Obama Hopes Summit Propels Health Care Overhaul

President Obama meets with Republican and Democats in Congress Thursday for a televised summit on overhauling health care. Lawmakers from both parties have suggested the meeting will amount to little more than political theater. The House and Senate each passed their own versions of health care overhaul but there's no final bill.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's talk some more now about President Obama's effort to restart the health care debate. He's meeting this week with Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and doing it on television. NPR news analyst Juan Williams is following this story.

Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: You've been talking to White House officials. What do they think they can accomplish here?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think they want to sell the health care reform bill in way that they feel they failed to do so in the previous year and several months. And they're looking to somehow get the public back onboard.

So that's why you're going to have them make a big effort here to make it plain to the American people what are the specifics in the bill and have a conversation in which they make it plain that Republican ideas have been considered, and they're trying to get Republican bipartisan support for the bill. And it's Republicans who have failed to play fairly.

And they want the public - as they're watching this for about six hours on live TV - to come away with the idea that President Obama is being reasonable, and that there's nothing threatening in the health care proposal.

INSKEEP: So we can expect a bipartisan show of two parties, each trying to subtly suggest the other side is partisan. That's what we'll be doing here, I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILLIAMS: I think you've got it. Now, the Republican goal, of course, is exactly the opposite. The Republicans want to make sure that the public thinks that what you've got here is more of a government-expanded program that's intrusive, that this is an attempt to move away from the private sector and from, really, competition, and that $950 billion's going to bankrupt the country and it's not a reasonable proposal, and that it's clear that the White House doesn't even provide sufficient specifics to allow the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, the properly score the bill, say how much it's going to cost the American people.

INSKEEP: Juan Williams, I know you've spent enough time on television to know that the stagecraft is important with something like this. They're going to have this meeting. It's supposed to be televised. How are they placing everybody? Are they all going to be around a table? Are they going to be up at a lectern, giving speeches? What's it going to be?

WILLIAMS: This is very interesting. So they've got - right now, what they've got is at the Blair House, right across from the White House, they've got, basically, a square table, Steve. Everybody gets a seat. There is no lectern, so that the president is no in position to lecture them or to talk down to them. All the chairs are at the same level. That was apparently a big point for the Republicans.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Do some people get a cushion on the chair? Is that...

WILLIAMS: Well, I would need one, but I don't know.

INSKEEP: OK.

WILLIAMS: They're going to be there for quite a while. And then the second thing to say is that the president gets to make the opening statement. But every idea, every specific item within the bill - and remember that the Democrats feel that once the American desegregate this and once they start to look at it specifically and say, oh, well, we don't have a problem with that. It's not, you know, some might caustically say that's not a socialist government take over.

But the Democrats are going to have Vice President Biden and Health and Human Secretary Kathleen Sebelius introducing various sections of it, things like reducing the deficit or looking at how insurance reforms and insurance rate controls might be put in place, so that every time there's an issue, it's the Democrats who are setting the terms of the debate.

INSKEEP: I wonder if we're hinting at where the polls stand on this, Juan, because certain parts of this are popular. But what is the overall support for President Obama's health care approach right now, very briefly?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's pretty small, and it's been declining. So what the White House hopes to do is get five or 10 points of increase. And also, they have to deal with the fact that the left wing is putting pressure still for things like public option and reconciliation to force this bill through rather than to deal with the Republicans and some sort of compromise that the White House feels and Democrats feel would be too much.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much. That's NPR's Juan Williams, speaking with us this morning from WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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