The so-called bipartisan summit took all day and, after the first hour, anesthetized the TV audience.
It didn’t turn out the way President Obama and the Democrats had hoped. The Republican leaders, starting with a very articulate Senator Lamar Alexander were obviously better organized and in better command of the facts than Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid.
Republicans stood their ground and did not permit the President or the Democrats to portray them as evil agents of greedy insurance CEOs. In fact it’s safe to say the Republicans were so well prepared they intimidated the Democrats.
The Republicans generally advocated less government intervention and removal of government imposed barriers such as the existing ban on interstate insurance competition. They continuously pressed their poll tested position, that the humongous bills produced by the House and Senate be set aside so Congress could start over with “a clean sheet of paper.”
A lot of assertions were made that were not completely true. Perhaps the most significant was when The President defended Medicare Cuts in the House and Senate bills as nothing more than depriving evil insurance companies of undeserved lucre from Medicare Advantage, a program that permits about 20% of seniors to receive their entitlement from an HMO.
While it’s not true that Medicare Advantage is a gravy train for the insurance companies, it is true the bills would eliminate this option. But it’s also true that the Democrats’ claim that their bills don’t add to the deficit depend on:
- reducing Medicare reimbursements to physicians by 21%, beginning this year;
- further cuts in Medicare, to be ordered by unelected boards. The boards would be created by the legislation and their decisions would immediately have the force of law unless canceled by special legislation that would have to be passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by the President.
For two weeks, ever since Obama announced and scheduled today’s summit Democrats have been trying to coerce Republican cooperation by threatening to use “reconciliation” in order to to pass a bill in the Senate with 51 votes instead of the 60 votes that are required under normal rules. In his opening remarks Senator Alexander said:
Before we go further today we’re asking that the Democratic leaders and you Mr. President renounce this idea of a partisan process we call reconciliation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in his rambling, unprepared, nearly incoherent opening statement asserted, preposterously, that “nobody has talked about reconciliation.”
Obama responded later that he would not renounce reconciliation because the didn’t think The People were interested in hearing about “process issues.” But Obama didn’t back up Reid’s assertion.
Obama played the roles of chairman, primary spokesman for his side, and parliamentarian. He spoke more than anyone else, in part because the rest of the Democrats in the room were outclassed by the better prepared Republicans. In his lengthy “closing” he once more addressed the conflict between starting over with a clean sheet of paper, and continuing with the current enormous bills, through reconciliation:
What I do know is if we saw significant movement, not just gestures, then we wouldn’t need to start over because everyone here knows what these issues are. We cannot have another year long debate about this. Is there enough serious effort that in a months time or six weeks time we can resolve something? If we can’t then we have to go ahead and make some decisions and thats what elections are for.
Translation, Obama realized that:
- This summit stunt failed to make Republicans look evil.
- He failed to lay the blame on Republicans for the Democrats’ failure to pass ObamaCare even though they have huge majorities in both houses of Congress.
- There’s no reason for Republicans to go against the will of the majority of Americans as expressed in polls to help democrats pass ObamaCare.
- Wavering Democrats in the House and Senate could not have been encouraged by today’s performance. They could see that supporting ObamaCare would, in the mind of the voter, couple them with a loser.
So now, the President and his party face some grim choices.