Congressional Republicans achieved a goal during yesterday’s healthcare summit. They shed their “party of no” label. They had ideas.
But Obama saw them and raised them one. He framed them as the party of small ideas while Democrats have a big idea. As in, we’re planning to fix healthcare instead of, as Sen. Tom Harkin said of the GOP plan, throw 10 feet of rope to a man drowning 50 feet from the boat—with a promise that at some later point, we’ll throw him a 20 foot rope.
The GOP did their homework well. As is usual the case, they were, in large part, more articulate than many of the Democrats, the president included. They had fire in their bellies and a list of facts and ideological bon mots. Even when they threw hanging curve balls, the Dems took called strikes. When I commented on that in a contemporaneous post yesterday, a friend also in my line of work called incredulous himself. The response to that oft charge of letting the government makes decisions instead of “the American people and their doctors” is, “Oh, if it were only so. Now it’s the insurance exec making millions of dollars a year who now gets to make that decision.”
But the Dems warmed up a little by the late innings, both rhetorically and passionately. The best I heard all day was by Sen. Dick Durbin. After the two Republican doctors lorded their experience over the crowd, Durbin gave them the view from the street. He’s been a good old fashioned—and as the GOP would characterize, “ambulance chasing”—trial lawyer. He’s defended victims of medical malpractice and the doctors that perform it. And showing his summation skills, he spoke in smooth paragraphs.
As any good lawyer would, he eviscerated the “common knowledge.” Both the number and award amounts of medical malpractice have dropped precipitously over the years, not increased, he said. The number of paid malpractice claims decreased 50 percent in the last 20 years, and the amount of awards have dropped the same 50 percent in the last five years. Then, he played the jury’s heart strings by telling the story of a woman who went in to have a mole surgically removed only to have the oxygen ignite, scarring her face for life and submitting her to repeated operations.
“Her life will never be the same. And you are saying that this innocent woman is only entitled to $250,000 in pain and suffering. I don’t think it’s fair.”
Certainly, GOP Chairman Michael Steele could understand that, he who thinks one million dollars, after taxes, “is not a lot of money.” Two hundred fifty thousand isn’t even walking around money for the chairman.
CNN, probably taking a cue from, I believe it was, GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell that Republicans weren’t getting enough hot air time, tracked the minutes party representatives talked.
Democrats spoke for a total of 135 minutes while President Obama spoke for 122 minutes, for a total of 257 minutes. Republicans, meanwhile, spoke for just 111 minutes, about 30 percent of the total speaking time.
The president spent too many of his minutes hemming and hawing as he is wont to do in extemporaneous situations. He often starts off searching for words in bursts of disconnected phrases. But when he warms, he can cut you with a butter knife.
His summation, which started in that same hesitant fashion, got legs. He cut through the GOP apocalyptic rhetoric.
“I know that there’s been a discussion about whether a government should intrude in the insurance market. But it turns out, on things like capping out-of-pocket expenses or making sure that people are able to purchase insurance even if they’ve got a preexisting condition, overwhelmingly, people say the insurance market should be regulated.
And so one thing that I’d ask from my Republican friends is to look at the list of insurance reforms and make sure that those that you have not included in your plans, right now, are ones, in fact, that you don’t think the American people should get.”
He reminded our representatives that they should be willing to let the American people have the same insurance coverage they have. He deftly framed his solutions as market driven as Sam Walton. His comparison of a wide open insurance market left to the states with what happened in the credit card market was one people could easily understand. He cited new statistics demonstrating how Americans already have chosen the government as their main source of insurance because companies can’t offer it anymore. And he used a little humor to undercut GOP criticism of the bill’s length and make the point that small ideas won’t work.
“I did not propose and I don’t think any of the Democrats proposed something complicated just for the sake of being complicated. We’d love to have a five-page bill. It would save an awful lot of work.
The reason we didn’t do it is because it turns out that baby steps don’t get you to the place where people need to go. They need help right now. And so a step-by-step approach sounds good in theory, but the problem is, for example, we can’t solve the preexisting problem if we don’t do something about coverage.”
By this time, Obama has found his voice. He’s talking smoothly and minimizing the “hums” and “uhs.”
He then made the observation that I would have put a little differently, though his way sufficed. The Republicans think compromise is first, Dems put their ideas out there. Then Republicans put theirs. And then we all accept the GOP plan—lock, stock and barrel. Voila, bi-partisanship!
Finally, in music to the ears of those who thought he has no soul or fight in him,
“We cannot have another year-long debate about this. So the question that I’m going to ask myself and I ask of all of you is, is there enough serious effort that in a month’s time or a few weeks’ time or six weeks’ time we could actually resolve something?
And if we can’t, then I think we’ve got to go ahead and some make decisions, and then that’s what elections are for. We have honest disagreements about — about the vision for the country and we’ll go ahead and test those out over the next several months till November. All right?”
Yes, Mr. President, that’s all right.