The White House initially conceived of Thursday’s six-hour summit as a way to force Republicans to submit to its plan for a national health care system. In the words of one unnamed Democratic official, the expectation was that the summit would “give a face to gridlock, in the form of House and Senate Republicans.” Instead, the White House and the nation got a vigorous, at times testy but nonetheless productive, discussion of the competing visions of reform.
House Minority Leader John Boehner carried the day with his argument that any real bi-partisan effort at reform must begin by scrapping the existing House and Senate bills and starting fresh from a clean slate. The American people agree: one recent survey by pollster Scott Rasmussen showed that 61 percent of the country wants them to go back to the drawing board. As the Republicans dissected the Obama proposal in the full view of millions of television viewers who opted for this real-life soap opera in lieu of the standard daytime TV fare, they proved they were right. In clear, common-sense language, they pointed out the distasteful intrusions into the private sector of the economy and the private lives of our citizens that are the inevitable consequences of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi plans and offered alternative solutions in common-sense language, language that contrasted sharply with the wonkish loquaciousness of the President and his minions. In that sense, the summit was a success for Republicans. The Democrats did not appear to this observer to have made their case that their radical restructuring of the health care sector of the economy is the right prescription for what ails the system. The Republicans’ task was far easier. They merely had to show that they also had ideas, and that they were not mere obstructionists.
So here’s a post-summit strategy that I would not have considered a day earlier: Republicans should thank the President for giving them the stage on which they were able to make their case to the American people, and then proclaim that, rather than the last step in bipartisanship before pulling the reconciliation trigger, the summit was instead the first step in moving towards genuine bipartisanship: an open and transparent process in which the American people may also engage.
The summit showed that there are good ideas on both sides of the table, but that there are also enough differences in what the proper role of government should be in reforming the system that minor retooling of the current House and Senate bills cannot achieve the broad bipartisanship that the public demands A larger and more open discussion is now clearly in order, one that involves the nation’s governors, state legislators, local elected officials, hospital administrators and health care providers. For getting the nation to that point, we thank you, Mr. President.