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At Health Care Summit, GOP Repeats Same "Start Over" Talking Point from July

February 25, 2010

At Thursday's White House health care summit, President Obama pleaded with the participants for "a discussion, and not just us trading talking points." Alas, as Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander made clear from the get-go, the President was destined for disappointment. In his opening remarks, Alexander insisted Democrats should abandon the bills they've already passed and start from a fresh sheet of paper. But in proclaiming that "This is a car that can't be recalled and fixed and we ought to start over," Alexander was merely regurgitating a sound bite Republicans first introduced last July.
Within days of Obama taking the oath of office, Clinton health care assassin Bill Kristol counseled his Republican colleagues to repeat their obstructionism at all costs. (Not, of course, because Democratic health reform plans might fail, as Orrin Hatch later admitted, but precisely because they might succeed.) On July 20, 2009, weeks before the August town hall disruptions and a full seven months before President Obama's proposed bipartisan health care conclave was to meet, Bill Kristol penned a Weekly Standard memo telling Republicans to "Kill It, and Start Over."

So this is not the time to let them off the ropes. This is the week to highlight every problem, every terrible provision, in the Democratic bills: from taxes and spending to government control and rationing to federal funding for abortion and government-required death-with-dignity counseling sessions for the elderly. Throw the kitchen sink at the legislation now on the table, drive a stake through its heart (I apologize for the mixed metaphors), and kill it.
Then opponents can say, of course we do want to pass sensible health reform. But to do so, we need to start over.

As it turned out, of course, Kristol's July command that "this is the week" to "kill it and start over" quickly became every week.

For months, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, John Kyl, John Cornyn, John Boehner, Eric Cantor and myriad other Republican leaders have faithfully coughed up that same talking point. As Boehner reproduced it in September:

"It's really about the president pushing the reset button. There's a way to start this process over, and I think that's really what the American people want. Let's start over."

And as Eric Cantor and John Boehner made clear in their initial responses to the President's summit invitation, that rejectionist position is still operative. In a letter to Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Minority Leader Boehner wrote, "If the starting point for this meeting is the job-killing bills the American people have already soundly rejected, Republicans would rightly be reluctant to participate." For Cantor, nothing short of unconditional surrender is acceptable:

"After going it alone on health care reform for nearly a year, President Obama has decided he wants to bring Republicans into the conversation. Here's the problem: unless the President and Speaker Pelosi are willing to scrap their government take over and hit the reset button, there's not much to talk about."

Judging by CNN's live-blogging of the event, the Republicans' looping auto-play of their "start over" sound bite is working just fine with the self-proclaimed "best political team on television." While CNN analyst David Gergen lauded the summit for producing "the best conversation we've had about health care during the entire past year," his colleague Gloria Borger had a different take:

"It's sort of same old -same old from the Democratic side. The Republicans kind of shook things up a bit by putting Lamar Alexander out there. I think he's a folksy, different voice that people hear."

Different voice, maybe. Same words? Definitely.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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