Health Summit Marked By Partisan Rancor

News outlets closely covered President Barack Obama's health care summit.

The Washington Post: "President Obama held more than six hours of talks Thursday with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on ways to salvage health-care reform legislation now stalled in Congress but ran into stiff opposition from GOP members who rejected key provisions and insisted that the effort start again from scratch. At the end ... Obama urged Republicans to 'do a little soul-searching' on measures they would accept to address what he called the core of the problem: covering more than 30 million Americans without health insurance and preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions. But he conceded, 'I don't know if we can close that gap,' and he held out the possibility that Democrats could move forward without Republican support and face the voters in the November midterm elections. ... 'We cannot have another year-long debate about this,' he said" (Branigin, 2/25).

The New York Times: "For more than six hours, including a lunch break, the two sides veered between substance and talking points, touching on cost containment, expanding coverage, medical liability lawsuits and insurance industry regulations. Toward day’s end, Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas, said he had never seen 'so many members of the House and Senate behave so long so well before so many television cameras.' Still, it was clear that Republican anger ran deep. One of the liveliest exchanges came when Mr. Obama clashed with his former Republican rival for the White House, Senator John McCain of Arizona, who unleashed a pointed attack on the president for the process that Democrats used to produce the bill — even as Mr. Obama tried to redirect him to talking about its substance (Stolberg, 2/25).

During the meeting, which "featured sharp partisan disputes," Republicans pushed Obama and Democrats to renounce the idea of passing a bill in the Senate with only 51 votes, The Wall Street Journal reports. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., "asked that Democrats reject the idea of 'jamming [the bill] through on … a partisan vote.'" He said reconciliation has "never been used for anything like this." Alexander's statement drew a "prickly response" from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Journal reports, that "at times the summit took on a feeling of a series of statements, rather than a discussion and certainly not a negotiation." During the course of the morning's discussions, the two sides tussled about "whether the Democratic bill would raise or lower insurance premiums" (Meckler, Pulizzi and Adamy, 2/25).

Obama also tangled with Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the House Republican whip, who used a print-out of the Senate health overhaul bill to emphasize its size before questioning whether an individual insurance mandate was legal or good policy, USA Today reports. Obama replied that using the bill as a visual aid was "one of the political things we do" to avoid discussing the substance of the legislation (Jackson, 2/25).

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, "I think it's nearly impossible to imagine a scenario under which we could reach an agreement … cause we don't think we ought to pass a 2,700-page bill that seeks to restructure one-sixth of our economy," according to NPR (2/25).

Meanwhile, Politico reports: "After a brief period of consultation following the White House health reform summit, congressional Democrats plan to begin making the case next week for a massive, Democrats-only health-care plan, party strategists told POLITICO." One of these strategists said the expectation is that the summit will "give a face to gridlock, in the form of House and Senate Republicans" (Allen, 2/25).

ABC News writes, "Unfortunately for President Obama, the bipartisan agreement ... is among liberal and conservative protestors arguing for different reason that the Democrats' current health care reform proposal isn't the correct prescription. Conservatives argue that it's too much government intrusion and socialism. Liberals argue that the various leading Democratic proposals don't go far enough" (Tapper, 2/25).

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