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The Elephant at the Health Care Summit

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Posted on Feb 21, 2010
White House / Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and House Republican Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) gesture while Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) look on during a meeting of bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate to discuss working together on issues surrounding the economy and jobs.

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

This week will determine the shape of American politics for the next three years.

No, that’s not one of those journalistic exaggerations intended to catch your attention, although I hope it did. It’s an accurate description of the stakes at the health care summit President Barack Obama has called for Thursday.

The issue is whether the summit proves to be the turning point in a political year that, at the moment, is moving decisively in the Republicans’ direction. If the summit fails to shake things up and does not lead to the passage of a comprehensive health care bill, Democrats and Obama are in for a miserable time for the rest of his term.

Republicans know this and are doing all they can to undermine, discount, discredit and back away from the encounter.

They are insisting, as House Minority Leader John Boehner has said, that the only test of Democratic seriousness is whether they are willing to “scrap” the health care bills that have already passed and “start over.” Doing anything else is dismissed as a “backroom deal.”

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Of course it’s absurd to say that the House and the Senate, having worked for a year to pass quite similar bills, should now give up. But Boehner knows what he’s doing: He wants the Democrats to give up on health care because doing so would be the surest way to prove that they lack the guts and competence to govern.

Republicans hate this summit because if it works, it will keep this from happening, and also because it calls many bluffs at once.

Above all, Obama is trying to force the Republicans to put their own health care ideas on the table. As soon as this happens, the debate is no longer about the flaws, real and imagined, in the Democratic proposals. It becomes a choice between what the Democrats want to do and what the Republicans want to do. That’s a fair fight.

Obama also wants to cut through the shibboleths and cliches of conventional Washington punditry. There is much Establishment mourning over the failure of “bipartisanship” and the rise of political “polarization.”

Obama is saying: Look—he always says “look” when he’s impatient—Democrats have already included a lot of Republican suggestions in these health reform bills, and here they are. What more do you want? If the only way to get Republican votes is for moderate and liberal Democrats to enact conservative Republican ideas into law, that’s not bipartisanship. That’s capitulation. Can’t you see that?

You want transparency? Let’s do this all out in the open. I’ll post our plan, you post yours. Everyone can have a look. No wonder Republican leaders are grumpy. 

The summit will call attention to the elephant in the room that the most insipid commentary on the loss of bipartisanship pretends isn’t there: There is no bipartisanship because Republicans have become an almost uniformly conservative party.

The GOP opposes—yes, on principle—many of the forms of government action that earlier generations of moderate and liberal Republicans were willing to support. The current crop of Republicans would never give as many votes to Medicare as the Republican Party of the 1960s was willing to throw Lyndon Johnson’s way.

To say that the one legitimate way to pass bills is to get a lot of Republicans to vote for them is to insist that election results don’t matter and that only conservative legislation will ever get through Congress. All the Republicans have to do is be stubborn and yell a lot about being “excluded.”

I don’t blame the Republicans for any of this. They have a right to be as conservative as they want to be. They have both substantive and political reasons for blocking health care reform. So far, the strategy has worked. Why should they do anything differently?

But I do blame those who pretend to be nonpartisan or “objective” for falling for this ploy.

And that’s whose bluff Obama is really calling with this summit. He’s saying: Please, establishment media, look honestly at what the Republicans are doing. Instead of offering lectures about bipartisanship or nostalgia for some peaceable Washington kingdom, look at the substance of our respective proposals and how they match up against the problems we’re trying to solve.

Oh, and there’s also this: He’s telling Democrats they can get things done, or they can crawl away timidly into the darkness of self-defeat.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)washpost.com.

© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group


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By Dermot Stafford, August 3, 2010 at 1:48 am Link to this comment

I believe that this Health Care bill that is now approved will be the death of the Obama Administration and government. The conservatives of American politics are not happy and this is being heard and felt across the globe.  Further more the left factions in neighboring countries are also feeling the uprise from the conservative right.

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By LJL, February 28, 2010 at 2:33 pm Link to this comment

The tuneful, song-smith Mr. ‘ofer’, should unplug the mp3 player and read a book or two. If he did, he would find out that America is awash in mandates that have the blessing of the Supreme Court.  Taxes, Social Security, Draft registration, eminent domain (even for the benefit of private enterprise), not to mention auto insurance, vaccinations for students, so on and so forth.  “Ofer” can’t seem to grasp the fact that America existed before he did and the country developed a body of laws and mores that don’t depend upon his perfervid imagination to exist.

