WASHINGTON, D.C. — The American Hospital Association's Annual Membership Meeting wraps up today with visits by hospital leaders to Capitol Hill, and I've been poring over my notes to see whether an overarching theme emerged among the wide-range of speakers who appeared here. If one could be found, it must be that the time has come for Congress and the White House to finally end the stalemate crippling the federal government. Otherwise, the consequences for health care — and for the overall well-being of the nation — will be dire.
The political gridlock is "tragic for the country, for everyone involved," journalist Bob Woodward said in an onstage interview with Frank Sesno. "The word is 'tragedy.' "
In yesterday's plenary session, Republican Rep. Michael Burgess, M.D., of Texas, said, "However you feel about the politics, however you feel about the policies, tell your legislators that this [gridlock] must stop."
In his address following Burgess, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland declared, "This is the least productive Congress in which I've served, and I've served in 17."
Hoyer's assessment was supported by Steven Rattner, who works for the investment arm of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's personal and philanthropic assets, and previously served as an economic adviser in the Clinton and Obama administrations. He gave a richly detailed review of where the American economy stands now, where it is likely headed, and what we can do to avoid committing, in his words, "generational theft — stealing from our children's future."
"The 2012 Congress passed the least amount of legislation of the last 33 Congresses," Rattner pointed out. "Some people think less legislation is good. But Congress gets paid to come here and fix problems, and I, for one, would like to see them do what they're paid to do."
Sequestration found no fans among the speakers, whether Democrat and Republican.
"Sequester starts with 's,' which stands for stupid," Hoyer said bluntly.
Rattner concurred. "The sequester is truly stupid. It is a piece of public policy that makes across-the-board cuts, and now they're going in and fixing the problems one by one. It's embarrassing as an American to see our government working that way."
So, is there a better alternative?
"If we achieved what some people call the grand bargain, it would be the single biggest stimulus to our economy," Hoyer asserted.
And what should that grand bargain entail?
"The only sensible way we're going to achieve deficit reduction is a mix of growth in revenues and by reducing spending — or more accurately, reducing the growth in spending," Rattner said.
However, he cited surveys showing that even among Tea Party members, whose stated objective is to shrink government, 70 percent oppose any cuts to Medicare benefits.
"I can't be optimistic that Congress will fix the problems with our entitlement programs," Rattner concluded glumly.
Bob Woodward suggested there may be only one solution to end political gridlock. He noted that in 1978, President Jimmy Carter invited Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin and Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat to Camp David, and eventually they emerged with the famous Camp David Accords.
"People asked, 'How could that happen?' " Woodward recalled. "The answer was that if you spend 14 days locked up with Jimmy Carter, you'll sign anything."
Perhaps, he suggested, "we should send congressional leaders, committee heads and White House staff to Camp David and lock them up for two weeks with Joe Biden."