KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Obama Will Announce Next Step On Health Bill By Mid-Week

The White House is preparing to move quickly on a health overhaul after Thursday's summit, officials announced Friday, increasing the possibility that President Barack Obama will try to unify Democrats to pass legislation without GOP support.

Politico: "Despite suggesting at Thursday's summit that Republicans should take several weeks to reconsider their opposition to his health care plan, President Barack Obama will announce the next step in passing a bill by mid-week, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Friday. … He declined to answer questions about reconciliation, saying 'those questions are better left for when we have an announcement from the president on the way forward.' … House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that Democrats would pursue the complicated parliamentary procedure to muscle health care legislation through the Senate over the vehement opposition of chamber Republicans. (Budoff Brown and O'Connor, 2/26)

That announcement follows the seven-hour meeting at Blair House in which Democrats and Republicans debated health proposals. Here is a compilation of some of the news accounts of that meeting.

CBS News : Obama said "'I hope that this isn't political theater where we're just playing to the cameras and criticizing each other,' Mr. Obama said. But early on he conceded the gap between the two parties may be too broad to bridge, and the first Republican speaker quickly shot down any hope of fundamental compromise. 'We have to start by taking the current bill and putting it on the shelf and starting from a clean sheet of paper,' Sen. Lamar Alexander said." Democrats have dismissed that notion since announcing the summit (Reid, 2/25).

NPR: "President Obama's face-to-face effort to forge a bipartisan agreement on health care overhaul appeared to fall short Thursday, as differences that have plagued the process for months re-emerged during a meeting at Washington's historic Blair House." The meeting was "aimed at jump-starting the overhaul and rescuing his administration's central domestic policy initiative – though some observers saw it more as a precursor to a go-it-alone strategy articulated even before the meeting by a key Democrat [Sen. Dick Durbin, R-Ill.]" (Neuman and Tedford, 2/26).

Los Angeles Times: As the discussion was supposed to turn to medical insurance, "Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) wanted to talk about something else." He accused Democrats of cutting deals and back room maneuvering, creating one of the day's most "testy" moments. 

"Aware that voters want to see elected officials work cooperatively, the president sat with members of Congress around a square table, symbolically putting them on an equal footing with him. And in doing so he gave Republicans a forum to hammer their talking points over and over." But ultimately, no breakthrough emerged, but "Obama may have achieved a political goal, showing the American people he confronts irresolvable differences with Republicans -- a prelude to pushing ahead with a healthcare bill unilaterally" (Nicholas, 2/25).

The Wall Street Journal: "After hundreds of hours of congressional debate, a summer of rowdy town hall meetings and a Massachusetts election that upended all political calculations, President Barack Obama and congressional leaders spent Thursday talking still more about reforming the U.S. health care system." Obama did offer to include key Republican ideas like malpractice reform in the proposal, prompting Rep. Eric Cantor, the House Republican whip to say after the summit, "An ounce of sugar does not make bad medicine go down" (Meckler and Adamy, 26).

Kaiser Health News has a video excerpt of the exchange between Cantor and Obama.

The Christian Science Monitor: "At heart, President Obama and the Democrats are determined to proceed with comprehensive reform, and the Republicans prefer a step-by-step approach. One need look no further than the number of uninsured who would be covered by the respective plans to see the difference. The Senate Democrats' plan, which Mr. Obama largely has endorsed, would cover an additional 30 million Americans. The House Republican plan would add 3 million people to the healthcare rolls" (Feldmann, 2/25).

USA Today: After nearly seven hours and "thousands of words," the president "made it clear that unless Republicans made significant and unexpected compromises, Democrats would press ahead on something akin to the $950 billion, 10-year health care plan he outlined Monday. ... If the cold morning began with any hope that common ground might be found - always a long shot - the mood by the end of the day was testy and unyielding"  (Page, 2/26).

The New York Times reports on the next steps for the Democrats: "Their most viable path seemed to be an effort to attach revisions to the health care bill to a budget reconciliation measure, which the Senate could adopt by a simple majority. ... But doing so would require mustering the support of centrist Democrats in the House and the Senate who have expressed apprehensions about both the health care bill and the reconciliation process, which Republicans are portraying as an unfair parliamentary tactic to skirt the normal rules. It was unclear if the event had won over any of those votes, especially among House Democrats who opposed the bill in November, and whose support could be critical to reviving it"  (Herszenhorn, 2/25).

The Boston Globe: Still, "[t]he session was unlike virtually any other political event in recent history. Broadcast on national television, three dozen leading lawmakers led by the president himself offered a spirited and often thoughtful airing of the two parties' views on the basic goals of a health overhaul. For more than six hours, they sat around an open-square table at Blair House, across the street from the White House, and took turns arguing their positions on the major goals of the bills the House and Senate passed late last year - controlling costs, reducing the deficit, regulating insurers, and expanding coverage" (Wangsness and Milligan, 2/26).

Read yesterday's Kaiser Health News Daily Report coverage and updates throughout the day, including transcripts and video excerpts from the White House summit. 

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