You would think that after Republican leaders in the House and Senate united to oppose every major initiative that President Obama has proposed – ignoring how Americans would benefit from such programs – that he would finally get the message. Unfortunately, he hasn’t.
Instead of seeing Republicans as the obstructionists that they are, Obama has announced that he is calling yet another meeting with GOP leaders on February 25 to solicit their ideas on healthcare reform.
“What I want to do is ask them to put their ideas on the table and then after the recess, which will be a few weeks away, to come back and have a large meeting –Republicans and Democrats – to go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward,” Obama said in an interview with Katie Couric on CBS.
What were all those bi-partisan parties in the White House about last year? Didn’t Obama pretty much ask for the same thing when he visited Congressional Republicans on Capitol Hill?
The president has been down this road before and should know what lies ahead: Republicans will profess interest in bipartisanship, get Democrats to water down proposed legislation and then walk away from the table. This is exactly what happened before and nothing has changed in the meantime that makes me think things will turn out any differently this time.
Republican House leader John S. Boehner of Ohio reacted to Obama’s invitation by saying, “The problem with the Democrats’ healthcare bills is not that the American people don’t understand them; the American people do understand them, and they don’t like them.”
That’s only partially true. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 48 percent of the public opposes Obama’s handling of healthcare, with 39 percent supporting him. But much of that opposition is fueled by confusion over what healthcare reform would accomplish. For instance, only 39 percent believe coverage of pre-existing conditions would improve under pending legislation and only a third believe the change would help them if they lose or change jobs.
Additionally, there is widespread public ignorance about what is happening in Congress. Only 32 percent of those polled by Pew know that the Senate version of healthcare reform passed without the support of any Republicans. Even fewer – 26 percent – know that it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster in the Senate.
Republicans intent on crushing President Obama add to the confusion by reversing their previous positions and lying to the public with a straight face.
Look at the record.
When Michael Steele was lieutenant governor of Maryland, he said he was disappointed that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott had praised the 1948 presidential campaign of segregationist Gov. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Steele said that although he objected to the remark, he did not think Lott should lose his leadership post.
However when Senator Harry Reid made a less offensive racial remark about Barack Obama being light-skinned and not speaking with a “Negro dialect,” GOP Chairman Steele called for his immediate resignation as Senate Majority Leader.
Another Republican, Senator John McCain, speaking on the military’s don’t ask,don’t tell policy at Iowa State University in 2006, said: "The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it."
Acting on the advice of Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullent, President Obama has announced that he will seek a congressional repeal of the policy. Now, McCain, however, is reversing his original position, saying "At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy.”
Several GOP Senators, including McCain, Orrin Hatch and Judd Gregg, have asserted that if Senate Democrats resort to a procedure called budget reconciliation, which would require only a simple majority in the Senate instead of the 60-vote super majority to pass legislation, they would consider it an all-out attack on Republicans. However, each of them supported the tactic when Republicans were in power.
Republican double-standards notwithstanding, the Democrats’ biggest problem is Democrats. Unlike Republicans, they have difficulty keeping their party members in line. Equally disturbing, they don’t have the courage to exercise the power they won last year at the ballot box.
Some have rejected budget reconciliation as an option.The end result is that this will mean certain death for the public option, competition that would offer more affordable insurance premiums, in order to appease the GOP.
Curiously, nothing is being said about appeasing the long-suffering progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Instead of going hat-in-hand to Republicans, Obama should be huddling with his own party. If unapologetic Republicans could pass their so-called Contract with America agenda with simple majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats should borrow a page from their playbook and use that as their blueprint for governing in this combative environment.
If President Obama continues to be obsessed with wooing unsupportive Republicans and conservative Democrats, the progressive wing of the party should hold out for concrete concessions. If Obama fails to accommodate progressives, they should withhold their support. Perhaps Obama needs to be shown how far he will get by courting conservatives at the expense of his base.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.