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By kathy sullivan, February 27, 2010 at 7:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Bottom line: The majority of the American people wanted a public or universal
plan; they did not get what they wanted.  It is obvious that the Congress, et al.
do not work for the American people as touted.  They work for the elite,
bankers, et al.  The question is, what are we going to do about it?  Probably
nothing.  Most Americans are overworked, stressed to the max, in debt to their
eyeballs, obese and generally not very healthy.  And who knows what toxic
stuff biological or otherwise, mind control they (CIA) have now initiated on us
which makes us the poor pathetic souls that we are.  If we are ever going to be
in a position to fight these elite, we have got to get in shape!  And fast. These
CEO’s, Bankers, etc. are in shape, they go to the gym; they eat healthy foods;
they take care of themselves and since they do not labor or stress like the rest
of us, they do not get sick as much.  They have no respect for any of us.  To
labor for scraps from their table is to them repugnant.  Get some balls people! 
Get out in the streets-let them hear you!

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By ofersince72, February 24, 2010 at 8:51 pm Link to this comment

Where have all the constitutional lawyers gone
long time paa asing
where have all the constitutional lawyers gone
long time ago..

when will they ever return?
when will they ever return?

HOW BOUT THEM MANDATES LAWYERS, WHATS UR OPINION???

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By ofersince72, February 24, 2010 at 8:22 pm Link to this comment

I am just wanting to find out if the
health care bill isn’t even a bigger scam than it
is on the surface
Could a constitutional lawyer please answer this

Will mandates hold up as constitutional in court?
It will be challenged, I will garentee it.
sorry for my spellin.

mandating that a citizen is required by law to
purchase health care ins from a private company will
get challenged…Obama knows this,(i hope) he taught
law,  constitutional law….
this will be challenged by some body.
I believe the Courts will say mandates are
unconstitutional,,,,which will leave health care
in a much worse shape than they are now and with
higher premiums
I see a bigger scam than what it even appears
on surface…
PLEASE HELP ME OUT LAWYERS…  AM   I WRONG????

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By bobbylon, February 24, 2010 at 4:47 pm Link to this comment

E.J. Dionne has no business being a part of TruthDig. Ban him now. For him to say the House and Senate bills are “quite similar” is just bullshi*. Public option is the elephant in the room and Obummer killed it yet again when there has been some movement in this direction in the Senate. Instead of giving the finger to the 22 Senators who have signed on, he could have cultivated that number to get to 50 and send Biden to break any ties.

Obummer cares more about preserving his corporate re-election campaign than delivering “hope” and/or “change”. SSDD - Same shit different day.

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By ofersince72, February 24, 2010 at 4:36 pm Link to this comment

But I will continue REALIST, to do as DEBS said

vote for something i believe in and lose
rather than something i don’t believe in and win

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By Realist, February 24, 2010 at 2:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is Obama’s last chance to be a successful president. If he fails again, there is no way that the Republicans will let him up off the floor. The voters will not support someone who cannot deliver a solution to meet their needs (and this doesn’t just mean health care). They will vote for the Republicans this fall if only to get rid of the sorry group of Democrats that Obama fails to lead.

If this reversal of Congressional majority happens, whoever produces the most for the American people will then have the advantage in 2012. You can in this instance be sure that the largest producer will not be Obama.

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By bobbylon, February 24, 2010 at 11:05 am Link to this comment

Obummer could have seized the moment and embraced the Senate groundswell for a public option. But Obummer against the plan, through his fealty to the insurance cartels mixed with his own arrogance and cowardice.

Obummer’s plan *increases* the pentalties if citizens don’t purchase mandated insurance. How is any working person, let alone those who have lost their job and can’t afford anyting going to vote for this phony Democrat in 2010 (Congress) or 2012.

Is Obama arrogant or just stupid to the anger that is coalescing against his corporate policies? Now he runs the risk of civil war in his own party.

