February 9th, 2010
06:30 PM ET
5 years ago

Obama, Republicans spar over health care summit

President Barack Obama said Tuesday his televised health care summit with Republican leaders on February 25 should involve true give-and-take.
President Barack Obama said Tuesday his televised health care summit with Republican leaders on February 25 should involve true give-and-take.

Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama said Tuesday his televised health care summit with Republican leaders on February 25 should involve true give-and-take negotiations instead of mere "political theater."

In a rare appearance at the daily White House media briefing, Obama said he wants the meeting - which also will include health care experts - to "establish some common facts" on the health care issue and reach agreement on the most pressing health care problems facing the country.

To signal his willingness to compromise, Obama said he would consider a Republican push to include limits on medical malpractice lawsuits in a health care bill if the proposal can be shown to truly reduce overall health care costs. The president acknowledged the issue could "make my party uncomfortable," an apparent nod to traditional Democratic support among trial lawyers who oppose such limits.

However, Obama said bipartisanship on health care reform cannot mean only that "Democrats give up everything they believe in."

"Bipartisanship depends on a willingness among both Democrats and Republicans to put aside matters of party for the good of the country," he said.


Obama's comments followed a meeting with top congressional leaders from both parties, the first since he pledged in last month's State of the Union address to hold regular bipartisan talks. Republican leaders in the meeting later repeated their past insistence that the upcoming health care negotiations start from scratch, instead of building on separate Democratic health care bills passed by the House and Senate.

"What we need to do is start over, go step-by-step on a truly bipartisan basis to try to reach an agreement," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters. "My members are open to doing that."

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, indicated he and other GOP chiefs are ready to attend the February 25 health care summit, but have questions for the White House on the lineup and agenda for the meeting. Boehner noted Republican leaders sent White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel a letter Monday asking for details of the proposed talks.

"The letter last night tried to understand what the purpose of the meeting is," Boehner said, adding: "If we're truly going to have a bipartisan conversation, then let's just scrap this bill that the Democrats can't pass in the House or Senate and let's start over on a real conversation about how to make the current system work better."

The half-day summit is an attempt by the Obama administration to rescue health care legislation, a top domestic priority for the president. Televising it also would help fulfill a campaign promise by Obama that health care negotiations would be broadcast live.

The planned talks with Republicans are the first clear strategy by Obama and Democrats on how to proceed on health care after losing their 60-seat supermajority in the Senate.

Republican Scott Brown was sworn in as the new U.S. senator from Massachusetts last week, leaving the Democrats one vote shy of being able to overcome GOP filibusters of health care reform and other major initiatives.

Obama first floated the idea of face-to-face, televised talks with Republicans to seek a health care compromise last week. In a speech Thursday at a fundraising event, he said whatever legislation emerges from the talks should then go to Congress for a vote.

He announced the planned meeting in a nationally televised interview with CBS before the Super Bowl on Sunday, and said Tuesday that the idea is to reach agreement on solving a problem that only will get worse.

As an example, Obama cited a report his week that Anthem Blue Cross, which he called the largest insurer in California, was planning to raise premiums for individual health policies by as much as 39 percent.

"If we don't act, this is just a preview of coming attractions: premiums will continue to rise for folks with insurance, millions more will lose their coverage altogether, our deficits will continue to grow larger," Obama said, adding that "we have an obligation - both parties - to tackle this issue in a serious way."

That means both Democrats and Republicans accepting a bill that lacks all they want, but does the right thing for the country, Obama said.

"I'm willing to move off some of the preferences of my party in order to meet them halfway, but there's got to be some give from their side as well," the president said.

The Republican letter to Emanuel on the February 25 meeting offered the GOP view, saying: "Bipartisanship is not writing proposals of your own behind closed doors, then unveiling them and demanding Republican support. Bipartisan ends require bipartisan means."

Republicans complain that the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate rammed through their preferred bills without giving GOP issues a fair hearing. Obama and Democrats respond that the bills went through the full legislative process, including lengthy committee meetings and floor debate, with Republicans taking part and offering amendments, including some that were accepted.

Obama said last week that Democratic leaders were completing work on merging the House and Senate health care bills into a single Democratic proposal for the talks with Republicans. A key question for the February 25 talks will be whether Obama and Democratic leaders want their merged health care bill to serve as the starting point for an agreement.

Republicans complain the comprehensive Democratic health care bills would lead to a government takeover of health care. They call for smaller steps focused on individual issues, such as limiting medical malpractice lawsuits.

Democrats, however, say that spiraling health care costs that threaten the nation's future economic stability can only be addressed through comprehensive reform.

Obama said last week that the merged Democratic bill would expand coverage to 30 million Americans who currently lack health insurance while reducing long-term health care costs.

It proposes an insurance exchange to allow people and small business owners to pool together to purchase coverage, Obama said, but he made no mention of a government-run public health insurance option that Republicans have rallied against.

Obama said the Democratic proposal would include reforms that prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing medical conditions or capping lifetime benefits.

"And by the way, all of it is paid for," Obama said. "Not only is it deficit neutral, but the Congressional Budget Office, which is the bipartisan office that is the scorekeeper for how much things cost in Congress, says it is going to reduce the costs by $1 trillion."

Obama called health care reform the "single best way to bring down our deficits.

"Nobody has disputed that," he added.

