Health Care Summit: Breaking Updates, Latest News
1:10 PM ET -- Summit stopwatch. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) apparently is not the only one who is keeping track of the time allotted to each speaker at Thursday's health care summit. A White House official sends over the count that they have been keeping over the last two-plus hours of debate and discussion.
Here is the breakdown:
From 10:10 to 12:30:
POTUS: 41 minutes
DEMS: 51 minutes
GOPers: 46 minutes
1:00 PM ET -- Lunch break. The summit is in recess for a lunch break. From White House pool reporter Peter Urban of Gannett News Service:
As to lunch, the president is expected to walk back across Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. The invited guests will be provided lunch in another room. White House staff did not know the menu but pledged to find out what was being served.
12:30 PM ET -- The Obama-McCain spat. HuffPost's Sam Stein reports on the exchange between Sen. John McCain and President Obama:
After listening to a litany of complaints from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) about the lack of transparency and backroom dealing in the health care reform process, a noticeably displeased President Obama hit back with a chilly response.
Obama accused McCain of remaining in campaign mode and urged him to take the debate more seriously
"Let me just make this point, John, because we are not campaigning anymore," Obama said.
"I'm reminded of that every day," McCain shot back.
Read the full story and watch the video:
12:20 PM ET -- George Miller's TMI moment. While making a larger point about health care reform at today's summit, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) disclosed a personal health issue: the northern California Democrat has a kidney stone. Too much information?
12:20 ET -- For the record. The White House has released President Obama's complete opening statement from earlier this morning. Read it here.
12:15 PM ET -- White House tweets. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who recently joined Twitter and became an overnight must-follow, has been tweeting a few items about today's summit. He offers this tweet on the discussion about health care premiums:
Just to be clear - the CBO found that premiums go DOWN under health care reform http://bit.ly/7EmpEy #hcr
12:00 PM ET -- What do the experts think? Check out the HuffPost's live blog of expert reaction and analysis to today's health care summit. Here's an excerpt from a recent post by Jay Bhattacharya, Associate Professor of Medicine at Stanford University:
If there's one area where both Pres. Obama and the Republicans seem to agree is that one key route to reducing health care costs is to increase the amount of disease prevention. It is true that there are many worthwhile preventative care interventions that ought to be applied more widely (both among children and adults). The unfortunate fact is that, according to the health economics literature, even if we expanded prevention substantially and according to the best available evidence, total health care expenditures would not decrease and in many cases would increase.
11:58 AM ET -- McConnell complains. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) was a bit steamed an hour-and-a-half into Thursday's summit over what he felt was an imbalance of speaking time being given to Democrats.
"Mr. President," the Kentucky Republican said, "can I just interject one quick point here. Just in terms of trying to keep everything fair, which I know you want to do, to this point, the Republicans have had 24 minutes, the democrats, 52 minutes. Let's try to have as much balance as we can."
This suggests, quite clearly, that McConnell has assigned a staffer today to actually time the length of each person's speech. Which is a bit bizarre, though perhaps necessary. Even President Obama acknowledged that McConnell had a point - though he did so unapologetically.
"You're right," said Obama. "There as an imbalance on the opening statements because... I'm the president and I didn't count my time equally."
Watch the video:
11:45 AM ET -- Is Boehner out smoking? C-SPAN repeatedly showed the empty chair that belongs to Minority Leader John Boehner while Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) held court. He has since returned. Out smoking? A Boehner spokesman responded via email: "(shrug)"
11:00 AM ET -- Fact-checking Lamar. President Obama and the morning's lead Republican talker, Lamar Alexander, got into a spirited verbal brawl over whether the Democratic legislation would increase premiums for people without employer-based coverage.
The tussle between Obama and Alexander at the summit was a rehash of an argument that was litigated several months ago when the Congressional Budget Office reported that premiums in the individual market - which is about a tenth of the total market - would go up slightly.
In that sense, Alexander was right. But in the broader sense, he was wildly off.
The reason the premiums would go up is that people would have subsidies to purchase better coverage. In other words, they'd be paying more for a better plan than they pay now for a lousy plan. (This post from Ezra Klein in December lays it out clearly.)
