Obama Invites Republicans To Share Ideas At Televised Health Reform Summit

The New York Times reports that the President's inivitation is for a half-day televised summit February 25. It is "a high-profile gambit that will allow Americans to watch as Democrats and Republicans try to break their political impasse." The move is seen as a way for Obama to force Republicans to help govern and to "put more scrutiny on Republican initiatives" on health care. There remains, however, a split among lawmakers – even among Democrats – on what should be in health reform legislation with even House and Senate Democrats differing on several key tenets, including inclusion or exclusion of a tax on high cost insurance policies (Zeleny, 2/7).

The Washington Post: Republican leaders on Sunday welcomed "the outreach" but maintained their position that lawmakers must start over on the health reform effort to win Republican cooperation. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders seem to welcome the step. "'As we continue our work to fix our broken health care system, Senate Democrats will not relent on our commitment to protecting consumers from insurance company abuses, reducing health care costs, saving Medicare and cutting the deficit,' Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement shortly after the interview." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Reid are trying to "negotiate fixes to the Senate bill that the Senate could approve under special budget rules to protect the package from a GOP filibuster. Then the House could pass the fixes, along with the Senate bill." Many have called that process too partisan, however (Shear, 2/8).

Politico: "Obama said he wants to 'look at the Republican ideas that are out there. … If we can go, step by step, through a series of these issues and arrive at some agreements, then, procedurally, there's no reason why we can't do it a lot faster the process took last year,' he said. … Speaking to [CBS' Katie] Couric, Obama acknowledged public unhappiness with all the special deals in the legislation. 'What we have to do is just make sure that it is a much more clear and transparent process,' he said. 'I've got to push Congress on that'" (Budoff Brown and Allen, 2/7). 

Bloomberg: "Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, responding to Obama's idea, said legislation should start from scratch if Obama wants a measure that can get support from both parties. 'If we are to reach a bipartisan consensus, the White House can start by shelving the current health-spending bill,' McConnell said in an e-mailed statement. 'There are a number of issues with bipartisan support that we can start with when the 2,700-page bill is put on the shelf'" (Anderson Brower, 2/8).

Roll Call quotes a statement from Pelosi: "The House-passed health insurance reform legislation included a number of Republican amendments — added as the bill worked its way through three committees. In the last Congress, we worked with President Bush in a bipartisan way to pass initial economic recovery legislation, a bill to deal with the financial crisis and historic energy legislation that increased our nation's fuel efficiency standards for the first time in more than 30 years. We remain hopeful that the Republican leadership will work in a bipartisan fashion on the great challenges the American people face" (Pierce, 2/7).

The Wall Street Journal: But from others in the Democratic party, "[t]here was immediate skepticism ... that the forum would break the impasse. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said he had reached out to Republicans 'on several occasions' last year to seek their ideas and feedback. 'I was, however, disappointed that these meetings did not result in any serious follow-through to work together in a bipartisan fashion,' he said" (Reddy and Meckler, 2/7). 

Los Angeles Times: "The summit invitation serves two political purposes. For months, the president has endured criticism that he reneged on a promise to televise healthcare negotiations on C-SPAN. By opening up the summit to the cameras, Obama can argue he is making good on that commitment at a crucial point in the process. Also, the summit gives the president a chance to paint Republicans as obstructionists who refuse offers of compromise. If that's how the event is perceived, it could pay off for Democrats in the November midterm elections" (Nicholas, 2/8). 

Kaiser Health News provides highlights of the weekend's headlines and highlights of health policy news, including  President Obama's speech to the Democratic National Committee and Sunday's week-ahead reports.

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