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By Donald Nygaard, February 24, 2010 at 8:37 am Link to this comment

Thanks to E.J. Dionne for articulating the missing essentials in all areas of our national debate, not just health care. Specifically, he charges the leaders to bring context to their arguments. In other words, look at and agree upon the big picture first, then argue the details within that context.

Let’s see if we can agree on some broad principles and desirable, achievable outcomes that could move the discussion forward. For starters, I think a reformed health care system must:

? Be fair and equitable for all with no barriers to access
? Eliminate fraud and waste in all aspects of its delivery
? Cover all Americans in line with an ethical standard of care
? Eliminate bankruptcy by disease or accident, even preventable ones
? Lower the cost to individuals, providers, and society as a whole
? Favor evidence-based medicine to deliver the best care possible

Notice, none of the bullet points presupposes any specific solution of the problem. They’re structured to facilitate trade studies to focus on degrees of goodness in addressing each criterion. For example, how we remove barriers to access could be solved any number of ways, including public option, mandatory coverage through private insurers, or full-on socialized medicine. Cost containment discussion would be driven by a separate bullet. See how it works?

BTW: Each bullet should be able to satisfy the ‘cafeteria test’ where anyone asked would instantly understand its premise and agree.

Summit participants: Please, as you go through your discussion on Thursday, tell us how each item in your respective positions works to accomplish reform within these broad principles. Stop arguing for political advantage. Start solving problems for the American people. And don’t lie to us! Some of us can’t be fooled.

Respectfully,

Don Nygaard
Curious Guy

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By ofersince72, February 23, 2010 at 10:35 pm Link to this comment

Oh my gosh, another summit..
bend over,,, get ready..

Report this

By Maryet65, February 23, 2010 at 11:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This writer is part of the problem occurring in DC - he said, she said yellow journalism.  Who’s up today, who’s down today.  Reporting ad-nausea on everything word these conservatives said, regardless of whether last week they said something totally different.

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By ron_woodward, February 22, 2010 at 11:42 pm Link to this comment

The health care debacle has given us a foretaste of government after the SCOTUS corporate funding decision. The general public is completely out of the political process. The goal should have been to reduce costs from 17% of GDP to the level of about 9% enjoyed by Europeans. At any time the Democrats through reconciliation could have enacted parts of the reform. They didn’t, because they are in the corporate trophy bag as much as the Republicans are.
SCOTUS only stuck a fork into the American carcass to see if it was done.
Health reform was the American Waterloo. The voters deserted their wounded on the battlefield 122 of them dying every day. At least Napoleon committed his best troops to the fray. He did not bring dishonor to his country.

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By G.Anderson, February 22, 2010 at 9:30 pm Link to this comment

Looks to me that the corporations are upset that their version of health care won’t pass, as they planned, and paid for. Because they need those tax dollars in the guise of 50 million uninsured. They also need more control over everyone’s health, witness the debacle of H1NI vaccines.

So, killing health care refore wasn’t what they were really after. No not at all. What they wanted was to have their version of health care pass, so they could guarantee the revenue streams of the medical corporations, for many decades to come.

And they are afraid that as time goes on they are losing their grip.

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By the worm, February 22, 2010 at 8:10 pm Link to this comment

Process & Substance.

Process: From the spectacle of the President’s public humiliation, it’s evident
he’s lost the support of virtually all Americans. If this is what he meant by
‘consensus’, he’s achieved it: moderates, conservatives and liberals are united
in their opposition. The ‘reforms’ are variously considered a sham, trivial or an
institutionalization of the current disastrous health care system (only with
more public subsidies to the insurance industry).  The complete and utter
powerlessness of this President is all too evident in the drama unfolding in DC.
Pity Obama, the Democrats and the nation.

Substance:

The confusion and endless gyrations evident in the plan are the result of trying
to fit ‘reform of the system’ into the system’s current contorted, inefficient and
costly contours (in other words, it isn’t reform).

Here’s what the people wanted when the Democrats started:

“A mere seven months ago (that would be around June 2009), The New York
Times/CBS poll found that 72% of Americans ‘supported a government-
administered insurance plan—something like Medicare for those under 65—
that would compete for customers with private insurers.’”

