Let's Make a Deal?

President Obama has suggested a half-day bipartisan meeting, to be televised live on February 25, to discuss moving his health care agenda forward. Considering what has transpired this year, Obama's half-day TV special will probably be a lot more like "Cold Case" than "Let's Make a Deal." Either way, it sounds like a big loser.

As Representatives John Boehner and Eric Cantor note, Republicans have been asking for just such a meeting since May. Since that time, however, they have been shut out of health care negotiations in the House and Senate, and the president's promised "openness and transparency" have yet to materialize.

Now, after ten months of closed-door meetings among Democrats in Congress, union officials, industry lobbyists, and the White House, the president is offering an entire half-day of free and open discussion. The discussion, however, will be anything but free and open, because it is not about starting over, nor is it about allotting equal consideration to both sides. As Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius strongly implied on February 8, the administration expects the meeting to work from the existing framework of legislation crafted in closed-door sessions among Democrats in the House and Senate. As Boehner and Cantor fear, the meeting may well be intended to unveil Democratic proposals and demand Republican support.

Framing the issue in this way, Obama has already prejudiced the outcome of the meeting. Most Americans have no desire to "move forward" with the health care bills now before Congress. The reality is that Obama would never have suggested a televised bipartisan meeting had Democrats been able to ram the reforms through on their own. Now that they are unable to do so, Democrats want to make nice, or just nice enough to pressure conservatives by making them appear obstructionists. Peeling off a few Republican votes would be enough to secure the all-important appearance of bipartisan support for a highly unpopular piece of legislation. 

After a full year of attempting to shut out Republicans on every issue before Congress, Democrats now want bipartisanship. It should be obvious why. During the past year, Obama has made a mess of things, and the Pelosi-Reid Congress, with an approval rating hovering around 10%, has done worse. Democrats now need someone else to share the blame. But Republicans had nothing to do with the $787-billion stimulus fiasco enacted in February 2009, nothing to do with the cap-and-trade bill that passed the House but stalled in the Senate, nothing to do with the failed health care reform bill that passed both houses of Congress but that cannot now pass anything, and nothing to do with Obama's $1.5-trillion deficit. This was all the work of Obama and the Democratic Congress.

Actually, Obama's bipartisan confabs, including the proposed February 25 meeting, are not necessary for the political system to work as it was intended. Obama's party controls both houses of Congress by wide margins. If his ideas for health care reform, job stimulus, green energy, and the rest were workable, then they would have been passed last year. Even with the election of the 41st Republican to the Senate, it should not be difficult to pass legislation as important as Obama believes these reforms to be.

Obama's problem is not that the Republicans have been obstructionist: it is that the substance of his proposals is too radical even for most in his own party. Obama's far-left agenda cannot be enacted within the system of representative government spelled out in the Constitution because the American people, conservative by nature and inclination, will not reelect representatives who support radical change. But the president demands that his agenda be authorized despite the fact that the elected representatives of the people have rejected it.

According to a "senior administration official" quoted by CNN, Obama is determined "to move forward on health care reform" regardless of Republican support. If this is the case, what is the point of the televised half-day meeting? Is there such a thing as an "open and transparent" discussion for which the conclusion has been determined beforehand? Obama is saying to the Republicans: "We will agree to discuss only my agenda, listen only to my experts, and accept only my proposal, but you are welcome to come and talk about it."

What all of this amounts to is an end run around the democratic process. If Obama cannot pass legislation through the normal legislative process, he will attempt to win passage through inducements, pressure, and trickery. The president's performance on February 25, if Republicans are unwise enough to attend, promises a display of all three.

The bottom line is that Democrats still command a majority in both houses of Congress. If they have good ideas, let them pass them, and let the American people be the judges of their work. But don't call for another sham bipartisan confab every time a major "reform" fails to gain approval, which is just about every time.

If Obama has it in him to be a statesmanlike president, let him show it by leading his own party first. If not, let him admit it and seek true bipartisanship. That would mean dumping his closest advisers; realigning his administration with statesmanlike leaders of the opposing party, including Reps. Boehner and Cantor; and governing in the interest of a majority of Americans. That unlikely scenario would involve more than Democrats and Republicans getting together all-smiles like the Partridge family. It would involve a total makeover.

