President Obama believes there are enough votes to pass a health care bill, the White House said today, despite the argument from some conservatives such as talk show host Bill O'Reilly that health care legislation as it exists now could lead to catastrophe.
"I think there are the votes to pass health care reform because the American people know that the course we're on is not sustainable," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on "Good Morning America" today.
White House officials are bringing together Republicans and Democrats today in what they hope to be a constructive bipartisan summit on health care where both sides can share their ideas. The president wants to build support and push members of Congress to vote for the bill next week, but Republicans say the legislation should be scrapped altogether and that more of their ideas should be incorporated.
Many people have doubts about whether today's talks will achieve any concrete results. A new USA Today-Gallup poll today shows that 77 percent of Americans don't believe there will be a deal today.
"I think the result and the product that comes out today is based on the willingness of each of the participants to come and talk through these issues, to put aside this notion of Kabuki theater, put aside this notion of six-hour photo ops and instead come and let's discuss in earnest good ideas on health care," Gibbs said. "I think that's what the American people want. ... Let's just sit down there and talk about good issues."
Gibbs said the president wants to hear from Republicans about their ideas on cutting costs for middle-class Americans, how to prevent health insurance companies from discriminating against patients based on their pre-existing conditions, and rein in health care costs to avoid crushing the federal budget.
"We hope that all the participants are focused on coming in there today, putting aside our talking points, sitting down and talking directly to each other, and finding the common ground that the American people so desperately want us to find," Gibbs said.
"Today's a great opportunity for each side to listen on issues of cost and competition and come to an agreement," he said.
Many Republicans, even those who will be attending today's meeting, say it will be little more than show. O'Reilly said on "GMA" today that he agreed with Gibbs that both parties need to reach an agreement but expressed doubt it will happen today.
"Ideologues on both sides smell blood," he said. "Obama's got to watch his left wing flank. ... The real hard-core right says, 'We got him on the ropes, he's going to go, why help him.'"
The author of "A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity" argued that Obama's plan, released Monday, is too much to swallow.
O'Reilly said the cost of $1 trillion over 10 years that the White House has estimated is "bull."
"It's at least $2 to $6 trillion" he said. "We can't afford it now. ... We're on the verge of bankruptcy."
The health care bill, as it stands, "could be a catastrophe" because it hikes fees and cuts some provisions in Medicare, both of which supporters say is needed to cut costs.
But the Fox News host says both Republicans and Democrats have compelling arguments.
"What has to happen is both of these people have to knock it off -- and I mean the president and the Republican Party -- and they have to get in a room and they have to say, 'Look, here's the reform we need, here's how we're going to pay for it. And we can't do it all at once so we're going to do it over a 20-year period and we're going to present it to the folks in a united front,'" he said on "GMA." "Drop the politics, but that's not going to happen."
Bill O'Reilly Blasts Congressional Leadership
O'Reilly, who frequently takes aim at the Obama administration but has recently defended the president on some issues much to the ire of his followers, shot down any notion of running for public office, joking that if he were to do so, he would have to borrow money from the Chinese.
"I have more power doing what I'm doing than getting involved in the political process, plus you need to get money," he said.
O'Reilly, himself a popular personality on cable television, blasted the media for its portrayal of important issues.
"The media presents a distorted picture to Americans because they seize upon the loons on both the left and the right," he said.
As for Sarah Palin, the former GOP vice presidential pick who has gathered a strong following in her post-gubernatorial days, O'Reilly said she is likely considering a presidential run in 2012, but that she needs to go to "political college, world affairs college" to season herself.
At the same time, he took aim the congressional leadership.
"Yes, Sarah Palin needs a little bit more seasoning but don't tell me [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid or [House Minority Leader John] Boehner or [House Majority Leader] Nancy Pelosi are geniuses," O'Reilly said. "The country is a mess. If they were geniuses, we'd be better off."