Between the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue that runs from the White House to the U.S. Capitol building, there's a fascinating bit of political theater taking place.
Responding to Republican complaints that the negotiations on the health-care reform bills passed last year in the House and Senate fell far short of the benchmark for transparency Barack Obama had set when campaigning for the presidency (and they did), the president invited GOP and Democratic leaders to a health-care summit, scheduled for later this month. The whole event, the White House promised, would be televised -- just as the Republicans said they want health-care negotiations to be.
You'll recall the president had something of a triumph
when the Republicans agreed to keep the cameras rolling at their annual retreat a week and a half ago, while he fielded from GOP members of Congress. He did so well, in fact, that several pols who were in the room groused that they had made a mistake
in allowing the president's question time to be televised.
So, what's a GOP leader to do with this latest gauntlet thrown at his feet -- the one monogramed with the initials "BHO"? Why, threaten not to show up, of course.
And that's exactly what House Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor did. In an open letter
to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, the two Republican leaders set forth their conditions for appearing at the meeting: the Democrats must scrap the bills that have already passed through both chambers of Congress and start over.
“If the starting point for this meeting is the job-killing bills the American people have already soundly rejected, Republicans would rightly be reluctant to participate,” Boehner and Cantor wrote in their letter to Emanuel.
Never mind that the American people elected the Democratic majorities that passed those bills. The will of the people should be scrapped for the will of the minority party.
Either way, Obama wins. If the Republicans fail to show up, all their grousing about a lack of bipartisanship on the Democratic side just looks like so much hooey. If they do enter the summit arena, they'll meet Mr. Cool & Informed before the television cameras, just as they did at their retreat in Baltimore.
That's called "using your opponent's weight against him."
Update: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responds:
The President is adamant that we seize this historic moment to pass meaningful health insurance reform legislation. He began this process by inviting Republican and Democratic leaders to the White House on March 5 of last year, and he's continued to work with both parties in crafting the best possible bill. He's been very clear about his support for the House and Senate bills because of what they achieve for the American people: putting a stop to insurance company abuses, extending coverage to millions of hardworking Americans, getting control of rising premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and reducing the deficit.
The President looks forward to reviewing Republican proposals that meet the goals he laid out at the beginning of this process, and as recently as the State of the Union Address. He's open to including any good ideas that stand up to objective scrutiny. What he will not do, however, is walk away from reform and the millions of American families and small business counting on it. The recent news that a major insurer plans to raise premiums for some customers by as much as 39 percent is a stark reminder of the consequences of doing nothing.