Never have I been so befuddled trying to write a story after viewing seven hours of the health care debate between President Obama and Republican and Democratic members of both the House and Senate.
Here it is a day later and I'm still stuck. A couple of impressions do stick in my brain.
To drop it, walk away and pretend the rising costs and grievous and capricious conduct of the private insurance carriers will go away is a criminal act of neglect by both parties in Congress.
I was more swayed by the argument put forth by Democrats that it must be tackled in a comprehensive reform package than the Republican version of cobbling it together one step at a time. I agree with Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa that there are too many integrated parts that need to blend in conjunction with each other to make it work.
The thought of doing nothing brought tears to my eyes each time a politician told a sob story from some poor wretch screwed by the current system. Those in the massive room at Blair House, the vice president's mansion near the White House, are numbed after reading these stories from constituents. Even those who had family members victimized.
Visions of 43,000 Americans dieing each year because they can't afford health coverage. We wouldn't stand for that one minute if we lost 43,000 of our bravest on the battlefields every year.
The system is cruel. The poorest of Americans receive more than adequate medical care through MediCaid. But if one's income is above Medicaid's lowest poverty level and even if they work two jobs they can't afford to pay for private health insurance which in many cases would amount to nearly half their monthly income.
One theme I heard during the meeting was that health care was a right by one faction and personal responsibility by the other. The latter is easy to say, as President Obama cryptically observed to a Congressman, when you're earning $170,000 a year.
From all the chattering and posturing and talking points, the only gigantic gap between the Democrats and Republicans was providing coverage to about 30 million uninsured Americans.
Am I that dumb a deal couldn't be struck on those issues where there were overlaps? A big hearty Sarah Palin you betcha. On the flip side, the two bills passed by the House and Senate, even if they were passed close to their current versions, would be so watered down they probably wouldn't work anyway.
Yeah, I'm dumb. As if I didn't know what a donut hole in Medicare's drug coverage plan was. As if I didn't know the procedural process in the Senate between a supermajority vote of 60 compared to reconciliation of simple majorities plus one. As if I believed Sen. John McCain that circumventing Senate rules by reconciliation is a defeat for democracy in America as we know it.
For all Americans who politicians think we are dumb, I say adios pendejos.
During that so-called summit, I wore a couple of hats.
My MC (media critic) baseball cap was chagrin for the U-Tube episode of the clash between President Obama and McCain. Obama bluntly reminded the former presidential opponent "the campaign is over." A better observation by some was Obama playing CEO, calling all the politicians in the room by their first names while he was respectively addressed as "Mr. President." My observation was Obama playing Monty Hall in "Let's Make A Deal" and the Republicans were forever opening the wrong door whether it was No 1, 2 or 3.
Under my PS (political science) baseball cap, I gained a ton of respect for Sen. Tom Coburn, the Texas Republican and physician who pointed out one of every three dollars spent on Medicare is wasted. He suggested undercover regulators attack the system's abuse. This is a sore point with me. If fraud and waste in the millions annually is common knowledge in Medicare for years, why hasn't it been corrected? Why do we need a comprehensive health care bill to fix it?
One pet peeve gnawing at me during the meeting was the Democrats saying health reforms must be enacted now. Well, politically, the time is ripe. However, few if any reform measures if passed would not kick in for four years.
The final thought I had on the summit was a yearning for the good old days when five or less politicians would enter a smoke-filled room and remain until they negotiated a deal. Not transparent, but terribly effective.
As we head into March and April, the media will focus as a laser on all the political machinations Congress may take on either passing or killing a health reform bill. The Democrats are so desperate most will do anything so that Obama can sign which he would do.
We must then wait until the November midterms for the dumb public to vote up or down on the politicians who both tried and failed to get us out of this mess. The Republicans are licking their chops. Even if health care is a dead issue on their minds, jobs and unemployment will still be live and well.
In the end, it's not good government. But the politics is boffo at the box office.