Contrary to Tim, I'm not totally skeptical of the news that Obama has invited Republicans to have a half-day conference -- at which they'd tell him why his health-care bill is awful, and he'd tell them why they're wrong. This is, of course, a media event in the strictest sense -- it has no legislative purpose but is something created so that it can be viewed. It's something to get us from the limbo we're in now to some actual voting.
Here, Obama has put Republicans in a bit of a bind: If they refuse his invitation, they confirm that they're just "the party of no." If they accept, on the other hand, they'll probably end up being taken to school by the president the way they were when he came to the House Republicans' meeting a couple of weeks ago. As many of us have been explaining at absurd lengths over the past year, nearly all of their objections to health-care reform are bogus. And this meeting promises a kind of exchange we don't actually get that often at a high level: one in which ridiculous claims can be refuted directly and immediately.
Despite all the cable chatter, this back-and-forth doesn't actually happen that much in places most people notice. When people watch the news, they tend to get a claim by one side followed by a claim from the other side wherein no claim is ever definitively shot down. Contrast that with, say, the exchange at the Baltimore meeting, in which Rep. Jeb Hensarling made the assertion that the yearly deficits under President Bush have become the monthly deficits under President Obama. Obama shot him down by noting that what he was saying was simply false, and Hensarling looked a little ridiculous.
If this next meeting takes place, we're likely to see some repeats of that moment. Republicans are unlikely to score too many points against health-care reform because the most politically effective arguments they have made on the topic have been the most dishonest and simplistic ones. It may have had an impact for Sarah Palin to tweet about "death panels," but that was partly because there was no one right there to call her out for the lie. In a situation where there are people from the other side sitting right there, these kinds of distortions become much more risky, with each potentially producing a humiliating moment that ends up leading the 6:30 news. And of course, the White House will be prepared for every argument Republicans will make (because there aren't that many of them), and will no doubt make sure Obama has compelling, sound-bite-ready answers.
At the end of it, Democrats can say, "All right -- you've had your say, we've listened to your ideas, such as they are, and now it's time to move forward with the bill." Perhaps more important than anything, the meeting could give tremulous congressional Democrats the shove they need to finally pass the damn thing.
-- Paul Waldman
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