M&M Republicans

As they ponder President Obama’s invitation to the February 25 Blair House "summit" on healthcare, the GOP leadership can save themselves a lot of time and money. Instead of commissioning expensive polls or seeking advice from their Gucci-shod consultants, they can get all the advice they need in an M&Ms commercial that ran during the Superbowl.

It shows a Plain and panting M&M running away, against the inexorable force of a grocery conveyor belt delivering him to the checkout gal.  Surrendering to the inevitable, he sits himself on the scanner and is popped into a bag next to one that holds his pal, the Peanut M&M.  Peanut’s not a genius.  He exclaims, “Hey, look: we’re on the guest list.”  Rolling his eyes skyward, an exasperated Plain responds, “It’s the menu.”

Even before President Obama issued his February 12 invitation to GOP congressional leaders, some were eagerly proclaiming themselves Peanuts.  Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) — apparently worried that he wouldn’t be on the menu — sent a letter to Obama on February 9, saying, “I am pleased that you plan to convene a bipartisan meeting to discuss proposals to achieve needed reforms to our health care system and look forward to sharing some ideas that will put us on the path to achieve your stated goals…” That obeisance didn’t earn Gregg an invitation.

That night, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a Fox News interview that he and Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Oh.) had been asking since May for a chance to sit down with the President and Speaker Pelosi to forge a solution on health care reform.

Cantor’s enthusiasm should be dimmed considerably by the February 12 invitation.  Signed not by the president but by White House Chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, it sets up another rope-a-dope event.  It perfects the technique Obama tried out — at the invitation of the House Republican leadership — on January 29 in Baltimore.  

Obama stage-managed the Baltimore event perfectly.  From the moment Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) tried to speak into a non-functioning microphone to the question and answer session (during which the cameras never left Obama to show any of the members of Congress asking questions), Obama dominated and the Republicans were made to look like school children.

The invitation to the February 25 “summit” makes it comprehensively clear that this “bipartisan meeting” will be far worse.

Instead of inviting a small working group in to actually negotiate the terms of a bill, the Rahm and Kathy letter invites nine senators and twelve representatives, of which nine are Republicans. And it asks each of them to bring four other members of their congressional bodies with them. Adding to that, it asks that each member brings a staffer along.

Let’s do a little math:  Twenty-one members, plus eighty-four guest members means 105 members of congress.  Adding 105 staffers means 210 people in the room.  And that’s before Professor Obama arrives with Joe Biden, Kathy Sebelius and Nancy-Ann DeParle, the White House’s director of health reform and whatever retinue each of them brings.  That’s a media stunt, not a negotiation.

And Rahm has stage-managed it to perfection.  The invitation letter says the president will offer opening remarks, to be followed by opening statements by a single Republican leader and a Democratic leader.  

After that, “The President will then open and moderate a discussion on four critical topics: insurance reforms, cost containment, expanding coverage, and the impact health reform legislation will have on deficit reduction.”  And it will all be televised.  

You can write the headlines now.  “Republicans Refuse to Budge.”  “The party of No won’t compromise.”  “Republicans Reject Last Chance on Health Care.”

Every invited Republican — whether on the original list or on the “four pals” plan — must know how this will end. Any member who goes to the February 25 meeting will be an M&M Republican:  either gladly or reluctantly adding themselves to the health care snack bowl for Obama to munch on.

Obama needs this meeting far more than the Republicans do. His healthcare bill is dead in the water. Only by calling an uneven snap count — causing the Republicans to jump offside — can the bill be revived.

Some Republican leaders are deluding themselves into participating.  In a telephone meeting of the Republican House conference last Wednesday, the leaders claimed success in the Baltimore meeting. In a classically absurd post-hoc ergo propter-hoc analysis, they said that as a result of the Baltimore meeting, the president had lost 2 to 4 points in the polls and they had gained an equal amount.  

According to the Real Clear Politics polling average, Obama’s job approval went down less than one point (from 48.8 to 47.9) and Republicans were up on the generic congressional ballot over 2 points (to 44.7 from 42) in about the same period.

But to credit the Baltimore meeting with Obama’s drop and Republicans’ rise is nonsensical.  Obama’s slippage is the result of his administration’s bizarre mishandling of the Christmas bomber and public outrage at the idea that Khalid Sheik Muhammad would be tried in a civilian court in New York. Obama is facing bipartisan opposition to the KSM New York trials, and is worried Congress could block it.

Now, according to a Washington Post report, Obama has realized how badly he’s been hurt by the mishandling of KSM and the underwear bomber and is inserting himself into the debate on the KSM trial.  Obama is back-pedaling.  Why would Republicans help him out?

Because they’re still frightened by the polls which show damage from the “Party of No” label.  But there’s a simple, compelling answer to that.  

According to the latest Rasmussen polls, almost 60% of Americans oppose the Obamacare bill, and fewer than 40% support it.  It would be a simple thing for Republicans to say, “We stand with the American people and won’t participate in another political stunt designed to revive nationalization of health care.”

GOP leaders apparently want to deal with Obama the same way Obama has dealt with Iran, extending their open hand no matter how many times it’s slapped away.  Some, such as Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga,), have demanded preconditions to the February 25 “summit,” suggesting that the president agree that the discussions would start with a blank sheet of paper, not the new backroom-devised Pelosi-Reid bill, which the Democrats plan to present shortly before that meeting.

But Price’s objections have been mooted by his leadership.  First, Cantor’s pre-emptive statement that the Republicans had been asking for this sort of meeting for nearly a year.  His enthusiasm for it was boundless. And, in a statement released last weekend, Boehner said that the discussion should begin, as Price said, with a blank sheet but didn’t say it was a precondition to the meeting.  He’ll go.

There is no unanimity among the Republican leaders on the February 25 invitation.  Some on the menu are very skeptical and indicate — now — that they may not attend.  But some will, and that’s enough to suit Obama’s purpose.   

Rasmussen’s weekly analysis of polls show that 75% of likely voters are angry at the government’s current policies, and 45% are very angry.  GOP leaders should know that Obama’s “summit” is devised solely to redirect much of that anger from Obama to them.

The M&M Republicans are so afraid that they’ll be again labeled obstructionists that they apparently intend to surrender to the grocery scanner and be popped into the bag to be served up on February 25.  If they do, they deserve the public’s anger.