From then until now, Obama has:
1.  Rejected single payer;
2.  Stiff-armed the government option;
3.  Mandated individuals and families pay premiums to private sector insurers;
4.  Assured billions in tax payer subsidies for private sector insurers;
5.  Stipulated actual health care service at 80 cents of every dollar, while
insurers can spend 20 cents of every premium dollar on lobbying, ‘sympathetic’
candidates, CEO bonuses, ‘administration’, fighting claims for treatment and
now participating on the new Federal ‘rate’ Board.

The substance of the President’s proposal is the current costly, inefficient and
ineffective system on Federal steroids.

The process, invited on himself, is little more than the public pillorying of the
weakest President since Jimmy Carter.

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By Jimnp72, February 22, 2010 at 8:08 pm Link to this comment

The repugs are despicable and obscene. They despise Obama and that is all they
care about. Think about that.
They are traitors to our country and should be dealt with as such.

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By Vic Anderson, February 22, 2010 at 6:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Elephant? No doubt about it, Obama’s More LIKE Bush-Hog’s little piggy With
LIPSTICK!

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By Hammond Eggs, February 22, 2010 at 5:44 pm Link to this comment

Boehner wants the Democrats to give up on health care because doing so would be the surest way to prove that they lack the guts and competence to govern.

We already know the Democrats can’t govern.
We already know that the Republicans can’t govern.

The only question is: why are people still voting for them?

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3rd party voter's avatar

By 3rd party voter, February 22, 2010 at 5:19 pm Link to this comment

The MBA’s at the Health Care Summit

The MBAs told us get rid of unions and America will be prosperous. So we let them and our net worth declined and the rich grew richer and more powerful.

The MBAs told us ship jobs to Mexico and America will be prosperous. So we let them and our net worth declined and the rich grew richer and more powerful.

The MBAs told us to ship jobs to Asia and America will be prosperous. So we let them and our net worth declined and the rich grew richer and more powerful.

The MBAs told us to cut taxes on the rich and America will be prosperous. So we let them and our net worth declined and the rich grew richer and more powerful.

The MBAs told us to let them invest workers 401k and bank savings in risky stock schemes and America will be prosperous. So we let them and our net worth declined and the rich grew richer and more powerful.

The MBAs told us to give tax breaks for H1B visas and out sourcing and America will be prosperous. So we let them and our net worth declined and the rich grew richer and more powerful.

The MBAs told us to let them deregulate banking, energy, airlines and America will be prosperous. So we let them and our net worth declined and the rich grew richer and more powerful.

The MBAs told us to give them trillions in interest-free loans from our tax dollars with secret agreements on how the money will be spent or whether the money will be paid back and America will be prosperous. So we let them and our net worth declined and the rich grew richer and more powerful.

And Now:
The MBAs are telling us to let them design our health delivery and health payment systems and America will be prosperous… any guesses on how this will end up?

Shakespeare wrote: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”
That’s only because he never met an MBA.
(No, I am not advocating any such thing! Just quoting)

Vote out all incumbents 2010. And if that doesn’t work, there’s 2012. And 2014…

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By LJL, February 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm Link to this comment

I am always amazed by super expert insights that come from posters who find Obama weak, duplicitous and ignorant.  Today one of these experts accused him of not being a “cleaver”!  Others complained that Obama and his supporters were “wussies”, not “grown ups” who weren’t doing their “job” because they all belonged to a “corporate PR” cabal. The issue under discussion is the technical aspects of the making of law, not an airy-fairy discussion of global theories and wishes and what ifs.  Of course, these commentators might be expert legislators, but, if so I wonder why none identifies himself or herself as a legislator at any level.  What I am getting at is, what the hell do any of these people actually know about working in a democratic legislature?  Or are they just blue skying some BS because Obama and the Democratic leadership haven’t been “smart’ enough to do exactly what they want them to do?

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By the worm, February 22, 2010 at 9:20 am Link to this comment

It would be really cool, if Obama was as cleaver as all that: wily politico, getting
the media, the nation, the voters far and wide to see clearly, put aside myths
and half-truths, etc. Prompt folks to get right at the issues truthfully and do
what’s best for most Americans.

Here’s the truth about Obama’s leadership on health care reform.

? “A mere seven months ago (that would be around June 2009), The New York
Times/CBS poll found that 72% of Americans ‘supported a government-
administered insurance plan—something like Medicare for those under 65—
that would compete for customers with private insurers.’”

