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Barack Obama Domestic issues Health care Politics The Opinionsphere

Why the Republicans Don’t Want to Go to the Obama Health Care Summit They’ve Been Demanding

[digg-reddit-me]When Obama agreed to the Republicans’ demand for a televised summit to discuss health care, Republican leadership was faced with a quandary: How could they say no and not look like the bad guys?

Their solution is apparently to demand that Obama preemptively give up the reforms he has been working for the past 8 months on (the framework of reforms that is broadly popular even though the legislation creating the framework doesn’t poll well). To make their demands even more unreasonable, they also demand that he tell everyone in advance what he plans on proposing to allow Republicans “at least 72 hours beforehand” to figure out reasons to oppose it and give up his only way to push his agenda without Republican support.

Eric Cantor and John Boehner – the Republican Whip and Leader – made these demands in a letter that didn’t include an ultimatum that they would boycott the summit if their demands weren’t met. But their tone was clearly meant to agitate. They must know that they didn’t come off well in their last televised back-and-forth with the president – and they must also know that despite recent polling, Democratic health care ideas are far more popular than Republican ones. But they also suspect – rightly in my opinion – that whoever the public blames for scuttling these talks will hold this against them.

The White House is eager to go forward – because it is difficult for them to lose this: The public largely believes reform is needed. The Republicans so far do not agree on an alternative. The Democrats – after great struggle – have coalesced around a “next step,” which is undoubtedly part of the reason the Republicans want this “next step” off the table. This plan the Republicans are trying to scrap is – indeed – similar to the Republican alternative to Bill Clinton’s plan, a point which the president has made. Yet the Republicans cannot endorse this – or any – alternative offered by the Democrats for partisan reasons because it will hurt their prospects in the 2010 midterms, giving Obama and the Democrats something to run on in 2010 and 2012. And in the long term, Republicans have even more to fear, as Will Kristol explained in a confidential strategy memo on the risks of allowing Clinton’s health care plan to pass:

It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle-class by restraining the growth of government.

Further, one of the core goals of these health care reforms finally agreed to by the Democrats is to cut the long-term growth of health care costs. The rapidly growing health care costs are the largest part of the unsustainable deficits America will be facing in the long-term. The prospect of this deficit though is one of the driving forces motivating the anti-Democrat and largely pro-Republican Tea Party. At the same time, the fiscal catastrophe that would result from failing to deal with the deficit is the conscious goal of the more ideological Republicans with their “starve the beast” strategy. The ideal outcome for the Republicans would be for the Democrats to force this plan through and for it to fail miserably, either as its implementation is sabotaged by the Republicans or on its own.

There is – in other words – absolutely no fundamental incentive whatsoever for the Republicans as a party to endorse any health care reforms Democrats might want.

The Democrats alternatively will be faulted for the perceived shortcomings of the bill should it pass or not in the 2010 elections, and stand to gain significantly if the bill does anything like what it has promised. Passing such a significant piece of legislation also gives them something to rally their base around, even if some portion of the Democratic base is disappointed with the bill itself.

The fundamental politics of this situation has determined what has happened and will happen: that the Democrats will seek a compromise, and be strung along by the Republicans who will never come to an agreement. The President’s summit on health care with the Republicans and Democrats seems the perfect venue to demonstrate these fundamentals to the public – which is exactly why the Republicans are seeking a way out.

Update: Ezra Klein suggests a brilliant counter-proposal for the White House to offer:

I think the administration should release a counter-proposal. They will agree to literally every one of the GOP’s demands — including the ones that don’t make any sense — in return for one, simple promise: The final legislation is guaranteed an up-or-down vote in the House and the Senate. No filibusters. No delays. No procedural tricks. If the GOP wants a clean process, I bet a deal can be struck here.

The problem is that this type of proposal would muddy the waters – and cause those individuals paying less attention to not know who to blame. Whatever the last deal offered was will be the primary focus of attention. Better it be this sham of a Republican proposal.

[Image by talkradionews licensed under Creative Commons.]

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