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Barackbar Obama

All along, the Republicans have insisted that they are not merely obstructionists seeking to derail health care for purely political purposes (“It’s Obama’s Waterloo”, etc), but rather that they have genuine ideas on reform to contribute, but have been excluded by Democrats from the process. The reform bill is an ultra-leftist socialist agenda in disguise, they argue, rammed through Congress by a partisan majority uninterested in compromise.

This is, of course, total nonsense. The Republicans have not offered any ideas of their own beyond the same formula of tort reform, tax cuts, and privatization. They waved pieces of paper during Obama’s SOTU as props but they have not negotiated in good faith with the Democrats. The 60-seat majority meant that the Democrats were uniquely vulnerable, ironically, to the demands of their most conservative members like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, who essentially advanced Republican ideas during the process. The result is that the Senate bill is not even remotely a leftist bill but actually right of center, something that the Republicans themselves could have passed anytime during their own complete control of Congress during the Bush Administration’s early years, were they inclined to govern. And yet, the progressive left and the liberal establishment are unified in declaring that even this is better than nothing and will make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.

Throughout this entire process, its been the left which has been pragmatic and willing to compromise – even on major centerpiece reforms like the public option – just to get something done. Meanwhile the right has done everything it can to stop any reform dead in its tracks. There’s real blood on their hands.

So, on Sunday the President invited Republicans to join him for a health care summit on Feb 25th, so that they can offer their ideas on reform with full transparency and the American people as witness. The media would attend and broadcast the summit so that everyone could see what was being discussed and what solutions were being proposed.

If the Republicans were serious about wanting a voice and input to reform, then they would leap at this chance. If they were serious about governing, they would leap seize the spotlight and bring their ideas to the table and make their case to the people, using the opportunity that the President has given them.

Naturally, their actual reaction is, as always, “No!”

The GOP is often referred to as the stupid party. Let’s pray they aren’t stupid enough to sit down with a President who has for six months dismissed them as having no ideas. Barack Obama says he wants a bipartisan approach to health care now. Well, there is bipartisan support for scrapping the current proposals and starting over.

Unless Barack Obama says they should scrap the present plans and start over, the GOP should not entertain his invitation to use a gaggle of Republicans to rehabilitate our socialist President.

The Republican leadership has even written a letter to Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, arguing that a precondition for talks is the total scrapping of all the legislative work that has been done so far and starting over. As they know full well, if the Democrats do not deliver something to show for their work all last year on reform, the public will punish them at the polls. They are counting on it.

And make no mistake – the Republicans have never had any kind of credible alternative policy proposal:

Republicans, working in the minority, are not as close to a unified proposal. The House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, put forward an alternate bill as a substitute for the Democrats’ bill that was adopted on Nov. 7.

But Mr. Boehner and other House Republican leaders acknowledged that the proposal was purposely designed to be a scaled-back measure that did not try to extend health coverage to the vast majority of the nation’s uninsured. While the Democrats’ bills would extend coverage to more than 30 million people by 2019, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the House Republicans’ bill would extend coverage to perhaps 3 million people, leaving about 52 million uninsured.

Other House Republicans, including Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and John Shadegg of Arizona, have proposed more comprehensive legislation aimed at insuring many more people. But those proposals have not been fully analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office.

In the Senate, Republican leaders made a calculated strategic decision not to put forward a comprehensive alternative to the Democrats’ legislation. Trying to draft a single counterproposal inevitably would have embroiled Republicans in the same internal disagreements and disputes that divided Senate Democrats over health care ideas for much of the past year. Putting such a measure forward and then being unable to generate broad Republican support in a vote would have been embarrassing.

Instead, the Republicans went into the floor debate over the Democrats’ bills armed with dozens of individual amendments that most if not all of their caucus supported, but that might have been totally unworkable or even contradictory if pulled together into a bill.

As a result, Republicans appeared unified in their opposition to the Democrats’ proposal, even as Democrats fought fiercely among themselves to make various changes to their own legislation.

I for one hope that the GOP does not, in fact, attend the summit. It will reveal their obstructionism and lack of excuses with clarity, and hopefully be the final straw that spurs Democrats to action. There is indeed a way forward and in many ways it’s easier now without the 60 seat majority than it was before.

In a sense, the Republicans are right. The health care issue as a whole is a trap. But it’s one of their own devising – they are the ones who chose to obstruct rather than to govern, and they will have to answer for it.

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