Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Highlights from Obama's health care summit

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bipartisan talks focus on cost control, deficit reduction, insurance reform, expanding coverage
  • Obama hopes talks will resuscitate the stalled health care debate
  • Talks go for more than 7 hours

President Obama's bipartisan health care summit follows months of heated debate in which substance has often been drowned out by partisan rancor. CNN.com has full coverage of the talks.

(CNN) -- 5:21 p.m.: Summit adjourns

Click to read in chronological order

5:20 p.m.: "Politically speaking, there may not be any reason for Republicans to want to do anything," Obama says. "But, I thought it was worthwhile for us to make this effort."

Obama says there probably won't be another summit due to the time it requires, but says "we cannot have another year-long debate about this."

"The question that I'm going to ask myself and I ask of all of you is, 'Is there enough serious effort that in a months time or a few weeks time or six weeks time, we could actually decide something?' And if we can't, I think we've got to go ahead and make some decisions and then that's what elections are for."

5:18 p.m.: Obama says he put some things on the table that he doesn't necessarily support, but is willing to work on.

"I'd like the Republicans to do a little soul-searching and find out are there some things that you'd be willing to embrace that get to this core problem of 30 million people without health insurance and dealing seriously with the pre-existing condition issue."

5:09 p.m.: Obama says the most contentious issue is not only how to provide coverage for those who don't have it, but also how to provide coverage for people who have pre-existing condition and are being priced out of the market.

On that issue, Obama says, "I'm not sure if we can bridge the gap."

5:01 p.m.: Obama begins his closing remarks and says both sides agree there is a need for insurance market reforms, although there are some disagreements over the specifics.

Obama also says both sides also agree on some of the goals of a health care exchange.

On purchasing coverage across state lines, which some Republicans support, Obama says the basic idea is embodied in the House and Senate bills.

A majority of the members pulled out paper and in preparation to take notes when Obama said he would list what they agree and disagree on. It was an interesting moment because it happened all at once, like in a classroom. Their staffers did the same.

4:58 p.m.: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praises Republican Sen. Tom Coburn for his suggestions. Pelosi refutes Boehner's claim that the health care legislation calls for public funding of abortion.

She also denies Rep. Dave Camp's claim that Medicare cuts would cut benefits for seniors.

"Certain things are facts about our bills that I cannot let the opposite view stand when they are stated," she says.

4:36 p.m.: Six and a half hours into the debate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is at the same place he was when the debate started, recommending that lawmakers "start over with a blank piece of paper and go step by step to see what we can agree on."

4:28 p.m.: Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, says Republicans aren't "talking about incrementalism."

"We're talking about ... let's start over in the sense that we change the vision and work together to do the things that we agree upon, but do it in a way that doesn't destroy the fundamental market system that's made the American health care system the best in the world. If we do that, we can make a deal."

4:22 p.m.: Sen. Chris Dodd, D- Connecticut, says it's ironic that while everyone is entitled to a lawyer regardless of the charge, not everyone is entitled to a doctor.

Dodd says health care reform defies an "incremental approach."

"You can't get from one point to the next incrementally unless you deal with it holistically," he says.

Dodd had been trying to speak for a while. He waved at Obama a couple of times, and Sen. Tom Harkin pointed toward him, trying to get Obama to call on him.

4:12 p.m.: Obama says the question he would ask his Republican colleagues would be, "Are there areas of coverage for people who don't have health care that you would embrace and agree with beyond what has been presented in Republican leader Boehner's bill?"

4:10 p.m.: Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, tells Obama, "You're not going to be able to do this piecemeal.

"I have doubts about whether the Republicans are going to help you because I haven't heard a lot of willingness to come and work with you now, nor did I hear it a year ago," he says.

Obama replies,"I'm going to be equal opportunity here and say we're not making campaign speeches right now."

3:48 p.m.: Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois says he agrees with Boehner that the U.S. has the best health care in the world, but he says lawmakers need to put things in perspective.

"As was said many years ago, the law in its majestic equality forbids both the wealthy and the poor from sleeping under bridges. When it comes to the wealthy in health care, per capita, we're the wealthiest people in America.

"The federal employees' health benefit program, administered by the federal government, setting minimum standards for the health insurance that we enjoy as individuals and want for our families is all we are asking for in this bill for families across America," he says.

"If you think it's a socialist plot and it's wrong, for goodness sake, drop out of the federal employees health benefit program."

3:43 p.m.: The summit is still behind schedule. Obama says it's time to move on to the final topic: expanding coverage.

