Will Obama's Health Care Summit Be Political Theater or Substantive Dialogue?

Will today's health care summit be political theater or a substantive dialogue?

ByABC News
February 24, 2010, 7:30 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2010— -- What happens when you put President Obama, members of Congress and three cameras in one room -- bipartisan compromise on contentious health care legislation or pandering for the television audience?

The White House has made it clear what it hopes to achieve in today's six-hour, televised health care summit with a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Obama said last week he wanted Republicans and Democrats to sit down and talk about health care "in a spirit of good faith."

"I don't want to see this meeting turn into political theater, with each side simply reciting talking points and trying to score political points," he said in his weekly address. "Instead, I ask members of both parties to seek common ground in an effort to solve a problem that's been with us for generations."

Given the differences between the two sides, and the clock ticking to get something done, is there any chance of actual progress at today's summit?

Dee Dee Myers, a Democratic consultant and former Clinton White House press secretary, called the summit "a high wire act" for both Democrats and Republicans.

"The White House has a lot at stake and the Republicans are genuinely irritated," she said.

Republican strategist and former Bush White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the Democrats don't have a great spokesman other than Obama, which puts the president in a "weird position" going into the health care summit, serving as both advocate and arbitrator.

"He's got his own bill, he's the leader of the party, he supports the Democrat proposals that came out of Congress -- but yet the way they've structured the meeting, he is theoretically an arbitrator," Fratto said. "The president isn't sitting down as an impartial actor here. He's got a very clear position that he's been advocating for some time."

"This is a time for him to be the president of the United States and not the leader of the Democratic Party," Democratic strategist Steve McMahon said of Obama.