Healthcare summit reaction: Useful, but not a game-changer

After Thursday's healthcare summit, reaction from both sides is positive, but Democrats still likely to proceed without Republican support.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Healthcare summit reaction: Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada (c.) flanked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California (l.) and House majority leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland speaks with reporters outside the White House in Washington, Thursday, at the end of a day of meetings with President Obama.

Prospects for healthcare reform legislation appear little changed following President Obama’s marathon White House forum on the subject Thursday.

Republicans say they remain opposed to Obama’s proposed healthcare overhaul, while Democrats vow that they will rally their party to push it through Congress – if necessary, via special budget rules that allow them to proceed with a simple majority of 51 votes.

Yet all involved said the seven-hour chat fest, held at Blair House, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House proper, was worth doing. The tone was at times combative, but the talk was surprisingly substantive and laid out the philosophical differences between the parties on this important issue like little else has in recent months. (For more Monitor coverage of the healthcare summit, see here.)

“I think it was good to have that conversation. I think it was good for the American people,” said Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona on Friday in an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America”.

Senator McCain, the GOP’s presidential candidate in 2008, said that Republicans would be willing to work with Obama on such measures as ensuring insurance coverage for those with preexisting health conditions.

At the same time, McCain indicated that his party wants to start over with a clean sheet of paper, rather than work with the existing healthcare reform bills – a position that’s anathema to Democrats. And McCain warned Senate Democratic leaders that to proceed via the special budget rules, known as “reconciliation,” could be dangerous. (For a Monitor explanation of reconciliation, see here.)

“There are areas that we can agree on, but to go to the 51 votes, instead of the traditional 60 in the United States Senate, will have cataclysmic effects,” said McCain.

Key Democrats, on the other hand, indicated that they would press forward with the bills they have.

“I’m glad the president did this. It was a good exercise. I hope it leads to the two sides coming together,” said Senate majority leader Harry Reid in a YouTube question-and-answer session following Thursday’s meeting.

Senator Reid indicated that he felt that, in a nation as rich as the United States, access to healthcare should not be in question. Even the poorest criminal defendants get free lawyers, said Reid.

Healthcare “should not be a privilege,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said that, for all the discussion, few votes were moved.

“I do not believe there will be any Republican support for this 2,700 page bill,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed: “I’m not overly optimistic we would get Republican votes for the bill, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t incorporate some of their good ideas into legislation, would they put some on the table,” said Representative Pelosi following the meeting’s close.

As to next steps, Obama indicated that there should be some space for further discussion – perhaps a few weeks, perhaps a bit more than a month. But after that, the Democrats will forge ahead – with or without Republican support.

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