"I respect that Sen. Clinton and President Clinton tried to get healthcare fixed in 1993," then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill, said in Henderson, Nev., in January 2008. "But they went about it the wrong way." He pledged to bring together medical professionals, drug companies and insurers to sit at a table and work out a plan.
The Obama Administration has outlined a set of principles that it wants in the legislation and is prepared to let Congress work its will – as opposed to just handing over a big binder and saying, "Here, pass this," a senior administration official says.
The White House invited to the summit people who opposed the Hillary Clinton health care reform, including Charles "Chip" N. Kahn III, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, and Karen M. Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, a successor group to the Health Insurance Association of America, which launched the "Harry and Louise" TV ads that helped sink the Clinton health care proposal.
President Obama invited Ignagni to speak at the final session of the summit and she pledged that her organization will work with the White House.
"We hear the American people about what's not working," Ignagni said. "We've taken that seriously. You have our commitment to play, to contribute, and to help pass health care reform this year."
In a smaller discussion session today, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., argued that the health care situation in this nation is so urgent that this is not a "Harry and Louise" moment but a "Thelma and Louise" moment, referencing the 1991 movie in which the title characters drive their car off of a cliff.
Obama, contrasting his goal with Thelma's and Louise's demise, said, "So, I just want to be clear, that's not our intention here."
Earlier in the day, Obama said that now is the time to make investments in reform, tying it to his efforts to bring down the federal deficit.
"Well, let's be clear: The same soaring costs that are straining our families' budgets are sinking our businesses and eating up our government's budget too," the president said. "Making ... investments that will dramatically lower costs won't add to our budget deficits in the long-term. Rather, it is one of the best ways to reduce them."
Obama said his goal is to enact comprehensive reform by the end of this year, and White House officials say he is serious about the need to make reforms quickly.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, one of the key congressional committees that the president is entrusting to draft the legislation, says his goal is to begin writing the legislation at the beginning of the summer, with a bill hitting the floor of the Senate for a vote before the August recess.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member on the Finance Committee, echoed that timeline to the president. "We expect to have work on this in the committee in June," he said. "Maybe it will sound a little ambitious, but if you aren't ambitious on a major problem like this that the country decides needs to be done, it'll never get done."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today that it is feasible to get a bill because of the urgency of the issue and noted that it may be easier to do because it is not an election year.
"Obviously, in even-numbered years, there's a bit of a silly season here, in terms of getting things done," he said. "I think everyone would recognize that."