It’s safe to say that President Obama played a high-stakes gamble on Thursday when he invited 38 lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, to the Blair House to discuss health care reform.

Regardless of the outcome of a meeting that Obama billed as an attempt at compromise but that he almost certainly knew would end in stalemate, he hoped that by displaying his knowledge of the subject and demonstrating his commitment to finding a way to help uninsured Americans become insured that he could stave off the predicted Democrat debacle at the polls this fall.

After the 7½-hour meeting, the president announced, in effect, that he would go ahead and try to shove his health care plan down the throats of the American public. His effort will fail, but Obama will be able to campaign for fellow Democrats and tell voters who are on his side that he did his best to deliver his campaign promise of health care reform.

”The question that I’m going to ask myself and I ask of all of you is, is there enough serious effort that in a month’s time or a few weeks’ time or six weeks’ time we could actually resolve something?” Obama said. ”And if we can’t, then I think we’ve got to go ahead and make some decisions, and then that’s what elections are for.”

As it stands, some polls show that almost 50 percent of Americans oppose rushing to judgment on health care legislation, especially if Senate Democrats use an arcane procedure called ”reconciliation” to avoid a filibuster and pass a bill without Republican votes. Voters who back the president on health care reform and who would support the use of reconciliation to pass it — 42 percent in one recent poll — are the ones Obama is trying to keep in his party’s camp.

In this scenario, Democrats get votes for trying hard as opposed to actually accomplishing anything. If it works, some will get re-elected despite polls that show angry voters prepared to dump incumbent Democrats. It looks as if even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could be put out to pasture by Nevada voters.

These are desperate folks, the Democrats in Washington. Some are so desperate they will most likely abandon the crusade for health care reform if Obama persists in trying to push his plan through Congress.

Thursday’s meeting was clearly ”staged” and all about theatrics, although Obama said at one point he did not want the discussion to turn into ”political theater.” Actually, if you give Obama credit for stealing every scene in the play, it was an artistic masterpiece. The meeting was all about appearance and perception, not results.

Dana Milbank, writing in Friday’s Washington Post, is less certain than I about Obama’s motives. But we agree that no substantive results were achieved:

”It’s a safe bet that no minds were changed in that room Thursday, and it’s not entirely clear that Obama was even trying to forge a compromise. Though advertised as a consensus-building opportunity, the summit served more as a moment for the president to tell Republicans, with the cameras rolling, why they’re wrong and he’s right.”

Milbank’s description of Obama is not complimentary, and it speaks to the cockiness that ultimately may lead to Obama’s undoing. It’s one thing to act overconfident if you are achieving results but quite another when you are failing — and Obama has been failing daily.

”The forum matched his lawyerly skills — and, less flatteringly, his tendency to act like the smartest guy in the room,” Milbank wrote. ”Prof. Obama ventured deep into the weeds of health care policy to contest Republican claims, and, for one day at least, he regained control of the fractious student body that is the Congress.”

I do not agree that he regained control. In fact, he showed that he could control a meeting but did not begin to prove that he can control members of Congress who are trying to serve their constituents and at the same time save their imperiled political hides.

There is a problem with the president’s plan to reform health care — with his latest proposal and with the bills passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The problem is finances; no proof exists that the country can afford this massive effort to overhaul the health care system.

Most among us agree that too many Americans are uninsured — as many as 30 million, by some estimates. But our national debt grows daily, and the cost of Obama’s 10-year plan is $1 trillion.

In Thursday’s meeting, as he sparred with Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, even Obama sounded less than secure about the numbers associated with his plan.

”You’re wrong,” Alexander said of the president’s claim that his proposal will result in lower insurance premiums.

”I’m pretty certain I’m not wrong,” Obama countered.

”Pretty certain,” is not good enough. Obama can gamble with his political fortunes if he wants to, but he has no business gambling with the economic future of the United States.


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