The long strange trip that has been health care reform will take a few new twists and turns this week as President Barack Obama and Congressional Leaders will meet for a televised summit. No matter what actually happens at Blair House the event will be substantial for several reasons. Among them:
- We finally get to see what ObamaCare really looks like. In the past the Administration has voiced support for various elements of legislation “owned” by Congress. While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi struggle to fashion a unified bill Democrats in both of their caucuses can support, President Obama will unveil his own version of health care reform. While it will no doubt be based on the two bills passed, respectively, by the Senate and the House, it will not be the official Democratic bill: it will be the White House bill.
- We finally get to see if either party can rise above the politics of health care reform to actually address the policy of health care reform. Senate Republicans bowed to the inevitable and agreed to participate in the summit agreeing to participate “in good faith” according to the Los Angeles Times. While House Republicans have yet to say whether they’ll attend the summit, they would be foolish not to. The GOP is fighting hard to be known as something other than the Party of No. Not attending would set this positioning effort way back. Besides, the summit provides Republicans with the opportunity to clearly lay out their alternatives and to eviscerate the Democratic approach to health care reform. Yes the meeting gives Democrats the same opportunity. The key for each party, however, will be how they balance the two tactics: pushing forward their own policies; and tearing down the other side’s ideas. If they focus on the benefits of their own approach there’s a real opportunity to find common ground. If they choose to turn the Blair House into a political Thunderdome then politics will trump policy.
- Health care reform will move forward after Thursday’s health care reform summit. But we’ll learn whether what moves forward represents compromise or a Democrats-only version of reform. If Republicans put forward serious ideas (and I assume they will) it will be hard for the Administration to push reforms through the Senate with a simple majority – even though an increasing number of Democrats in the Senate seem willing to use reconciliation to pass a health care reform bill. (Reconciliation allows the Senate to vote on budget related issues without providing the minority the ability to filibuster. A filibuster allows the minority to force the majority to pass legislation with a super-majority of 60 votes in the Senate. Filibusters are not allowed in the House which operates on a simple majority basis). Instead, President Obama would be likely to put forward legislation that incorporates much of what the GOP offers – and then dare Republicans to defeat such a bill. Whether Republicans would – or could – hold out for a bill in which they give up nothing and insist on a pure GOP version of health care reform would be interesting to see.
- If no common ground emerges – whether because Democrats refuse to listen to Republicans or the GOP refuses to truly negotiate – the majority party is likely to move forward on their own. Whether liberals in the Democratic caucus have learned the lesson of the past year would be interesting to watch. That lesson, that it is Democrats who have a majority in Congress, not liberals and that the two are not the same, is a major reason Democrats are in danger of losing the opportunity to pass health care reform in the first place. If the Administration and Democratic leaders had focused on a moderate bill that could gain the support of their more conservative caucus members from the beginning, they would have passed a bill long before they lost their 60th vote. By hewing to the left, they delayed the inevitable: whatever health care reform bill, if any, emerges from Congress will disappoint true believers among progressives.
The ramp-up to Thursday will be interesting. President Obama will unveil his reform plan. The House GOP leaders will agree to attend the summit. The pundits will pontificate. And on Thursday, we learn the future of health care reform. Stay tuned.