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The Political Folly Of The Health Care Summit


I spent Friday evening reading the transcripts of Thursday’s healthcare summit between leaders of both parties held at Blair House.  I attempted to watch the proceedings on Thursday but couldn’t bear the thought of spending 7 hours or more watching two groups of politicians who already had their minds made up on the topic before the meeting even started.

As I read through the transcripts (yes every word), a clear pattern emerged.  Basically, the right wants to scrap the bill and start over using a step-by-step process to make changes.  The left believes they have already done enough work on the subject and its time to press on.  Nothing said or done during the proceedings will make the opposite side change their views.  In that respect, the summit was a failure.

In other respects, the summit was a complete success for each party.  The left was able to show the entire country that they at least appeared to be willing to listen to what the right had to say.  The right got one last opportunity to show members of their constituency that they were not in any way interested in allowing President Obama to claim a political victory.  In those respects, each party accomplished their stated goals. 

Since the summit, the political pundits have bascially made the case that either one or the other side should claim victory.  After all, political pundits aren’t necessarily neutral observers.  If you listen to Fox News, the right should claim victory.  If you listen to MSNBC, the left can claim it. 

After studying the transcript of the summit, it is clear that neither side did much of anything with regard to compromise.  But then, we should realize that both the House of Representatives and the Senate have already passed Health Care Reform bills.  That process has already taken place.  All of the noise about “Death Panels”, “Government Take-Over”, “Socialism” and the like was generated during the process of hashing out the two bills that are already on the table.

With that said, what is it that political leaders of the right and left said during the summit?  Did they say what we thought they would say?  The answer is a resounding YES.

What did you expect Republican’s to say?  If you have any realistic understanding of the Republican political machine, you understand that they, once again, have put all of their future political viability into one common tactic. Republicans can not afford to allow the President of the United States to claim any legislative victories during his Presidency.  Their goal is to do everything they can to tarnish his reputation and damage his credibility.  If President Obama is successful in the eyes of the voting public, the Republicans have a very limited shot at winning back the Presidency in 2012.  It’s very simple, he loses or they lose.  By the way, this is not a new tactic.  The right has used this strategy successfully in the past.

The Democrats, on the other hand, have to appear to be listening.  Interestingly enough, they have already gained a huge victory by passing the two versions of the health care reform bills.  The reason they have to appear to be listening is that the Republicans have done such a good job of convincing their political base that everything in the health care bills has come from the mind of a Democrat.  The Democrats have to fight the perception that the bills are totally of Democratic origin.

So how did each side do?  Let’s start with the Republicans.  Republicans made it perfectly clear to their base that they are trying to get the President to scrap the previous bills and start over with a step-by-step process.  Republican talking points evolved around various terms that all center around “starting over”.  Republican participants requested that the President “start over” 16 times during the proceedings.  The concept of “starting over”, “shelving the bill”, “starting with a clean sheet of paper”, and proceeding with a “step-by-step”  process was brought up 32 times during the 7 hours of meetings.  That works out to about once every 13 or 14 minutes.  This was the dominant theme of the Republican presentation. 

The Republicans have so “demonized” both the process and the results of the health care legislative efforts that they can not in any way appear to agree with anything in the bill.  One could go on for hours about the tactics they used.  Now that they have used their typical “slash and burn” tactics in an attempt stop the process, they can not afford in any way to agree with the results.  If anyone reading this post thinks that their are any Republicans in the Senate who would vote for this legislation, you are living in a dream world.  I find it totally amusing that a Democrat would put efforts into winning over Republican votes by including their ideas into the legislation and then be shocked when they didn’t get any Republican votes.

Interestingly enough, the Democrats placed close to 150 amendments into this bill that are Republican origin in an effort to garner Republican votes.  Republicans fought for their inclusion, and then refused to vote for the bill.  Are any of you shocked by this?  Any attempt to gain support from the right on this bill has in its origins, a lack of understanding of Republican tactics.  There was never going to be support for health care reform from the right in spite of the lefts efforts to be inclusive.

So how did the Democrats perform?  First of all, they did not show the same unity and drive as the Republicans.  Democratic speakers called attention to the fact that the two sides were “close” or “not far apart” to each other on health care reform 7 times.  It was is if they believed that minimizing the differences between the two sides would somehow work towards gaining the support of the Republicans.  Most of the efforts made by Democrats involved convincing the unconvincable that they could “come together on health care reform”.  Do you honestly believe that the Democrats think there will be a “meeting of the minds” on health care reform?

I for one believe that any Democrat who has been battered and bruised by this process and believes that Republicans will “work with them”  is living in a dream world.  It’s the same dream world that individuals who have experienced  repeated abuse live in when they believe that their partner will “change” and suddenly become a loving, giving, considerate person.  In the words of Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, “Dream On”!  Aerosmiths “Janey Got A Gun” might be more appropriate here.

Even if there are Democrats who believe this, they must appear to believe it or they risk alienating more of the Republican base.   I find it totally unreasonable for any Democrat to believe that “working together” with their opponents will persuade their opponents to vote for them, or for their legislation. 

There were other topics discussed during the summit but, honestly, they were not discussed in a way that would do anything to persuade anyone to change their opinions.  The Democrats brought up several times that the American people do not care about the process used to bring about health care reform.  Obviously this was done to counter the Republican efforts to cast a negative light on the process of  “reconcilliation” they fear will be used to “slam legislation” through.  Never mind that “reconcilliation” is a process used by Republicans to pass significant legislation when they didn’t have the 60 votes required to break the Democratic fillabuster.

There were efforts by Republicans to call attention to the massive nature of the health care reform bills.  Typically, Eric Cantor brought in a stack of paper to make the point that this was a massive government takeover of the health care industry.   The Democrats countered by asking if anyone remembers the number of pages in the original legislation that put Social Security into law.

Other than that, there wasn’t much said that will contribute to an understanding of health care reform legislation.  The Republicans got to make one last grand effort to win over their base by calling for starting over.  The Democrats made one last grand effort to win votes they will never win by appearing to listen and to take more Republican ideas into consideration.  With that respect, each party did nothing that was unexpected.  

During this political theater,  583 people lost their health care each hour of the summit.  In other words, 4372 Americans lost their health care coverage while our politicians, once again, tried to exert their political wills on each other.  Both parties are dreamers.  It’s time to quit dreaming and get on with it.

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