Obama spars with McCain on healthcare reform: 'We're not campaigning anymore'

The back-and-forth between the president and the man he defeated to win the White House in 2008 also underscored the unlikelihood that Obama and congressional Republicans will have a meeting of the minds at the six-hour summit.

As McCain criticized the legislative process Democrats used to write their bill as “unsavory,” citing the White House’s deals with the pharmaceutical and hospital industry and special Medicare and Medicaid funding favoring individual Democratic senators, Obama curtly interrupted. (Watch the VIDEO here)

“We’re not campaigning anymore. The election is over," Obama said.

McCain responded: “I’m reminded of that every day.”

In a morning dominated by well-worn talking points and wonky discussions, the moment pitting Obama versus the man he defeated to become president in 2008 reminded Republicans — and the public — that while Obama is willing to sit down with the GOP, he and his party are in charge.

Obama also cited presidential prerogative when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) complained that Democrats were dominating the discussion. Obama acknowledged McConnell’s observation but pointedly commented, “There was an imbalance on the opening statements because, well, I’m the president.”

Obama also took aim at House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who was wielding a printout of the 2,400-page Senate healthcare bill as he spoke. “These are the kinds of political things we do that prevent a conversation,” Obama said.

Coming into the much-anticipated summit meeting that Obama hopes will get his healthcare initiative back on track, the president pledged to keep an open mind while Republicans voiced skepticism that the event would be anything more than a dog-and-pony show.

“[What] I'm hoping to accomplish today is for everybody to focus not just on where we differ, but focus on where we agree, because there actually is some significant agreement on a host of issues,” Obama said.

The president and Democratic lawmakers focused their remarks on the contention that their legislation would provide sweeping new consumer protections for health insurance customers and expand insurance coverage. They also peppered their statements with personal anecdotes, including Obama’s recounting off the troubles his mother had with her insurance company as she was dying of cancer.

Republicans criticized the Democratic proposals as too big, too expensive and too much of an expansion of government and said the only way to achieve consensus is to start all over.

“We think to do that we have to start by taking the current bill and putting it on the shelf and starting from a clean sheet of paper,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.).

The GOP also hammered away at Democrats for the process they used to win House and Senate passage of legislation. They highlighted special deals offered to individual lawmakers and interest groups, and sought unsuccessfully to get Obama to disavow the Democratic plan to advance healthcare reform on a simple majority vote in the Senate via budget reconciliation rules.

Obama, seeking to draw attention away from the difficult yearlong debate, refused to be drawn into an argument about congressional process. “We can have a debate about process or we can have a debate about how we're actually going to help the American people at this point,” he said.