But there's this crucial fact: the out-of-pocket cost for the premium would plummet, the CBO found, because of the subsidies. So people would in fact be paying much, much less for much better coverage, according to the CBO.
Watch the video of the exchange between Obama and Alexander:
10:50 AM ET -- More on Lamar. Per HuffPost's Sam Stein: The Republican Party's (surprise) opening speaker, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) used his allotted time to make a strong -- and largely misleading -- case against the use of reconciliation to pass health care legislation. In response, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scoffed at his rendering of history. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, refused to answer whether he would rule out using the parliamentary procedure as a way to get health care legislation to an up-or-down vote.
Speaking shortly after Obama's opening remarks, the Tennessee Republican offered a "suggestion" for Democrats about how to make the summit a "bipartisan and truly productive session":
"Renounce this idea of going back to the Congress and jamming [it] through on a partisan vote through a little-used process we call reconciliation," he said. "It's not appropriate to use [reconciliation] for 17 percent of the economy."
This is a bit misleading. Democrats are not proposing the use of reconciliation to pass the entire health care package. Rather, they seem poised to pass the Senate's version of reform through regular order (with the House voting on the exact bill) and then resorting to reconciliation to pass amendments to the legislation. This certainly would not encompass 17 percent of the economy. And it will only deal with budget and tax issues (which reconciliation is specifically designed to do).
But Alexander wasn't done there. After insisting that Democrats were trying to run the health care bill through the Senate like a "freight train," he recalled that, just a few years ago, the Democratic Party objected to Republican efforts to get an up-or-down vote for George W. Bush's judicial nominees.
Read the full story.
10:50 AM ET -- Lamar Alexander makes the GOP argument. The Republican line of argument, pressed by a very reasonable-sounding Lamar Alexander, seems to be that reconciliation is a radical step. But as Media Matters has documented, it's anything but that. From media matters:
The "nuclear option" was a term coined by Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) in reference to his proposed change to Senate rules that would have banned use of the filibuster for judicial nominations.
Reconciliation, on the other hand, requires no change to Senate rules since it has been used repeatedly over the years to pass major legislation -- notably to pass major pieces of health care reform legislation. Republicans themselves weren't quite so uncomfortable with the supposedly "dirty" process when they used it to pass President Bush's tax cuts -- multiple times.
10:36 AM ET -- Sen. Sanders weighs in. Here are his remarks from earlier this morning: "I think the president is wrong' on the public option. The Vermont Senator appeared on MSNBC this morning to deliver sharp criticism on Obama's failure to address the need for a public option in his own plan for health care reform. "I think it is a public mistake. I think the people, for all the right reasons, distrust private insurance companies. I think they want to look to a Medicare-type public option. I think they should have that choice."
Read the full story.
10:35 AM ET -- More from Obama's Opener. President Obama, in his opening remarks at the health care summit, played up the fact that the legislation being considered by Democrats in Congress actually has some overlap with Republican ideas and
proposals. But the main thrust of his speech was urging lawmakers not to use Thursday's forum as an opportunity to preen before the cameras and resort to the usual talking points (a rather tall order for those in attendance).
Here is a chunk of the president's remarks:
"[W]hat I'm going to do is I'm going to start off by saying, 'Here's some things we agree on,' and then let's talk about some areas where we disagree and see if we can bridge those gaps. I don't know that those gaps can be bridged, and it may be that at the end of the day we come out of here and everybody says, 'Well, we have some honest disagreements. People are sincere in wanting to help but they have got different ideas about how to do it and we can't bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans on this.'
But I'd like to make sure that this discussion is actually a discussion and not just us trading talking points. I hope that this isn't political fear, where we're just playing to the cameras and criticizing each other but instead are actually trying to solve the problem. That's what the American people are looking for. As controversial as the efforts to reform health care have been thus far, when you ask people should we move forward and try to reform the system, people still say yes. They still want to see change. And it strikes me that if we've got an open mind, if we're listening to each other, if we're not engaging in the tit for tat and trying to score political points during the next several hours, then we might be able to make some progress. And if not, then at least we will have better clarified for the American people what the debate is about."
10:30 AM ET -- Obama: 'I hope this isn't political theater.' The president ends his opening remarks at the health care summit.
