Before last summer’s recess, Democrats in Congress were working to pass a health care reform bill and Republicans were doing whatever they could to stop it. Around that time, New Jersey’s own Bill Maher asked, “If you can’t shove some real reform down (the Republicans’) throats now, then when?”

Nobody ever accused Maher of being a charmer or a policy wonk, so I can excuse his lack of subtlety and his not understanding we had only completed the second of five or six steps in the process. Jon Stewart, also from Jersey, knows better than to presume to tell the president what to do. He was on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News a few weeks ago and admitted, “I can’t I can’t tell if (President Obama) is a Jedi Master, playing chess on a three-level board way ahead of us, or this is kicking his ass.”

For months, everyone from late night comedians in L.A. and New York to pundits and members of Congress in Washington has been trying to get the president to show his hand in the high-stakes poker game that is health care reform. On Monday, three days before tomorrow’s blockbuster bi-partisan health care reform summit at the Blair House, he showed that he has developed a policy as well as a plan to get around a Republican filibuster (otherwise known as a political full house). So for Bill Maher, the answer is Thursday, Feb. 25th at 10 a.m. EST and Jon Stewart can stop wondering, the answer is clearly “Jedi Master.”

I give the Republicans credit for being able to drag this thing out for so long. Their strategy since last summer has been to demonize the health care reform bills in order to delay them to death, then start all over. By then, it would be campaign season and they could try running on a “they didn’t get anything done, so vote for us” platform because they would have stopped health care reform and prevented an energy bill from even being discussed. They don’t seem to realize that while they were spending so much political capital to block these two proposals — even going so far as to oppose measures they once supported — they lost any credibility they may have had with the political center. Meanwhile, the Democrats have quietly overseen one of the most productive sessions Congress has seen in 50 years and are poised to win the support of key centrist voters in 2010.

The $787 billion Recovery Act contained $288 billion in tax relief, making it one of the largest tax cuts in American history. It’s an $80 billion investment in clean water, a smart energy grid, green technologies, and expanded broadband and wireless Internet capacity. This Congress reformed defense procurement, expanded children’s health insurance, passed the largest land conservation law in 20 years, and gave credit card holders a bill of rights.

No matter what happens tomorrow, the White House has already combined the House and Senate bills into one measure that can either be passed in 24 hours or be pushed through via budget reconciliation. That takes away the Republicans’ main offensive weapon: the filibuster. By broadcasting the meeting live on C-SPAN, they’ve also removed the Republican leadership’s main defensive weapon: lies, damned lies, and statistics supporting the status quo repeated ad nauseam on Fox News. Republican ideas will go directly into the bill if, for the first time in a year, they don’t just say no to health care reform. The Dems have made it clear they’re coming to make a deal, they’re willing to compromise, and that the point is to find something the GOP is willing to trade “yes” votes for.

They may not realize it yet, but the Republican leadership is negotiating the terms of surrender for their party tomorrow. The president’s plan is going to become law, one way or another, and the Democrats will put it at the top of their long list of legislative achievements during the upcoming campaign. Republicans can’t claim that they wanted to reform health care because they had control of Congress and the White House for six years and did nothing, they can’t claim to be fiscal conservatives because they exploded the deficit during the Bush years, and their ideas for growing the economy are the same ideas that caused the recession in the first place. They’re not likely to find any new ideas before the Democrats start campaigning on their record of legislative accomplishments, so they can kiss 2010 goodbye.

The spring of 2009 found us on the verge of a second Great Depression, but the spring of 2010 looks much better thanks to the Recovery Act. If the spring of 2011 finds more people covered and health care costs being held down thanks to the health care reform bill passed this year, the GOP will lose seats in 2012 the same way they will lose seats this year. That will mean losses in four consecutive election cycles – including two presidential elections – and total political irrelevance.

That’s 3-D Jedi Master check and mate.

Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal who will be watching tomorrow’s fireworks live and recording them on DVR. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at kennymack@gmial.com.

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