After Health Care Summit, Obama Prepares To Move Ahead

The White House says President Obama will make an announcement next week about how he wants to proceed with health care legislation. The move comes after a day-long meeting on Thursday with both Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders where Obama raised the profile and raised the stakes on the gap between Democrats and Republicans over health care. That doesn't get the bill done, but it may move the debate a decisive step closer to endgame.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

As we mentioned Democrats will try to move forward on health care using whats called reconciliation, a procedural maneuver that would allow them to pass a bill with the simple majority to avoid the threat of Republican filibuster. That would represent a new, more aggressive approach for the White House.

NPRs Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama repeatedly asked lawmakers during Thursdays marathon health care talks to focus on areas where the two parties agree. But near the end of the meeting, he admitted there might not be enough common ground to build a bipartisan health care plan. Republican voters dont like the Democratic plans that passed the House and Senate, he said. And even if there were a compromise, they might not like that any better.

President BARACK OBAMA: The truth of the matter is that politically speaking, there may not be any reason for Republicans to want to do anything.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama said the meeting was still worthwhile, though, if only to clarify for the American people what the health care debate is about. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander said Republicans were also grateful for the opportunity to make their case to a national television audience, sitting side by side with the president.

Senator LAMAR ALEXANDER (Republican, Tennessee): The president has got the biggest megaphone in the country, and when he shares it with Republicans, that gives us a chance to show who we are and what we believe. And we did that, and I think we did it pretty well.

HORSLEY: In fact, showcasing Republican ideas was one of Mr. Obamas goals for the summit. Instead of judging the Democratic plan in isolation, he wants voters to compare it to what the GOP is offering. And Thursday, anyone watching C-SPAN got that chance for seven and a half hours. Political analyst Ross Baker of Rutgers University spend the day glued to his television.

Professor ROSS BAKER (Rutgers University): Im probably one of the few people who sat through the entire thing.

HORSLEY: Baker joked that even he dosed off occasionally, but on the whole he came away impressed by both parties. Watching the president go round and round with Republicans, he said, was like watching a polished professor working with a classroom of bright students. Neither side gave much ground, if indeed they gave any, but Baker didnt expect them to.

Prof. BAKER: Many of these arguments the Republicans made were based on longstanding Republican principles about the scope of government. And the president and the Republicans just see things very differently.

HORSLEY: One of the most contentious differences is how far the two parties want to go in covering the uninsured. The Democrats plan will extend the health insurance to some 30 million people who dont now have it, and the president admitted that costs money. The Republicans plan would cover only one-tenth as many. Democrats argue that leaving people uninsured shifts the cost of their care on to other people, but this dispute also reflects a core difference in the two parties' philosophies, as the president noted.

Pres. OBAMA: If we think its important as a society to not leave people out, then were going to have to figure out how to pay for it. If we dont, then we should acknowledge that were not going to do that.

HORSLEY: The president admitted this partisan divide might be too wide to bridge, in seven hours or even seven weeks. In that case, he suggested, Democrats might have to move forward on their own and leave it up to voters to judge whether theyre right.

Pres. OBAMA: Thats what elections are for. We have honest disagreements about the vision for the country and well go ahead and test those out over the next several months till November.

HORSLEY: At one point Thursday, after being criticized by his 2008 Republican rival, John McCain, Mr. Obama said, were not campaigning any more, the election is over. But the summit wasnt really about silencing the guns of the last war. It was the opening salvo of the next one.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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