Updated: 12:07 p.m.
It was all politics, not policy, as President Barack Obama kicked off his bipartisan health care summit Thursday morning with a plea to lawmakers to not to let the day’s discussion devolve into a partisan slugfest.
“Maybe we have some honest disagreements and we can’t bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans on this. But … I hope this isn’t political theater where we’re just playing to the cameras and criticizing each other instead of actually trying to solve the problem. That’s not what the American people are looking for,” Obama said.
But partisan attacks were already trickling in minutes later when Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), who gave introductory remarks on behalf of GOP participants, warned Democrats that it would not be “appropriate” if they were to try to use the reconciliation to push a health care bill through the Senate.
The Senate is “the only place where the rights of the minority are protected,” Alexander said. It would be an “outrage to run the bill through the Senate like a freight train.”
Alexander, an advocate of passing reforms on a piecemeal basis, said Republicans want Obama to succeed in passing health care reform because “if you succeed, our country succeeds. But, respectfully, we want to change the direction you’re going on health care. … We want to start over.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pushed back on the idea that Democrats are planning to shut Republicans out of the process by using reconciliation to get around the filibuster.
“Lamar, you’re entitled to your opinion but not your own facts. … No one has talked about reconciliation, but that’s what you folks have talked about ever since that came out, as if it’s something that has never been done before,” Reid said. “We as leaders here, the Speaker and I, have not talked about doing reconciliation as the only way out of all this.”
Still, Reid noted that reconciliation has been used 21 times since 1981, and mostly by Republicans. “Of course it’s not the only way out,” he said. “So reconciliation isn’t something that’s never been done before.”
Obama and other Democratic leaders will center their comments on the need to pass health care reform that is affordable and competitive and that puts individuals “in control of their own health care,” according to a White House document outlining talking points for the day.
They will also convey a sense of urgency behind the need to pass reform into law.
“The urgency of reform couldn’t be more clear: just this month, a major health insurer informed customers in California that they could see their premiums rise by as much as 39 percent this year. That’s unacceptable,” reads one of the talking points.