GOP Wary Of Talks While Both Sides Express Low Expectations For Health Care Summit
News outlets are focusing on political reaction to President Obama's Feb. 25 bipartisan summit on health care reform.
Los Angeles Times: Democrats are unfolding "a strategy to force Republicans to put policy ideas on the table that Democrats believe they can exploit in the fall elections. After a year of suffering GOP attacks on the president's plans for healthcare and the economy, the White House and congressional Democrats are gambling that voters will find Republican ideas to be even more unpopular." One of the Republican ideas includes a proposal for a long-term budget fix from "Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) that would aim to eliminate the federal deficit by, among other things, partly privatizing Social Security and converting Medicare into a voucher program" (Oliphant and Levey, 2/8).
The Wall Street Journal reports that both sides face risks with the confab: "Republicans worry they will wind up as props in a White House show of bipartisanship and the summit will involve 'changing the message but not the reality,' as one House Republican aide put it. And it's still not clear how the summit would help Democrats rescue their legislation, which has been stuck since their defeat in a Senate race in Massachusetts last month" (Meckler, 2/8).
The Associated Press reports that serious ideological differences separate the parties: "Both sides want to bar insurance companies from turning down people with health problems, but only Democrats propose requiring most people to get coverage - a necessary first step, according to most experts. To illustrate the gap, the House GOP bill would cover 3 million uninsured people, the House Democratic version 36 million." Republicans say that the problem is in the Democrats' "big government" approach to the problem, said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., who wrote the House GOP health reform bill (Alonso-Zaldivar, 2/8).
The New York Times: "When Republicans take President Obama up on his invitation to hash out their differences over health care this month, they will carry with them a fairly well-developed set of ideas intended to make health insurance more widely available and affordable, by emphasizing tax incentives and state innovations, with no new federal mandates and only a modest expansion of the federal safety net." The GOP plan also focuses on providing money to establish state-based high-risk insurance pools and looks at reining back medical malpractice costs with caps on pain and suffering. "They oppose the Democrats' call for a big expansion of Medicaid, which Republicans say would burden states with huge long-term liabilities. ... While the Congressional Budget Office has not analyzed all the Republican proposals, it is clear that they would not provide coverage to anything like the number of people - more than 30 million - who would gain insurance under the Democrats' proposals" (Pear and Herszenhorn, 2/8).
NPR: "Supporters of the president" say the summit may "also give cover to moderate Democrats who have pushed back at growing pressure to use the legislative procedural maneuver known as reconciliation to advance the legislation with simple majority votes in the Senate and House" (Halloran, 2/8).
Politico: "Obama hopes to walk into the Feb. 25 summit with an agreement in hand between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on a final Democratic bill, so they can move ahead with a reform package after the sit-down." But GOP leaders from the House asked, in a letter to the White House, "pointed questions that they would like answered before the meeting at Blair House." Among them -- would President Obama be willing to give up on using reconciliation to pass health reform (Budoff Brown and O'Connor, 2/9).
The Washington Times reports that in the letter, "sent late Monday to the White House, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio and Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia said that if President Obama will not start over, they 'would rightly be reluctant to participate' in the Feb. 25 summit he proposed" (Rowland, 2/9).
Kaiser Health News reports that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday that the process is not starting over. "'A lot of people ask if this is starting over (on a health overhaul), the answer is absolutely not,' she said Monday in a talk at the AcademyHealth policy conference in Washington. Instead, she said the Feb. 25 televised event is to 'get Republicans to re-engage in the process. It is not acceptable that half the legislative body pushed away from the table months ago and said "we do not want to participate"' Sebelius said she hopes Republicans will put forward 'a real plan, not just criticisms'" (Galewitz, 2/8).
Roll Call: The GOP letter's included questions "about the upcoming meeting, such as whether health care experts and state lawmakers would be invited and whether Obama planned on introducing a legislative proposal at this discussion. 'Your answers to these critical questions will help determine whether this will be a truly open, bipartisan discussion or merely an intramural exercise before Democrats attempt to jam through a job-killing health care bill that the American people can't afford and don't support,' the letter said" (Kucinich, 2/8).
The Washington Post reports that the Republicans wrote that bipartisanship "'is not writing proposals of your own behind closed doors, then unveiling them and demanding Republican support,' Boehner and Cantor wrote. 'Bipartisan ends require bipartisan means.'" White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that Obama remains open to any good ideas that "stand up to objective scrutiny." The text of the letter is also included (Shear, 2/8).
USA Today: In the meantime, other "Republicans such as (Rep. Tom) Price pointed to a House GOP health care bill, unveiled last year, as a starting point for negotiations with the White House. The $61 billion proposal, which the House rejected in November, would have let consumers purchase health insurance across state lines - which, Price said, would foster competition" (Fritze, 2/9).
Related KHN story: The Debate Over Selling Insurance Across State Lines (Galewitz, 2/3)This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.