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.
The survey also showed that Americans oppose Demcare-style health care "reform" by 49 percent to 42 percent -- with those "strongly" opposed outnumbering those "strongly" in favor by 23 percent to 11 percent. Obama's best and brightest team of Chicago strategists, new-media gurus and communications specialists still hasn't figured it out: Voters are as fed up with the corrupt process in Washington as they are with the White House's overreaching policies. It's both, stupid.
When he wasn't cutting off Republicans who stuck to budget specifics and cited legislative page numbers and language instead of treacly, sob-story anecdotes involving dentures and gallstones, Obama was filibustering the talk-a-thon away by invoking his daughters, rambling on about auto insurance and sniping at former GOP presidential rival John McCain. "We're not campaigning anymore," lectured the perpetual campaigner-in-chief.
After ostentatiously disputing the GOP's claims that health care premiums would rise under his plan, Obama walked it back. Confronted with more GOP pushback on the failure of Demcare to control costs, Obama told GOP Rep. Paul Ryan that he'd rather not "get bogged down in numbers." Not numbers that he couldn't cook on the spot without staff consultation, anyway.
Obama and the Democrats labored mightily to create the illusion of almost-there bipartisanship by repeatedly telling disagreeing Republicans that "we don't disagree" and "there's not a lot of difference" between us. But the dogs weren't riding the ponies in this show.
This was a set-up from the start. The "we're so close" mantra is the rhetorical wedge the White House will use to blame Republicans for fatal obstructionism, while whitewashing festering opposition from both pro-life Democrats who oppose the government funding of abortion services still in the plan and left-wing progressives in the House who are clinging to a full, unadulterated public option.
While Republicans came off well, the six-hour blowhard-fest was a monumental waste of time. Obamacare Theater tied up GOP energy and resources as the White House readies its "Plan B" (expanding government health care coverage, just at a slower pace) and Democratic leaders prep their reconciliation ram-down for early next week. This Washington box-office bomb is a prelude to much bigger legislative horrors still to come. Don't you love farce?