Posted by: Jeff | February 25, 2010

Assessing the Health Care Summit

Our health care blogging guru thinks Obama has officially thrown down the gauntlet:

George W. Bush was known for his tendency to think in terms of black and white, good and evil, us and them. This was in opposition, supposedly, to the nuance favored by Democrats. But Barack Obama has his absolutist side, too: Some arguments are right, and some are wrong. Some are legitimate, and some are not.

And Obama believes that his arguments are right. The basic structure of his plan is sound. The Republicans’ alternatives are inadequate. The problem is too serious to entertain thoughts of inaction. Comprehensive works better than incremental. Compromise only makes sense if the other side is willing to give something up in turn. Good policy will be electorally defensible even if it’s not obviously popular.

The big story out of the summit is not that Republicans and Democrats extended their hands in friendship, but that the White House has dug its heels into the dirt. The Democrats are not taking reconciliation off the table, they are not paring back the bill, and they are not extricating themselves from the issue. They think they’re right on this one, and they’re going to try and pass this bill.

Yet underlying all this is the question of whether the conservative Democrats in the House can be brought on board, as they are now the only real remaining obstacle to passage.

Importantly, Harry Reid and other Democrats were not only using the word reconciliation, but defending it from attack. Obama joined them in this effort. But the question is what the handful of ambivalent Democrats in the House and Senate thought. Obama spent the day trying to convince them that passing this bill was right: Not just politically, but intellectually and morally.

To repeat a regular theme, bipartisan agreement between the Democrats and Republicans on health care reform has always been a will-o-the-wisp. (Though I don’t think Obama and Reid and Co. can be blamed for expending months of wrangling on the hope that it wasn’t.) No such agreement was going to be coming out of this summit. And the White House and the Democratic leadership almost certainly knew that.

Rather, the goal of the summit was reveal the Republicans’ objections as largely substanceless and unserious, and thus hopefully give conservative Democrats the political cover they need to vote for the bill.

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