- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Today’s health care summit is nothing more than political theater. Like an infomercial, it will pretend to be authentic, but it’s actually contrived. Its purpose is to give President Obama a setting in which he can appear to rise above politics and partisanship to get things done for the American people. In fact, it is a device he is using to resurrect unnecessary, harmful legislation that the American people oppose and ram it through Congress.

The White House claims the summit is the culmination of “a year of historic national dialogue about [health care] reform,” but it has really been an inside-the-Beltway monologue. Republicans were only invited to the discussion when Democrats began to notice how unpopular they were becoming with the electorate and understood the magnitude of the threat to their majority. Now at the last minute, the White House demands that Republicans present an alternative comprehensive plan when the two sides do not even agree on what needs to be fixed. The Congressional Budget Office concluded that Mr. Obama’s proposal is too vague even to determine how much it would cost, which reinforces the idea that the summit is simply window dressing.

It’s surprising how many commentators are taking this made-for-TV special seriously, which exposes a collective act of self-delusion that the White House is counting on if its effort has any chance of succeeding. This is not how public policy is or should be made, certainly not comprehensive legislation with long-term effects that will touch every American. But this is what the electorate gets for sending lightweights to Washington. It says something unsettling about the American political culture that so many people think this is a reasonable way to hash out important legislation.

The White House is using the summit to try to corner Republicans by making them either buy into his plan or boycott the process and legitimate the Democrats’ “party of no” mantra. But sometimes “no” is necessary. There is nothing wrong with refusing to go along with a bad idea. Ask any parent. The president and his party are like out-of-control children desperately in need of adult supervision. Perhaps if more Democrats had said no during the budget process, the country would not be facing astronomical deficits and a low-growth/high-unemployment future.

Republicans are on solid ground resisting the proposed legislative schemes. Public opinion polls consistently show that the vast majority of Americans are satisfied with their health care plans. Polls across the board indicate that the public rejects all reform proposals, whether from Democrats or Republicans. Pew Research Center tracking data show that the public has been steadily opposed to the health care bills since the start of the process in July.

Likewise, the Republican “start from scratch” proposal resonates with the electorate. A January CNN poll found 48 percent of Americans wanting Congress to start work on a new reform bill, and a further 21 percent wanted no bill at all. Only 30 percent thought the current effort was on the right track. Since so few people believe there is a crisis, it is reasonable to ask why the president and his party are in such a hurry. This underlines the point that the large-scale health care overhaul is Mr. Obama’s vanity project, addressing a manufactured crisis with an unnecessary fix.

The White House expects that this televised extravaganza will reset the parameters of the debate and give the Democrats the initiative. But no matter how cleverly they package the legislation, in the end the American people understand that the proposed reforms will increase government involvement in and controls over their health care, a fact they view with justifiable suspicion. The best reason to start from scratch is that the bills on the table are simply bad legislation. That will not change after a few hours of reality TV.

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