From the New York Times’ live blog from today’s health care summit:
Mr. Obama was not going to take it idly. “Let me just make this point, John,” he begain, “because we are not campaigning any more. The election is over.”
With a nervous laugh, Mr. McCain shot back, “I am reminded of that every day.”
Ouch. This exchange between Arizona Senator John McCain and President Obama illustrates the ideological divides that were clear today at the health care summit at Blair House. The all-inclusive summit invited House and Senate members from both parties for a discussion to “focus not just on where we differ but focus on where we agree.” The opening remarks by the President, and the consequent remarks by Democrat senators and representatives, certainly highlighted this point – however, Republicans are pointedly refusing to agree. (Sound familiar?)
The health care summit, which spanned six hours, was divided into four topic discussions or categories: cost control, insurance industry regulation, deficit reduction, and coverage expansion. The White House’s hope is that this discussion, which was being streamed live on the Times, would persuade Americans that the Democratic health care plan is more substantive, whereas Republicans hope to score some political points and demonstrate the public’s disapproval for the current health care proposal. (A poll cited by the New York Times shows that while the general public is divided on Obama’s health care plan, they are overwhelmingly in favor of particular aspects of the health care bill – curbing medical malpractice lawsuits, for example.)
After six and a half hours of exchanging jabs, the outcome of the discussion was as expected; neither side came out with many points in the win column. Republicans, for the most part, failed to persuade Democrats that the current health care bill is undesirable and that it should be scrapped, and Democrats failed to sway Republicans, who stood firm in their insistence for incremental health care reform. President Obama’s closing remarks urged Republicans to do some “soul searching,” noting that the health care issue can’t wait another five decades to be resolved – that America needs to take action now.
There are a number of good papers, including the Washington Post, New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, that have already posted wrap-ups of the health care summit. I encourage you to read them (and — unrelated — this excellent profile of Paul Krugman in the New Yorker.) There’s also, for those of you who are new to the game and/or would like a refresher on each health care proposal, a chart depicting the differences between each of the health care proposals/bills from the Wall Street Journal, as well as an amusing list of the best tweets from the health care summit. (My favorite? @brianbeutler I wonder how many times the Republicans have printed out that 2400 or whatever page bill. THAT’s wasting taxpayer money. — in reference to the Republicans that printed out the entirety of the health care bill to use as a prop.)
My personal opinion on the matter? The health care issue, as we call it, has been trivialized to the degree that buzzwords have set off immediate, volatile reactions. If you don’t fall asleep at the first mention of exchanges, insurance industry regulations, or — God forbid — the public option, then you’re probably shooting off your mouth talking about how the health care bill will only add to our deficit (if you’re a Republican) or how the health care bill is the best thing to happen to the American public since Social Security (if you’re a Democrat). Any genuine attempt at a discussion of the issues will only produce, as President Obama was shown today, more division, political maneuvers, or tensions. For all the talk about “what the American people want,” I’d like someone to inform Senators Reid and McCain that an honest, open dialogue between our elected officials in which they promise to lay aside their political differences to discuss the best future for the American people — well, a girl can only dream. Maybe we should take away the nerves of impending November midterms and see what kind of new dialogue we’d see happening in DC.
On a personal level, one thing that I’d like to see, which was cited by Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, is the study that he cited that shows that 14,000 citizens a day lose their health insurance, that roughly 6-8 people will have lost their lives today because they’re uninsured, and that over the next 10 years, every state will have a 10 percent increase in their uninsured — numbers that are starkly telling. What often goes unsaid is perhaps the most important aspect of it all – that health care is ultimately a moral issue, rather than a political one. Let’s hope that the politicking doesn’t prevent us from breaking ground on what is the most important issue of our generation.