3:30 p.m.: Obama responds to Boehner: "Every so often we have a pretty good conversation trying to get on some specifics and then we go back to the standard talking points that Democrats and Republicans have had for the last year, and that doesn't drive us to an agreement on issues."

3:26 p.m.: House Minority Leader John Boehner says the current health care legislation will "bankrupt our country."

"We may have problems in our health care system, but we do have the best health care system in the world, by far. And having a government takeover of health care, and I truly believe that's what this is, is a dangerous experiment with the best health care system in the world that I don't think we should do," he says.

3:05 p.m.: Obama clarifies that cuts would apply to Medicare Advantage, an enhanced Medicare benefits program.

2:53 p.m.: Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, says the Senate bill is full of "gimmicks and smoke and mirrors" hiding its true cost.

Ryan says the bill has 10 years of tax increases with 10 years of Medicare cuts to pay for six years of spending. He also charges that the bill takes $52 billion in higher Social Security tax revenues and counts them as offsets. "Either we are double-counting them, or we don't intend on paying those Social Security benefits."

Ryan says the bill treats Medicare "like a piggybank."

2:44 p.m.: Vice President Joe Biden says the philosophical debate over whether health care should be mandated is similar to debate in the 1930s regarding Social Security.

He also says after being in Washington for 37 years, he's "reluctant ... to tell people what the American people think."

"I think it requires a little bit of humility to be able to know what the American people think, and I don't. I can't swear I do. I know what I think. I think I know what they think, but I'm not sure what they think," he says.

2:38 p.m.: Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, advocates for competition by allowing people to purchase insurance across state lines.

Obama says he supports the idea and he sees potential for resolving the philosophical differences.

"Once there was a national exchange with some minimum standards, then, potentially, you could just have a national marketplace, and anybody could be able to sell into the exchange," he says.

2:26 p.m.: Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia says "the health insurance industry is the shark that swims just below the water, and you don't see that shark until you feel the teeth of that shark."

Rockefeller says the health industry can do what it wants because there isn't any real competition.

2:01 p.m.: The summit reconvenes, continuing with the discussion on insurance reform. After that, lawmakers will address the deficit.

Obama acknowledges they are behind schedule. He says he hopes to wrap up by 4:15 p.m.

1:52 p.m.: Republican House Whip Eric Cantor tweeted during the break: We have a very difficult gap to bridge here. We just can't afford this. That's the ultimate problem.

1:50 p.m.: Lawmakers are starting to file back into the room. During the break, Obama says he thinks the morning discussion was "interesting."

"I mean, I don't know if it's interesting watching it on TV, but it's interesting being part of it," he says.

"I think we're establishing that there are actually some areas of real agreement and we're starting to focus on what the real disagreements are. ...The argument that Republicans are making really isn't that this is a government takeover of health care, but rather that we're insuring the -- or we're regulating the insurance market too much."

1:01 p.m.-1:08 p.m.: While lawmakers broke for lunch, CNN's political team talked about the first half of the summit.

CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley: "[Obama] has seemed at times irritated, but he's given everybody, each side, a chance and everybody's getting their points across. If you want to know why the two sides are unable to come to an agreement, you will learn that today. If you're watching this waiting for them to say, 'Oh, good, let's put that in!' you're not going to get that.

"If the president had had this discussion nine months ago, it would have been more effective than having it now, particularly since if they come out of here and say, 'We can't come to an agreement,' they are going to have to pass it no matter what."

Key players in the health care debate
Video: A spirited health care summit
Video: Why White House summit matters
Video: Summit antics
RELATED TOPICS

CNN Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger: "The Democrats believe that it's very good for you to hear the president saying, 'We agree on this, this, this, and this with Republicans,' because then -- when the Democrats go back to Congress and decide to push their bill through, through the budget process with a majority vote, if they can get it in both houses, they can say, 'We tried to incorporate, we incorporated the things we agreed on and they still didn't vote for it, 'then they pass it and then they move on to jobs."

CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen: "I know the Democrats went into this thinking , 'We'll just keep giving the ball to Obama and he'll run down the field as he did in Baltimore [when he met with Republican lawmakers at their retreat]. That was sort of the game plan going in -- [Democrats] won't say very much but he clearly should get some reinforcements in order to even this thing up. This is like halftime, going into the locker room and do you need to change your game plan?

CNN Chief National Correspondent John King : "[Obama] is boxed in a little bit in the sense that the Democrats have decided that to bend the cost curve, to do some of the other access things they want to do, you need the sweeping comprehensive bill. And so in the room there, he could change the terms of the debate by saying, 'OK I will break it into pieces.' And there are some at the White House who think that would have been the preferred approach at the beginning -- to build goodwill . But then they had the big huge glaring flashing light, but you can't deal with the cost.

