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Professor Obama schools lawmakers on health-care reform

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The forum probably didn't alter the trajectory of health-care legislation, if only because few Americans could possibly have paid attention.

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In between the flare-ups, the summit was often the kind of event only a member of the Party of NoDoz could enjoy. Republicans numbingly repeated their demand that Obama "start over." Democrats responded with their talking point that the parties are "not that far apart." Both sides trotted out stories of afflicted Americans, including a woman who said she couldn't afford dentures so she "wore her dead sister's teeth." And the vice president's idle brain coined a new Bidenism when he said of his fellow Americans: "I'm not sure what they think."

Yet there was something uplifting about Thursday's session. Sure, there was more posturing than in a typical yoga class, but lawmakers demonstrated themselves to be serious and knowledgeable leaders as they treated the nation to a discussion about expanding high-risk insurance pools, 60 percent actuarial values and the like. It couldn't hurt Americans to see their leaders arguing substantive points without scripts and attacks.

"Never have so many members of the House and Senate behaved so well for so long before so many television cameras," Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) observed.

That's probably because their teacher carried a big rhetorical paddle.

After Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) accused Obama of trying to increase health-care premiums, Obama dismissed the "usual critique" of reform and told him that "this is an example of where we've got to get our facts straight."

When Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said the two parties disagree about the question "Does Washington know best?" Obama shot back: "Anytime the question is phrased as 'Does Washington know better?' I think we're kind of tipping the scales. . . . It's a good talking point, but it doesn't actually answer the underlying question."

Spotting a huge stack of papers in front of House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Obama preempted him: "Let me guess: That's the 2,400-page health-care bill." It was. "These are the kind of political things we do that prevent us from actually having a conversation," the president said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), in his turn, tried all the Republican buzzwords: "scrap this bill . . . bankrupt our country . . . dangerous experiment . . . government takeover of health care . . . new taxes . . . Medicare cuts . . . unconstitutional."

Obama shook his head. "John," he scolded, "every so often, we have a pretty good conversation trying to get on some specifics, and then we go back to, you know, the standard talking points."

It was the Blair House equivalent of being ordered to wear the dunce cap.


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