Dr. Jeffrey Folks taught for thirty years in universities in Europe, America, and Japan. He has published many books and articles on American culture and politics.
President Obama has suggested a half-day bipartisan meeting, to be televised live on February 25, to discuss moving his health care agenda forward. Considering what has transpired this year, Obama's half-day TV special will probably be a lot more like "Cold Case" than "Let's Make a Deal." Either way, it sounds like a big loser.

As Representatives John Boehner and Eric Cantor note, Republicans have been asking for just such a meeting since May. Since that time, however, they have been shut out of health care negotiations in the House and Senate, and the president's promised "openness and transparency" have yet to materialize.

Now, after ten months of closed-door meetings among Democrats in Congress, union officials, industry lobbyists, and the White House, the president is offering an entire half-day of free and open discussion. The discussion, however, will be anything but free and open, because it is not about starting over, nor is it about allotting equal consideration to both sides. As Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius strongly implied on February 8, the administration expects the meeting to work from the existing framework of legislation crafted in closed-door sessions among Democrats in the House and Senate. As Boehner and Cantor fear, the meeting may well be intended to unveil Democratic proposals and demand Republican support.

Framing the issue in this way, Obama has already prejudiced the outcome of the meeting. Most Americans have no desire to "move forward" with the health care bills now before Congress. The reality is that Obama would never have suggested a televised bipartisan meeting had Democrats been able to ram the reforms through on their own. Now that they are unable to do so, Democrats want to make nice, or just nice enough to pressure conservatives by making them appear obstructionists. Peeling off a few Republican votes would be enough to secure the all-important appearance of bipartisan support for a highly unpopular piece of legislation. 

After a full year of attempting to shut out Republicans on every issue before Congress, Democrats now want bipartisanship. It should be obvious why. During the past year, Obama has made a mess of things, and the Pelosi-Reid Congress, with an approval rating hovering around 10%, has done worse. Democrats now need someone else to share the blame. But Republicans had nothing to do with the $787-billion stimulus fiasco enacted in February 2009, nothing to do with the cap-and-trade bill that passed the House but stalled in the Senate, nothing to do with the failed health care reform bill that passed both houses of Congress but that cannot now pass anything, and nothing to do with Obama's $1.5-trillion deficit. This was all the work of Obama and the Democratic Congress.

Actually, Obama's bipartisan confabs, including the proposed February 25 meeting, are not necessary for the political system to work as it was intended. Obama's party controls both houses of Congress by wide margins. If his ideas for health care reform, job stimulus, green energy, and the rest were workable, then they would have been passed last year. Even with the election of the 41st Republican to the Senate, it should not be difficult to pass legislation as important as Obama believes these reforms to be.

Obama's problem is not that the Republicans have been obstructionist: it is that the substance of his proposals is too radical even for most in his own party. Obama's far-left agenda cannot be enacted within the system of representative government spelled out in the Constitution because the American people, conservative by nature and inclination, will not reelect representatives who support radical change. But the president demands that his agenda be authorized despite the fact that the elected representatives of the people have rejected it.

According to a "senior administration official" quoted by CNN, Obama is determined "to move forward on health care reform" regardless of Republican support. If this is the case, what is the point of the televised half-day meeting? Is there such a thing as an "open and transparent" discussion for which the conclusion has been determined beforehand? Obama is saying to the Republicans: "We will agree to discuss only my agenda, listen only to my experts, and accept only my proposal, but you are welcome to come and talk about it."

What all of this amounts to is an end run around the democratic process. If Obama cannot pass legislation through the normal legislative process, he will attempt to win passage through inducements, pressure, and trickery. The president's performance on February 25, if Republicans are unwise enough to attend, promises a display of all three.

The bottom line is that Democrats still command a majority in both houses of Congress. If they have good ideas, let them pass them, and let the American people be the judges of their work. But don't call for another sham bipartisan confab every time a major "reform" fails to gain approval, which is just about every time.

If Obama has it in him to be a statesmanlike president, let him show it by leading his own party first. If not, let him admit it and seek true bipartisanship. That would mean dumping his closest advisers; realigning his administration with statesmanlike leaders of the opposing party, including Reps. Boehner and Cantor; and governing in the interest of a majority of Americans. That unlikely scenario would involve more than Democrats and Republicans getting together all-smiles like the Partridge family. It would involve a total makeover.

Dr. Jeffrey Folks taught for thirty years in universities in Europe, America, and Japan. He has published many books and articles on American culture and politics.

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