GOP, Expecting Little From Summit, Strategizes On Policy Alternatives; Democrats Look For Spark
GOP leaders Tuesday decided not to offer a "single comprehensive proposal" at Thursday's health summit and have voiced little hope regarding the meeting's outcome, but they are still planning to attend, The New York Times reports. "The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and the House Republican leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, made clear that they had extremely low expectations for the six-hour session. Mr. Boehner said House Republicans would take their own proposal into the meeting with Mr. Obama. Senate Republicans will carry a set of ideas for step-by-step changes in health care, similar but not identical to the House Republican package." The GOP plan would cost $61 billion, but cover millions less uninsured Americans than the Democratic proposals. On President Barack Obama's plan, announced Monday, the "Congressional Budget Office said the proposal could lead to lower premiums, in part by reducing the number of state-required benefits or increasing the number of relatively healthy people with insurance." Obama's plan, however, costs $950 billion (Pear and Herszenhorn, 2/24).
Roll Call: Republicans have spent the past 10 days strategizing on how they will approach the summit. "GOP operatives in the House and Senate have become increasingly concerned that mishandling the meeting could cede the issue of bipartisanship to Obama, particularly if Democrats stick together." Republicans will make floor speeches during the six-hour meeting and will fan out to media for interviews for their response after. "According to House and Senate leadership aides, those [strategy] discussions have produced a three-pronged message that GOP leaders will carry into the six-hour summit: The current Democratic health care reform bills should be scrapped, the Republican solutions to health care reform are legitimate, and the Blair House summit is a charade" (Kucinich and Stanton, 2/24).
The Washington Post: Republicans hope Thursday's White House health-care summit will be an opportunity "to sell their own ideas for using the private marketplace to expand coverage and reduce costs, but they remain wary of fumbling away what they believe is an advantage on the issue heading into this year's critical midterm elections." Since the "raucous town hall meetings of August," Republicans have "rallied behind a set of long-held conservative ideas, many proposed by President George W. Bush but never enacted. The list included new rules that would allow people to buy insurance policies across state lines, the expanded use of health savings accounts, funding to encourage state-based coverage innovation, and limits on lawsuits against doctors." Republicans also plan to portray the Obama plan as radical and expensive and that the GOP takes the prospect of a health overhaul seriously (Murray and Bacon, 2/24).
The Associated Press: Many on both sides agree that "Obama's much-touted televised summit has virtually no chance of breaking the political logjam. That means Democrats will be forced to find a way to pass an overhaul on their own or face a huge political defeat." McConnell has invited Sen. John McCain among others to the summit meeting. In the meantime, "Democrats are almost certain to portray the GOP alternatives as flimsy and unworkable. They hope the session will embolden rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers who face re-election this fall amid worries that public opposition to a full-scale overhaul of health care could doom them. Failing to pass a bill would be even worse, party leaders say" (Babington, 2/24).
Bloomberg: "President Barack Obama may be creating the best chance to push through his stalled health care plan. It also gives Obama a televised forum to focus on popular parts of a measure that is generally opposed by Americans" (Rowley and Jensen, 2/24).
Obama "will kick off the event, according to its schedule, by speaking to the congressional leaders seated around the table with him. But his most important listeners may not be in the small room at Blair House where the event will take place," Politico reports. The people Obama may be appealing to are the conservative Democrats in the House who are standing against health reform and whom Obama needs to support his version of health reform for it to have any chance to pass (Smith, 2/24).
Politico, in a separate story: Democrats and Republicans are finding it difficult to find any common ground on the health care summit - even where they all will sit. "The GOP's first demand for Thursday's health care summit was simple. No podium. They wanted the six-hour talks to take place around a table with House and Senate members sitting at the same height as President Barack Obama, according to a senior Senate GOP aide." But, Democrats are hoping a command performance by Obama will jump start momentum for the bill. "According to the White House, Obama will offer opening comments, followed by Republican and Democratic members chosen by their colleagues. The discussions will center on four themes: controlling costs and expanding coverage, both introduced by the president; insurance reforms, introduced by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; and reducing the deficit, introduced by Vice President Joe Biden" (Thrush and Budoff Brown, 2/23).
The Washington Post, in a separate story: "Seat assignments are no small matter. The event is scheduled to be televised live for nearly six hours, and its outcome could be shaped by whoever gains command of the room - or at least appears to from the vantage point of the four television cameras placed in carefully negotiated spots. Only a partial list of attendees has been released, but it is clear the room will be full. Among the participants: (Republicans) McCain (Ariz.) and two doctor-lawmakers, Tom Coburn (Okla.) and John Barrasso (Wyo.); Democratic Sens. Harry M. Reid (Nev.), Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) and Patty Murray (Wash.); and Democratic Reps. Charles B. Rangel (N.Y.), John D. Dingell (Mich.), Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Jim Cooper (Tenn.)" (Kornblut, 2/24).