Now, February 2010, Obama has lead the nation to the following:
1.  No single payer health care reform,
2.  No ‘government option’,
3.  Federally mandated premium payments by all citizens to private sector
insurers,
4.  Tax money to private sector insurers in the form of ‘subsidies’,
5.  Stipulations making it legal for insurers to spend only 80 cents of every 100
cents on actual health care services, while spending 20 cents of every 100
cents on lobbying, ‘sympathetic’ candidates, CEO bonuses, ‘administration’ and
fighting claims for treatment (you can add sitting on the newly proposed Board
to regulate health care rates).

Yes, it would be really cool, if Obama was interested in getting the media, the
nation, the voters far and wide to see clearly, put aside myths and half-truths,
etc. Prompt folks to get right at the issues truthfully and do what’s best for
most Americans. But, so far, Obama has not been able to do that himself; so,
the probability that the ‘summit’ is going to go well for Obama & the
Democrats is about zero.

Eight months ago, Obama and the Democrats had 72% of all Americans
supporting meaningful reform, and have completely bungled the job—they
have made the Republicans and the insurance industry happy and lost the trust
of the vast majority of the American people.

Unlike EJ, I believe the summit promises a continuation of the same shameful
and hypocritical performance the Administration has given us over the last
eight months. And, continued failure.

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By sollipsist, February 22, 2010 at 7:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m sorry—is this the “backed into a corner” argument or the “peer pressure” argument?

“Dude, I know it kinda sucks, but if we don’t get something passed we’ll look like a bunch of wussies in front of the other party.”

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By dihey, February 22, 2010 at 7:43 am Link to this comment

Of course Mr. Dionne also thought that the results of the 2008 election were going to determine the shape of American politics for at least four if not eight years. This writer is such a grand joke that I actually enjoy reading his drivel.

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By Library Lady, February 22, 2010 at 7:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“You want transparency? Let’s do this all out in the open. I’ll post our plan, you post yours. Everyone can have a look. No wonder Republican leaders are grumpy.”

Ha! This reminds me of a scene someone wrote somewhere (I can’t remember, so unfortunately I can’t provide linkage) about the GOP’s actions in all of this. It went something like this:

D: okay here’s our plan
R: your plan sucks
D: how so?
R: it just does
D: okay, do you have a better idea?
R: of course I do
D: what is it?
R: you’re not listening to me!
D: I’m listening. Go ahead
R: but you wouldn’t listen to me before
D: I’m listening now. Go ahead
R: no
D: why not? I thought you had a better plan?
R: I do. It’s way better than yours
D: so what is it?
R: I’m not telling

I think that pretty accurately describes the debate over healthcare reform the past year. I really hope this summit can stick the hypocrisy of those who call for “bipartisanship” to their pants. Enough of this playground “teacher he did that” “teacher he did this!” bull. It’s time for our leaders to be grown ups and do their freaking jobs.

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By Hank from Nebraska, February 22, 2010 at 7:08 am Link to this comment

This health summit should have been held a year ago.  Instead, Obama spent the last year meeting with special interests and persistently moving the healthcare debate away from what most people wanted.  You do all remember that a year ago the vast majority of Americans wanted a single-payer plan and some two-thirds wanted a public healthcare option, don’t you?  Now, with even a public option a distant memory, we have a summit where the Republicans get to move the whole thing even further to the right.  Rebublicans will tout “market-based” solutions like selling insurance across borders, protection from lawsuits, easing limits on Medicare payments to providers, more government subsidies for high-risk policies, etc.  In short, the summit will effectively bring about the bill the insurance/hospital/pharma complex wanted.  Some Democratic victory.  Healthcare will cost even more, private profits will rise further, and American healthcare will be even more unequal than ever.  We have been completely duped by the corporate PR agency that goes by the name Obama, Reid, Pelosi & Co.  E.J. Dionne seems to be one of their subsidiaries.

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By balkas, February 22, 2010 at 6:27 am Link to this comment

It does seem to me that the wings of one party regularly argue ab money.
But it seems never over money spent-wasted on wars, cia, private army.
The private army actually being as private as is regulary army; both controled by one and same governance.

At times the two wings are strongly divided; at other times strongly united. The two wings are still strongly united against universal health care, right to be informed or to obtain free higher education, etc. tnx

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