After the Summit: Progressives 1, Reactionaries nil

Here is a basic fact: If the House Democrats voted tomorrow to approve the Senate bill, health care reform would become the law of the land.

From the 26 Feb 2010 NY Times editorial: ” The main lesson to draw from Thursday’s health care forum is that differences between Democrats and Republicans are too profound to be bridged. That means that it is up to the Democrats to fix the country’s dysfunctional and hugely costly health care system.  At the meeting, President Obama laid out his case for sweeping reform that would provide coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans and begin to wrestle down the rising cost of medical care and future deficits. The Republicans insisted that the country cannot afford that — and doesn’t need it. The House Republican leader, John Boehner, trotted out the old chestnut that the United States has the “best health care system in the world.”  N.B.: This is because we have poorly framed the issue as health care reform, rather than health care insurance reform, or improved access to health care.  “…Republicans stuck to their script and argued for small solutions, such as letting people buy insurance in other states that might allow skimpier — and thus cheaper — coverage. That is a formula for helping healthy people cut costs while driving up premiums for sick people unable to get similar coverage.

Republicans balked at any big expansion of Medicaid or any big subsidies to help middle-class Americans buy insurance on new exchanges. As a result, their plans would cover only three million uninsured over the next decade, a tenth of what the Democrats are proposing. That is not enough.

Mr. Obama should jettison any illusions that he can win Republican support by making a few more changes in bills that already include many Republican ideas. Republican speakers made clear that the only thing they would accept is starting over from scratch. That would be the end of sweeping reform.

The Republicans tried to wring a pledge from Mr. Obama that he would not resort to “budget reconciliation,” a parliamentary maneuver to sidestep a filibuster in the Senate and pass legislation by a simple majority. Reconciliation is a last resort. But Republicans and Democrats have both used it for major bills in the past. The president wisely refused to tie his hands.

Here is a basic fact: If the House Democrats voted tomorrow to approve the Senate bill, health care reform would become the law of the land.”


More: from Alternet, by Lindsay Beyerstein (see:

“President Obama presided over a six-hour televised summit on health care reform yesterday with Republican and Democratic members of Congress. The marathon meeting was billed as a last-ditch effort to get Republican input on the health-care reform package before Congress. But, arguably, the real purpose of the summit was to captivate the attention of the media while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., figured out how to push ahead with health care reform through budget reconciliation — a parliamentary procedure that would sidestep the filibuster and the 60-vote supermajority required to overcome it, allowing Democrats to pass Senate legislation by a simple majority of 51 votes.

Republican leaders made it clear from the outset that their members had no interest in modifying the bill that has already passed the Senate, but instead wanted to scrap the bill altogether. House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, stated repeatedly in the days before the summit that the GOP would accept nothing less than a do-over.”

More, Kristoff, 26 Feb, NY Times:” If we’re lucky, Thursday’s summit will turn out to have been the last act in the great health reform debate, the prologue to passage of an imperfect but nonetheless history-making bill. If so, the debate will have ended as it began: with Democrats offering moderate plans that draw heavily on past Republican ideas, and Republicans responding with slander and misdirection. Nobody really expected anything different. But what was nonetheless revealing about the meeting was the fact that Republicans — who had weeks to prepare for this particular event, and have been campaigning against reform for a year — didn’t bother making a case that could withstand even minimal fact-checking….

It was obvious how things would go as soon as the first Republican speaker, Senator Lamar Alexander, delivered his remarks. He was presumably chosen because he’s folksy and likable and could make his party’s position sound reasonable. But right off the bat he delivered a whopper, asserting that under the Democratic plan, “for millions of Americans, premiums will go up.”

Wow. I guess you could say that he wasn’t technically lying, since the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Senate Democrats’ plan does say that average payments for insurance would go up. But it also makes it clear that this would happen only because people would buy more and better coverage. The “price of a given amount of insurance coverage” would fall, not rise — and the actual cost to many Americans would fall sharply thanks to federal aid.

