- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Whenever President Obama’s policy ideas run into trouble, he calls for a summit to seek a solution to his problems. It’s his all-purpose 11th-hour fallback gimmick to show he is suddenly open to new ideas after the old ones failed or were blocked in Congress.

Consider last year’s White House summit - a highfalutin term for just another meeting - to come up with ways to create jobs that gathered a bunch of largely Democratic interest groups. (The Chamber of Commerce, whose members create a lot of jobs, was left out.)

If you don’t remember the results of that meeting - there were none to write home about - you no doubt remember the unemployment rate, which today is nearly 10 percent (17 percent if you count discouraged workers who have given up looking for a job or those working part time).

This is after enactment of a nearly $900 billion stimulus spending bill that stimulated the budgets of a lot of government agencies but created few if any new, permanent jobs.

By calling for a summit to help him fix a problem that he wasn’t solving, he was admitting that his big-spending ideas were not working. Mr. Obama eventually decided to continue doing what had failed by proposing a second stimulus bill, which is pending in Congress. The economy lost 20,000 jobs last month.

Now Mr. Obama is calling for another summit on his health care legislation, which has run into a brick wall in Congress despite his huge Democratic majorities, because a majority of Americans do not like his government-run $2.5 trillion plan.

The White House and Democratic leaders blame Republicans for the impasse, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi admits she does not have the votes in her own party to pass the bill that Senate Democrats sent her.

So the president, who thought he didn’t need the Republicans to pass his massive universal health care bill - and did not utter a single complaint when Democrats excluded them from any role in writing the bills - now says he wants to hear their ideas at a summit on Feb. 25.

But House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia sent signals this week that they were not interested in helping Mr. Obama save an unworkable plan that they correctly think will plunge our country into irretrievable debt and insolvency, destroy jobs and wreak havoc with the finest health care in the world.

Mr. Obama’s half-day summit, they soon learned, would be built around his pending health care legislation, which Republican leaders think should be scrapped so Congress can start over with a completely new approach that includes Republicans’ ideas to broaden access to more affordable health care.

“If the starting point for this meeting is the job-killing bills the American people have already soundly rejected, Republicans would rightly be reluctant to participate,” the two leaders said in a letter Monday night to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

“Bipartisanship is not writing proposals of your own behind closed doors, then unveiling them and demanding Republican support,” they wrote.

“Bipartisan ends require bipartisan means.” However, the White House’s response made it clear that the president, despite all of his talk of coming together in a spirit of bipartisanship, isn’t budging an inch from the Democratic health care bills he has embraced.

“He’s been very clear about his support for the House and Senate bills,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement Monday. “The president looks forward to reviewing Republican proposals that meet the goals he laid out at the beginning of this process,” Mr. Gibbs said, adding that Mr. Obama was “open to including any good ideas that stand up to objective scrutiny.” You can imagine how objective that would be.

Apparently the president learned nothing from the stunning political message from Massachusetts voters who sent Republican Scott Brown to Washington to fill the late Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat on a platform of voting “no” on Obamacare.

Nor has the White House been willing to acknowledge that Democratic support for his legislation has declined as a result of that election and polls showing even stronger public opposition to his health care takeover plan.

What doesn’t he understand about Mrs. Pelosi’s admission that the plan’s backers “don’t have the votes”?

The televised summit Mr. Obama proposed Sunday is a grandstand play by the White House that wasn’t serious in the first place. The art of legislative deal-making is done behind closed doors through trade-offs and breakthrough compromises, and even a willingness to start over.

In the end, Mr. Obama’s aloof, hands-off, above-it-all approach to his health care agenda was a failed strategy that was doomed from the beginning.

Obamacare is dead. The sooner the White House understands this and accepts it, the sooner Washington can move on to a much more pressing problem: jobs and unleashing the power of American capitalism to build long-term economic growth.

But that’s another failure by this presidency that no televised summit is going to fix, especially when it arrogantly leaves out the major business groups that create most of the jobs in this country.

Donald Lambro is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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