I thought I had reached my saturation point on health reform–and that’s pretty bad given that it’s such a huge part of my life–because things seemed to be grinding to a halt ever since Scott Brown came along. Others were a lot more cynical than me, however, proclaiming health reform dead and moving on to anything and everything else. Perhaps I’m just a committed idealist, but I wasn’t ready to let this opportunity slip away, which has proven frustrating given my limited capacity to affect the outcome at this point in my career. If I had Rahm Emanuel on a leash, for example, I’d have made him bite somebody by now.
But alas, there’s a faint glimmer of hope on the horizon, or as Jon Cohn’s metaphor labeled it, a weak but strengthening pulse. That hope is the half-day summit on health reform scheduled to take place at Blair House on February 25th. Now, there’s already been a lot of talk about the event. It’s supposed to be bipartisan, but many GOP leaders were refusing to go unless Congress scrapped both bills it passed last year and agreed to start over. The White House is stressing that the goal is to deal with the substantive issues and reach an agreement on the best way forward. Uwe Reinhardt is skeptical of any effort to solve the health care problem in half a day.
I’m inclined to agree. I don’t think we’ll see any startling new revelations during the summit, but that’s because there aren’t any. People like me–the people who do the research and study the health care sytem–already know what needs to be done. The ideas on the table aren’t those of members of Congress. Sure, they’re the ones who introduce the legislation and vote on it, but they are not experts in the minutia of our health care system. That’s why they have staff who specialize in different substantive areas. But the ideas come from experts in the field. Each member of Congress chooses to listen to those experts or not as they see fit, but what has played out this–and every prior–time around has been one of politics interfering with what needs to get done.
I don’t think the Republicans have any choice but to attend the summit. If they don’t show, they look wholly uncooperative–not even willing to feign the appearance of helping to solve one of America’s biggest problems. That won’t wear well during election season. Strike one. I also don’t think Republicans will offer anything substantively meaningful in the way of health reform proposals that aren’t already in one or both of the bills passed by the House and the Senate. That’s because they have good ideas and bad ideas, and their good ideas have already been included. If they raise their bad ideas, they risk having them exposed for what they are (CBO has already shown that many of their reforms would increase the deficit) all while televised nationwide. Strike two. Then I think that President Obama will clearly demonstrate that the Democrats ideas are the best ones out there on health care, and the Republicans will have little room to disagree. But they will stand in principled opposition, looking foolish in the face of a mountain of evidence collected over many, many years. Strike three.
So, I have hope. I also have hope that the House and Senate are very close to working out their differences and moving forward through reconciliation. And, before I leave you, let me make one other thing perfectly clear. This is not about politics for me. It is about understanding how our system works, where it is broken, and how it needs to be fixed. I appreciate that the reform legislation in Congress includes elements that should have bipartisan support–and would have if this hold thing hadn’t devolved into a political pissing contest. I want to see things get better for the American people, and I believe that this is a step in the right direction. If an entire political party disagrees with that, I don’t want them to tell me how idiotic my ideas are, I want them to offer a better idea on the right way forward.