Despite 7 hours of talking, Thursday’s White House health care summit ultimately did nothing to change the dynamics of the debate. President Obama, at least for now, ruled out the idea of scrapping the current health care bill and taking “baby steps.” And Republicans won’t be willing to sign on to the current health care bill with a few mere cosmetic add ons to create the illusion that Obama wants to integrate GOP ideas.
In my view, Republicans got the better of Democrats when it came to making the case against the current version of health care legislation. But even viewed differently, it’s hard to argue that Obama did any better than a draw. And he needed much better than a draw, because the public overwhelmingly rejects the Democratic health care proposals and many Democratic members of Congress remain skittish. (Just 25 percent of the public supports passing a bill similar to House and Senate legislation, according to a CNN poll.)
“The question that I’m going to ask myself and I ask of all of you is, ‘Is there enough serious effort that in a months time or a few weeks time or six weeks time, we could actually decide something?'” Obama mused at the conclusion of his remarks. “And if we can’t, I think we’ve got to go ahead and make some decisions and then that’s what elections are for.”
It’s unclear whether this means that he’d give Republicans and Democrats six weeks to find a bipartisan agreement before proceeding to reconciliation or give Congress six weeks to pass something altogether. And after the six week time frame, it isn’t clear whether those “decisions” involve whether or not to use reconciliation, to pursue a smaller bill, or to scrap the effort and campaign against Republican obstructionism looking toward November.
But regardless, Democrats are still in the same place they’ve been in the weeks following Scott Brown’s election, and the same questions still remain. Are they willing and able to pass what they need to through reconciliation on the Senate side? And regardless of what’s possible in the Senate, are there enough votes in the House to pass anything? Earlier this week, I explained why health care legislation faces a tough road to passage in the House, and I think everything I wrote still holds. We’ll have a better sense of things in the coming days and weeks, as some key moderate Democrats in the House start to take public stances one way or the other. But if this summit doesn’t do the trick, that’s it. Obama is out of ammo.