By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Congressional Republicans, while welcoming President Barack Obama's offer of a televised summit on healthcare, are refusing to be led around by the nose. House Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor are asking the president to agree to set aside the healthcare legislation pending in Congress and to start over again as a condition of their participation in the proposed February 25 meeting.
"Assuming the President is sincere about moving forward on health care in a bipartisan way, does that mean he will agree to start over so that we can develop a bill that is truly worthy of the support and confidence of the American people?" the pair asked in a letter sent Monday to the White House. "If the starting point for this meeting is the job-killing bills the American people have already soundly rejected, Republicans would rightly be reluctant to participate." Indeed, the GOP upped the stakes by asking the president to include Democrats who voted against the bill in the summit as well as governors and state legislators and, in fact, daring him to have a truly national dialogue on this volatile issue.
Pointing to two of the most controversial parts of the White House-backed approach to reform, Boehner and Cantor's letter reminded the president of the legislation "introduced in at least 36 state legislatures, similar to the proposal just passed by the Democratic-controlled Virginia State Senate, providing that no individual may be compelled to purchase health insurance" as well as the concerns state and local officials have raised about the costs that will be passed through.
The Republicans' skepticism is easily understood, even inside the context of the partisanship that has brought the debate to a standstill. The president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised an open, transparent process only to revert to the time-tested technique of cutting deals in the back room, as they did when they managed to handle organized labor's objection to the proposed tax hike on so-called "Cadillac" healthcare plans. And, up until now, the president has failed to fulfill his promise to put the healthcare negotiations on C-SPAN, even those conducted by White House working groups meeting at his direction.
Boehner and Cantor, by trying to open up the meeting to the point where it becomes a new starting point rather than just one more hurdle to get past on the way to a bill signing, are pointing the way for the GOP to take over the direction of the healthcare debate. They have plenty of ideas on the subject, as they have demonstrated over and over. By boldly staking out their position in advance, Boehner and Cantor are helping to force the White House to treat the Republicans as equal partners in the effort to craft a bipartisan bill rather than appear as set-dressing in a televised meeting staged for the president's political advantage.