Friday, February 26, 2010

Sargent: "Obama To GOP: It’s Over"

Greg Sargent:
Obama listened politely for six hours, with occasional flashes of temper, but in the end, the message was clear: It’s over. We’re moving forward without Republicans.
Whether Obama and Dems will succeed in passing reform on their own is anything but assured, to put it mildly. But there’s virtually no doubt anymore that they are going to try — starting as early as tomorrow.

That was the subtle but unmistakable message of Obama’s closing argument. After hours of hearing Republicans repeat again and again that only an incremental approach to reform is acceptable to them, Obama rejected that out of hand.

Here’s the key bit from Obama:

I’d like Republicans to do a little soul searching to find out if there are some things that you’d be willling to embrace that get to this core problem of 30 million people without health insurance, and dealing seriously with the pre-existing conditions issue. I don’t know frankly whether we can close that gap.

And if we can’t close that gap, then I suspect Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner are going to have a lot of arguments about procedures in Congress about moving forward.

Unless I’m misreading that, Obama is saying that unless Republicans support comprehensive reform as Obama and Dems have defined it — dealing with the problem of 30 million uninsured and, by extension, seriously tackling the preexisting condition problem — they will almost certainly move forward with reconciliation.

What’s more, Obama also essentially accused Republicans of approaching today’s summit in bad faith — after they had sat there with him for six hours. He said that even after the public option was taken off the table, Republicans continued to use the same “government takeover” slur.

“Even after the public option wasn’t available, we still hear the same rhetoric,” Obama said. “We have a concept of an exchange which previously has been an idea that was embraced by Republicans before I embraced it. Somehow, suddenly it became less of a good idea.”

This accusation, combined with his assertion that Repubicans need to do some “soul-searching” on whether they wanted to join Dems in tackling reform as they have defined it, amount to an unmistakable vow to move foward without them.

Democratic aides are already interpreting Obama’s remarks along these lines. As one senior aide emailed: “We may make one last effort to try to get a Senate Republican.”

In terms of who “won” today’s debate, I tend to think Republicans actually accomplished much of what they needed to do today. It seems likely that some Congressional Dems will be just as skittish tomorrow as they were yesterday about moving forward alone via reconciliation. That means Dems still have an enormously difficult task ahead.

But Obama’s message to Dems and Republicans alike today was that barring some kind of major change on the GOP side, this is exactly what he and Dem leaders are about to attempt.


Update: To clarify, this was a call to Dems, perhaps more than anyone else, that the time has come for them to stiffen their spines and move forward with reconciliation, which Republicans, and even some nonpartisan observers, have repeatedly characterized as akin to marching off a cliff.

Also: This summit was always about laying the groundwork for Dems to go forward alone, barring a major capitulation from Republicans. As noted here repeatedly, Dems will find themselves in exactly the same position tomorrow as they did yesterday: Confronting the enormously difficult task of passing ambitious reform on their own.
Update II: A GOP aide emails the Republican take: “They badly needed a win today and they didn’t get it. Not even close. Republicans were prepared. The President was pedantic and peeved.”

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