Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Summit Goals

I want to pass along some excellent posts on the upcoming health care summit.  Ezra Klein says that what the Hill wants is "to leave Democrats confident enough to push this into the end zone." He also thinks that the summit has the Republicans a bit confused.  Jonathan Cohn agrees, and is optimistic about the White House commitment to have an actual bill settled on by the summit, and also thinks that challenging the Republicans to have one is a nice touch.  Jonathan Chait sees the same thing, and has a nice little analysis of the attempts by the president to focus on substance, while the Republicans try to focus on process.  I recommend all four of these posts.

I'm not as taken with John Judis's post.  Judis (and by the way, I'm not just picking on him because he doesn't have the good sense to be a Jonathan) says that the way to judge the success or failure of the summit is "in opinion polls, because that’s what members of Congress will look at."

I sure hope that's not the case, because I think it's pretty unlikely that there will be much movement in the polls.  Judis points to a small spike that showed up after the September speech to Congress, but even if that was real (he cites a small positive movement in a couple of polls, which could easily be just random fluctuation), it's not especially likely that an event like this could yield much of any visible results.  Not only have opinions probably settled for now, but...well, face it: the summit is probably going to be pretty boring.  I think it will be boring in a good way for the president; I agree with Chait that substance is good for his side of the argument, and if people tune in briefly and hear something that sounds like Serious Discussion Of The Issues, they're likely to respond positively...and then turn to something more exciting, like curling reruns.  Very few people actually want to watch Serious Discussion of the Issues, even if they think that such things are Good For Democracy.

I think Members of Congress probably know that.  I can't really tell what the Members that Pelosi needs are thinking (we don't actually know, from the reporting I've read, whether they're stubborn liberals, or Blue Dogs, or pro-life Dems, or Dems in electoral trouble, or perhaps just random Dems going through weird panic rituals).  Pelosi, however, knows, and so does (I assume) the White House, and it's unlikely in my view that what they want is something the summit is unlikely to provide -- because otherwise the White House wouldn't have made this move.  My guess is that Ezra Klein is right, and it has to do with some amorphous "comfort level."  The House, in my opinion, is understandably but in this case incorrectly concerned that it will act, and then the Senate will find some way to screw over the House.  A little public support from the president might go a long ways at alleviating that worry.  And, as we've heard, they're not eager to defend the process (especially the Senate portion of the process, which is what took most of the hits); the summit gives them an easy response on process ("We did it publicly!  On CSPAN!"), and maybe that's all a few of them need to move ahead to a vote. 

But I really wouldn't count on the summit to help the polling numbers of health care reform.

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