Republicans and Democrats Gear Up for Thursday's Health Care Summit

Lawmakers question whether it will be more than a PR exercise.

February 24, 2010, 9:40 AM

Feb. 24, 2010— -- Democrats and Republicans are unfurling the best they've got to get on the airwaves before President Obama's Thursday health care summit, even as some lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle are hinting that the gathering is unlikely to amount to any more than political theater.

Republicans and Democrats continue sparring over health care legislation, and the issue is resonating with public more than ever before.

Livid demonstrators gathered in California Tuesday to protest steep insurance rate hikes by Anthem Blue Cross. Earlier this month, the state's largest insurance company abruptly raised premiums on more than 1 million customers by up to 39 percent, more than 10 times the rate of inflation.

The increasingly public and angry passion over health care has motivated both sides at Thursday's high stakes summit in Washington, where frenzied propaganda and posturing is in full swing.

"Tell Congress, start over and get health care right," one political TV ad screamed.

Both Democrats and Republicans have taken to the airwaves to ratchet up their assault on the other side.

"I think the summit on Thursday is an effort to try and bring people together, to go forward with a health care bill that we can get through the Congress," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said on MSNBC Tuesday. "It's another opportunity for the president to make the case for why we need health care reform in this country."

The GOP leadership continued to blast the Democrats' health care bills and Obama's plan, which was released by the White House Monday.

"I had hoped that Thursday's meeting at the White House would present an opportunity for us to share the best ideas and work together on common sense solutions," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday. "I'm disappointed that the White House seems to view it instead as an opportunity to simply restart where they left off."

Many in the White House view Thursday's meeting as a make-or-break proposition on this round of health care. There are intense discussions on every aspect, from the agenda to the shape of the table where lawmakers will gather to camera angles for the six-hour live action drama.

"The president is interested in having a balanced conversation, in hearing from Republicans and Democrats. I don't know what the shape of the table was in Baltimore. That seemed to be a process that worked quite well," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday, referring to the televised House GOP convention where Obama answered questions by Republicans.

"There wasn't a table? Maybe we'll just, you know, maybe those little desks they give you in, like, elementary school, that would otherwise be uncomfortable and hard to fit into, might be the best way forward," Gibbs joked.

The table, according to plans so far, will be rectangular. The president and Vice President Joe Biden will be surrounded by 25 lawmakers from both parties.

Republicans Skeptical of Bipartisanship on Health Care

McConnell said he intended to have fun at the summit but does not expect to accomplish much in the daylong meeting.

"We're happy to go down there," McConnell said Tuesday. "I'm always pleased to see him. He's fun to be around, and I'm sure we'll have a great six hours. We're happy to be there, but I'm not quite sure what the purpose is."

McConnell said the president's plan, which entails fixes to the Senate health care bill, is like "putting a new name on a whole lot more spending."

The administration believes that the best way to get a health care bill passed this year is to adjust what the Senate passed Christmas Eve. That bill won't require a Senate majority to pass.

Republican leaders want Obama and Democrats to scrap the bills altogether and start anew. The White House challenged the GOP Tuesday to post its health care bill. There are at least three different proposals put forward by various GOP lawmakers, including one by House Republicans.

"We've heard that they have ideas, and we look forward to those ideas," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday. "The president did this because he wants to be able to reach out to the Republicans. That's who he is. He is not a partisan president. And I look forward to the meeting."

Senate Republicans will be represented Thursday by their leader, McConnell, the No. 2 two GOP senator, Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., two resident doctors and their 2008 presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., among others. The list has not been set by House leaders of either party.

Meanwhile, Americans are not just unhappy with insurance companies or the Democrats' health care plans but also believe Republicans are not offering enough solutions.

Forty-nine percent of Americans disapproved of Democrats' health care plan, but 63 percent said lawmakers in Washington should keep trying to pass a comprehensive health care overhaul plan, rather than giving up on it, according to the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll.

Health care experts say both Democrats and Republicans need to meet halfway to achieve bipartisanship but on health care, it remains to be seen whether the White House summit will be any more than a public relations exercise.

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