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Gibbs to GOP: Nope, We're Not Starting Over on Health Care

But there may be something to gain at the president's forum.

12:25 PM, Feb 9, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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The Obama White House is apparently very serious about learning absolutely nothing from Massachusetts or the public's rapidly dwindling faith in Washington to solve any problem.

When Republican leaders Eric Cantor and John Boehner sent a letter looking for assurances that they and their ideas might be considered at Obama's proposed bipartisan health-care forum, they got this response:

The President is adamant that we seize this historic moment to pass meaningful health insurance reform legislation. He began this process by inviting Republican and Democratic leaders to the White House on March 5 of last year, and he’s continued to work with both parties in crafting the best possible bill. He’s been very clear about his support for the House and Senate bills because of what they achieve for the American people: putting a stop to insurance company abuses, extending coverage to millions of hardworking Americans, getting control of rising premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and reducing the deficit.

The President looks forward to reviewing Republican proposals that meet the goals he laid out at the beginning of this process, and as recently as the State of the Union Address. He’s open to including any good ideas that stand up to objective scrutiny. What he will not do, however, is walk away from reform and the millions of American families and small business counting on it. The recent news that a major insurer plans to raise premiums for some customers by as much as 39 percent is a stark reminder of the consequences of doing nothing.

This lends credence to the idea on the Right (Matt Continetti noted it), that Obama's bipartisan conference will be pure theater— "Here's the same plan we've been pitching for a year that almost everyone hates! If you say you still don't like it, you're what's wrong with Washington."

I tend to think Republicans should attend the bipartisan conference because refusing to do so makes them look far more like obstructionists than voting against a bill everyone hates ever has. People like these forums, and Republicans not participating gives Obama a bigger win than he could earn if they showed up.

Is Obama good in this setting? Sure. And, he was widely given credit for having "won" the day the last time he met with the GOP conference to talk incessantly and ironically about how politics shouldn't be about "winning" the day.

But I argued at the time of the GOP conference meeting that getting Republican alternatives on national television, and forcing Obama to acknowledge they exist was ultimately good for the GOP and bad for the "obstructionist" argument.

Could it have made a difference already? Today, the New York Times prints this serious treatment of GOP alternatives, with this rather sanguine opening paragraph:

When Republicans take President Obama up on his invitation to hash out their differences over health care this month, they will carry with them a fairly well-developed set of ideas intended to make health insurance more widely available and affordable, by emphasizing tax incentives and state innovations, with no new federal mandates and only a modest expansion of the federal safety net.

Read the whole thing. A perusal of the reporter's health-care writing archives reveals the last story he wrote focused on the GOP was headlined, "Hopes dim, GOP still vows to fight health-care bill." Today's "On health care, GOP road is a new map" is certainly a better story for Republican p.r. More importantly, it's a better story for market alternatives offered by the GOP, which are in line with the more modest approach Americans want:

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