Friday, February 26, 2010

The Aftermath of the Healthcare Summit

Summary: What the summit means for a healthcare reform bill and the 2010 midterm elections.

As promised yesterday, we need to give our wrap-up opinions on yesterday’s healthcare summit in Washington, DC.

First of all, the media have not been impressed by what was accomplished yesterday. I’m not quite sure what they were expecting, but evidently they seemed to assume that the bill would have been ready to go after the summit.

In fact, the new deadline for passing a bill is before Easter. That gives Congress over a month to continue hashing out the details - and even that’s under the unlikely scenario that they’ll meet the deadline - before there’s a final vote.

In part, it’s because the GOP still seems unwilling to cooperate.

From Politico:

Heading into the summit, Democrats were preparing to start the steps to get the bill through the Senate with reconciliation — needing only 51 votes to pass a bill — as early as next week. They didn’t expect Republican cooperation Thursday and they didn’t get any. Republicans walked out of the session saying the same thing they said going in — unless you start over, we can’t get on board.

Yet watching the summit, they seemed to be a lot more engaged in reaching a pragmatic compromise than usual. With the exception of John Boehner - who gave a speech loaded with conservative rhetoric about killing the bill - most Republicans (even the super-conservative Sen. Tom Coburn) appeared more focused on working with Democrats than we’ve seen so far.

This is in no small part thanks to President Obama, who took a very serious tone yesterday about bipartisan efforts, which I feel encouraged some Republicans to drop the talking points - especially because the one who did were called out on it.

So we come to two questions. 1) Will this lead to a bill being passed? 2) What implications will it have for the 2010 elections?

It seems to me like a bill was going to be passed regardless of the summit, but I feel that this helped the GOP get over their minority-complex. The attention President Obama showed them (and has been showing them) contrasts - in their minds - with the way the Democratic Congressional leadership has treated them.

And some bridges were built yesterday. Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) made some progress together regarding prescription drug coordination, while Democrats and Republicans in general came to some broad agreements regarding the healthcare-deficit connection.

Of course, there will be plenty of time for Tea Party special interest groups to disrupt this progress, but I feel that the summit probably did help bringing Republicans to the table, making it a little less likely that the inevitable filibuster efforts will succeed.

But in order for a bill to pass by Easter, it is entirely clear that President Obama and the Democratic leadership will have to continue to engage Republicans.

In the 2010 midterms, Democrats will be between a rock and a hard place, but there is a growing agreement among pundits that passing a bill will be more beneficial to them than failing on a key issue they were elected to address. This is something we’ve been saying for months.

Yet if a bill doesn’t pass, pointing to the summit will be a good way for Democrats to defend themselves. “Hey, we had a summit,” they can say, “the Republicans still refused to work with us. They care more about these elections than about the American families who are struggling with healthcare costs.” It’s not a great defense, but it helps solidify the idea that the GOP is nothing more than a “Party of No” these days.

Anyone who watched the summit - there weren’t many who did, albeit, though web traffic for it tripled that of the State of the Union Address - could see how Democrats were more willing to work with Republicans on the bill than vice versa.

Yet even a lot of Republicans were less aggressive than normal yesterday.

Ultimately, a lot of people may be disappointed with the outcomes of the healthcare summit. I, for one, think it could prove to be rather successful.

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