Congressional Republicans have continued this week to dismiss President Barack Obama’s bipartisan health care summit as a useless political stunt, even as they send strong signals that they will in fact attend.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told CNN on Tuesday that the basis for the nationally televised, Feb. 25 summit will be the two Democratic health care reform bills passed by the House and Senate late last year. Only one Republican voted for the $1.2 trillion House package; no Republicans voted for the $871 billion Senate package.
On Wednesday, the GOP responded contemptuously to Sebelius’ declaration, although Brad Dayspring, an aide to House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), referred to a television interview in which his boss made clear the GOP planned to participate in the event. Obama has said his goal with the summit is to reach a bipartisan compromise on health care legislation that is currently bottled up in the Senate.
“So the president wants to hold a summit to tell the country, again, about health care overhaul bills that have already been thoroughly rejected by the people — coast to coast, California to Massachusetts,” Dayspring said Wednesday. “The two legislative monstrosities that the president wants to start with — that by the way even Democrats cannot pass on their own — do not and cannot achieve” the Republicans’ health care reform goals.
House and Senate Republican leaders have still not formally accepted Obama’s invitation to the health care summit, which was issued Friday. However, Cantor told Fox News on Feb. 9 that the Republicans would be there.
“We are going to show up, because we want to continue to reflect what the American people are asking for,” Cantor said. “It is in the interest of the minority in the Congress to reach out, and we have continued to. But what we want to say is this: We’re not interested in a dog and pony show to trumpet failed bills.”
GOP leaders were hoping to influence the format of the event in advance of publicizing their intention to show up. Key among the Republicans’ demands has been that Congressional Democrats and Obama agree to start the legislative process from scratch.
But Sebelius made clear that that’s not a request the Obama administration is prepared to grant. The HHS secretary told CNN that the president has already made a major concession to the GOP in agreeing to push forward with a bill that does not include a provision for a public insurance option.
“There are a lot of good Republican ideas in both the House and Senate bills,” she said. “I hope the Republicans come ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.”
“A lot of the Republican Members of the House and Senate said on Day One when this debate began that they would love to work with the president, but they could not work around the public option,” Sebelius continued. “Now that [we] don’t have a public option, I’m hoping they’re good to their word and come to the summit not just with their ideas but with a proposal.”
That concession is sure to anger the Democratic base and several liberal Democrats in Congress. But that does not appear to be good enough for the GOP. A budding compromise among Democrats to reconcile the House and Senate health care bills was derailed with the election of now-Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who gave the GOP the extra seat it needed to sustain a filibuster.
“The House and Senate bills are dead, and the sooner they come to that realization, the sooner we can make progress. We don’t know how to make ourselves any clearer,” a senior Republican Senate aide said. “If they want this to be a productive discussion then they can start by putting 2,700 pages in the paper shredder. … Productivity will be determined by starting with a blank sheet of paper.”