrats' health care bill and start over." But a plan based on legislation already approved by a majority of legislators is actually a pretty good starter.

The bottom line:

The time for bipartisanship is done. The Republicans think their opposition to Obamacare is a winning ploy. They're not going to abandon it. And Obama's not going to trash his signature issue. So once the summit concludes, it's back to the real show: power politics. If Obama and the Dems want major health care reform legislation, they will have to run over the not-dead bodies of Republicans. To do so, they will likely need to employ reconciliation, a legislative procedure that allows the House and Senate Democrats to resolve the differences between their already-passed bills on a majority vote (and duck a Republican filibuster). This is a slightly complicated maneuver -- but quite feasible -- and Senate Democratic aides say they are close to rounding up at least 50 D's. But they're not there yet. Consequently, the real challenge for Obama is not conjuring up a last-minute bipartisan breakthrough at this summit, but getting his own party lined up and ready to roll.

Once the summit is done, there will be only one item on the agenda: getting health care through Congress.

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