You can't bend that cost curve unless you deal with those issues. And they think if they do pre-existing conditions, and they do some accessibility, maybe the tort reform, and then they say now we have to do the hard part on costs, the Republicans will say no way. So they say it has to stay in one big bill. So it's hard to negotiate when you won't give up your main strategy, which is it has to be big."

CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley: "I think that one of the things the president has done very effectively -- and let's remember the larger audience, OK, so beyond the substance, what does the president need? What do independents hate? They hate it when people bicker, they hate it when they get so political. So every time a point comes up, how many times has he said , 'We've got to get beyond the politics of this.' And that's a big neon sign -- 'They're being political, I'm trying to find something. ' "

12:57 p.m.: Obama calls for a break until 1:45 p.m.

12:55 p.m.: CNN senior political analyst David Gergen says this is "the best conversation we've had about health care during the entire past year."

"It's extremely interesting, it's revealing of different positions, it shows the deep philosophical divides. We sometimes cannot get things passed on these big bills because there are these deep philosophical divides, and it's important for the country to understand that."

12:53 p.m.: CNN's Joe Johns says the health care summit so far has been "two steps forward, one step back."

"This is a kind of a different dynamic going that's on in this room right now. The Republicans and the Democrats getting away now from sort of their talking points that we hear so much on Capitol Hill, from time to time to actually sort of really talk turkey with the president, and then both sides will drift back into the traditional things that they say to get a sound bite."

12:43 p.m.: Obama calls out Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, for bringing "props" to the summit. Cantor has a sizeable stack of papers and legislation in front of him.

12:30 p.m.: Sen. John McCain slams the special deals inserted in the Senate health care bill, saying those should be removed so that the American people will know "that geography does not dictate what kind of health care they will receive."

Obama shoots back, "Let me just make this point, John, because we're not campaigning anymore. The election is over."

McCain interjects, "I'm reminded of that every day."

12:29 p.m.: From CNN's Dan Lothian, who is serving as pool reporter: Real time fact checking is going on as aides and lawmakers pass notes, exchange BlackBerrys and whisper as claims are made.

12:21 p.m.: Sen. George Miller, D-California, gets a laugh from his colleagues when he uses himself as an example of being excluded from insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions:

"I sit here with 2 artificial hips, a little bit of arthritis, and I have a kidney stone. I'm dead in that insurance market if I have to switch policies or switch companies or want to look for another chance.

"Now, why should that be? Those hip replacements have been with me for 15 years and I have no trouble. But it's a way of denying me care."

12:19 p.m.: Rep. Anh Cao, R-Louisiana, tells CNN the differences between the two parties is "vast."

"I hope that at the end of the day we can come up with a reform package, but the gap between the two parties are just too vast for us to bridge."

Cao says he can't vote for the proposal the president is pushing because it contains federal funds for abortion: "I strongly believe that the health care vote in the House will depend on the abortion language. At this point, there are about 12 pro-life members who will not vote for the bill because of the present abortion language that is being proposed. Unless that language is changed, we cannot support the bill."

12:18 p.m.: Obama again reminds lawmakers to stick to the time limits.

"I don't know if any of us were told of what the time limits are," Sen. Max Baucus says.

Obama says he's trying to be flexible, but with a half-hour left on the current section, he says everyone needs to keep their points brief.

12:15 p.m: CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta: "For the most part, it's been pretty civil, but it's also been unyielding. It's sort of the core issue which has been raised a couple of times now about who do you trust?

That's what Sen. Kyl brought up and President Obama addressed: Do you trust government or the private sector more? Do you trust the state government or the feds more? Do you trust your doctor more or do you trust government to be able to help manage your health care?"

12:11 p.m.: Obama lists details that he believes both Republicans and Democrats agree on. Some examples include extending dependent coverage up to a certain age as well as ensuring no annual or lifetime limits. He also contends that both the left and right agree philosophically about ending the prohibition on pre-existing conditions, though there are many different ideas on how to make that work.

12:08 p.m.: Sen. Jon Kyl sums up the "fundamental difference" being debated. "Does Washington know best about the coverage people should have, or should people have that choice themselves?"

Obama says phrasing a question with "does Washington know better" is tipping the scales a bit "since we all know that everybody is angry at Washington right now."

Obama says the underlying question is, "Do we want to make sure that people have a baseline of protection?"

