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. David In West Virginia

    The Party of NO will continue to be the Party of NO. Who can trust republicans that speak out of both sides of their mouths. Take Shelby, Sen. from Ala. While Republicans decry pork, he is out to hold up all the President's nominations for pork for this state of Alabama. Such hypocrites. Let's hope Alabama votes him out of office, but I'm afraid those voters will allow his tactics while they decry any Democratic tactics.

    February 9, 2010 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  2. Hammerer

    Obama says he will listen to ideas that he and/or his advisors deem to be worth while.
    Sounds like someone should explain bipartisanship to Hopeandchange.

    February 9, 2010 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  3. Stop the Nonsense

    Time will tell. hopefully someone will do a score card on number of realistic proposals and one on comprimises. I've reminded of this before, but in April, both sides agreed on 80% of the proposed bill. Surely they can reach a concensus on the last 20%.

    February 9, 2010 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  4. Tim

    Spoken by a true theatrical clown.

    February 9, 2010 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  5. Angus McDugan

    Obama's definition of "political theater" is anyone disagreeing with his views.

    February 9, 2010 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  6. tom

    Obama is not a very smart man. He had his chance for bi partisan talks for over a year and chose not to have them. He thought he was soooooo tough because democrats had majorities in House and Senate. What he didn't count on was that the people of the United States DO NOT LIKE HIM! If the people from Massachusetts wouldn't help Obama then no one will. Only now because he knows it is impossible to pass HIS version of health care reform, does he want to pretend to have bi partisan talks. What a joke! If I were a Republican in washington I wouldn't help Obama in the least, because of all the nasty things he continues to say about Republicans. Let's not forget who created the Republican Party, it was Abraham Lincoln! It was him and the Republican Party who went to war to free the slaves in the Civil War, it was the Democrats who fought to keep slavery. Let's not forget this fact when we are quick to bash Republicans. OBAMA WOULD NOT BE PRESIDENT IF IT WERE NOT FOR ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE REPUBLICAN PARTY.

    February 9, 2010 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  7. Marc

    But unfortunately, specially for those seeking though reelections this year, this is but a Golden Chance for them to pose as whatever they think that their voters wants them to be.

    February 9, 2010 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  8. GI Joe

    I'm anxious to see if Brown is willing to do what is right for all 50 states (not just MA which already has socialized health care he voted for), or if he follows the reps on just say NO.

    2 years goes by real fast.

    If he's willing to work for US, make him minority leader and kick mcconnell back to his uneducated constituents in KY.

    February 9, 2010 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  9. JLM

    This bipartisan meeting with the Republicans is a waste of time, because they have no plans of changing healthcare. The Republicans are bought and paid for by the Insurance Companies.

    February 9, 2010 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  10. Mike in MN

    I suspect this meeting will happen if Obama is willing to have the starting point being to scrap the current bills and start over. This would honor the wishes of a majority of voters and allow a true bipartisian effort where Democrats and Republicans could co-author a bill.
    If Obama continues to insist that the starting point is the current bills this meeting will either not happen or will fail to produce anything. Obama says he will support ideas that pass the test of scrutiney and will work. Based on that test, voters have declared the current bills a failure. Voters have rejected the bills and want Obama and Congress to start over. The voters in Mass. sent Brown to Washington to insure the current bills would be killed. Adding tort reform and or insurance competion accross state lines to these bills will still leave them as bad bills. Voters will still be opposed to bills that force individuals to purchase insurance or pay a fee, force business to provide insurance or pay a fee, that tax cadilac plans, that cut too deep into Medicare, that create a ton of new government agencies that define a private insurance plan and removes consumer choice, that costs a trillion dollars and on and on.
    Republicans will gain support from voters if they insist the current bills are killed and they process starts over. If Obama wants to go against the will of the people and force a version of the current bill on voters who do not want it, they will do so without any help from Republicans.

    February 9, 2010 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  11. MatthewDetroit

    Barack I thought you picked up the clues from Massachusettes and

    you were going to make THE ECONOMY and UNEMPLOYMENT the

    priorities. NOPE still a LIAR. You just dont get it Barack... you are

    an idealogue and a socialist. America does not want your programs.

    February 9, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  12. Casy

    Everything Obama does is political theater...he and his administration are quickly becoming a joke and Robert Gibbs jab at Sarah Palin during the Whitehouse Briefing was totally unprofessional and a disgrace!

    February 9, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  13. Stacie

    To all the right wing tools who blabber on and on about a teleprompter, please pay attention. President Obama has answered questions at press conferences, town hall meetings, question and answer sessions with the republicans and democrats without a teleprompter. And he did it without having to write crib notes on his palm.

