Barack Obama is a puzzle. He is a skilful politician – he would not be in the White House otherwise – yet he has managed to dismay not only independent voters but also the liberal base of his own party. One can see that he was likely to disappoint one group or the other, but not both. How could the man with the nous to stop Hillary Clinton ever have let this happen?
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Thanks, Anna, for the running commentary. Here’s my take.
An absorbing discussion. Surprising too. Before I say more, I’ll remind you of my biases. I’m in favour of comprehensive healthcare reform. I’m aware of the substantive flaws in the Democrats’ bills, and the political risks; even so I wish the House would pass the unrevised Senate bill. Failing that, I think the Senate bill plus revisions through reconciliation, as trailed in Obama’s merged proposal, would be much better than nothing.
Nobody expected breakthroughs at the summit and none happened. If it mattered at all, which is debatable, the meeting was about political momentum and the mood of the Democratic party’s wavering centrists. Measured that way, it was a good day for Republicans.
In a difficult role, Obama did well. But the Republicans (not counting John Boehner) did well too–much better than I would have guessed. They came across as serious and respectful. With only a couple of exceptions, the congressional Democrats were bad. They got off to a poor start with weary pro forma statements by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and never really recovered. Mostly, they made the case for reform in general–heavy as always on the personal stories–rather than for their bills in particular.
Hold the front pages! Mr Obama’s healthcare summit – a seven-hour marathon that was notable for the level of petty politicking – resulted in no agreement.
The Republican press offices have been in overdrive today. As John Boehner, the minority leader in the House, made his contribution to the healthcare summit, slamming his hand on the 2,400 page bill brought in as a prop by Eric Cantor, his office put out a statement slamming the “job-killing healthcare proposals”.
In spite of what was said by Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate and one of those charged with banging lawmaker heads together, reconciliation is increasingly looking like the only way to advance healthcare reform legislation.
The president, contrary to earlier White House assertions that he would line up with his plate at the Blair House buffet, has gone back to the White House for the lunch break.
After three hours of testy exchanges, it’s time for bickering Republicans and Democrats to take a lunch break. Your correspondent’s efforts to find out what would be on the lunch buffet led to nothing – apparently that’s classified – but we can probably assume there won’t be any high fructose corn syrup of transfats. Although the lawmakers do have the insurance to deal with it.
The first session, on cost containment, showed the challenges that lie ahead in the healthcare summit. Senator Lamar Alexander claimed that the Congressional Budget Office reports that the Democratic healthcare plan will lead to an increase in insurance premiums, a point that Mr Obama took issue with. This led to a testy to-and-fro between the two, as Mr Alexander interrupted the president to quote the CBO’s findings and Mr Obama suggested the Tennessee senator had read the report wrong and that the CBO had instead said that more people would be able to buy better (and therefore dearer) insurance.
Republicans made a smart choice in selecting Lamar Alexander, a Republican senator from Tennessee, to make their opening statement at the summit. Mr Alexander has a history of bipartisanship and has on occasion voted with Democrats, a record he alluded to in his remarks.
The much-hyped healthcare summit had the air of a Group of Eight leaders’ meeting when it got underway on Thursday morning, complete with chandeliers and an army of aides. President Barack Obama walked into the picturesque Garden Room at Blair House, across from the White House, just after 10am.