President Obama Leads, Republicans Stonewall @ Health Care Summit

During the seven-and-a-half hour bipartisan health care reform summit, President Obama urged Republicans to abandon their obstructionist, party-of-no tactics and work with Democrats to pass comprehensive reform. Obama highlighted areas of bipartisan agreement in his health care proposal and suggested that Democrats would move forward with or without Republican support.

“I will tell you this, that when I talk to the parents of children who don’t have health care because they’ve got diabetes or they’ve got some chronic heart disease; when I talk to small business people who are laying people off because they just got their insurance premium, they don’t want us to wait. They can’t afford another five decades,” Obama said.

That’s really not difficult to understand, unless, of course, you’ve never experienced a chronic medical condition requiring treatment or you simply die… and… you have no ability to empathize… or you really are so calloused that you don’t care.

And while it’s unclear whether the forum moved the debate forward, it provided Obama with an opportunity to engage “in a spirited and detailed policy debate with Republicans about one of the most compelling and ideologically polarizing issues facing the nation.” The New York Times observed that “Mr. Obama’s mastery of the intricacies of health policy was impressive even to some Republicans.” “It was sort of his classroom,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said. You betcha Lamar, cause he’s a college professor, and Repugnicans need lecturing.

At one point, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, chastised Obama for allowing Democrats to speak longer, claiming Republicans had spoken for 24 minutes while Democrats had 52 minutes. “That’s one of the benefits of being the President,” scolded Obama.

You know, what’s really odd… throughout the summer, Republicans claimed that they agreed with 80 percent of the Democrats’ bill. In September 2009, for instance, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) told a town hall meeting that “Republicans and Democrats agree on 80 percent of fixing the nation’s healthcare system.” Rep.Charles Boustany (R-LA), who delivered the Republican response to the President’s congressional address in September, maintained, “I would venture to say that we agree on about 80% of the issues right now. It’s just a matter of hashing out those few areas where we disagree…”

Despite the many areas of bipartisan consensus and Republicans’ past support for comprehensive Democratic policies such as the individual health insurance mandate, Republicans continued to argue that Democrats should abandon the existing health care legislation and incremental approach to reform. “A dangerous experiment,” warned Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, as his spray on tan started to run and a crack split open in his plastic hair.

I have no doubts about the American publics’ ignorance, but these folks are intelligent leaders – depraved to be sure – and they know (even if US citizens don’t) that implementing a national health insurance program –  where all citizens are accorded the access to health care that is a hallmark of advance, civilized, functional societies – is no experiment! It is implemented in every other industrialized nation on the planet! Even many industrializing nations have implemented these health insurance benefits. And they ALL have better health outcomes and lower costs by half.

Republicans argued that Congress should extend coverage to only three million Americans (I guess implying that the other 42 million should just die) and said that re-engineering the insurance market and providing subsidies requires too much government and too much money. The best Republicans could offer was ‘high-risk pools,” and they portrayed minimum standards for insurance — which they supported in 1993 — as a government takeover (Talking Point alert).

Democrats seek to cover more than 30 million people over 10 years (I still don’t know what the plan is for the remaining 15 million citizens); Republicans said the nation could not even afford the entitlement programs, like Medicare, that already exist, much less start new ones. Republicans seem too obtuse to understand that the nation can’t afford not to take immediate and drastic measures.

Americans should move into catastrophic health insurance policies, Reps claimed, with higher deductibles and smaller benefits. During one exchange, Obama asked Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), “Would you be satisfied if every member of Congress just had catastrophic care — you think we’d be better health care purchasers? “I mean, is that a change you think we should make?” Barrasso responded, “I think actually we would. We’d really focus on it. We’d have more, as you say, skin in the game. And especially if they had a savings account — a health savings account — they could put their money into that, and they’d be spending the money out of that.” Obama’s response was penetrating: “Would you feel the same way if you were making $40,000? Or if that was your income. Because that’s the reality for a lot of folks.”

Republicans continued to drone on and on that Democrats start over on reform. “The core problem is this: we don’t think a 2,700 page bill…is a good idea,” Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said after the summit. “I was discouraged by the outcome,” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) added. “I do not believe there will be any Republican support for this 2,700 page bill.” OK, then let’s remove all dangling participles and make it a 2400 page document and call it a day!

Obama closed the summit by making clear that, without greater Republican cooperation, Democrats would move reform alone. “We cannot have another year-long debate about this. So the question that I’m going to ask myself and I ask of all of you is, is there enough serious effort that in a month’s time or a few weeks’ time or six weeks’ time we could actually resolve something?” Obama asked. “[I]f we can’t close that gap, then I suspect Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner are going to have a lot of arguments about procedures in Congress about moving forward.”


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