Bipartisan Solution for Health Care? Critical, but Not Dead

W.H., GOP signal willingness to continue seeking bipartisan health care plan.

August 19, 2009, 6:49 PM

August 19, 2009— -- Despite the growing belief that Democrats will need to forge ahead without Republicans on board to pass a health care bill, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said today that Democrats are "absolutely not" giving up on a bipartisan effort.

"There are several more weeks to go in potential negotiations between Republicans and Democrats," Gibbs said. "I don't know why we would short-circuit any of that now."

"Bipartisan progress continues," Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., agreed today in a statement. "The Finance Committee is on track to reach a bipartisan agreement on comprehensive health care reform that can pass the Senate."

Iowa GOP Senator Chuck Grassley also vowed today to continue seeking a bill that members of both parties could support, even after he spent the last few days blasting the Democrats' handling of the negotiations.

"I've said all year that something as big and important as health care legislation should have broad-based support. So far, no one has developed that kind of support, either in Congress or at the White House. That doesn't mean we should quit," Grassley said in a statement.

A White House official maintains that Congress will opt to do something over nothing when lawmakers return from the August recess. And Congress' group of bipartisan negotiators is planning another conference call for tomorrow night.

Working to appeal to both sides, President Obama will make a guest appearance Thursday on conservative talk radio to answer callers' questions on health care reform. He'll also host an online "national health care forum" being set up by the DNC-run group, Organizing for America.

But it's not simply a matter of getting Democrats and Republicans to agree.

Obama is also facing some problems with his left flank.

With previous weeks of Congress' August recess focused on conservative anger about health care reform, the White House now finds itself facing some angry liberals.

They're disappointed with what they see as signals President Obama is not willing to fight for the inclusion of a government-run public health care plan to compete with private insurers and drive down costs.

It may be forcing the administration to regroup and change course.

"The president and the White House have not done a stellar job on messaging this," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.

"White House officials recognize that the president's original strategy has failed and they have to start fresh in a number of ways," ABC News' George Stephanopoulos said today on "Good Morning America."

"The president became convinced just before the recess in a final meeting with Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican negotiator, that his original strategy of trying to get a bipartisan bill out of the Senate just wasn't going to work, and that they're going to have to find a way to do this almost solely with Democratic votes," Stephanopoulos added.

Visit ABC News' special section on health care.

A central issue is that lawmakers are hearing mixed messages on the importance of including a public health care plan in the final bill.

Asked June 23 if the public plan was non-negotiable, Obama told ABC News, "Right now, I will say that our position is that a public plan makes sense."

A few weeks later, in his July 18 weekly address, the president said that "any plan I sign must include an insurance exchange ... including a public option."

But Saturday brought a slightly different message.

"The public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform," Obama said. "This is just one sliver of it."

Despite efforts to win over moderate Blue Dog Democrats in the House -- perhaps by eliminating the public option -- those lawmakers remain skeptical, according to local media reports from their home districts.

Retirement Community Meetings to Separate Fact From Fiction

Another problem for the president is confusion among senior citizens.

Since July, the AARP -- generally supportive of the notion of reform -- has seen 60,000 members cut up their cards.

According to Kevin Donnellan, AARP executive vice president and chief communications officer, the AARP has also seen 1.7 million people join or renew their membership during the same period. Still, Donnellan said, "We take the loss of our members seriously."

The AARP is meantime "working to dispel several of the myths that have warped the health care reform debate ... horror stories about euthanasia and rationed care," he added.

In the weeks ahead, some retirement communities will begin holding health care meetings with members of Congress to help separate fact about health care reform from fiction.

At a retirement community in New Jersey, Bill Albach received an anonymous flyer spreading misinformation about the health care reform bill, preying on seniors unsure of their medical security.

"Word is going around if you are 65 or older and you have cancer and your hip breaks, will they replace your hip? Nobody knows for sure," he said.

"I think his biggest vulnerability on this issue are the elderly," said Matthew Dowd, a political consultant and former Republican strategist. "If the elderly turn against him on this, there is no way he can fashion any real health care reform."

ABC News' Karen Travers, Rick Klein and Z. Byron Wolf contributed to this report.

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