On Sunday, President Obama announced his intention to host a televised bipartisan meeting on health care reform “to go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward.” Yesterday, congressional GOP leaders responded with a list of preconditions for simply sitting down with the President and Democrats.
In a letter to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Reps. John Boehner (R-OH) and Eric Cantor (R-VA) wrote that, “[i]f the starting point for this meeting” is the bills that passed the House and Senate, “Republicans would rightly be reluctant to participate.” They also called on Obama to take reconciliation off the table as a “show good faith” to the GOP.
Yesterday on Fox News, Bill Kristol — who has made no secret of his desire to kill health care reform — criticized Boehner and Cantor for setting preconditions and being disrespectful to Obama, adding that they should instead be more direct about their intention not to meet the President half way:
KRISTOL: Obviously when the president invites you to the White House you go. They should politely go and tell him he should kill this terrible bill that the House and Senate — or two bills the House and Senate Democrats have put together and start over. [...]
And Republicans should hold their ground and they shouldn’t be apologetic, they shouldn’t snipe at the president. This letter they sent today I think is silly. Is it really going to be bipartisan? Is it really going to be transparent? You said you were going to be bipartisan in the past.
Forget all that. Just say we welcome a substantive debate. We have been engaged in substantive debate in health care, we Republicans, for a year, and we are perfectly happy to continue that debate. And Mr. President if you want to come to the position of small incremental, sensible reforms in the health care system, more than happy to work with you.
Preconditions or not, it’s clear that both Kristol and the GOP want the same thing — to ultimately kill health care reform. Kristol is merely suggesting to his friends that they make it clearer. Indeed, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein noted last night on MSNBC that the reality is that the GOP’s position means that a bipartisan compromise will be next to impossible to achieve:
KLEIN: There are two sides with different sets of ideas and they disagree about the ideas and if they can compromise on them, then we get a bill. In fact, you have two sides where one side wants a bill and the other does not want the bill, and it’s actually very hard to compromise between those two positions.
Steve Benen notes that the summit “puts Republicans in an awkward spot.” “If they participate, they’ll very likely lose the policy debate. If they reject the invitation, they’ll look petty and small (even more so than usual).”