Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 9, 2010

WILLING TO TALK -- WITH PRECONDITIONS.... When President Obama announced on Sunday that he would host bipartisan talks on health care reform in two weeks, he offered congressional Republicans something of an opportunity. If the GOP wanted a chance to make a substantive contribution to the debate, air their concerns about the Democratic plan, present their ideas, and add openness and transparency to the process, here's their chance.

By late yesterday afternoon, however, Republican leaders were weighing whether to show up for the summit at all.

Leading House Republicans raised the prospect Monday night that they may decline to participate in President Obama's proposed health-care summit if the White House chooses not to scrap the existing reform bills and start over.

In a letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) expressed frustration about reports that Obama intends to put the Democratic bills on the table for discussion at the summit, which would be held Feb. 25.

Republicans are effectively arguing that the only way to talk about the health care reform proposal is to ensure that there is no health care reform proposal. The plan that was crafted over months of debate, hearings, analysis, and scrutiny -- the one endorsed by the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Cancer Society, and the AARP -- has to be thrown in the trash immediately or Republicans aren't interested in having a conversation.

This was especially rich.

In their letter, Boehner and Cantor called on Obama to take reconciliation off the table as a "show good faith" to the GOP.

"Eliminating the possibility of reconciliation would represent an important show of good faith to Republicans and the American people," the letter said.

I see. Republicans would be more willing to talk about health care reform if the president agrees in advance to give Republicans the opportunity to kill health care reform.

Tell you what, GOP. You take the filibuster off the table as a "show of good faith" and I'm sure Democrats would be willing to take reconciliation off the table as a "show of good faith." What do you say?

For its part, the White House seems unimpressed by the Boehner/Cantor letter, and does not appear inclined to meet the GOP's demands for "ground rules."

In the larger context, it's a reminder that the summit invitation puts Republicans in an awkward spot. If they participate, they'll very likely lose the policy debate. If they reject the invitation, they'll look petty and small (even more so than usual), giving Dems ammunition to further characterize the GOP as knee-jerk partisans, unwilling to even have an open and bipartisan conversation.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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Last year there were countless demonstrations across America against health care reform. There have been none against the filibuster. The American people know which one is the bigger threat.

Posted by: Al on February 9, 2010 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

Bumper sticker Redux:

What are the Republicans afraid of?

Posted by: Marc on February 9, 2010 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

Are these the same morons who said we should not talk with an enemy, say North Korea, unless they agree to no preconditions? What a bunch of commies.

Posted by: Dave on February 9, 2010 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

"Last year there were countless demonstrations across America against health care reform. There have been none against the filibuster. The American people know which one is the bigger threat."

Posted by: Al

Yet amazingly the American People elected Barack Obama President of the United States in the biggest 'mass demonstration' in American History.

So do you trust the American People, or only the ones hanging tea bags from hats?

Posted by: Lance on February 9, 2010 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

whassamatter? CHICKEN???

Posted by: daveminnj on February 9, 2010 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

"What are the Republicans afraid of?"

Everything, Marc. Next question, please.

Posted by: azportsider on February 9, 2010 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

"...look petty and small..."

When has that ever stopped a Republican?

Posted by: Jim H from Indiana on February 9, 2010 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

As anticipated, the repubs are now backed into a corner. This offer was a stroke of genius.

Love the counter to the letter - we'll pass on reconciliation if you pass on the filibuster. Only seems fair.

But wait a minute, the repubs aren't interested in fair, are they?

Posted by: Pragmatic on February 9, 2010 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

I think I have a great strategy for President Obama, one that will ensure instant GOP backing of his top 3 initiatives:

1)Declare unrestricted global thermonuclear war, targets to be chosen by throwing darts at a wall map.
2)Abolition of the SEC, and the repeal of all taxes beyond a 10% "Support the Troops" levy, to be paid directly to the top 10 largest defense contractors.
3)Forced euthanasia of anyone who comes down with an illness more severe than the flu.

By current Republican logic, this will instantly guarantee the the success of Pres Obama's agenda. Sure, the optics would be kinda crummy, but what are they gonna do? Call him Hitler?

Posted by: Kordo on February 9, 2010 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans are in a total pickel - Senate Republicans have absolutely no policy recommendations other than to slow down the process and kick the can into the next century. And the House Republicans already floated their best ideas in the Prez Q&A.

I'm kinda disappointed - I was hoping to see my own Senator (McCain) refer to the Commander in Chief of the US Armed Forces as "That One" on live TeeVee.

And really as a civics lesson, the President should take this opportunity to explain to the American people (only 26% know this) what the filibuster rule is and how it subverts the functioning of Democracy and the Will of the People.

Posted by: bcinaz on February 9, 2010 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

So if the Repubs don't show there should be five empty chairs at the summit, with their name tags on the table, and their "plan," as submitted to Obama at the GOP House retreat should be analyzed, discussed, and compared to the plans that have passed the House and Senate.

