Obama Seeks Bipartisan Health Care Summit
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
President Obama has been using one metaphor a lot lately. It's a football metaphor to describe the health care debate. He says his planned overhaul is just a few yards short of the goal line. So far though, he and his fellow Democrats have been unable to score. That's why in an interview on CBS just before last night's Super Bowl, Mr. Obama called what he hopes might be a game-changing play.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama told CBS's Katie Couric he wants to host a bipartisan summit meeting on health care when lawmakers return from their President's Day recess later this month.
President BARACK OBAMA: I want to come back and have a large meeting, with Republicans and Democrats, to go through, systematically, all the best ideas that are out there, and move it forward.
HORSLEY: This isn't the first such effort. Mr. Obama hosted a White House summit last year to kick off the health care debate. And the Senate Finance Committee spent months behind closed doors trying to fashion a bill that would win bipartisan support. Republicans, who've just gotten an extra defender on their team thanks to last month's special election in Massachusetts, had little incentive to cooperate with Democrats. But Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander says he and other Republicans are willing to talk health care with the president. If that's what Mr. Obama wants.
Senator LAMAR ALEXANDER (Republican, Tennessee): We can re-earn the trust of the American people on this. We ought to start over and may be what the president means when he says step by step is doing just that. We'll just have to see.
HORSLEY: Republicans want the White House to scrap the House and Senate health care bills as a starting point, which seems unlikely. So, is there much chance this get-together on February 25th will produce some grand compromise?
Professor ROSS BAKER (Political Science, Rutgers University): Well, no. I think this is really an exercise in atmospherics.
HORSLEY: Ross Baker is a political analyst at Rutgers University.
Prof. BAKER: It's hard to imagine any kind of modification that is going to win over any significant number of Republicans, if any. So, I think this is really a battle for the minds and loyalties of voters looking ahead toward November elections.
HORSLEY: Especially, independent voters - those who are by definition most interested in bipartisanship. Baker says those are the voters Mr. Obama originally won over with his pledge to change the way business is done in Washington.
Prof. BAKER: The Republicans, of course, have given very scant support. But nonetheless, he believes that this is an issue that resonates with the American people and he's just decided to go ahead with it.
HORSLEY: Hosting the summit is not only a chance for Mr. Obama to burnish his bipartisan credentials, it's also an opportunity to spell out what's in the Democrat's health care bills, not in isolation, as has been the case, but side by side with Republican alternatives.
Pres. OBAMA: Their ideas, our ideas, let's walk through them in a methodical way so that the American people can see and compare, what makes the most sense.
HORSLEY: It's an exercise the president tested just over a week ago, when he attended the House Republicans' retreat in Baltimore. Georgia Congressman Tom Price, who is a doctor, urged the president to take another look at GOP ideas.
Representative TOM PRICE (Republican, Georgia): Specifically in the era of health care...
Pres. OBAMA: Mm-hmm.
Rep. PRICE: ...this bill is a bill that would provide health coverage for all Americans, would solve the lawsuit-abuse issue and does all of that without raising taxes by a penny.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama suggested if the Republican plan sounds too good to be true, it is.
Pres. OBAMA: If you say we can offer coverage for all Americans and it won't cost a penny, that's just not true. You can't structure a bill where suddenly 30 million people have coverage and it costs nothing.
HORSLEY: The White House thanks Mr. Obama's appearance at the GOP meeting scored points with the American people. And his advisors have been looking for more opportunities to showcase the president in this kind of unscripted give and take. Like that GOP House meeting, the upcoming health care summit will be televised.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.
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