President Barack Obama on Sunday underscored a push for a bipartisan solution to health reform, setting a Feb. 25 date for a policy summit with Democrats and Republicans alike in an effort to break a legislative impasse on Capitol Hill.
Obama calls bipartisan health policy summit
“I want to ask them to put their ideas on the table, and then after the (President's Day) recess, which will be a few weeks away, I want to come back and have a large meeting, the Republicans and Democrats, to go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward,” Obama told CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric during an interview that aired before the Super Bowl.
The olive branch to the GOP comes after Democrats lost their so-called “super majority” in the Senate—the 60-seat cushion needed to overcome a filibuster—and follows remarks the president made over the weekend where he pledged to push ahead with reform legislation that has been in limbo since the beginning of the year.
“So just in case there's any confusion out there, let me be clear, I am not going to walk away from health insurance reform,” Obama said during a speech made before the Democratic National Committee on Saturday. “I'm not going to walk away on this challenge.”
But the loss of the 60th party vote means that Democrats have to work with their colleagues across the aisle, who under the arcane rules of the Senate can block legislation at will.
Republicans have been united in their opposition to health reform legislation and have often complained about being left out of the lawmaking process.
In a written statement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that Obama needs to shelve the current bill.
“The American people want lower costs, not Medicare cuts and tax increases,” McConnell said. “Setting these proposals aside would be a sign that the administration and Democrats in Congress are listening to the country and are truly interested in a bipartisan approach.”
On Thursday, Senate leaders officially welcomed Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, the Republican who won the commonwealth's seat that had long been held by the late Edward Kennedy.
“In Massachusetts, we passed a healthcare bill. It was bipartisan. People working in the same room trying to solve these very real problems,” Brown said during his first press conference as a U.S. senator.
Brown has been a champion of expanded health insurance in the past and voted for the Massachusetts plan that extended coverage to virtually everyone in the Bay State.
But Brown also made it clear that the current legislation is unworkable. “We need to basically go back to the drawing board and start again,” he said. “I'm looking forward to being a part of it.”
A bipartisan leadership meeting is scheduled tomorrow at the White House, though the topic won't be exclusive to health reform.
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