Health Care Financing Reform, Hobson’s Choices, And Lincoln’s Axe

As President Obama and Congressional Republicans prepare to finally talk to each other about health care financing reform, Obama is taking one last stab at controlling the agenda and constraining the discussions to “how little of my fantasies do I have to give up”

The Republicans, understandably, don’t particularly like that approach. “Mr. President, the House bill passed with a single Republican voting in support. The Senate bill wasn’t as bad, and we killed that one. Why the hell can’t we start from scratch?”

This, of course, is entirely in keeping with the Obama definition of “bipartisan:” “A bunch of Democrats and one or two Republicans that we can bribe to come along.”

There are a lot of people telling the Republicans to not buy into Obama’s preconditions, screaming “It’s a trap!” But I think I see a way for them to turn the tables and get a win.

Obama wants to use one of the bills as a starting point, a framework, for the final bill. He believes that will guarantee him victory.

He’s wrong. Not if the Republicans pull a “Lincoln’s Axe” on him.

It’s an old tale, about a treasured family heirloom.

“Johnny, this axe used to belong to Abe Lincoln. He used it to split logs. It’s been in our family for over 150 years, and some day it’ll be yours.”

“Really, grandpa?”

“Really. Of course, we’ve replaced the handle four times and the head twice…”

Take one of the two bills. It doesn’t matter which, but I’d say take the shorter one. And then start rewriting it immediately after the introduction.

Don’t trash the entire bill. Just read along until we find something we don’t like, then replace it with something we do. Leave the title, the nice, generic introduction, the section titles, and the lofty rhetoric. Just gut every single bad idea and replace it with something more palatable.

And if there are whole sections that are objectionable, then replace them with empty rhetoric and exhortations that specifically are denied the force of law. “Insurance companies should cut premiums in half, accept any applicants without question or condition, and not even think about asking about pre-existing conditions. This shall not be enforceable by law.”

One thing they need to keep in mind is to not just dump a completed bill on the desk. No, you can’t just dump that frog in the boiling water. Do it incrementally, one section at a time. Introduce one revised section, argue about it, settle it — and then bring in the next one.

In the end, Obama might end up with a “stone soup” health bill, where his party’s only contribution is the “stone” — the one part that doesn’t really matter.

So be it.

This is quite possibly Obama’s ever had to deal with real, concrete, substantive opposition in his life. He has no idea how to deal with that, and most of his team comes from the same corrupt Chicago Democratic machine. They came to Washington not understanding how a two-party system works, and they are so arrogant that they haven’t grasped that they have to learn a different way.

They better start learning soon. November’s coming…

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