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James Campion

James Campion

Posted: February 27, 2010 05:40 PM

Health Care Summit?

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Death Rattle With Suits


The forty-fourth president of the United States appears to be as possessed by a doomed agenda as the last one. Maybe at this point Barack Obama has no choice. It has now been over a year and there is still no National Health Care Reform Law, only a massively incoherent pile of legislation that only a minority of Americans want and less understand, a Democratic Party if not split, certainly splintered over, and a Republican opposition that despite hundreds of its amendments added to the thing, continue to rail against it for political leverage.

If the 2/25 Health Care Summit between lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle chaired by the chief executive displayed anything, it's that whatever remains of the national health care debate is merely a death rattle, some distant bugle call over a bloody and silent battle field.

For the most part, the crazy talk was over. It was lawmakers doing what lawmakers do, muddy the facts and refute the rebukes. Over seven or so hours of speeches and debate, boring presentations of facts and figures, and the obligatory spate of pointless drivel, there remained the same conclusion as when it began; the current Senate version of Health Care Reform is vehemently opposed by every Republican, hardly endorsed by moderate Democrats, and barely a boon for Liberal ones.

What began in spirit as a negotiation continued in a series of disjointed debates. And as hard as the president pained to keep it civil and above-board, many on his side and the other reduced it to talking points and posturing. There was serious points made, but just as many derided. So, as my beloved maternal grandmother, Carmella Martignetti, the great political philosopher of the twentieth century once mused; "It is over, but it doesn't know enough to lie down."

For his part, the President revealed a side to him that I once believed, and to a lessoning extent still believe is his strongest asset, the ability to rise above the fray, beyond mere politics and generation, someone who is not tainted by Boomer angst and old-line rhetoric. It is a side that was rarely seen during his first tumultuous year, wherein this massive undertaking of national legislation which makes up roughly 17 percent of the federal budget was not enough to send him to the Hill but once. This legacy-making moment came and went, came again and then went again, with a steely resolve and almost robotic detachment.

Only one speech given at a special assembly of congress last year, arguably Obama's only effective oratory to date, could begin to budge events, but even that was not enough. Bringing us to yesterday's performance, which was even and presidential, a true display of leadership, and not in that phony, affected way you might have seen by pros like Reagan or Clinton, but more down and dirty with a bit more polish than the "everyman" version utilized by the last guy. An objective observer, if there is such an animal anymore, would have to admit to its courageous outreach and balanced effort to determine the agreements, differences and spaces between both when coming to difficult conclusions about a major overhaul in federal legislation.

But what was the point really?

Firstly, it is far too late. This should have been done, as clearly and concisely with a trust in the electorate to comprehend, from the very beginning, rather than the lofty presentations and bully-tactics that ushered it in and pushed it through. But most importantly, there is no time, never mind the four-to-six week psuedo-deadline given by the president at summit's end, to cobble together four or five or ten disparate philosophies over spending, the extent of government involvement, regulatory ceilings and floors, and the stemming of insurance and dictatorial fraud both in the private and government levels.

The next and only step for this President and his Democratic majority is to turn to Reconciliation, an oft-used process of avoiding a filibuster threat with a mere majority of fifty-one votes over the required sixty that is always vilified by the opposition until it gains power. It is pure democratic politics, as the law allows. Democrats and Republicans alike have used it to great effect, most dramatically with the infamous Contract With America in the mid-nineties. There is nothing to deride beyond its premise, which is another debate entirely. And although ramming a bill through a Reconciliation vote is an easy target to bash as one-party tyranny, as both the president and vice president decried when used several times by the previously Republican-controlled congress, it is now the only way any Health Care Reform Bill will be turned into law.

The Republican stance that there should be a new, drafted-from-scratch or piece-meal bill is at best naïve and at its worst, and probably more to the point, vindictive. It has no basis in reality. It would be tantamount to opponents of the Iraq War asking for the troops to be sent back to the ships and re-deployed the moment they reached the outskirts of Baghdad. The mere idea that anyone would articulate this in public is as hilarious as it is frightening.

And so the political fallout of Reconciliation, the only option beyond backing down for the president, will be devastating. Independents are gone for Obama now. And although National Health Care was one of the central themes of a stirringly successful 2008 campaign, in the face of ten percent unemployment, a dipping housing market and a slower recovery than anticipated, it has not only lost national traction, it has become a political albatross.

The president has three years to win the disbelievers back or get them to crawl back if the Republicans send a weak retread like Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney in opposition, or if a true conservative voice like Ron Paul emerges in a populist TEA Party configuration and hands the White House back to him on a silver platter.

For congress, the overwhelming majority of which is Democrat, it must do what it has never done; stand united. There are as deep divides among Democrats as Republicans over many details in the bill. There is even a deeper distrust between House Democrats and their colleagues in the Senate, which deconstructed the House bill and executed any chance of a single-payer option, the treacherous Third Rail of Health Care Reform.

It is an election year. The Democrats are looking at substantial losses. The Republicans have shown no interest in compromise and the majority party has shown it does not care. This President, like the last one, has bet it all on one hand, and as he wisely stated at the summit's conclusion, the results will out and its denouement is what elections are for.