President Obama recently met with the House Republican delegation in a much ballyhooed session in Baltimore to discuss various issues, including health care. The meeting gave him a temporary bump in public opinion polls. That bump didn’t come from any increased popularity regarding the health care legislation he supports (as other polls on health care confirm). Instead, it came from the fact that, at least symbolically, he was trying to be “bipartisan.”
Days have passed, the president’s poll numbers have again plummeted, and public support for the Democratic health care proposals remains anemic. So the Obama team’s political gurus have adopted a new strategy: have another public meeting with the Republicans on health care to get another bump in the polls. In calling for the meeting, the president has stressed that he wants it televised for all to see.
In the meantime, the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate continue to maneuver behind the scenes to try to cobble together health care legislation that can pass the House and survive in the Senate under “reconciliation” rules that would allow it to be adopted without being subjected to a 60-vote margin to kill a filibuster. The Democratic negotiations remain closed to public scrutiny—just as they were when all the nefarious deals were cut among House members, senators, and various lobbying groups (not the least of which were the labor unions who finance a large portion of Democratic campaigns).
President Obama never put any pressure on the Democratic leadership in Congress to open last year’s debate to full public view—much less include Republicans in high level negotiations about the details of the health care reform legislation. Now he wants to make a big deal out of meeting in a televised, “bipartisan” fashion with the GOP to talk about resurrecting the health care legislation. His ploy totally reeks of a double standard.
Some of the Republican leadership stated that to meet, Obama must first scrap the House and Senate bills and start again from the beginning. Though that won’t happen, the Republican leadership shouldn’t give Obama the real victory he desires by boycotting the confab. Meeting with Obama does not presuppose agreeing with him. The opposition party has no obligation to be subservient to the party in power. But, it should use the occasion to highlight the debt, excessive spending, and over-reach of government that worries a majority of Americans.
When Obama tries to use the power of his office to put the Republicans on the spot in the meeting, they should give him all the rope he wants. They should then present and strongly sell the crux of the health care legislation that their members have introduced which never got a full hearing on in the Democrat-controlled House and Senate. The president will then try to co-opt them into meeting him “halfway” towards a big-government, budget-busting proposal. When he gets through, House Minority Leader John Boehner should remind the president of another meeting the two were in a little over a year ago regarding the $780 billion “stimulus” package. When Boehner tried to make some policy suggestions, Obama cut him off with the curt statement: “I won the election.”
Boehner shouldn’t be that curt and disrespectful to the president. Instead, he should just remind him that the public has clearly rejected the Democratic proposals and wants something less costly, more incremental, more bipartisan, and with less government intervention. He and the Republicans should then pledge to work with the president and the Democrats to achieve what the public wants—and then shake hands and leave the room.
Dan Juneau is President of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry. His column appears every Friday on TheHayride.com.