26 February 2010

A failure of leadership

Yesterday, President Obama gave encouraging opening remarks to the bipartisan health care summit, pointing out that many Republicans present, including Tom Coburn, Mike Enzi and Paul Ryan, had worked substantively with Democrats in the past on some of the same health care issues that are before Congress today.

The president's opening remarks, and then those that immediately followed by Tennessee's Lamar Alexander on behalf of the Republican leadership, evinced three specific areas where virtually everyone in the room agreed:

1. Removing the antitrust exemption such that insurance companies can compete across state lines (this measure passed the House by a staggering 406-19 margin on Wednesday)

2. Prohibiting insurance companies from instituting "lifetime maximums" per patient

3. Prohibiting insurance companies from denying applicants based on pre-existing conditions

These items are not speculative areas of agreement -- they were specifically set out by the president in the first 15 minutes of yesterday's summit!

A fourth area where I can't imagine there is any disagreement is allowing for greater portability of coverage, such that when an individual leaves or loses his job, he has the option of continuing his coverage indefinitely -- a sort of extension of the COBRA program.

When Republicans say they want the president to "start over," they generally mean that Democrats ought to highlight the issues that both parties can agree on (see above) and draw legislation that way. I thought yesterday's summit had the potential to be an excellent starting point. After his remarks about finding common ground, it seemed that the president and congressional Republicans agreed on several things.

The obvious question, of course, is why the 2,700-page Senate bill -- drawn up entirely by Democrats -- can't be put on hold for the time being while both parties focus on the areas of their agreement.

And don't tell me that Mitch McConnell simply wants this bill to fail. He and John Boehner wouldn't have turned the opening remarks over to Alexander -- while stridently conservative, is one of the great Republican deal-makers in Congress and who hammered home areas of agreement between the two parties for most of his opening statement -- if they simply wanted to torpedo reform altogether.

The answer to the question posed two paragraphs above is because the Democratic leadership is failing the country. Who's playing politics again? When numerous Republicans suggested shelving the current behemoth and focusing on areas of actual agreement, Nancy Pelosi remarked that Americans were struggling too mightily and that reform couldn't wait a minute longer. This is complete and utter nonsense and nothing more than a purely political response. Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership doesn't want to reform the health care system incrementally because they can't stomach seeing their unprecedented window for slamming through their prized comprehensive reform bill slammed shut. This is the exact type of politics that is killing Washington -- and that, once upon a time, a senator from Illinois named Barack Obama promised he'd stop.

The bottom line is that when faced with real concerns about the size and scope of the current legislation -- as well as the simple fact that the Congressional Budget Office has opined that it won't lower health care costs -- the Democrats respond with purely anecdotal evidence. "You should see the letters I read," Obama laments. But how will your bill make things better, Mr. President? In a country of 300 million people -- more than five-sixths of whom already have health insurance -- anecdotal evidence, quite frankly, isn't of much utility. More than one-quarter of the uninsured make in excess of $80,000 per year -- the threshold for receiving subsidies to purchase insurance -- so how is the Democratic bill making things easier on these folks? Democrats are so focused on process and anecdotes -- and for many on the left, this is an issue that gets them flat-out enraged -- that they're fundamentally unable to explain why their bill is superior to incremental reform. We are left with Pelosi's laughable excuse that reform can't wait any longer.

Furthermore, the resident's refusal to take the reconciliation option off the table proves that yesterday's summit -- for all of his talk about compromise and common ground -- was as we predicted, a dog-and-pony show. It was an attempt to show up Republicans as a reactionary "party of no" -- and when Republicans like Alexander and Cantor offered up useful solutions and areas of agreement, Obama and his allies looked foolish.

Put ideology aside for a moment. This has turned into a purely political game. Instead of taking a quarter to half of a loaf, congressional Democrats are hellbent on either a) slamming through an obscenely comprehensive bill with a divisive, rarely-used procedural mechanism or b) getting nothing done entirely. By not acknowledging Republicans' concerns with the current legislation as legitimate, they are doing nothing more than playing politics and setting themselves up for utter disaster in November. Americans don't like this bill and want it shelved. Don't believe me? Click here.

How dishonest does Obama's changenhope nonsense look these days?

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