Yesterday was the big day. The President’s Health Care Summit. I know this because I watched history unfold for a mind-numbing six-and-one-half hours….and because as I fell asleep last night C-SPAN was showing highlights like they thought they were Sportscenter. To keep it interesting, I flipped back and forth between CNN and C-SPAN. Actually, I didn’t watch so much as I listened while doing other things around the house, like working with the data for my dissertation research. Before you give me too much credit for multi-tasking, let me just say that it was easy, because I heard absolutely nothing new from either side.
Here’s my print-version dramatization of what transpired:
Pres. Obama: Thank you, everybody for coming. As I said before and I will say it again, I didn’t decide to take on the issue of health reform because it was good politics. I did it because it’s in the best interests of the American people. I want to talk today about the areas where we agree–and there are many–and then really take a long, hard look at the areas where we disagree so that we can find a way forward that works for everybody.
Camera cuts away from the President, and John Boehner looks like someone killed his puppy.
Important Republican #1: Thank you, Mr. President. You’re right. There a lot of things we agree on. What we don’t agree on is how to go about achieving those things. So, in effect, we disagree over the things on which we agree. It’s a philosophical difference. The American people have spoken. They want us to start over. We want us to start over. You don’t want us to start over. I think we can all agree on that. I hope you’ll agree.
Pres. Obama: Those are some important points.
Important Democrat #1: Mr. President, the country needs health reform. [Insert substantive proof of the need for reform here.] That should not be the case in America. Our Republican friends say they want reform, but they have done nothing to move the country in that direction. In fact, [cite horrible CBO scores of Republican reform plans here], while the CBO has consistently scored both the House and Senate bills as greatly reducing the deficit over the next decade. If that’s not enough, we’ve [refer to one of the many elements of the bills that are actually borrowed from Republican ideas] and they still won’t support it.
Pres. Obama: These are all fair points.
John McCain: Back room deals. Kick-backs. Pork barrel spending. Shady politics. Mr. President, we both pledged to be open and accountable during the campaign.
Pres. Obama: The campaign’s over, John.
Both sides toss talking points back and forth and make appeals in the names of people they know who have fallen ill and struggled with health insurance and health care they needed. Those stories usually go one of two ways.
Democratic version: “I know Miss Edna Mae Parker–a 47 year old woman from Springfield–who just last year got diagnosed with debilitating disease syndrome. Her husband lost his job, they lost their insurance, and she died because of it.”
Republican version: “My friend, Robert Johnson, who has no health insurance, suffered from chest pains last June and went to the hospital emergency room where he was able to get the care he needed without any problem. He’s alive and well today, because we have the best health care in the world here in America.”
At the end of the day, nothing had changed. Reconciliation’s still the way forward for the Democrats, and I wasted a few hours of my day. The only high points for me came when I recognized a couple of people in the room who I’ve met (Rep. Jim Cooper) or know personally (Jeanne Lambrew). Otherwise, it was the same old song and dance. But, be honest, did you really expect anything else?