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Obama Health Care Summit: Saturday Night Live Fodder

By February 26, 2010

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The best I can say about President Obama's bipartisan health care summit is that it yielded interesting moments of clarity, particularly about Obama's views. And that it should prove to be rich fodder for Saturday Night Live.

Encouragingly, some Congressional attendees, both Democratic and Republican, were thoughtful and engaged, but others used their C-SPAN podium for cynical political hackery... of course. (Do you even listen to yourself, John Boehner?)

Fortified by strong black coffee and my new BlackBerry Bold, I half-watched all 6 hours, 11 minutes of what looked like a hotel-site corporate meeting of 40 bored, squirmy, annoyed men, 3 (as best I could tell) women, and one muzzled vice-president, led by a mildly bemused facilitator who struck a myriad of intentionally solemn poses.

What gave me immense comfort was hearing President Obama explain why health care reform is important. Responding to Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), who was promoting catastrophic-only insurance and tax-favored health savings plans geared for the wealthy, the President leaned forward and commented:

"Would you feel the same way if you were making $40,000...? Because that's the reality for a lot of folks. I mean, it is very important for us -- when you say, to listen -- to listen to that farmer that Tom mentioned in Iowa; to listen to the folks that we get letters from... They're folks who are left out.

"And this notion somehow that for them the system was working and that if they just ate a little better and were better health care consumers they could manage is just not the case. The vast majority of these 27 million people or 30 million people that we're talking about, they work every day. Some of them work two jobs. But if they're working for a small business, they can't get health care. If they are self-employed, they can't get health care.

"And you know what, it is a scary proposition for them. And so we can debate whether or not we can afford to help them, but we shouldn't pretend somehow that they don't need help.... "

THAT is the President I voted for in 2008. Glad to know he's still alive and well, rather than smothered to death under layers of Chicago-style political advisors, numbing bureaucratic demands, and his own moderate instincts and law-professor persona.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was dynamite in spelling out the issues, and especially, in sharply calling out two Congressman for blatantly misrepresenting the truth about health care reform legislation.

But otherwise, top Congressional leaders, including Democrat Harry Reid and Republicans Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, reiterated tired talking points and brain-dead partisan tirades. And contributed absolutely zero to moving legislation forward.

Perhaps the saddest spectacle was grumpy John McCain glowering and still grousing about the 2008 presidential campaign... I felt a twinge of pity for the old warrior.

Chris Matthews' MSNBC Hardball producers cobbled together a hilarious must-see mash-up that proved that Republicans were working off identical talking points (top three: "start over," "clean sheet of paper," "step-by-step") that one politcal commentator dubbed "childish comments." To be fair, many Democrats also echoed each other's thoughts, but at least they varied the lingo...

Indeed, for this political journalist, Obama's 2010 health care reform summit was fun political theater... the gleeful stuff of Saturday Night Live skits. But it's hard to imagine that anyone outside of the Beltway or political journalism gave a serious hoot about this bipartisan hoedown.

And therein lies the problem: Did it make a difference? Did it accomplish anything? Was it even necessary? Far as I can tell, the answer to all three questions is NO.

And it makes me wonder... what the heck was the price tag for this merry but useless meeting? Here's a suggestion: Maybe our country could afford health care reform if the President and Congress would eliminate (or at least cut back?) their addiction to useless meetings and pontificating confabs such as yesterday's health care reform summit.

These are cutbacks no one outside D.C. would care about, much less miss... except for Saturday Night Live viewers, that is.

(Photo taken on Feb 25, 2010: Shawn Thew/Getty Images)


February 27, 2010 at 3:44 am
(1) Riley says:

I challenge anyone to reconcile the following three issues with ObamaCare as Rep. Paul Ryan addressed at the “summit”, bearing in mind that President Obama wouldn’t sign any bill that increased the deficit:

(1) Both the Senate and House bills use the CBO’s static budget analysis methodology to make it appear the bills are fiscally responsible. They both collect 10 years of taxes to pay 6 years of benefits. For any subsequent period, the bills create GIGANTIC deficits.

(2) Both bills include a long term care component. They begin collecting premiums immediately, but since most people that buy long term care don’t need it right away, for the first ten years the long term care runs a big “surplus”. That makes the CBO ten year static budget number look better than they otherwise would. HOWEVER, in the subsequent 10 years as people begin drawing the benefits, the program wipes out the “surplus” from the first ten years, and then some since the long term care provisions in the bill use overly generous underwriting standards.

(3) The bill counts $500 billion in Medicare cost reductions over the next 10 years. These reductions were called for originally in a bill from 1999. Congress has every year since enacted legislation that prevents these cuts from taking place, including this year. Nothing in the bill precludes the cuts from being deferred again. If these cuts were enacted, most doctors would lose money on every Medicare patient. By Medicare’s own admission, doctors would be forced to drop millions of Medicare patients from service or face bankruptcy. Also, depending on what discount rate you use, Medicare has an unfunded liability of $30 to $70 trillion. By what logic is it fiscally responsible to take $500 billion in savings from Medicare and use it to create a new entitlement program?

These are accounting tricks that would make an Enron accountant blush.

February 28, 2010 at 11:36 am
(2) CitizenSucker says:

I agree. If Rep. Ryan is wrong about their bill, let’s hear Senate Democrats rebut his arguments.

Why on earth do we want to create more open-ended entitlements, when we can’t pay for the promises we’ve already made (Social Security, Medicare,…)? We need to cut entitlements with lower benefits, means testing, higher retirement ages, and much, much more.

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