Obama on health-care summit: Let's play nice or else I'll nuke you with reconciliation; Reid: We'll pass a bill within 60 days

An efficient bit of political theater, capped by his insistence that “I don’t want to see this meeting turn into political theater.” It’s a little late for that, champ:

It is now clear that the “summit” the president has called for February 25 is not intended to consider different approaches to health care financing, but rather to create an illusion of momentum that might just lull disoriented congressional Democrats into ramming the health care bill through the budget reconciliation process…

The timing of this move (just after a congressional recess, when members of Congress won’t be spending much time at home again until Easter), the nature of the health care summit (a public relations spectacle intended to generate buzz in the political press more than to appeal to the public), and the character of the legislative plan (a quick hard push through reconciliation to avoid debate, amendments, and too much time to think) all seem designed to bamboozle rank and file Democratic members of Congress into taking a suicidal vote. But they are also aimed to slip the bill past the public, not yet alert to the danger. This stratagem is the perfect finale to a yearlong circus that has exposed the ugliest side of our politics.

With their plans to press ahead now clear, the Democrats have given Republicans little choice but to restate the full indictment of Obamacare at the summit and beyond.

The R-word is never uttered in the clip, but then why would it be? He has other people around to wave the stick for him while he’s busy offering carrots, from unnamed Democratic aides leaking to the Times (“It will be a reconciliation bill”) to threats about ramming through the public option from Reid’s office. The point of this, as is true of so much Obama stagecraft, is to present him as an above-the-fray voice of reason so that, when he inevitably resorts to hardball, it looks like he’s been forced into it by those mean ol’ recalcitrant Republicans. He actually goes so far as to praise two GOP proposals as good ideas, knowing all the while that they’ll never make it into the bill since no compromise will possibly come out of this meeting. It’s good schtick. I wonder if there’s anyone left who’s buying it.

The GOP used its own weekly address this morning to ask him once again to start over with a clean slate. That’s theater too, of course; the players are simply taking their places onstage for Thursday’s final act. Exit question: Are there, as Republicans claim, really 18 Democrats opposed to reconciliation? A head count by the Hill reveals the number is somewhat more nuanced.

Update: Bipartisanship, Obama style:

The majority leader said that while Democrats have a number of options, they would likely use the budget reconciliation process to pass a series of fixes to the first healthcare bill passed by the Senate in November. These changes are needed to secure votes for passage of that original Senate bill in the House.

“We’ll do a relatively small bill to take care of what we’ve already done,” Reid said, affirming that Democrats would use the reconciliation process. “We’re going to have that done in the next 60 days.”

The move would allow Democrats to essentially go it alone on health reform, especially after losing their filibuter-proof majority in the Senate after Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) special election victory in Massachusetts.

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