Bipartisan Health Care Summit Yields Little Agreement, No Deal

Republicans push for do-over on legislation.

February 25, 2010, 10:44 AM

Feb. 25, 2010— -- President Obama and Republicans sat down for nearly seven hours today to discuss a way forward on comprehensive health care reform, but emerged no closer to an agreement on how to resolve key differences.

The bipartisan summit produced little in the way of substantive results, but featured ample discussion about familiar disagreements the two sides have on health care.

While there were some areas of agreement on the larger themes of health care reform, there was one fundamental divide – whether or not the Senate Democratic health care bill should be scrapped.

After the conclusion of the session, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was "discouraged" by the outcome.

"It's pretty clear that the majority and the president want to continue with the Senate bill," he said.

But McConnell also said he "wouldn't call it a waste of time" and said it was a "good discussion."

Obama took a "wait and see" attitude after the end of the summit.

"I thought it was a terrific discussion, and we'll see whether it made any difference in terms of people's attitudes," the president said as he walked back to the White House.

Members of Congress made a point to note that there are areas of agreement between the two sides and there were several attempts to find common ground.

"Quite frankly, we may be closer together than people really think," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

"I don't disagree with anything that you said at the beginning of the meeting," House Minority Leader John Boehner said to Obama.

But there were few areas of agreement on how to tackle the problems of the more than 40 million uninsured and health care costs that are rising at almost twice the rate of inflation.

The Republicans pushed for the bill to be scrapped.

"Let's start with a clean sheet of paper and we can actually get somewhere and get into law in the next several months," Boehner said.

Republicans once again proposed a more modest, incremental approach, including health insurance reforms and changing medical malpractice laws.

Health Care Debate: Little Agreement at Summit

Republicans groused about the Democrats' plan to push a bill through the Senate with a 51 vote majority, through a parliamentary procedure known as reconciliation.

Obama defended the tactic and said the American people are not concerned about "procedures inside the Senate."

"I do think that they want a vote on how we're going to move this forward," the president said. "I think most Americans think that a majority vote makes sense, but I also think that this is an issue that could be bridged if we can arrive at some agreement on ways to move forward."

House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the Democrats' plan for health care overhaul is too expensive, a theme that his party stressed during the summit.

Cantor said that there are consequences to mandating that all Americans purchase health insurance.

"We just can't afford this. ... That's the ultimate problem here," Cantor said. "In a perfect world, everyone would have everything they want. This government can't afford it, businesses can't afford it."

Obama agreed with Cantor that "the cost issue is legitimate."

The president said earlier that if overhaul is just "adding more people to a broken system, then costs will continue to skyrocket, and eventually somebody's going to be bankrupt, whether it's the federal government, state governments, businesses, or individual families.

"So we have to deal with costs," Obama said. "I haven't heard anybody disagree with that."

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a doctor, said Congress needs to target ways to bring down costs and reduce waste in the health care system, but there is "a philosophical difference" between the approaches of Democrats and Republicans.

"One wants a more government-centered approach to that," he said. "I would personally prefer a more patient-centered, market-oriented approach to that."

During the session, Obama disputed the notion that the Democrats' plan amounted to a government takeover of the health care industry.

"There was a lot of talk about government takeover of health care," he said. "And the implication, I think, was that everybody was going to have to sign up for a government health care plan. Now, that's not the issue. What the issue here, which we've had an honest disagreement about, is how much should government set a baseline versus just letting people decide that, you know, 'I can't really get decent insurance, but, you know, maybe this is better than nothing.'"

Many members used their opportunities at the microphone to convey the stories of constituents who struggled to afford or maintain health care coverage.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., told a story about a constituent who could not afford new dentures.

"You will not believe this, and I know you won't, but it's true. Her sister died. This poor woman had no dentures. She wore her dead sister's teeth, which, of course, were uncomfortable and did not fit," Slaughter said. "Do you ever believe that in America that that's where we would be?"

Obama: Politics Trumped Common Sense in Health Care Debate

Obama kicked off the bipartisan health care summit this morning expressing his hope that Democrats and Republicans can bridge their divide to achieve a substantive discussion about how to move forward on overhaul legislation.

But he lamented that the urgent need for change had been overshadowed by politics, despite a year of work on the contentious issue.

"This became a very ideological battle -- a very partisan battle -- and politics, I think, ended up trumping common sense," Obama said in opening remarks at Blair House, across the street from the White House.

Republicans came to the table to try to paint the latest legislation as a bad bill but show that they are willing to offer ideas and not just be the party of 'No,' as the Democrats have depicted them.

Obama said there are overlaps between the Democratic and Republican proposals. "It's not perfect overlap," he said. "It's not 100 percent overlap, but there's some overlap."

But the president said he wanted to address the areas of disagreement and see if there were ways to "bridge those gaps."

"I don't know that those gaps can be bridged, and it may be that at the end of the day, we come out here and everybody says, 'Well, you know, we have some honest disagreements. People are sincere in wanting to help but they've got different ideas about how to do it and we can't bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans on this,'" he said.

ABC News' Huma Khan contributed to this report.