The White House has announced that it will publish a health care reform proposal in advance of the forthcoming bipartisan health care summit. Reports suggest that it will be a House/Senate compromise plan rather than a new White House proposal. The idea, as far as I can tell, is to give Democratic leadership in Congress a mild push to finalize a compromise (and, presumably, a passage strategy to go along with it) and to expose Republicans as having no ideas—or, even better, as standing for wildly unpopular ideas.
Reform proponents seem to like this approach, which is not surprising: After all, it nudges Congress towards action and exposes the GOP as heartless partisans who don't care about you, your family, or your dog—not to mention your skyrocketing medical bills. The Democrats, meanwhile, get to showcase a plan that, in the words of the White House, would "stop to insurance company abuses, extend coverage to millions of Americans, get control of skyrocketing premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and reduce the deficit." In return, the Republicans have…? Right. Exactly.
As political messaging ploys go, this is probably savvy enough, but I'm not convinced it will have much effect on the pushing a bill toward passage. For one thing, it assumes (or hopes, anyway) that reiterating, yet again, all the awesome benefits of the Democratic plan will somehow cause the public to start liking it. It's the political version of finding out that someone doesn't speak your language and responding by repeating what you just said, only slower and louder. It's also an assumption that just doesn't hold up very well under scrutiny. And as I've said before, I'm not convinced that a bipartisan health care summit that results in continued disagreement and greater partisan animosity is going to do much to soothe a public looking for bipartisan agreement. Sure, Republicans might not look good at the end of the summit, but is that enough to turn the debate around?
Savvy or not, though, the bigger problem is that this is a messaging strategy, not a vote-getting strategy. And what Democrats need right now, and have needed since Scott Brown won in Massachusetts, is a way to get enough votes from members of their own party in the House to pass the Senate bill. And on that front, their position this week is almost certainly worse than it was last week. As The American Spectator's Philip Klein notes, today's announcement that Democratic Senator Evan Bayh will retire from political office is likely to make gathering enough votes for the House to pass the Senate's bill even more difficult than it already was. And given that Politico wrote last week that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is frustrated with Obama's decision to "push the Senate health care bill on the House when she knew there was no way it would pass," [bold mine] I'd say the outlook was already pretty dim. A game of pin-the-blame-on-the-Republicans—no matter how expertly played—isn't likely to fix the basic problem that the votes to pass a comprehensive reform bill just aren't there.