Today, Congressional Democrats and Republicans — at the invitation of President Barack Obama — will come together for what has been billed as a bipartisan health care summit. The American people expect that this will be an opportunity for their elected representatives to sit at the same table and find a way forward, together, to address a top national concern — all televised live on C-SPAN. The president himself said that participants would discuss "all the best ideas" to develop a health care reform plan.
[IMGCAP(1)]It has become disappointingly clear, however, that the White House is more interested in playing politics than in fulfilling its promise of bipartisanship.
This week, the president released a plan crafted behind closed doors that could be rammed through Congress using a partisan maneuver called "reconciliation." Under the reconciliation process — which was not meant to be used for major legislation restructuring one-sixth of our economy — the president would be able to proceed without the support of any Republicans or even the moderates in his own party.
This approach not only torpedoes the spirit of a bipartisan summit, it is nothing more than a repeat of last year's attempt to push through an unpopular and far-reaching health care bill on a strictly partisan basis. That plan was soundly rejected by the American people as they learned about all the sweetheart deals like the "Cornhusker Kickback" and other provisions that would have raised premiums, raised taxes and cut Medicare.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like the White House or Congressional Democrats are listening.
Far from a meeting of the minds, this summit is shaping up to be little more than a photo op to unveil the White House's latest backroom deal.
We do not need more of the same old Washington tricks; we had enough of that approach last year. Instead, we need a fair and honest effort to find solutions that improve the health care of Americans while not raising their insurance premiums and subjecting them to increased government involvement in their health care decisions.
My Republican colleagues and I understand the concerns of many people in this country who lack adequate health insurance or worry about the rapidly rising cost of health care. We know that finding workable solutions to our current problems will require all of us to work hard in a truly bipartisan way.
Real bipartisanship means abandoning all attempts to ram through the same unpopular package of ideas, cobbled together behind closed doors, using the most partisan political tactic. Even Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), the most senior Democrat in the Senate and one of the authors of reconciliation, has said that he opposes using that process to push a health care bill.
Health care reform is something we need to do, and today's meeting offers the chance for Democrats and Republicans to start working together on this critical issue. But if Obama and Congressional Democrats choose instead to take the same old partisan road once again and ignore the clear wishes of the American people, they do so at their own peril. The American people expect results, not the second verse of the same song.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.) is chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.