THE TREATMENT FEBRUARY 9, 2010
So how would Republicans respond to President Obama's invitation to a bipartisan meeting on health care? Consider the first paragraph of this new letter from House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor:
We welcome President Obama's announcement of forthcoming bipartisan health care talks. In fact, you may remember that last May, Republicans asked President Obama to hold bipartisan discussions on health care in an attempt to find common ground, but he declined and instead chose to work with only Democrats.
Yes, I do remember Republicans asking for bipartisan talks. I also remember Obama and the Democrats holding them, over and over again, in what became an excruciating summer of futility.
Here, for example, is the Washington Post's account of a meeting Obama held with the Gang of Six on August 6:
President Obama urged six senators to keep up their bipartisan health-care talks, despite scant evidence that their reform legislation is gaining traction among Republicans.
Three Republicans and three Democrats spent an hour with Obama this afternoon, half of it with no staff in attendance. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) called the meeting "very constructive and very honest."
The historical record on this is unambiguous. Obama and the Democrats made enormous--and, for liberals like me, gut-wrenching--concessions to win over conservatives. They vastly reduced the size and cost of the bill, which mean far less generous subsidies and less protection against out-of-pocket costs. They dumped the public option. They ditched a millionaire surcharge and replaced it with a tax on benefits that will hit at least some middle class people. They weakened the requirement on employers.
As Ezra Klein has noted, the bills now before Congress are full of ideas that conservatives have, at various times, called their own. In fact, the bills are even more conservative than the plan that two former Republican Senate leaders, Howard Baker and Bob Dole, helped draft through the Bipartisan Policy Center. But Republicans weren't interested in these concessions--apparently because, except for Olympia Snowe, they weren't genuinely interested in bipartisan agreement.
And that's their prerogative, by the way. But if that is their attitude, then they have no business complaining about the Democrats' willingness to pass a health care reform bill without Republican support.