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Jewish World Review
Feb. 17, 2010
/ 3 Adar 5770
A summit for the rest of us
Forget the one-day health-care summit on Feb. 25, where the two sides will pretend they can compromise enough to pass the Senate's health-care monstrosity. Instead, let's hold a two-day event, one that caters to the inside-the-Beltway crowd's need for style, and the other providing the substance that citizens want.
Day 1: the setting, a massive conference room, with President Obama and congressional leaders seated, and VIPs, staffers, and media types hovering about.
Open with a prayer. For Republicans it can be: "Please, G0d, don't let the liberals wake up and realize how easy they are making elections lately." Democrats will take longer, wanting to acknowledge all deities and those not at all into deities, ending with: "Oh, supreme being, open the eyes of the clueless, especially those who partieth with tea, to the wisdom of those who lead them. Amen."
Then go around the table for the forgettable opening statements designed for future campaign ads. Set a one-minute time limit — 10 seconds for Vice President Biden — but assume a half-hour each; more for Biden — and that's pretty much the first day. If Chris Matthews is able to say later on "Hardball" that for a moment he forgot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was a woman, it'll be the kind of useless event Washington excels in. All form and no cement, as an old plumber friend used to put it.
Day 2: no conference room, no VIPs, no staff, no Washington press corps. Instead, there's a coffee table, with a chair on the left for moderator Brian Lamb of C-SPAN, and two chairs on the right. One is for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the other for U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., two lawmakers with starkly different visions of health-care reform.
The mission: Explain your proposal, and take questions from Lamb and C-SPAN callers. Length of program: Until Americans run out of questions. Running nonstop across the bottom of the screen will be the president's stated goals for reform: expand coverage, lower costs, don't add to the deficit.
Ground rules: Talk policy, not politics. No whining about how mean or partisan the other guys are. Defend your proposal, period.
Under such circumstances, I would bet that Reid and his trillion-dollar plan will not fare well. Most Americans have already heard about it, and its financing gimmicks, and decided they don't want it. But here's his chance to change some minds.
In contrast, most probably haven't heard of Ryan's incremental, affordable approach.
He doesn't guarantee universal coverage — or mandate participation — but does provide universal access to care and health insurance, regardless of income, health, or employment. Individuals will get a tax credit to help pay for their insurance — as employers do now. You would take your plan from job to job. You shop for the plan that's right for you, with both states and insurers helping you understand the options. Costs of both insurance and medical procedures will be more transparent, so consumers will know what's available where. Small businesses can join pools that allow them to provide affordable coverage.
No doubt a caller will note that Ryan's plan isn't as comprehensive as Reid's. True, if comprehensive means unaffordable, unsustainable, and loaded down with bribes to senators. Ryan's isn't overthrowing health care as we know it, but instead offers a market-based, patient-centered starting point to fix what's broken.
It is comprehensive in this sense: Health care is just one part of Ryan's "Road map for America's Future, 2.0," in which he offers reforms for Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, the federal budget process, and taxes. He puts health-care reform in the context of the nation's unsustainable debt, and the trillions in unfunded promises already made with entitlement programs.
Ryan won't make promises the country can't keep. He would guarantee current health and retirement benefits to those 55 and older, but rightly points out that the country can't afford the same for everyone else. He'll reform health care, and entitlements, with an eye on reducing spending and eventually eliminating the nation's long-term structural deficits.
This isn't a plan the country will take off the shelf and run with. But when compared with Reid's spending spree, I'd bet that most Americans would welcome the mature, sober, and fiscally responsible starting point that Ryan offers. They'll come away believing that someone in Washington actually understands the depths of the fiscal crisis the nation faces as well as people's fears about an out-of-control government.
So, yes, by all means hold a summit, and allow the style that Washington seems to need. But don't forget the substance that people want.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
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Kevin Ferris is commentary page editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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© 2008, Philadelphia Inquirer Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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