More thoughts on the summit
Now that I’ve seen more of it last night on C-SPAN, my sense is that on balance the health care summit has been very good for the Republicans and very bad for the Democrats. The Republicans were genuinely impressive, stating over and over with unmistakable clarity that the Obama bill is unacceptable and that if the Democrats are interested in bi-partisanship, they need to shelve it and start over from scratch, writing a new bill with the Republicans that deals in discrete, non-comprehensive ways with the two key problems, which are rising insurance costs and accessibility. The Democrats including Obama ignored the Republican position. I’m not saying I expected the Democrats to agree with the Republicans. I’m saying that it’s remarkable that the Democrats never acknowledged the actual Republican position, which is that they oppose a federal takeover of healthcare. And from the Democrats’ point of view, why should they acknowledge the Republicans’ position? Obama’s main purpose in this summit was to paint the Republicans as mindless obstructionists and thus set the stage for ramming the thing through via reconciliation. But I think Obama’s plan blew up in his face, because it’s he and the Democrats who ended up looking obstructionist, fixated as they are on their nightmare government takeover of health care which is unacceptable and frightening to a majority of the country.
Of the people I saw speak last night, the most interesting was Jay Rockefeller. Like Ayn Rand’s villain James Taggart in Atlas Shrugged, Rockefeller is the heir of a great industrial fortune who hates private enterprise. He even physically resembles Taggart, having a large, shapeless head, receding fair hair, and an expression of hatred in his face. His hatred was directed at insurance companies, which he castigated over and over as a “rapacious industry” that must be brought to heel. Well, if you feel that way, Sen. Rockefeller, you should demand that the medical insurance industry be eliminated and replaced by a single payer government system, which is what you really want anyway.
Rockefeller’s roiling anger against an entire industry, like something you’d expect to hear from a college student or a movie actor rather than a senator, exemplified the utter difference of intellectual level—I’m almost tempted to say difference of evolutionary level—between the two parties at this meeting. The Republicans were articulate and cogent. The Democrats trafficked in sob stories and resentful rants against evil corporations. The Democrats’ virtually sole substantive point was their demand that everyone be covered. But they ignored the Republicans’ point that the Democrats’ way of doing that would bankrupt the country.
People keep saying that the summit served no purpose, since the two sides failed to come to an agreement. That misses the truth entirely. The summit was exceptionally useful, because it allowed the two parties to lay out their respective positions before the country in a way that has never been done before.
By the way, Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad was there but I didn’t here him speak. I would be very interested to know what he said, given that the other day he strongly indicated that reconciliation could not be used to pass a sweeping law like Obamacare. Did he say the same in front of the president and on television?