Healthcare’s PR Battle

As regular readers know, I’m skeptical of Barack Obama’s continued insistence that the way forward on healthcare is to keep talking with Republicans in the hopes that eventually they’ll start cooperating. But hey — maybe his political instincts are the right ones. Maybe he understands better than me that the public needs to see graphically that Democrats did everything they could to work with the GOP and were completely rebuffed. Maybe.

In any case, he’s proposed yet another meeting with Republicans later this month to chew the fat over healthcare reform and incorporate the very best ideas they have to offer. The problem, as Ezra Klein points out in detail this morning, is that the current Senate bill actually incorporates most of the four big ideas that Republicans have put on the table: buying insurance across state lines, allowing small businesses to pool together to buy insurance, allowing states more autonomy to implement their own ideas, and tort reform:

On Sunday, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell responded to Barack Obama’s summit invitation by demanding Obama scrap the health-care reform bill entirely. This is the context for that demand. What they want isn’t a bill that incorporates their ideas. They’ve already got that. What they want is no bill at all. And that’s a hard position for the White House to compromise with.

Now, as Ezra explains, Republicans didn’t get 100% of what they wanted. There’s no real tort reform in the Democratic bills, at least not the kind that Republicans want, and the other three items are more limited than the original Republican proposals. Still, with the exception of tort reform, I think it’s fair to say that GOP negotiators extracted quite a few concessions during the Gang of Six negotiations with Max Baucus. Certainly as much as any party should expect that controls only 40% of Congress.

Barack Obama wants a chance to make that clear to the country on national television. Republicans, understandably, are rejecting his invitation to meet because they’re scared silly that he might succeed. But if they refuse to meet at all, they play into his hands as well.

I’m still not convinced this is the right way to go, but there’s no question that Obama has put the GOP into a tough position. And since it’s basically a PR move, it’s largely going to succeed or fail based on how well Democrats and Republicans are able to make their case in the media. Stay tuned.