'Bipartisanship' a load of baloney

So I'm watching the live telecast of the supposedly bipartisan health care summit on one screen and monitoring e-mails from the Republicans on another about how nearly everything Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are saying at the summit is wrong.

Meantime, the Republican war room spitting out these "fact check" e-mails is giving a pass, pretty much, to the pronouncements of President Obama.

It just goes to show that the GOP knows how to pick its enemies.

Obama has a manner suggesting equanimity and grace, and, gosh, Pelosi and Reid most certainly do not.

Nothing strikes so starkly as listening while Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a new star of the GOP, I suspect, speaks with an equanimity and grace rivaling or topping Obama's, then gets followed by Pelosi.

I'm sorry. She's a master of congressional process. She is a noble San Francisco liberal. But she is not someone whom the Democrats should dare put in front of the viewing public at crunch time. Ditto Reid.

You can read Obama's mind as these two leading Democratic allies of his hold forth. He's thinking he's losing the politics and the theater to Alexander and that he, not Pelosi or Reid, needs to be doing the talking right now to stay in the game.

But partisanship means obliging your partisan brethren even when you'd rather scream. You're in the foxhole with the ones in the foxhole.

So this is what all this comes down to:

Democrats are guilty of acting in bad faith by calling this supposedly bipartisan summit while proceeding full speed ahead with plans to push through their latest bill using the process called budget reconciliation, which allows passage by 51 votes in the Senate.

To be clear: I'm not against budget reconciliation. The Republicans used it years ago for tax cuts and welfare reform. I'm not against a summit to seek fresh bipartisanship. I'm against the inherent contradiction of pretending to do both at the same time. I think it leaves you wholly exposed to the lethal appearance of hollow posturing.

So Alexander, the opening speaker for Republicans, a man of soft voice and gentle manner, calls the Democrats on this contradictory dual track. He asks them to abandon plans to "ram through" their latest bill, the one fashioned last week by the White House, by budget reconciliation.

Pelosi and Reid won't look at Alexander as he speaks. Obama rubs his brow and tries to appear unperturbed.

Pelosi, speaking next, doesn't even respond on the budget reconciliation point. Then Reid, remarkably, says no one has talked about budget reconciliation.

The Republicans send a quick "fact check" e-mail on that sitting duck. There are scores of published quotes in which Democrats, among them Reid, talked about budget reconciliation.

Then Obama, finally getting the ball back so that the Democrats might have a chance to score, answers Alexander. He does so tellingly.

Obama counters that he wants this summit not to be about "process," meaning the way the Democrats are reserving the right to ram their bill down the Republicans' throats. He says he wants it to be about seeking areas of common ground on policy that might produce a more cooperative process. And if they can't agree, he says, then so be it.

So there are your strategies: Democrats are using the summit to argue that they reached out before they rammed their bill through. Republicans are using the summit to say Democrats are using this summit merely for show, for cover.

You score that the way they score figure skating and gymnastics -- judgmentally, on style.

For one, I score it for the Republicans.

Remarkably, the Democrats are managing to look even more cynical and manipulative than Republicans.

Who'd have thought that possible?

John Brummett (jbrummett@arkansasnews.com) is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock.