GOP Holding Unusually Firm on Health Reform Could Flip House

If Democrats remain obstinate, they could lose their House majority.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Contrary to what many analysts are saying, it is still too early to determine whether or not comprehensive healthcare reform has died on the table. What is clear is that the latest comprehensive package which President Barack Obama’s unveiled Monday has flopped, both as a vehicle that could be the basis for a bipartisan compromise and as a lever to force the GOP to give in to what the Democrats want.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday that he still hoped that the “all” part of the “all or nothing” strategy the Democrats have pursued since the start of the healthcare debate would prevail but he also, in a break with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House, telegraphed that compromise was possible.

“We may not be able to do all. I hope we can do all, a comprehensive piece of legislation that will provide affordable, accessible, quality healthcare to all Americans,” Hoyer said at his weekly media briefing. “But having said that, if we can’t, then you know me--if you can’t do a whole, doing part is also good. I mean there are a number of things I think we can agree on.”

If the Democrats are moving toward an effort at genuine compromise, as Hoyer’s comments seem to suggest some of them are beginning to, it is only because the Republicans have remained uncharacteristically firm, staking out a position and holding to it rather than being the first side to extend an olive branch. Nor have they been willing to see the healthcare problem as solvable solely through addition--“What do we, the White House, have to add to the Democrats’ bill to gain Republican votes?” Instead the Republicans have insisted that the problem can only be solved through a mix of addition and subtraction--taking bad things out of the bill and replacing them with good things.

It has also helped that the White House has not exactly been truthful about what the Republicans want to do--like when it claimed to have incorporated GOP ideas into the latest legislative draft--and the GOP has not been shy about calling it out because of it.

“Despite White House rhetoric to the contrary, the president’s costly, job-killing healthcare proposal does not implement a single major GOP reform that would lower costs for families and small businesses. It just takes solid Republican ideas to lower costs, waters them down, and fails to deliver reform that can actually be effective,” House Minority Leader John Boehner’s office said in one recent GOP Leader Alert.

Boehner in particular has been laser-like in his promotion of a set of reforms the GOP says it could support, none of which Obama or the Congressional Democrats seem willing to discuss, including:

•    Establishing Universal Access Programs so all patients with preexisting conditions will have access to affordable healthcare coverage--without waiting lists;

•    Allowing Americans to shop for coverage across state lines without a new federal bureaucracy;

•    Allowing small businesses to pool together and offer healthcare at lower prices, just as corporations and unions do now; and

•    Empowering states to implement innovative reforms that make coverage more affordable.

If the Republicans are able to, in the public’s mind, get the better of the Democrats at Thursday’s healthcare summit, it won’t be because of dumb luck. It will be because they decided to fight back, rather than switch--which may be part of the reason political forecasters see a GOP takeover of the House may be in the offing.

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