On February 25th, the White House has proposed a bipartisan, half-day televised summit on health care. It is unclear as to whether this is a publicity stunt by the Obama Administration or a good faith effort to negotiate with Republicans to come up with a bipartisan health care reform bill. The Washington Post reports today many Republicans are pushing back and urging the White House to scrap Obamacare as a precondition to any negotiation. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel objecting to the House and Senate versions of Obamacare being the base line bills of the negotiations. Hopefully, this summit meeting is more than the President checking off a campaign promise to have all health care negotiations on C-SPAN.
If this summit is a genuine start to bipartisan negotiations, then a few issues need to be settled before the meeting:
1. Start Over – The American people have rejected Obamacare and they want Congress and the Obama Administration to start over from scratch. The election of Scott Brown as Senator from Massachusetts was a strong message, from a liberal state, that Obamacare is not popular with the American people. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll indicates that 31% think the President’s health care plan is a good idea v. 46% a bad idea. CNN/Opinion Research has the numbers at 38% in favor and 58% opposed. It is clear that a minority in Congress is representing the will of a majority of Americans who think Obamacare is a bad idea and it is time for liberals in Congress and the Obama Administration to start listening to the American people. With the overwhelming weight of polling data and election results in Massachusetts indicating widespread opposition, it is time to start over.
2. Take Reconciliation off the Table – The President needs to state publicly that he will not support partisan efforts in Congress to use reconciliation procedures as a mechanism to railroad through pending versions of Obamacare. Reconciliation, commonly referred to as the Nuclear Option in the Senate, allows the supporters of Obamacare to avoid a filibuster in the Senate and ignore the traditional rules that would allow extended debate and amendment. Using reconciliation and relying on one party’s votes to pass an unpopular approach to health care reform would not translate into a bipartisan solution to comprehensive health care reform.
3. Transparency – Transparency has to be any part of a summit and it does not begin and end with the publicly broadcast meeting. First, what may be necessary is for the Obama Administration, Republican Leaders, Democrat Leaders and Moderate Democrats have a private meeting, before any planned public summit to clear the air. There is nothing wrong with having a private meeting to provide an opportunity for members to speak freely and build some needed trust. Right now, there is no trust and there has been a complete breakdown in communication. Maybe they could sit and discuss the core elements of a true bipartisan plan in private, and then have a public summit to air any agreement over a half day. A meeting and summit does not mitigate the need for public hearings in Congress and other means to transparently consider any new elements of a health care bill. The White House had been actively engaged in closed door negotiations as recently as the first week of this year with lobbyists and congressional leaders in a manner that excluded moderate Democrats, Republicans and the American people. This needs to end. It is reasonable for members of Congress to have informal negotiations at times, yet the work product should be subject to transparent hearings in the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction. Any deal should be vetted with the American people and subject to a transparent process.
The great danger in this process is that the Obama Administration checks off a campaign promise then goes on with business as usual. This summit can’t merely be a gimmick where the President lectures Republicans and Republicans lecture the President, then the President forges forward with the same Obamacare bill that has been rejected by the American people. This summit should be where the President starts the process over and engages in real negotiations with a broad audience.