Posted by: tnoord on February 9, 2010 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

Was it Paul Krugman that said
'whether you like your republican rep or not, a vote for him (or her) is a vote for paralysis of our government'

Posted by: JS on February 9, 2010 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

The biggest problem that Democrats have right now, as shown in many responses here, is that they expect Republicans, and the American public, to act/react in a logical and rational manner.

Hate to break the news, but that hasn't happened for several months now; no reason to believe it will start again anytime soon.

Posted by: cr on February 9, 2010 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

Either way, the corporate media will portray it as a win for the GOP.

Posted by: bikelib on February 9, 2010 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

Republican antics during Clinton's time turned off many voters - but I wonder if the dynamic is the same now. I hate to say it, but it seems voters are stupider and more partisan, and the MSM is doing its job even worse. Any good can come of this?

Posted by: neil b on February 9, 2010 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

Hmmmm. Interesting gambit.

The only way this will really work is for Obama to call a press conference (probably would not be not aired on FOX Noise) after the GOP refuses to enjoin and skectch out his plans for health care to the american public by "answering" the questions from the press in such a way as to make it very clear he's done trying to include a party that is hell bent on destroying america. His answers should be , once again, very clear as to what this health care will do FOR americans of all ilks. Then challange the Fact Check guys to put his speil up against the GOP's.

Then invite them all out for a barbeque on the freshly shoveled patio out back.

Posted by: stevio on February 9, 2010 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

My first thought was North Korea. Kim Jong Il has nothing on Eric Cantor. What a toad. Preconditions? Insist on total surrender up front?

Have the debate. Put forth good ideas and dare the President not to include them in the bill.

Posted by: Ron Byers on February 9, 2010 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

This gives credence to the notion that the Republicans have anything substantive to offer.

Obama's fetish for bipartisanship is going to sink his Presidency and ensure continued and unnecessary hardship for millions of middle and lower class Americans.

Posted by: Hank Thompson on February 9, 2010 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

If the repubs pull a no-show, the Dems have to start pushing the issue HARD in the media. Why didn't they accept? Is it because they're afraid to actually compare their plan to ours? Or maybe because they HAVE NO PLAN and only wish to maintain the status quo?

Regardless, they should continue with the event and utilize tnoord's "empty chair" strategy in comparing both plans side-by-side.

Posted by: bdop4 on February 9, 2010 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

There is no way the Republicans can win politically on this one. If they participate, they'll lose the policy debate because the only thing they offer is privatization of Social Security and elimination of Medicare. If they boycott the meeting, the TV cameras will pan a row of empty chairs, showing them as MIA on this issue -- a clip, by the way, which will air on news shows over and over again for days.

Posted by: fradiavolo on February 9, 2010 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

The HCR debate must go on as scheduled. If the bed-wetting Rethugs don't show, have a stand-in waiting on the side line who will read their most often parroted ideas (cross-state sales, tort reform, etc) giving credit where credit is due. Those present can then either offer facts to discredit the idea, show where the idea was incorporated into the existing HCR bill, or, discuss the pros/cons and possible include the idea. It sure wouldn't hurt to have expert health care providers on hand to participate. Have plenty of chairs on hand for the Rethugs and turn the camera on them often if they happen to be empty. Just be absolutely sure that the truly insane "ideas" are featured and trashed. It should be interesting if the Rethugs continue to fall back on publicly discredited ideas and if the MSM calls them on it.

Posted by: Chopin on February 9, 2010 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

Not surprising that the Republicans are backing away from this meeting.

The question now is, what is are the Dems and Obama going to do about it?

Are they going to just saunter off, "aww shucks?"

Or are they going to go on the offensive, hammer their lack of participation, and call them out, publicly and aggressively? Anything less and as was pointed out above the result will be portrayed as a 'win' for Republicans.

I think I know the answer, but I hope I'm wrong. I really do.

Posted by: terraformer on February 9, 2010 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Note to the Anti-Americanist scumbags Boehner and Cantor: America does NOT negotiate with terrorists.


Posted by: S. Waybright on February 9, 2010 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

A lot of y'all are naive. This is not going to be won on optics, and even if it were, the optics on yet another Obama speech will be neutral at best.

Dig it: the general public does not now, and never will care about the filibuster per se. Sure, if the filibuster is against popular legislation, they will care, but that just leads back to the baseline truth, which is that you need to have a good legislative product and then sell the heck out of it (outside), which will aid in keeping discipline in the ranks (inside).

The punchline is: WHY shoulnd't the WH accept the offer to start over. They are seriously handicapped by a craptastic product (albeit one with various good and necessary features). Then we can bring on the whole spectrum of solutions from single payer to medicare vouchers & tort reform. My sense is that (1) the general public would like this, (2) this would reset the entire optics of the issue and widen the field of vision to include SP, Medicare-for-all, and Wyden-Bennett, among other things, (3) Obama has the facts on his side and a mastery of those facts, so isn't this exactly what we want??? (4) the Senate bill is a veritable millstone around his neck, and (5) just maybe, if this lays foundation for an eventual bill, the public psychological buy-in on this issue will be at a level where the filibuster will carry some real hazards.

