- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The congressional Republicans should have two main objectives when they sit down to discuss health care on live television with President Obama and the Democrats next week: (1) to repel the Democrats’ false attack that the Republican Party is the “party of no” and (2) to expose the Democratic Party as the “party of no transparency.”

The Republicans appears ready to accomplish the first objective by presenting the health care proposals they have been advocating all along, such as lowering state barriers to insurance companies, real tort reform, portability reform, etc. They’ll defeat the party-of-no charge with their advocacy of good ideas over the Democrats’ bad ones.

In order to accomplish the second objective, the Republicans must turn the tables on Mr. Obama by taking the spotlight off of them and putting it back where it belongs: on what underlies the grotesque 2,000-page health care disaster.

Mr. Obama and the Democratic leadership know their proposed health care reform has collapsed, so they’ve engineered a new gimmick: doing health care via “American Idol.”

Each side will sing its ideas, but the outcome is rigged because the judges are all Democrats who already have indicated that they have no intention of starting again from scratch. Politico reported last week that they already have struck a deal to use reconciliation to pass it with 51 votes in the Senate. They simply want to be able to leave the stage able to say they gave the Republicans a chance. If Mr. Obama can accept some minor Republican offering to get the vote he needs, he will trumpet his own bipartisanship. If not, he will be able to blame the Republicans for forcing him to use reconciliation. The Republicans must, instead, walk out having shifted the focus away from themselves and back onto the Democrats’ monstrosity.

The election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate stripped the Democrats of their supermajority - and their ability to make smarmy backroom deals. During the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama often said that everything related to health care reform would be aired on C-SPAN so Americans could see the healthy clash of ideas. Once he got into office, that lasted about three months. Starting in April, he promptly slammed the door on Republicans. There was no C-SPAN, and the really dirty dealing was done with the doors closed and the drapes drawn.

Thanks to the arrival of Mr. Brown, Mr. Obama suddenly has rediscovered the virtues of “transparency,” but because he remains unwilling to slap a “Do Not Resuscitate” sign on the current health care bills, Republicans should calmly call his bluff by demanding that transparency begin with him.

They should demand that the starting point for any new discussion be full disclosure to the American people of all of the deals the White House and Democratic Congress struck on health care. That means Mr. Obama must reveal all of the details about the secret, behind-closed-doors deals he struck with the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance companies, the unions, the hospitals, the American Medical Association, AARP and others. He also must disclose all details of the putrid deals made with Democrats in Congress, i.e., the payoffs to Sens. Mary L. Landrieu, Ben Nelson and others.

For example, last summer, the White House and Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, brokered a secret deal with the drug industry to limit its total costs under the proposed overhaul to $80 billion over 10 years. Republicans should demand the particulars of that deal: How did they arrive at $80 billion? What else was promised? What was to be delivered in return? What was turned down? Who participated? Who balked? Democrats made a major issue out of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s private discussions with the energy industry. Why the silence here?

Actually, we already know one thing that was delivered: extensive lobbying on behalf of the plan. The pharmaceutical industry spent more than $100 million on ads to promote it. AARP also endorsed the Democrats’ plan, despite its slashing $500 billion from Medicare and inevitable rationing, the brunt of which will be borne by the elderly. The same questions apply. By the way, AARP spent $21 million in total lobbying last year.

Mr. Obama pledged to ban lobbyists from his White House and administration, but he turned entire industries into lobbyists for him. Clever? Yes. This is why the Republicans need to be one step ahead.

Mr. Obama won’t fully disclose, of course, because he can’t. He probably is bound by those deals. He likely can’t renegotiate one part of the deal because it will effect the other parts. He can’t start from scratch, as the American people are demanding, because he is tied down by the secret deals he made, including, in all likelihood, keeping it all confidential. If he discloses their details, his whole house of cards might collapse.

Republicans must take the card out of Mr. Obama’s hand by turning the focus back on what underlies the health care behemoth. Republicans are winning on the issue. Now is not the time to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.

Monica Crowley is a nationally syndicated radio host, a panelist on “The McLaughlin Group” and a Fox News contributor.

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