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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Americans will see the Republicans as obstructionists

The summit gives Democratic congressional leaders a new deadline to reach an agreement on their bill. Obama hopes to walk into the Feb. 25 summit with an agreement in hand between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on a final Democratic bill, so they can move ahead with a reform package after the sit-down. “The president wants to show his openness one last time before Congress completes their work on the bill,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA and a veteran health care reform advocate.

“The GOP has been the ‘party of no’ all year. Republicans have made a tactical decision not to cooperate, and they’ve even called health care reform Obama’s Waterloo.”

House Minority Leader John Boehner and GOP Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) – wrote a letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel stating: “Assuming the president is sincere about moving forward on health care in a bipartisan way, does that mean he will agree to start over? If the starting point for this meeting is the job-killing bills the American people have already soundly rejected, Republicans would rightly be reluctant to participate," Boehner and Cantor wrote. They asked Obama to rule out using "budget reconciliation" rules (a way to pass health reform in the Senate with just 51 votes). The two GOP leaders questioned whether Obama would open up the meeting to dissenting views and state officials who are resisting national reform. They also want to include discussion of a government report that shows the Democrats' current plan wouldn't lower costs for most Americans - and may make health care more expensive. Republicans say they’re open to compromise – as long as Obama tears up the House and Senate bills, restarts the legislative process and drops several key parts of his wish list.

In response, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement that made clear Obama isn’t abandoning the current legislation. “He’s been very clear about his support for the House and Senate bills,” Gibbs said. “The President looks forward to reviewing Republican proposals that meet the goals he laid out at the beginning of this process, and as recently as the State of the Union Address. He’s open to including any good ideas that stand up to objective scrutiny.”

Obama has no plans to start the process from scratch. The President will not rule out using reconciliation, but is sincere in wanting to hear Republicans’ ideas. Americans will see the Republicans as obstructionists, possibly encouraging Democrats to use their still-sizable congressional majorities to enact their health care proposals via the budget reconciliation rules, without GOP help.
White House has not backed away from its support of legislation similar to what the Democratic-controlled House and Senate passed separately last year over strong GOP objections.

Some Republican activists privately worry that their party's leaders might be walking into a trap on Feb. 25 designed to portray their health care proposals as thin. GOP consultant and former congressional aide - John Feehery said, "This is a clever tactic by the president to try to put the Republicans on the defensive," Now Obama wants to use the meeting to call them out in public, to question whether they have any plans to fix the nation’s health care system and any willingness to help him do it.
A shaky showing by GOP leaders could possibly embolden congressional Democrats to make a final, aggressive push to overhaul the nation's health care system, with or without any Republican votes. Rush Limbaugh said “Republicans should not be afraid of being called naysayers on health care — they should wear the label proudly. "Negotiating with Obama is a waste of time," Limbaugh said on his program Monday. "All it's doing is helping him fulfill a photo-op promise of having this stuff televised, and it's also to set (Republicans) up as the reason this didn't pass."

“The only constructive discussions will start with a blank sheet of paper,” said Georgia Rep. Tom Price, a doctor and the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee who sparred with Obama in Baltimore. “Enacting positive health care reform still remains possible, but it will require the president to accept that his plan is a nonstarter with the American people.” Republicans would like Obama to embrace the House leadership plan, which would lower premiums for people who already have insurance, but does little to expand coverage for those who don't.

But Stuart Butler, vice president of domestic and economic policy research at the Heritage Foundation, said Republicans need to do more than that. “It is politically dangerous for Republicans,” Butler said. “They have got to come forward with a very clear vision of what they want to do and why what the president is doing now is not acceptable to the American people.” Butler sees potential for agreement in several areas:

The Democratic bills include ideas championed for years by Republicans, but often not to the degree that the GOP would like.

Obama supports lifting the tax exemption on employer health benefits, as do Republicans, who would return the money to uninsured Americans through tax credits to purchase insurance.

Republicans also want to empower states to do more on health care, which is a provision included in the Senate bill.

And Obama last year said he was open to looking at ideas to curb medical malpractice lawsuits – a key Republican goal. But Republicans aides say that even if Obama endorsed a tort reform component, that alone wouldn’t be enough to win GOP support for the Democratic plan.


Charles Babington – AP


Dylan Ratigan – Talks to Chrystia Freeland and David Sirota about the Summit

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