Barack Obama has laid a not-so-clever trap in this week’s “health care summit,” and it doesn’t take someone smarter than a Republican senator to figure out how to escape from it.
The president’s idea was to invite the Republicans in to talk about compromises, actual and authentic, and work out bipartisan health care reform. The president will put it on television, naturally, where he can make a speech. The entire session is supposed to last six hours, and the president can use up some of them to demonstrate his rhetorical prowess.
The president says he doesn’t want to make a theatrical production of it, but since the president himself is a theatrical production, it’s difficult to see how the great health care summit can be anything but. Mr. Obama is fond of saying how he wants his presidency to be “transparent,” and he’s making it easy to see through what he and the Democrats are doing. The Democratic task at hand is to animate a corpse with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and who wants to volunteer for that? But Mr. Obama is determined to prop it up for a vote.
On the eve of the parley with the Republicans, he introduced a revised Obamacare which smells like the old Obamacare, only worse. He will attempt to get it into law by the complicated Senate shell game called “reconciliation,” and he needs 51 votes, a bare majority. He assumes he can keep all but eight of the 59 Democratic senators on board, and prevail by a 51-49 vote. This looks like a brave assumption.
Several Democratic senators up for re-election in November face voters angry over their support of Obamacare, and senators are more easily frightened in election years. None are eager to go to the wall for a president whose own popularity has declined along with — and probably because of — the “popularity” of his health care medicine. The Senate’s left-most Democrats even want to slip in the public option, but why not? The entire enterprise smacks of fantasy.
Mr. Obama, like the rest of us, gives up his fantasies reluctantly, but trying to breathe life into the dead may be the president’s strategy for sending it to the graveyard once and for all. He can placate his left wing with this one last attempt to put bureaucrats on loan from the post office in charge of health care, and when the attempt fails, he can grieve with the disappointed lefties, be done with it, and move on to other schemes.
It’s difficult to see why and how Democratic senators in touch with the real world will go for something that Massachusetts proved to be such potent poison. Trying to shove the poison down the throats of angry Americans, employing trick maneuvers in the Senate, will further infuriate nearly everyone.
The health care summit affords Senate Republicans a rare opportunity to shove the poison back. They will only need to find a spare spine. They know what’s at stake. “I’m not terribly heartened by what I’ve heard over the past week,” Rep. Tom Price, a conservative Republican from Georgia, tells Politico, the Capitol Hill newspaper. “I’m not certain what the White House is up to, but it appears they are trying to meld a bill together without, again, any input from Republicans. It doesn’t sound like bipartisanship. I’m afraid it’s just another photo op.”
Well, yes, of course it’s photo op. The president reckons he made short work of the Republicans with his earlier session with them, and he’s sure he can do it again. Nobody is comfortable arguing face-to-face with the president of the United States, and Mr. Obama will take full advantage of his position.
The White House mocks the concern that Mr. Obama has laid a trap by drawing up the revised Obamacare before he goes through the motions of making irrelevant small talk with the Republicans. The president’s press secretary buries objections under a tub of the usual rhetorical blubber, asking ever so innocently how the trap is a trap: “To go sit down with the president and talk about the [problem] that’s facing millions of people, including those [who] are getting letters each day about the rising cost of insurance? Everybody that’s in Washington [who] works in the executive branch and the legislative branch was sent here as part of representative democracy to solve problems.” Blah, blah, blah.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.