The Halftime Analysis: Health-Care-Summit Substantive, Really Boring

As we move into hour three of the health-care-reform summit, Democrats and Republicans have, unsurprisingly, come no closer to an agreement on health-care reform. But we do have one consensus growing: this summit is pretty darn boring.

“Admit it...your interest is waning…” the Washington Post’s Chris Cizilla tweeted about an hour ago (he’s since announced he may quit tweeting altogether after lunch). Matt Yglesias has suggested switching to a live feed of Bo. If reporters who obsess over health-care reform can barely stand to watch this debate, I cannot imagine many Americans are rapt with interest.

Why? The health-care summit is pretty much the same wonky, partisan debate that many of us watched for 229 hours on the Senate floor. It’s a summit about CBO estimates, high-risk insurance pools, and the individual mandate. Some of the discussions are substantively useful (like the lengthy debate over whether high-risk pools are tenable in the long term); some not so much (Obama and Boehner's squabbling over each party's speaking time). I don't think either moves the debate forward for the general public. The first is not particularly compelling television for the nonwonk world, and the second reinforces notions of Congress as inefficient, caught up in a minor kerfuffle when it should be dealing with a major issue. Moreover, I'd imagine both will get overshadowed by the most "oh, snap!" moment of the summit: Obama reminding McCain that the "election's over."

This is probably why, as fellow Gaggler Dan Stone pointed out to me earlier today, the Democrats avoided broadcasting their negotiations: they're unexciting, and the important details never get settled. Moreover, when a six-hour negotiation leaves you in pretty much the same place you were beforehand—Democrats in support, Republicans in opposition—it will be tough to spin the debate as progress. As Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown told C-Span during the lunch break, "It's hard to see where this ends up anywhere differently at the end of the day."

Back when Obama first announced the summit, my colleague Katie Connolly wondered whether the move was a “Jedi Move or Giant Fail.” After watching the first two hours of the discussion, I’m inclined to say it’s neither: not a game changer in either direction but another chunk of a debate largely unwatched by Americans and with relatively little impact on the future of health-care reform.

We do have four hours left to go, though, so there’s still the possibility of a new, more interesting debate emerging. Especially if we can get an Anthony Weiner-esque outburst—that would make for great television.

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