"Nobody can dispute the fact that if we don't tackle surging health care costs, then we can't control our budget," he said.

–CNN's Ed Henry, Dana Bash, Tom Cohen and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report


Updated: 6:30 p.m.


Filed under: Health care • President Obama
soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Turn Texas Blue

    Dont worry President Obama,they dont have any actors as great as"D rated Ronny Reagan"the king of the 80s morons.

    February 9, 2010 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  2. Viet.Vet

    Way to go Mr President call those retards,oops, I mean Republicans out, make them present their smoke and mirrors on Health Insurance reform in an open form. In that manner they can't hide behind misstatements and TV sound bites.

    February 9, 2010 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  3. Duck Fallas

    Expose the repukes and their sheepish bed-wetting followers as the obstructionist, lying, America hating traitors that they are.

    Repukes have nothing to offer but lies and scary stories. Weak minded fools swallow it all.

    February 9, 2010 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  4. Kathy Kelly

    Mike in MN, I was unable to find support for your statement regarding polls showing voters beings opposed to the current Heath bill. Maybe you could tell me where you got those numbers. I don't see what the problem is with starting with the current bills, starting over would just waste another year of time, but maybe that's what you want.

    February 9, 2010 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  5. Gibbs backhands Palin....

    not only is the White house backhanding Palin and the GOP but in so doing backhanding the country...an insult to all.................................!!!!!

    February 9, 2010 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    To Mike MN, et al.: Jeez, I can't wait till your bosses send down the newest mindless catchphrase for you all to use, whether or not it makes sense or is germane to the conversation – really really sick of "cram it down our throats". Although I did get a kick out of the fact that you morons didn't ever cop to how homoerotic that sounded....heh.

    February 9, 2010 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  7. Dar

    Now all of you are starting to see what the Republicans were doing all these months. Making the other side listen! Odumbo is now starting to listen and is freaking out that this will be thrown out. He cant have that, or his days are numbered.(Just under 3 years now)
    The Dems didnt want anything to do with the Repub's thoughts, it was one way or the highway and the dems shut the door. I said it then and I'll say it again. It was a stupid move and the people of the United States said NO. We dont want this bill as it is.
    Reform YES, but the right reform, not the wrong reform.

    2010/2012 REAL Change is coming

    February 9, 2010 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  8. JOE

    i like president obama. i think he is a class act. i give him alot of credit for reaching out to the GOP but what i don't get is the republicans saying they will work with him only if they get what they want. have i missed something here? elections have consequences. our country elected president obama to get things done. if the GOP doesn't want to help then the dems have no other choice but to ram home their agenda. if in 4 yrs we are not better off overall then the USA can vote someone else in office.

    February 9, 2010 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  9. Steve in North Carolina

    -and arranging a televised meeting is not political theater?

    February 9, 2010 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  10. Sue

    Unfortunately for Obama, Pelosi, Reid and the rest of the liberal Democrats.........

    Numerous polls have shown--the MAJORITY in the country would rather have NOTHING done regarding health care, than to have that 2000 page piece of garbage shoved down their throats.

    Therefore, the majority in the country will support the position of the Republicans-–which is to throw away the 2000 page piece of garbage-–and start fresh with transparent, bipartisan ideas and solutions.

    Who knows what is hidden in that 2000 page piece of garbage--and who is going to have the hours/days/months to read through the entire thing.

    Stand strong Republicans...........Obama and the Democrats either start fresh from scratch, or do not attend-–you will have the majority in the country backing/supporting your decision.

    February 9, 2010 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  11. Mark

    They could probably agree if the dems took all the back door deals out of the bill, no way should the unions be exempt from paying taxes on cadillac health care plans while the rest of the folks have to pay.

    Of course the unions gave obamy millions for his campaign, payback is due!

    February 9, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  12. Liberal wing nut

    Look increasing everyone's health care cost and running up more gov't debt is just really bad timing right now Mr Obama!

    February 9, 2010 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  13. Jeff in Houston

    They will not come. Creatures like this dislike sunlight and would rather not be exposed as willing to lead thier followers to misery all for the sake of a dime. Come on Republicans! Show us how you genuinely care for the your ignroant followers, the ones that suffer without adequate health care, the ones you keep in line with fear and ignorance. Prove to us you are not the corporate slime we all know you really are. Care for your own followers? You would send them in to a meat grinder and laugh all the way to your banks. You are less than human.

    February 9, 2010 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  14. Texas Jack

    It already is. You've made it that way. It was supposed to be bipartisanship from the start. But you have denied that relationship from day one. On the health issue you had to have a meeting with your little Democrats before you called for this meeting. So have you got the Democrats method of attack all set up. You don't intend to take anything useful or listen to anything the Republicans have to input to get this bill passed. You have defeated your plan when first introduced. So set down and shut up Obama.

    February 9, 2010 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  15. inofritzn

    LIAR Everything this joke does is theater! Protect my image, stroke my ego, protect my image. GTFO

    February 9, 2010 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  16. Ryan in Delaware

    To Obama Bipartisanship = Do what I want

    To Obama Obstructionist = To not do what I want

    This is a dumb strategy. He believes he will get Repubs too look like the party of no...however no one wants this bill and we are hoping the republicans do say no....so I'm not sure I get the strategy.

    Obama is helping the Republicans everyday! God I can't wait til this November!

    February 9, 2010 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
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