11:54 a.m.: Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, says Republicans would rather start tackling health care reform a piece at a time instead of "by having to raise a lot of money in order to pay the high cost of this bill."

11:45 a.m.: President Obama focuses in on the proposed health care exchanges and the criticism that the House and Senate bills would lead to a government takeover of health care. Health insurance exchanges would be created to make it easier for small businesses, the self-employed and unemployed to pool resources and purchase less expensive coverage.

"The principle of pooling is at the center of both the House and Senate bill," he says.

"The reason I am pointing this out is that there was a lot of talk about government takeover of health care and the implication, I think, was that everyone was going to have to sign up for a government health care plan. That's not the issue. What the issue here, which we've had an honest disagreement about, is how much should government set a baseline vs. just letting people decide that, 'I can't really get decent insurance. Maybe this is better than nothing.' And that's a legitimate argument."

11:40 a.m.: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says that up until this point, Republicans have used 24 minutes while Democrats have used 52 minutes.

"Let's try to have as much balance as we can," he says.

Obama replies, "I'm just going back and forth here, Mitch."

11:31 a.m.: "The main point is, we basically agree. There's a not a lot of difference here," Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, says. "There's opportunity for us to work out some of these differences."

11:27 a.m.: From CNN contributor John Avlon: Maybe I'm not cynical enough, but these talks so far seem civil and substantive -- a real education for the American people.

And it's a reminder that people can achieve more when they sit across the same table and talk rather than when they fire off press releases demonizing the opposition.

It's striking to me -- and hopefully to the people in the room -- how much they agree. There is a lot of common ground on specifics -- it's a combination of philosophy and partisan politics that's keeping them apart. One thing is clear -- the American people would be well-served by having more of these bipartisan policy summits.

11:26 a.m.: CNN Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger: It's sort of same old -same old from the Democratic side. The Republicans kind of shook things up a bit by putting Lamar Alexander out there. I think he's a folksy, different voice that people hear. I think President Obama is really carrying the load here for the Democratic Party right now -- not the Democratic leaders. They are so partisan. Obama is much more reasonable when dealing with the Republicans.

11:24 a.m.: From CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen: President Obama came as expected -- masterfully and very good at this. The Republican response has been that they have met him at his level and took him on. I think it's a pretty even score now -- the other Democrats are sort of fading.

11:14 a.m.: From CNN contributor John Avlon: Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, is sometimes called "Dr. No" -- he's a small-government conservative and a practicing physician.

At the outset of the summit, President Obama gave him a hug -- these apparent political opposites actually co-sponsored a bill together when Obama was in the Senate, a transparency bill known as "Google for Government."

Coburn focused his remarks on the costs of medical malpractice reforms and waste, fraud and abuse in Medicaid. It's a doctor's perspective that is worth taking into account. I've personally never understood why health care reform isn't framed as a bill who substance was determined by doctors. People trust their personal physician a lot more than their congressman.

11:06 a.m.: From CNN contributor John Avlon: Let's boil down some of the wonk: Republicans have advocated a step-by-step approach to health care reform. Some of their specifics -- medical malpractice reform and purchasing insurance across state lines -- would make powerful, substantive pickups that the Democrats should adopt.

It may anger liberal constituencies like trial lawyers, but that's precisely why it would send a substantive centrist message to independent voters. But the core idea of a market exchange to pool insurance purchases -- through private or co-op mechanisms rather than a new government bureaucracy -- is an idea that should appeal to Republicans. Reflexive opposition to it indicates that politics is trumping policy.

11:02 a.m.: Obama and Sen. Lamar Alexander get in a tense exchange over whether the president's health care plan would increase premiums.

Obama says he'd like to get the issue settled about whether premiums are reduced "before today, because I'm pretty certain I'm not wrong."

11:02 a.m.: From CNN's Dana Bash: E-mail from a GOP aide as Reid is talking -- "Wow.. Dems decided the best way to open this summit is to choose the two least popular politicians in their party to speak."

10:57 a.m.: Several lawmakers jump after a loud bang. It's just the pool reporters departing (and the door slamming).

The clock above the fireplace appears broken. It's stuck at 4:00, which happens to be when the summit ends.

10:55 a.m.: From CNN contributor John Avlon: Washington considers this summit nothing more than political theater, but independent voters expect more.

They want to see more than photo-op bipartisanship -- they want to see substance, civility and accountability, a constructive give and take.

President Obama's opening remarks aimed for both the head and heart. He was careful to lay out expectations in a way that connected with independents, challenging the assembled congressmen to "not just trade talking points."

He spoke about his family's experience with health care. The challenge is for the president to define the common ground and then encourage the Congressional leaders to build on it.

