"More talk, no deal" was The Wall Street Journal's headline on Thursday's Blair House health care summit. "After summit flop, Democrats prepare to go it alone on Obamacare," proclaimed the headline here at The Washington Examiner. These were appropriate verdicts if you viewed the summit as an attempt to reach bipartisan agreement or even a limited consensus.
But that of course was not why Barack Obama convened this unique colloquy. He did so as part of an attempt to pass some Democratic health care bill, somehow, through both houses of Congress -- and to discredit the Republicans who opposed the bills passed by the House in November and the Senate in December.
In that he seems to have failed. The Atlantic's Clive Crook, who supports the Democratic bills, concluded that "the Republicans did not come across as the party of no. They looked well-informed, pragmatic and engaged in the discussion. It was the Democrats who leaned more heavily on talking points, and seemed evasive and unspecific."
Kevin Drum, blogging for the left-wing Mother Jones, agreed. "My take is that the summit was basically a draw, but with a slight edge to the Republicans. They didn't have to win, after all. They just had to seem non-insane, and for the most part they did. What's more, Obama missed a chance to provide a punchy 60-second sales pitch for the Democratic plan."
Obama and the Democrats face problems with both public opinion -- their bills are hugely unpopular -- and with legislative procedure. The problem with public opinion has been undeniable since Republican Sen. Scott Brown's victory five weeks ago in Massachusetts. The problem with legislative procedure is more complex.
Democrats could theoretically solve that problem by having the House pass the Senate bill in toto, ready for Obama's signature. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has proved herself a fine vote-counter, doesn't have the votes. Last month, she said "unease would be the gentlest word" to describe House Democrats' resistance. They understandably don't want to cast votes for the Senate's Cornhusker Kickback and Louisiana Purchase.
In November, Pelosi had 220 votes for the House bill. The one Republican is now a no, one Democrat has died, one resigned last month, and another turned in his resignation Friday. That leaves her with 216, one less than the 217 she needs.