Health Reform Summit Illustrates Differences Between Obama, Republicans

The disagreements were nothing new.

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By Linda Killian, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

There were no surprises at the Blair House health summit Thursday which served primarily to highlight the real differences between Republicans and Democrats--not just on healthcare but on their general political philosophy.

It's pretty simple--Democrats believe government is the answer to big problems and should take care of people, and Republicans believe the private sector is always the best way to go and people should take care of themselves.

This is a political chasm too big to bridge no matter how hard President Barack Obama tries or how reasonable he sounds.

For those who attempted to watch the whole thing--and why would you unless it was your job--it was not either as theatrical or as productive as one might have hoped.

In Hill-speak the session was less like a mark-up and more like a committee hearing with no witnesses. Every member wanted their chance at the microphone--even if they didn't really have anything very interesting to say. For the most part the session was plodding and grim with little real give and take and almost no humor.

As Alessandra Stanley wrote in the New York Times, the whole thing "made an ad hoc working group of the United Nations General Assembly seem festive."

Try as he might, Obama had almost no success in getting the Republicans to offer specific changes or suggestions to the Democratic approach to healthcare reform. He was looking for amendments and instead he got talking points.

The Republicans had obviously decided ahead of time what their strategy would be, that the Democratic approach was no good and had to be thrown out. In other words, health reform the way the Democrats want to do it has to be killed.

Jon Stewart on The Daily Show had a hilarious montage of one Republican after another saying--scrap it and start over.

When it comes to staying on message nobody does it better than the Republicans. That's another difference between the two parties--Republicans are disciplined and Democrats are chaotic and unruly.

Obama started out the meeting by saying he hoped to focus not just on where the two sides differed "but where we agree." The Republicans, however, were not having any of that kind of talk.

His plea for a real discussion and not just the trading of talking points fell on deaf ears.

"If we're listening to each other… we might be able to make some progress," Obama told the Republicans. Fat chance.

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee was the first to present the Republican position--the Democrats are attempting to affect a government takeover of healthcare and that is fundamentally unacceptable so there's no point tinkering at the margins. He also called for the Democrats to "renounce" the idea of using reconciliation in the Senate to pass health reform which would require a simple majority vote, rather than the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster.

Obama in his closing remarks correctly pointed out that he has included some Republican ideas and is willing to consider even more including using a market based approach to create insurance exchanges, allowing health insurance to be purchased across state lines, trying to address waste and fraud in the system and looking at medical malpractice reform.

But he also said at the end of the session that the fundamental difference between the two parties is that the Democrats want to find a way to provide coverage for the Americans who don't have health insurance and Republicans don't see that as one of their fundamental goals.

"I don't know whether we can close that gap," Obama said.

Obama also addressed the problem directly in his concluding remarks--the GOP base isn't interested in the approach the Democrats are taking, so politically speaking, there isn't really a reason for the Republicans to support the measure.

"I thought it was worthwhile to make this effort," he said with resignation.

Obama left the door open to the Republicans to offer some additions and changes but made it clear the Democrats will go forward with or without them.

"And that's what elections are for," he said.

That's what the Republicans are counting on--that the Democratic approach to health reform, if they are able to pass it, will be unpopular enough with voters to give back control of Congress to the GOP in November.

But moderate Democrats in tough races, especially in the House, are looking ahead to the November election too. And they, not the Republicans, hold the key to passing any kind of reform. So far, there's not been too much attention focused on winning their votes but there should be.

More on that in my next post.

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