Health Reform and Cognitive Dissonance

I applaud President Obama’s good intentions in seeking to host a bipartisan health reform summit on February 25, bringing together congressional Democrats and Republicans to put ideas on the table and find a way to move the reform process forward.  Of course, substantive agreements won’t be reached in a half-day meeting, but it’s still a step in a much-needed positive direction.

But are we moving toward bipartisanship?   Politico reported on Tuesday that a House leadership aide,  in a speech to a national health policy conference, said that a path has been developed to move the current House and Senate bills through Congress and onto the President’s desk.  In essence, the House would pass the Senate health reform bill, and then a package of changes to the Senate bill would pass both houses.  In the Senate, this would require using the controversial budget reconciliation process and evading the conventional 60-vote threshold necessary for most major bills.  Under reconciliation, Senate Democrats could push the health reform revisions through with just 51 votes, over the objection of Republicans and moderate Democrats.

Then, under this scenario, the President would first sign the original Senate health reform bill into law, and then sign the legislation with revisions.

Are the American people receiving conflicting signals?  On one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the President is talking about the need for Democrats and Republicans to work together and find common ground.  At the Capitol Hill end of the avenue, there is talk of one party going it alone and ramming highly controversial legislation through the remaining stages of the lawmaking process.

So which will it be?  The public has made its views very clear, as exemplified by a USA Today poll last month that shows a majority of Americans want Congress to cease work on the current health reform legislation and develop an alternative that can draw support from both political parties.