The Hill reports that several 2012 GOP primary hopefuls will address House Republicans at their annual retreat that takes place the weekend, including Newt Gingrich, Gov. Haley Barbour, and others. The Hill also mentions that President Obama was not invited. Last year, he attended the retreat during the Congressional struggle over the health care bill, and proceeded to debate several Republicans from his podium. The unusually candid and confrontational back-and-forth took the Republicans by surprise, and later on they described it as an “ambush.” As The Hill relates, “most observers agree[d] the president won the debate.” In fact it would have been a huge failure if he hadn’t come off looking better, because he had some significant advantages: he was all alone on a stage with a podium, while his interlocutors were below in the crowd, and he got about 75 percent of the speaking time.
It’s too bad that there won’t be an encore this year. The debate at the retreat last year was the best discussion of the health care bill during all the months it was working its way through Congress. Of course House Republicans would never agree to do another discussion on those terms, because the image of Obama lecturing them on policy was damaging. But the playing field could be leveled out, maybe by allowing congressmen follow-up questions or the last word on a given topic.
If that were the case, Paul Ryan could pursue him on the budget and the real cost of the health care bill. Mike Pence could follow up on the fact that there really hasn’t been a “turnaround…based on the steps we took,” as Obama then claimed of the stimulus. On the other hand, Obama could pressure the Republicans on specific spending cuts or a fully-developed alternative to Obamacare — which would give Republicans a compelling incentive to refine their message on those topics.
Overall it would allow the Republicans to hold Obama accountable and Obama to expose some of the Republicans’ hedging on key issues. At the very least it would be more interesting than Gingrich talking to fellow Republicans.