    February 9, 2010 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  14. Right Leaning Independent

    As much as Dems want to bash Repubs ties to big business, the Dems are equally in bed with the Lawyers and Unions. It is interesting that in the past, Obama glossed over tort reform saying that the savings were insignificant. Now the truth comes out that it makes Dems "uncomfortable" and we all know why!!! Trial lawyers do as much damage as they do good!!

    February 9, 2010 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  15. a health economist

    One thing people really need to do is think things through with what the GOP promotes for their plans. In my state of Minnesota Michele Bachman is saying the GOP's plan includes allowing individuals to deduct health insurance from their taxes. Ok, great. But guess what? That doesn't help people who can't currently afford insurance to get insurance. They need to be able to afford insurance NOW and then be able to wait until NEXT YEAR to claim it on their taxes. This abstract thinking is, unfortunately, not something people are able to do on a common basis given our education system.

    February 9, 2010 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  16. J. Rochester, NY

    Oh please the GOP will resort to their normal name calling and childish antics..

    BUT Maybe a few grown ups will show up to the meeting and something will get done

    February 9, 2010 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  17. Eric in Denver

    Barry please stop preaching to us nobody believes you anymore with the exception of the far left which would believe that a cow could fly if you told them. You are just going to talk down to the republicans and tell them how right you are and how wrong the republicans and most of the country is regarding healthcare. You are a socialist joke of a president that has only divided this country and put us in a hole that we will never be able to get out of.

    February 9, 2010 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  18. Hayes Simmons

    Was Obama shaking his finger at republicans when he said that?

    February 9, 2010 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  19. Johnny DC

    How could it possibly be reduced to theater? I mean, it is going to be starring the Academy Award nominated Barack Obama as the lead actor, from such popular films as "King Liar" and "The Fake Hope".

    February 9, 2010 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  20. Mike in MN

    A majority of voters are opposed to the House and Senate bills and Republicans agree with them. All the recent polls show about 55% of voters are opposed to the bills and only about 35% support them.
    Based on that Republicans should give Obama two choices.
    Obama can kill the current bills and have bipartisian meetings with Republicans to start over and co-author a new bill.
    Or Obama can try and find a way to cram a version of the current bills down the throats of voters who do not want it and do so without any Republican help.

    February 9, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  21. james Miller

    There will finally be the opportunity for Repubs to put forth real ideas to improve the health care system IF they are sincere. -- Time to put up or shut up !!

    February 9, 2010 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  22. munchmom

    Like Obama won't make it political theater, like he has everything else with all his campaigning, photo ops, and stupid tricks. Give us a break!

    February 9, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  23. Greedy.Old.Party

    The only interest GOP has is obtaining POWER again & NOT what is best for our Country or the people in it, but what is BEST FOR GOP. GOP is the party of NO! An admission of their OWN. REMEMBER THIS STATEMENT: "this is Obama's Waterloo, if we stop him here on healthcare, we can stop all his agenda" AND "I want him to fail" & that did not just come from Limballess, but several republicans. When people want MY country & it's President to FAIL, I consider them the enemy & NO BETTER than the TERRORIST. That means they want ME, as a citizen to suffer the consequenses of that failure. The way the GOP acts........ it is THEIR WAY or NO WAY. You'd think they were still in power & had nothing to do with anything over the last 9 years. WE. THE CITIZEN NEED TO SEND AN EVEN STRONGER MESSAGE TO GOP NEXT ELECTION. PETTINESS & OBSTRUCTIONISM WILL NOT BE REWARDED..........................................................
    .........................................................................
    'THE PARTY OF NO MUST GO".........THE THE ANTI-TEABAGGERS SLOGAN......... I am a proud Independent VOTER & not as you might have thought to the oh so ignorant out there. I believe GOP is two faced saying they want dialogue on one hand in public & on the other

    February 9, 2010 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  24. TOTUS 4 PRESIDENT

    He already said that he was willing to consider tort reform – but then nothing happened. Just like when he said that he was against government paid abortions; just like when he said that the middle class would not be taxed more; just like when he said that health care reform was essential because it would save lots of money; just like when he said that the hearings would be televised on CSPAN. That Obama – what a wacky comedienne!!!

    February 9, 2010 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  25. John D

    Give it up Obama. You have lied and swindled so much nobody is going to believe you except the entitlement crowd. You're a lame duck after only a year in office. Must be some kinda record. Somebody call Guiness!

    February 9, 2010 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
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