Anybody who expected Thursday’s Blair House health care summit to produce a dramatic breakthrough hasn’t been listening to the national debate on the issue during the past year. Two fundamental flaws guaranteed it would be nothing more than political theater.
The first flaw was the absence of a credible scorekeeper at the summit to keep track of any progress on specific issues of disagreement. A typical private sector business negotiation is based on identifying points of agreement and disagreement, listing them where everybody can see them, then working them out one by one. When agreement is reached on one issue, it gets marked off the list and the discussion moves on to the next area of disagreement. Everybody knows where the negotiation stands and what the major obstacles are at any point in the discussion. The number of disagreements steadily gets shorter when both sides negotiate in good faith.
The second flaw underlies the first: The summit was never intended to produce good-faith negotiations. Rather, the purpose was, as an unnamed Democratic official told Politico, “to alter the political atmospherics” by giving “a face to gridlock, in the form of House and Senate Republicans.” In other words, President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress saw the summit as a propaganda tool for blunting the growing public opposition to their health care reform proposal.
A CBS News survey taken last week found that 55 percent of the respondents disapproved of Obama’s handling of the health care issue. Similar opposition has been reported by Quinnipiac (54 percent), Rasmussen (56 percent), Pew (50 percent) and PPP (50 percent). Most Americans oppose Obamacare and want Congress to go back and start over on health care reform.
The futility of the discussion was perhaps best illustrated toward the end of the proceedings when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pointed out that the only real issue was “whether the Senate majority leader will impose this reconciliation process.” That is the legislative hocus-pocus to approve Obamacare with only 51 Senate votes, instead of the 60 normally required in the upper chamber for major bills. Democrats made it clear before the summit that they will try to use reconciliation to ram Obamacare down America’s throat, with or without Republican votes or a public consensus in its favor.
In other words, the summit was a business-as-usual spin job in Obama’s Washington.