That doesn't mean starting from a blank sheet of paper, as Sen. Lamar Alexander demanded -- but he was right in pointing out that historically major pieces of social legislation have passed with bipartisan margins and were build that way from the beginning.

10:52 a.m.: Obama says all of the speakers so far have gone over their allotted time, including him. He encourages everyone to "be more disciplined" going ahead.

10:50 a.m.: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says "no one is talking about reconciliation."

"The bill on the floor that my friend Lamar [Alexander] is lamenting here has significant input from the Republicans," he says.

Reid says Republicans have a right to oppose the current legislation, but they also have a responsibility to "propose ideas for making it better."

10:45 a.m.: From CNN's Dana Bash: Sen. Lamar Alexander has a relatively low profile on the Hill despite his big title: chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. This is like the old Lamar Alexander from the presidential campaign trail. Alexander pursued the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 and 2000.

10:43 a.m.: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quotes the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, saying, "Health care is a right, not a privilege."

10:38 a.m.: CNN's Dana Bash points out Republicans have started sending out e-mail challenging Obama's and Pelosi's remarks: "Like a campaign event or debate, partisan opposition research/fact-checkers are up and running."

10:32 a.m.: Sen. Lamar Alexander seems to be laying out the Republican ground rules -- start over and stay away from reconciliation.

Reconciliation is a process that bypasses the Senate rule of 60 votes being needed to end debate. By using it, only a majority vote would be needed to advance a bill. Republicans have warned of severe political consequences if Democrats go that route.

10:24 a.m.: Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, says Obama's plan is too much like the Senate plan. He recommends taking the current bill and "putting it on the shelf and starting from a clean sheet of paper."

Sen. Christopher Dodd, a key author of the Senate health care bill, told reporters Wednesday that if Republicans continue to demand that Democrats scrap their health care proposals and start over, "then there's nothing to talk about."

10:19 a.m.: Obama says he doesn't know if all of the gaps can be bridged.

"But I'd like to make sure that this discussion is actually a discussion, and not just us trading talking points."

10:17 a.m.: Obama says he has looked at the various health care plans out there. "There is overlap. It's not perfect overlap, it's not 100 percent overlap, but there's some overlap."

Obama says he thinks the health care plan he released Monday is "the best blend of the House and the Senate legislation that's already passed."

10:12 a.m.: Obama is delivering opening remarks. The summit has four themes: cost control, deficit reduction, insurance reform and expanding coverage.

10:04 a.m.: President Obama walks into the Garden Room of the Blair House.

9:50 a.m.: Lawmakers are taking their seats at the Blair House, site of Thursday's health care summit. The house, which is the official guest house of the president, has been the scene of historic moments that go far beyond a diplomatic hotel.

Related: Health care summit site already a part of presidential history

9:47 a.m.: CNN's Ed Henry reports: The administration's new goal for passing the final health care legislation is by Friday, March 26, three top Democratic sources tell CNN. If Congress misses the deadline, lawmakers will have to move back to other issues like job creation and unfinished spending bills.

The new deadline adds more pressure to the White House negotiations because it gives the president only one month after Thursday's summit to get a final package completed or else he will risk seeing his signature domestic issue go down in flames.

9:36 a.m.: From CNN's Dan Lothian, who is serving as pool reporter: At the president's seat is a small clock. Each setting has a Blair House notepad, pencil and napkin. At House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's seat, there is a black notebook and two pens.

9:35 a.m.: A source in the Congressional Republican leadership tells CNN they are not inviting an additional party member to today's health care summit, rejecting a late offer by the White House to include another Republican and underscoring the animosity which built in the day before the summit. This, after officials in the Obama administration invited an additional Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and an additional Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, CNN Radio's Lisa Desjardins reports.

Republicans are furious, saying the White House insisted there was no more room at the summit for any members or staff. Wyden is expected to attend. As CNN's Dana Bash reported, Snowe declined, citing party protocol.

7:30 a.m.: Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas tells CNN the health care summit "is about theater. This is not about substance, unfortunately." Cornyn is not attending the summit.

Cornyn: 'This is about theater' Video

7:15 a.m.: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says "we're very close to health care reform for the American people." Asked he thinks Obama should have presented a plan earlier in the debate, Gibbs tells CNN's American Morning that this administration has gotten health care reform farther than it's been in seven decades. "I'm not going to second guess the process that's gotten us this close," he says.

Complete coverage on the health care debate

CNN's Kristi Keck, John Helton and David DeSola contributed to this report.

 
Quick Job Search