Healthcare Summit: Chicago Style

Senate Democrat “moderates” probably slept well last night, but no House Blue Dog should have.  In the marathon Blair House healthcare “summit,” the Chicago Obama family made it perfectly clear that the Senate Dems are protected “made men” but the House members are expendable in Obama’s pursuit of nationalizing healthcare.

The summit convened after a round of new polls showed — again — that most Americans don’t want Obamacare.  A Quinnipiac poll showed Americans disapproved of Obama’s healthcare plan by 54-35 percent.  Rasmussen said 56% opposed and 41% approved, and both Pew Research and PPP said 50% were opposed to it.  The opposition will almost certainly rise after yesterday’s media event.

For that is what it was.  It was precisely as Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind) characterized it to me last night. The “summit” wasn’t anything resembling an honest debate or a real negotiation.  Pence pointed out that Obama opened the meeting with comments that directly contravened his stated objectives for the summit.  Instead of opening the “summit” to a debate and negotiation of both sides’ positions, Obama began by stating that his purpose was to make the case for his healthcare bill.

The discussion illustrated, as Pence pointed out, the opposing ideologies.  Obama and the Democrats insist on a government-controlled, government monopoly market for healthcare. The Republicans want a patient-controlled, free market healthcare system.  The issue the Dems are concerned with is government control of healthcare, 17% of the economy that — unlike the financial markets and the automakers — remains in private hands.

Obama wanted the summit to prove — to worried Democrats and to the public — that his insistence on a “comprehensive” healthcare overhaul was the only way to go.  It is comprised, according to the president, of many immutable parts, two of which he repeatedly argued for.

First, the unconstitutional individual mandate that will require every American to buy health insurance whether they want to or not.  Second is the requirement that no person be denied health insurance for a pre-existing medical condition (regardless of the severity).  Obama demands the individual mandate as the means to pay for coverage of those with pre-existing conditions.

Obama’s performance brought to mind one of the opening scenes in the Kevin Costner – Robert DeNiro movie, “The Untouchables.” In it, a store owner argues with one of the Capone gang. “That green beer you’re peddlin’ just ain’t any good,” he says. 
“It ain’t supposed to be good. It’s supposed to be bought,” says the mobster.

The only difference between Capone’s beer and Obama’s healthcare plan is that the latter wants to maintain the pretense that it’s good. 

For about seven hours, Obama, Pelosi, Reid and a cacophony of liberals argued that there is no good alternative to Obama’s plan and that there was no reason — and no time — to start over with a clean slate as Republicans suggested.  (Of the seven hours, almost two were consumed by Obama himself, another three by other Dems and only about two hours by the Republican delegation). 

Obama’s demeanor changed quickly and often, sometimes rude (he put poor old John McCain down harshly) sometimes lecturing, sometimes hectoring. He could often be heard chattering away in the background while others were speaking. 

In an interview last night, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) told me it wasn’t at all clear what Obama was planning.  Obama is running out of options.  On one hand, McConnell said, Obama could be read as saying the bill could be put on the shelf for a few months or, on the other, as threatening to force it through the Senate with the reconciliation mechanism.

Some of the Republicans — notably Dave Camp (R-Mi), ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee and Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), ranking on Budget and Sen. Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-Ok) —  came well prepared and shot down many of Obama’s principal arguments.  They defeated the Dems’ argument that Republicans are merely the “party of no” and had no good ideas.

But nothing deterred Obama.  Most revealing were his closing comments.

After 5 pm, after everyone who wanted to speak had done so, Obama set the agenda for the rest of the year.

Obama began his closing argument by saying he’d come in with compromises he’d not agreed to before and said that it was time, in the next few weeks or months, for Republicans to do the same.   But he quickly cut to the chase. 

Obama pretended that he was still open to a real compromise, but he said, “I don’t know frankly whether we can close that gap.  And if we can’t close that gap then I suspect Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner are going to have a lot of arguments about procedures in Congress about moving forward.”

Meaning that unless the Republicans signed on to his approach soon, the reconciliation mechanism would be invoked to pass the bill through the Senate by a simple majority vote, precluding a filibuster.  But his next remark was a direct threat to the House Blue Dogs, many of whom are facing very tough re-election battles this year.

Obama said, “We cannot have another year long debate about this.  So the question I’m going to ask myself and I ask of all of you is: is there enough serious effort that in a month’s time or a few weeks’ time or six weeks’ time we could actually resolve something?
“And if we can’t then I think we need to go ahead and make some decisions and then that’s what elections are for.  We have honest disagreements about the vision for the country and we’ll go ahead and test those out over the next several months until November.”

This is the biggest gamble of Obama’s presidency.  Nancy Pelosi doesn’t have the votes to pass the healthcare bill through the House.  Now, Obama has told the Blue Dogs that he is prepared to sacrifice them in order to get his bill.  Will they cave in and throw away their chances in November, or will they finally live up to their “conservative” label? 

For Senate Dems, reconciliation could be a career-saver.  As a senior Republican senator told me about after the summit — is that it’s a way out for the wavering Senate Dems.

Harry Reid can, if he can maneuver around the parliamentary rules that supposedly govern reconciliation, afford to let up to nine Dems vote against the bill and still pass it. That way Blanche Lincoln and others who might otherwise lose this year can put themselves on the side of their constituents and still remain in Reid’s good graces. 

That’s a clever way for Obama to keep his Senate majority and still get Obamacare through the Senate this year.  But — like the “Cornhusker Kickback” and the “Second Louisiana Purchase, the bribes that bought Ben Nelson’s and Mary Landrieu’s votes last year — this reconciliation ploy would be just another dirty trick. 

Obama has split his party loyalty between the House and the Senate.  How many Blue Dogs will follow Pelosi off the cliff to nationalize healthcare over the objections of their constituents?  That green beer Obama is peddling just ain’t any good.