Willing to talk — with preconditions

WILLING TO TALK — WITH PRECONDITIONS…. When President Obama announced on Sunday that he would host bipartisan talks on health care reform in two weeks, he offered congressional Republicans something of an opportunity. If the GOP wanted a chance to make a substantive contribution to the debate, air their concerns about the Democratic plan, present their ideas, and add openness and transparency to the process, here’s their chance.

By late yesterday afternoon, however, Republican leaders were weighing whether to show up for the summit at all.

Leading House Republicans raised the prospect Monday night that they may decline to participate in President Obama’s proposed health-care summit if the White House chooses not to scrap the existing reform bills and start over.

In a letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) expressed frustration about reports that Obama intends to put the Democratic bills on the table for discussion at the summit, which would be held Feb. 25.

Republicans are effectively arguing that the only way to talk about the health care reform proposal is to ensure that there is no health care reform proposal. The plan that was crafted over months of debate, hearings, analysis, and scrutiny — the one endorsed by the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Cancer Society, and the AARP — has to be thrown in the trash immediately or Republicans aren’t interested in having a conversation.

This was especially rich.

In their letter, Boehner and Cantor called on Obama to take reconciliation off the table as a “show good faith” to the GOP.

“Eliminating the possibility of reconciliation would represent an important show of good faith to Republicans and the American people,” the letter said.

I see. Republicans would be more willing to talk about health care reform if the president agrees in advance to give Republicans the opportunity to kill health care reform.

Tell you what, GOP. You take the filibuster off the table as a “show of good faith” and I’m sure Democrats would be willing to take reconciliation off the table as a “show of good faith.” What do you say?

For its part, the White House seems unimpressed by the Boehner/Cantor letter, and does not appear inclined to meet the GOP’s demands for “ground rules.”

In the larger context, it’s a reminder that the summit invitation puts Republicans in an awkward spot. If they participate, they’ll very likely lose the policy debate. If they reject the invitation, they’ll look petty and small (even more so than usual), giving Dems ammunition to further characterize the GOP as knee-jerk partisans, unwilling to even have an open and bipartisan conversation.