In a meeting with House Republicans at the White House Thursday, President Obama reminded the minority that the last time he reached out to them, they reacted with zero votes -- twice -- for his stimulus package. And then he reminded them again. And again. And again.
A GOP source familiar with the meeting said that the president was extremely sensitive -- even "thin-skinned" -- to the fact that the stimulus bill received no GOP votes in the House. He continually brought it up throughout the meeting.
Obama also offered payback for that goose egg. A major overhaul of the health care system, he told the Republican leadership, would be done using a legislative process known as reconciliation, meaning that the GOP won't be able to filibuster it.
Congress has until October 15 to pass health care or student lending reform under the normal process. If it doesn't, reconciliation can be used to eliminate the 60-vote requirement.
Democratic aides said that Obama made clear to the GOP leadership that he would continue to work in a bipartisan way, but that they didn't have veto power over health care policy. GOP aides, however, said that Obama was pretty clear that reconciliation would be used. "From what was told me, it sounded more like he would almost definitely use reconciliation for healthcare. I don't think he hedged much," said one.
Another GOP aide said that Obama and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) had a back-and-forth about the zero votes. Obama argued that House Republicans had made a "strategic decision" to oppose the stimulus, while Boehner countered that Obama hadn't accepted House Republican input on the bill.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pushed back against the decision to use reconciliation. "As he told the President during a meeting at the White House on Thursday, Senator McConnell and his colleagues want to be part of the solution to reforming our country's health care system and expects the majority party to include Republicans in that process. Sen. McConnell wants a bipartisan solution," said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart.
"Fast-tracking a major legislative overhaul such as health care reform or a new national energy tax without the benefit of a full and transparent debate does a disservice to the American people," said McConnell in a statement. "And it would make it absolutely clear they intend to carry out their plans on a purely partisan basis."
Ryan Grim is the author of the forthcoming book This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America
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