The Oba-Kabuki health care show at Blair House kicked off with a big lie on Thursday morning -- and it all went downhill from there. The taxpayer-funded infomercial backfired by exposing the president's thin skin, the Democrats' naked disingenuousness and the ruling majority's allergies to political and policy realities.
Responding to Sen. Lamar Alexander's opening call for Democrats to renounce parliamentary tactics designed to limit debate, circumvent filibusters and lower the threshold for passage of health care reform to a simple 51-vote majority, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sputtered indignantly: "No one's talking about reconciliation!" Everybody and their mother has been invoking the "R" word on Capitol Hill, starting with Reid.
In a letter on Feb. 16, four Democratic senators pushed Reid to adopt the procedure, normally reserved for budget matters. A few days later, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs discussed the option. Then Reid himself talked up reconciliation on a Nevada public affairs show as an option to ram the government health care takeover through in the next 60 days.
According to The Hill, Reid said that "congressional Democrats would likely opt for a procedural tactic in the Senate allowing the upper chamber to make final changes to its health care bill with only a simple majority of senators, instead of the 60 it takes to normally end a filibuster." A few days after that, Reid snapped that Republicans "should stop crying" about the abrogation of Senate minority rights, since the GOP had used the reconciliation process in the past.
So, the cleanest, most ethical holier-than-thou Congress ever is now defending the unprecedented adoption of ram-down rules for a radical, multitrillion-dollar program to usurp one-seventh of the economy on the grounds of "two wrongs make it right"? Hope and change, baby.
For his part, President Obama responded with one part pique and two parts diffidence. After the summit lunch break, Republicans pushed the reconciliation issue again in the face of the Democrats' refusal to disavow the short-circuiting of the deliberative process. "The American people," an annoyed Obama asserted, "are not all that interested in procedures inside the Senate." Oh, really? A new USA Today/Gallup poll reports that 52 percent of Americans oppose using the procedural maneuver to pass the health care bill in the Senate.