In spite of Max Baucus’ repeated assurances that “we’re just not that far apart,” the Democrats seem unable to find common ground with Republicans on the issue of health care reform. President Obama seems to be the only person in the discussion who believes there is agreement on the basic premise – that health care reform is needed. In fact, Rep Hoyer alluded to the notion that only costs need to be contained, and Harry Reid referred to the insurance industry as the “creator of the current health care environment.” Taken altogether, the participants in today’s summit at Blair House did little to dispel the notion that the entire event amounts to little more than political theatre.
There is speculation among the Hill watchers in the nation’s capitol that President Obama’s production today is simply the overture, and that the real performance will begin shortly in the guise of the reconciliation process. There are also pundits who predict that the President will proceed with small health care bills of the “Mom-and-apple-pie” variety. The goal, ostensibly, is to create legislation that improves the health care environment and appeals to enough Republicans to allow for passage. The passage of a jobs bill with the support of five notable Republicans this week portends well for this strategy.
The eventual outcome for health care reform in this presidency remains unpredictable. There is no doubt that both parties regard the coming mid-term elections as a barometer of the political will for reform and increasingly view health reform rhetoric as a key component of the campaign process. Republicans increasingly project the mid-term elections as a mandate to defeat health care reform at all costs.
Recent polls suggest that the American public is “angry” or “negative” on the subject of health care reform, although the most common reasons given for this in a recent Washington Post poll are the failure to address the economic situation, the continued high rate of unemployment, and frustration with the health care reform process rather than satisfaction with the current health care climate. Public reaction to the summit in the coming days will likely give some indication of whether the Republican strategy will pay off, continuing the stalemate in reform or whether they will suffer negative the negative consequences of obstructionism in the name of party politics.