Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Healthcare Summit - Smoke But No Fire

      The much ballyhooed healthcare summit between President Obama and the Republicans generated quite a bit of heat, but little fire. Pundits from both the left and the right are claiming their side “won,” but is that what is really important? Is this a war? Both sides scored a few brownie points with their constituents, but what about those members of the American public that have no health insurance? As usual, they lost.
      The Republicans came into the meeting shouting “start over,” and never budged, while the President kept calling for bipartisanship, and he was just a voice calling in the wilderness. To be honest, he didn’t offer any compromises either. The whole meeting was just a “tempest in a teacup, signifying nothing;” an exercise in political posturing.
      So where do we go from here? I may be slightly overstating the standoff; this morning’s news reports that the President has approached Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to submit details of suggestions he made at the summit for rooting out fraud in the medical system. In addition, a pair of retiring Democrats who opposed the legislation when the House approved it in November appear willing to reconsider.
      One very complicated sticking point has been the language banning federal financing for abortions, and some Democratic supporters of the ban have indicated an openness to different language.
      The possibility of getting the 60 votes required to avoid a filibuster in the Senate is about as likely as reelecting George Bush to a third term, so the Democrats are considering the process of “reconciliation,” which requires only a simple majority.
      Under this process, the House would have to pass the Senate’s healthcare bill without change, and then each house would have to pass another bill that would embody any compromises agreed to during negotiations. The Senate would need only 51 votes to enact the bill into law.
      Republicans are, of course, crying foul, deliberately ignoring the fact that since 1981, 17 of 23 reconciliation bills have been signed by Republican presidents. We shall see if the Democrats decide to adopt this procedure in an election year, especially since public opinion polls are running unfavorable for the use of the process.
      Congress should be ashamed that such an important piece of legislation has become mired in a swamp of political bickering. As one writer put it, “Our healthcare system could be fixed by smart public-spirited people in a weekend…” Apparently we have not elected any people like that to Congress.

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