His fib on premiums was quickly followed by a fib on process. Democrats, having already passed a health bill with 60 votes in the Senate, now plan to use a simple majority vote to modify some of the numbers, a process known as reconciliation. Mr. Alexander declared that reconciliation has “never been used for something like this.” Well, I don’t know what “like this” means, but reconciliation has, in fact, been used for previous health reforms — and was used to push through both of the Bush tax cuts at a budget cost of $1.8 trillion, twice the bill for health reform.

What really struck me about the meeting, however, was the inability of Republicans to explain how they propose dealing with the issue that, rightly, is at the emotional center of much health care debate: the plight of Americans who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions. In other advanced countries, everyone gets essential care whatever their medical history. But in America, a bout of cancer, an inherited genetic disorder, or even, in some states, having been a victim of domestic violence can make you uninsurable, and thus make adequate health care unaffordable.

One of the great virtues of the Democratic plan is that it would finally put an end to this unacceptable case of American exceptionalism. But what’s the Republican answer? Mr. Alexander was strangely inarticulate on the matter, saying only that “House Republicans have some ideas about how my friend in Tullahoma can continue to afford insurance for his wife who has had breast cancer.” He offered no clue about what those ideas might be.

In reality, House Republicans don’t have anything to offer to Americans with troubled medical histories. On the contrary, their big idea — allowing unrestricted competition across state lines — would lead to a race to the bottom. The states with the weakest regulations — for example, those that allow insurance companies to deny coverage to victims of domestic violence — would set the standards for the nation as a whole. The result would be to afflict the afflicted, to make the lives of Americans with pre-existing conditions even harder.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the House G.O.P. plan. That analysis is discreetly worded, with the budget office declaring somewhat obscurely that while the number of uninsured Americans wouldn’t change much, “the pool of people without health insurance would end up being less healthy, on average, than under current law.” But here’s the translation: While some people would gain insurance, the people losing insurance would be those who need it most. Under the Republican plan, the American health care system would become even more brutal than it is now.

So what did we learn from the summit? What I took away was the arrogance that the success of things like the death-panel smear has obviously engendered in Republican politicians. At this point they obviously believe that they can blandly make utterly misleading assertions, saying things that can be easily refuted, and pay no price. And they may well be right.

But Democrats can have the last laugh. All they have to do — and they have the power to do it — is finish the job, and enact health reform.


More, Brooks, 26 Feb NY Times: “Most of the credit goes to President Obama. The man really knows how to lead a discussion. He stuck to specifics and tried to rein in people who were flying off into generalities. He picked out the core point in any comment. He tried to keep things going in a coherent direction.

Moreover, he seemed to be trying to get a result. Republicans had their substantive criticism of the Democratic bills, but Obama kept pressing them for areas of agreement.”


More:Eddie Reeves: “This wasn’t a draw, and anyone who thinks so missed the brilliant strategy.

It’s been a fait accompli for months now that if health care is to pass, it will do so solely with Democratic support. So the whole game for the administration is to shore up those nervous swing Midwestern and Southern Democrats whose votes are crucial but in jeopardy. Solidifying the support of these two dozen or so Members was the true aim of the summit.

In one fell swoop, the President altered the trajectory of the health care debate. First, merely by announcing this summit, he calmed the tsunami of negative press coverage that deluged him and his party after the GOP Senate victory in Massachusetts.

Next, the announcement took the spotlight off Democratic congressional leaders and put it on the President himself. That was smart, since, despite his travails of the last several months, the President’s personal popularity still rates highly among the American people, while that of Reid, Pelosi et al. comes in just north of dirty gym socks.

The gambles that Barack Obama took with this summit were three-fold:

Gamble #1 – Could he strike the right rhetorical balance between big-picture statesman and deal-seeking negotiator?

Gamble #2 – Could he use the summit in effect to replace Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi as the leader of the health reform legislative push?

Gamble #3 – Could he count on the Republicans to continue to be the party of obstinacy and obstruction?

There is no question that the President won all three rolls of the dice.


Emphasis mine

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