Where the Rhetoric Meets the Road

It is an unfortunate rule of politics that you must always watch what they do, not what they say. Words are simply pawns in a much larger chess game. Actions are the queens that go in for the checkmate. Under this logic it is easy to see why President Obama has recently played the health care game of talking up a bipartisan health care summit while simultaneously threatening a public option and reconciliation. His words tell the story of bipartisanship, appealing to the majority of voters who are weary of partisan gridlock. In an interview during the Super Bowl pre-game show Obama
“I want to come back and have a large meeting, Republicans and Democrats, to go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward . . .How do you guys want to lower costs? How do you guys intend to reform the insurance market so people with preexisting conditions, for example, can get health care? How do you want to make sure that the 30 million people who don’t have insurance can get it?”
Music to the ears of the masses – congressmen from both parties getting together to hammer out their differences and finally get something done. They may even sing kum-ba-ya. This only works if each side comes with an open mind and willing to give more than lip service to the ideas of the other side. Despite these protestations of bipartisanship, there has been little done to assuage the fears of many Republicans that this summit is little more than a political charade. As Time Magazine writes,
It’s a delicate strategy that calls for Obama to reposition himself as a bipartisan outsider fighting to change Washington even as his aides increasingly play the sharply partisan inside game.
It comes as little surprise then that while the President focuses on the health care summit many Senate Democrats have signed on to a petition to resurrect the most divisive partisan issue of all – the public option. So far 20 Democrats from the Senate and 119 from the House have
signed on to the letter urging Harry Reid to hold a vote on the public option under reconciliation. Far from tossing the letter aside, or at least waiting until after the bipartisan summit, Senator Reid signaled his qualified support, saying
“If a decision is made to use reconciliation to advance health care, Senator Reid will work with the White House, the House and members of his caucus in an effort to craft a public option that can overcome procedural obstacles and secure enough votes.”
Nancy Pelosi is also working in the shadows of the public health care summit to pass the Democrats’ health care reform plan. Nancy Pelosi’s top health care aide Wendell Primus admitted that Democrats plan to use reconciliation to pass health care, saying
“There’s a certain skill, there’s a certain trick, but I think we’ll get it done.”
But, but, but what about what President Obama said? What happened to the health care summit? What about bipartisanship? It’s all a carefully crafted publicity stunt. A diversionary tactic meant to provide political cover for a renewed push for a bill the American people have already rejected. We need real bipartisanship. This works both ways. Republican’s must attend the summit ready to give a little. It may be unrealistic to expect Democrats to walk into the room with a clean sheet of paper but they should at least come with a bottle of white out and a red pen. Barack Obama has said all the right things, now it is time for him to emerge from behind the curtain of his words and follow through. The summit is a great idea, but only if each side is willing to genuinely listen to the ideas of the other. Unfortunately, those ideas are hard to hear amongst the whispered threats of reconciliation and the public option. - Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee