Christine Todd Whitman
February 12, 2010

Given its complexity, it is no surprise that passing health care reform has been a tremendous challenge.  In an election year, and with the polls set to open in just nine months, political concerns are growing for leaders in both parties.  Yet despite the difficulties and political dangers, it is my fervent hope that Republicans will participate and take an active role in the bipartisan meeting of lawmakers on February 25th. Republican leaders are now saying they will not participate in the meeting unless the president takes his plan off the table to start over.  I understand their concerns with a variety of issues in the current bills, but where you start is not nearly as important as where you finish.

After all, fees continue to skyrocket and millions remain uninsured, costing our country in many ways.  In an election year – and for the good of the country – Republicans should be engaged in this important issue, they have alternatives to offer and they can use the opportunity the President has put forth to showcase them.  Even the New York Times admits that the GOP has a “fairly well-developed set of ideas.”

On the other side of the aisle, President Obama faces a new political reality in Washington following the election of Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown.  It is no coincidence that the Republican candidate was elected to fill the seat of Ted Kennedy, one of the leading voices pushing for health care reform since President Nixon was in office.  Senator Brown made his campaign a referendum on “ObamaCare”, and for the only state in the country with a universal health care mandate to have elected him speaks volumes about the public opinion of President Obama’s plan.

With no supermajority in the Senate, the president must now consider compromising on this issue as opposed to his previous plan to simply push the plan through on a partisan vote. He needs a new strategy and that should include considering good ideas offered by Republicans, ideas such as tort reform.  Though the Democrats’ top contributors – the trial lawyers – are obviously adamantly opposed to such reform, the rise in legal costs is inextricably linked to rising health care costs and cannot be ignored.

I understand that Republicans fear this meeting on February 25th is simply for purposes of political theater, not to discuss the issues in an honest and serious way – and that may be true. But if Republicans can offer a good faith effort by participating and taking an active role in the meeting, it will be incumbent on President Obama to respond accordingly, with a productive discussion on how best to resolve important policy differences.

The issues that separate the two parties remain significant: both the House and Senate bills include significant tax increases, and Republicans believe – rightfully so – that, particularly during a recession, it is no time to raise taxes. The Democrats’ attention has been on reducing the number of uninsured, while the Republicans tend to focus more on cost cutting.  These two goals are not mutually exclusive, and a bipartisan solution that makes it easier to purchase the insurance of one’s choice and includes tort reform can meet both demands.

This type of solution – one that includes input from, and is brokered through, an honest effort by all parties – should be the goal of this meeting on February 25th.  There is no time like the present for Washington to show America that it is interested in governing, not just campaigning. The cameras will be rolling and we will be watching.