Posted by: anselm on February 9, 2010 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

All I can do is thank that bozo freshman Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah who tried to embarrass PBO at the Q & A by complaining that the President went back on his word to televise health care negotiations. He said he was tremendously disappointed in our President.

The meeting should continue as planned with cameras rolling. The issues can get hashed out one by one with expert feedback and they can call it a day. On to reconciliation. Thanks, Jason.

Posted by: meta on February 9, 2010 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

And for goodness sakes, let's talk about some basics that have been missed in the public debate, like portability of plans.

Out in middle america, people are tied to jobs just for health coverage, (a)forcing them to stay in bad work situations, (b) costing them better opportunities (such as small business entrepreneurship HELLO?!?, (c) double-screwing them should they become unemployed, and (d) generally causing a lot of stress week in and week out.

These things are hugely important to the vast middle, who currently are not sure why they should care deeply about others who have pre-existing conditions and/or no coverage. The Dems are taking for granted that people understand all this, but it is not - just consider that working people don't have all day to ponder this stuff, and the general amount of ambient noise on this issue.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but we may need better pollsters.

Back to basics. Accept Boehner's suggestion and counterpunch with "at your request we are putting all options back on the table. Game on."

Posted by: anselm on February 9, 2010 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

Anselm, tying work and employment together was always wrong for the reasons you suggest. Any good HCR must make each person able to get insurance apart from any employment, able to switch around jobs with no impact, and so on. To what extent did the current Bill do that? Maybe not enough.

Posted by: neil b on February 9, 2010 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

That's right neil b, the public option strengthened portability, even in its "trigger" incarnations. How did the Dem machine stand by while it was painted as socialist? Economic freedom means not being indentured to your employer for medical coverage. Freedom from this arbitrary and restrictive situation may be the SINGLE BEST THING we can do for middle-class economic freedom, social mobility, and small business today (from employee or employer perspective).

The only conservative rebuttal is the purist's argument that real economic freedom means all health coverage is catch as catch can, and anything else is an unacceptable bureaucracy-based entitlement. It's a discussion worth having philosophically, not least because WE WIN IT politically. So let's have it!

What would Sun Tzu do?

Posted by: anselm on February 9, 2010 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

"Up or down vote" is what the Dems need to be singing 24/7. If it was good for the Rs not so long ago, it's good for them now.

Posted by: Hannah on February 9, 2010 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

A televised summit on HC is an excellent idea. Unfortunately, it is a year too late. The republicans have done all the damage they needed to do. HCR is either dead, or so diluted and filled with republican "solutions" that the gop couldn't have done a better job of so called reform if they had actually lifted a finger.

Posted by: CDW on February 9, 2010 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

@ tnoord:
and perhaps -- just to complete the symbolism -- on each of the vacant chairs there could be an empty suit.

Posted by: mellowjohn on February 9, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Empty suit, mellowjohn? Naw---let's get all truth-to-power of these ReThugs: Any GOPer from the Hill "declining the invitation" gets replaced by a surrogate stuffed-toy elephant with its trunk tied in a knot.

Posted by: S. Waybright on February 9, 2010 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

It is the American people who have rendered their verdict, in poll after poll, special election after election, kill the bill, start over with a truly bipartisan process, rule out one party lording it over the other with legislative chicanery like "reconciliation".

Obama promised an end to politics as usual. He is a remarkably weak, ineffective and disingenuous President.

The GOP is gaining strength because Democrats insist on ignoring the will of the People.

Posted by: apetra on February 9, 2010 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

What do I mean by bipartisan? Quit whining about the minority using the tools our fathers gave it, stop your resistance and accept that tort reform and total deregulation are the only appropriate factors in a health reform bill. Put these two items in place and the other minor problems will solve themselves.

Obama has a real chance to show he's strong enough to admit when he was wrong and take lessons from the party that knows how to successfully run the country and healthcare. Is he man enough to do it?

Posted by: apetra on February 9, 2010 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP sez:
We need to start all over again on health care reform. We promise to hold the football steady and let you kick it this time. [smirk]

Posted by: josef on February 9, 2010 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Man, I hate the charlie brown - lucy analogy that's all over the net. It's so self-pitying, from a group that's basically allowed itself to get pushed around from jump.

Posted by: anselm on February 9, 2010 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

Perfect use of the term "preconditions", which is a condition which cannot be met and is designed to prevent progress or discussion.

Posted by: tomj on February 9, 2010 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

That's right up there with the brilliant idea to re-name the Democratic Party the "Democrat Socialist Party."

Posted by: Winkandanod on February 9, 2010 at 8:34 PM | PERMALINK



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