Health Reform's Weekdays at Bernie's (Is It Dead Yet?)

"Will you walk into my parlour?" said the Spider to the Fly.

Did the tactical gambit of a Blair House health summit late last month work for President Obama? Once the initial (and periodically recurring) bloviating ended, the respective objectives of the Democratic and Republican sides took shape, as expected. The president's two-tiered strategy was first to repeatedly paint a number of differences between Democrats and Republicans as not all that great, as soon as the latter agreed even more with the former's final offer.

The president's second approach was to depict (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) remaining opposition to his ideas and those of his congressional allies as simply wrongheaded, untrue, unreasonable, and/or partisan-to prime more public support for the forthcoming procedural end-around of a budget reconciliation bill attempt later this month in the Senate and House.

We want real health reform, but this legislative dog won't hunt. It just barks a lot.

Although President Obama clearly signaled earlier this week his resolve to press ahead with a reupholstered version of the Senate's legislative furniture (left parked on the curb in January), he hoped to put a fresh fa├žade of open-mindedness to any new idea that mimicked his old ones. At times, he jabbed back at Republican critiques quite effectively, although he struggled with containing an "I'm the smartest guy in the room" urge to rebut too much and at too great length, while outrunning his knowledge base. He also left no straw man argument unvoiced, again and again. Key message: We're not proposing a full government takeover of your healthcare (yet).

On the minority side, the initial hope was to establish that Republican healthcare reform was not a null set. Mission accomplished. The highlight for this observer and many others was Rep. Paul Ryan's cool and clear explanation of both the fiscal and personal long-term consequences of the respective versions of health overhaul, plus the limits of the Congressional Budget Office's GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) scoring.

President Obama went back before the cameras again last Wednesday afternoon, providing yet another recycling of fading rationales for his health reform product that more voters would rather leave on the Capitol Hill store shelves than purchase. His relentless search for Republican health care ideas he could deem "legitimate" was only slightly more aggressive than O.J. Simpson's never-ending search for the killers of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron. He came up with four low-dose remedies that offer little more relief than placebos would.

Although there were a few knockdowns in the two events, the final decision will have to be scored on points. On that front, the congressional minority has a majority among current voters. The White House and the current congressional majority can pull out some heartrending stories and narrow policy themes, but they continue to be tone deaf to what most of the country keeps saying: We want real health reform, but this legislative dog won't hunt. It just barks a lot.

Thomas P. Miller is a resident fellow at AEI.

Photo Caption: White House Photo/Pete Souza

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