The New York Times reports on President Obama's offer to host a bipartisan health care summit at Blair House on February 25. The president made the offer during his Super Bowl pre-game interview with Katie Couric. Republicans quickly accepted. Not everyone is pleased, however:
Separately, some Congressional staff members expressed concern that Mr. Obama’s meeting would simply prolong an already tortuous process. And Democrats still face steep challenges in reconciling the differences between the House and Senate bills.
Some House Democrats are firmly opposed to a proposed tax on high-cost employer-sponsored insurance policies, which they think will hit some middle-class workers and violate Mr. Obama’s campaign promise not to raise taxes on Americans earning less than $250,000 a year.
Don't forget Bart Stupak, either--his supporters may still balk at the Senate's abortion language. The bottom line is that Congress is stuck on health care, with Pelosi and Reid in a Mexican stand-off over which chamber will hold the next vote.
So why the summit? It makes more sense if you separate it from attempts to actually pass a bill this year. By engaging Republicans, Obama will look bipartisan. By bringing Republicans and Democrats together, he will appear above the fray.
Meanwhile, the Republicans have several weeks to focus their message, craft an alternative -- they should take a good look at Jeffrey Anderson's "Small Bill" proposal -- and designate a point-man to manage the debate. (My nominee: Paul Ryan.) They also have the advantage that, from the public's point of view, their ideas will be fresh. Obama has delivered 32 speeches on health care reform, yet majorities continue to disapprove of his approach. Hardly anyone outside Wonkland knows about the GOP proposals.
At the end of the day, brute political calculations probably will prevent any of the Republican ideas from being incorporated into a final health bill. (There is a reason why tort-reform hasn't been included: the trial lawyers won't stand for it.) Then again, brute political calculations -- right now there are enough scared House and Senate red-state Democrats to prevent passage of health care reform -- lead me to believe that nothing major will happen on the health-care front in 2010.
So the summit will be window-dressing. The winners will be Obama and the Republicans. The losers? Democrats who are stuck with votes for a bill nobody likes.