WASHINGTON — Coming soon to daytime television: America's long-running civic drama over how to provide better health care to more of its people without breaking the bank.
President Barack Obama summons anxious Democrats and aloof Republicans to a White House summit Thursday — live on C-SPAN and perhaps cable — and gambles that he can save his embattled health care overhaul by the power of persuasion. Adversaries and allies alike were surprised by Obama's invitation to reason together at an open forum, as risky as it is unusual.
Ahead of the meeting, the White House will post on its Web site a health care plan that brings together major elements of the bills passed by House and Senate Democrats last year. Policy is important, but not as critical as the political skill Obama can apply to an impasse.
"It's a high-stakes situation for him more than anybody else," said Gerald Shea, the top health care adviser for the AFL-CIO. "If the judgment is either that it's a political farce, or if it fails to move the ball forward significantly … that would be very damaging to the issue and to him."
But Obama, top White House advisers and congressional leaders of both parties are under no illusion that the meeting will resolve more than a half-century of disagreements over health care policy. Instead, Democrats say, they hope the event will help revive their legislation in Congress and prove to Americans that they are willing to hear out Republicans and even adopt their ideas.
"We may not be able to resolve all the disagreements, but we ought to be able to thrash out areas of broad agreement," said David Axelrod, Obama's senior adviser. "The fact is, there are broad areas of agreement on elements of this, and hopefully that will become apparent here." Axelrod added, "Sitting side by side working through these issues is better than not sitting side by side and dealing with distortions."
Information from the Associated Press and the New York Times was used in this report.