9:59 AM ET -- Pool report: places, everyone. Pool reporter Peter Urban of Gannett News Service reports from the Garden Room of the Blair House:
Although it is the largest room in the Blair House, the assembled guests will be seated tightly elbow to elbow around a square of tables approximately 25 by 25 feet around. There is a distinctive chandelier suspended in the middle of the room. The president will be seated in front of a fireplace. The wall is decorated with a fresco painting in muted colors of an outdoor scene.
It is a small room with vaulted ceiling, distinctive chandelier. Windows were shuttered.
Name tags laid out for all the dignitaries, seated very closely to each other along tables formed into a square about 25 by 25 feet. Note pads and pencils provided to each, as well as a glass of water.
President will be seated in front of a fireplace.
Guests began arriving shortly after 9:30 a.m. with Reps. Henry Waxman and John Dingell among the first to take a seat. By 9:50 a.m. most had been seated. All the men wearing dark suits.
8:45 AM PM -- Boehner To White House: Start Over. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) took to AOL News on the eve of the health care summit calling on Obama to "start over." Boehner wrote:
Americans want Washington to scrap this job-killing government takeover of health care and start over with a step-by-step approach that will lower health care costs.
That's not the "Republican" view. It's is the view of the American people. They know the bill that is set to be rammed through Congress will cause their health care premiums to go up and the quality of their health care to go down. They're asking their elected leaders in Washington to stop and start over on reforms that reflect the realities families and small businesses face today.
Republicans have offered a commonsense plan squarely focused on lowering costs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has confirmed that it will lower premiums for families and small businesses by as much as 10 percent. All the details are available at HealthCare.GOP.gov.
For his part, President Obama comes to the table with the same massive government takeover of health care that the American people have already rejected. In effect, the president's proposal actually takes the 2,733-page bill that the Senate passed on Christmas Eve and manages to make it worse. Even more Medicare cuts. Even more tax hikes. Plenty of special-interest deals still in place. A trillion-dollar price tag.
-- RYAN GRIM
8:30 AM ET -- What 'Tort Reform' would really mean. The HuffPost's Shriram Harid takes a closer look at the implications of tort reform -- a proposal President Obama plans to float at Thursday's summit -- for the medical profession:
In a letter addressed to President Obama on Tuesday, the American Medical Association (AMA) maintained that tort reform would lower health care costs directly --by lowering insurance premiums, jury awards and administrative costs not covered by insurance-- and indirectly, by curbing the use of unwarranted tests and medical procedures to guard against lawsuits. Citing the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the AMA added that tort reform "would reduce federal budget deficits by about $54 billion during the 2010-2019 period."
What the association left out, however, was an earlier statement by the Congressional Budget Office putting that amount in context: Limiting malpractice payouts "would reduce total national health care spending by about 0.5 percent (about $11 billion in 2009)," :the office concluded in a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
Read the full story.
8:00 AM ET -- White House denies 'Plan B' report. The White House has pushed back against a report in the Wall Street Journal that President Obama is considering a scaled-back health care reform bill. According to the HuffPost's Sam Stein:
The Journal reported that "no final decisions had been made" with regards to the Plan B approach. But one administration official who spoke to HuffPost insisted that while a fallback option had been developed, it is not even on the administration's radar.
"This proposal was developed because the president wanted to know what the impact would be if he had to go small post-Massachusetts [Senate race]. It's not where we are," the official said.
"As you can tell from covering the news this week," the official added, "this is not the proposal we're pursuing."
Read the full story.
1:45 PM ET -- White House weighs in. Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform took part in a live online discussion about Obama's health care proposal.
Though support for passing the public option through reconciliation has been growing in Congress, Obama's proposed plan gave it no mention. The White House has maintained that they aren't confident that such a measure would receive enough votes to pass through Congress.
7:19 PM ET -- Expectation setting. Sam Stein reports on the importance and expectations of the upcoming bipartisan health care summit. Thursday's meeting may well prove a telling moment for the immediate future of health care reform.
The hope is that Obama can pull off a masterful performance that inspires his fellow Democrats. But no one -- not even the president's own press secretary -- is entirely sure if he has enough capital to work with.
5:18 PM ET -- The details. Sam Stein provides advance summit details released by the White House. Click here for a full breakdown of Thursday's bipartisan health care meeting.