By Sam Youngman and Jeffrey Young - 02/25/10 11:24 PM EST
President Barack Obama closed Wednesday’s healthcare summit by stating his willingness to use controversial rules to pass healthcare with a simple majority vote.
Obama insisted at the highly-anticipated healthcare summit aimed at bringing the parties together that he hoped to win Republican support. But in the end, he made it clear that he intends to move forward with or without the GOP.
Obama put Republicans on notice that he is not willing to start over again, as they demanded, on a healthcare reform debate that dominated much of the last year.
He added that he is open to waiting only a few weeks for the GOP to change its political tack and support healthcare reform.
“I think the concern that a lot of the colleagues in the House and the Senate on the Democratic side have is that after a year and a half of dealing with this issue, they suspect that starting over means not doing much,” Obama said at the close of a day-long bipartisan healthcare reform summit he hosted at Blair House.
“Politically speaking, there may not be any reasons for Republicans wanting to do anything.”
Not surprisingly, Republicans evinced little interest in moving in Obama's direction. "What we think they ought to do is start over and go step by step and target possible areas of agreement talked about in the meeting today," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The GOP cited polls showing public opinion is against the Democratic bills, and repeatedly asked Obama to disavow use of budget reconciliation rules to move a final bill through the Senate with a simple majority vote.
The rules have been used in the past, including by a Republican Congress to approve tax cuts favored by President George W. Bush. But Republicans insist they should not be used for healthcare reform given the size and importance of the legislation.
In the end, Obama maintained, he and Democrats would act and leave it to voters to decide whether they had acted wisely. “That’s what elections are for,” he said.
He also argued that the public cares more about what Congress does than how it does it.
“I think the American people aren't always all that interested in procedures inside the Senate,” Obama said. “I do think that they want a vote on how we’re going to move this vote. And I think most Americans think a majority vote makes sense.”
At the same time, Obama attempted to distance himself from the inner workings of Congress, saying that it was up to House and Senate leaders from both parties to decide their next steps.
Congressional Democratic leaders declared afterward they were ready to go. “The fact is that we're going to move forward,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
“Time is of the essence. The American people waited five decades for this, and we are going to do this,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Little new ground was covered throughout the more than seven-hour summit, which stretched an hour past its scheduled end.
Republicans and Democrats alike stuck to well-worn talking points as the day wore on.
The GOP continued to assail Obama's proposal for its cost and size, repeatedly asking the president to "scrap the bill" and start over.
That strategy was clearly a non-starter with Obama and his Democratic allies, as they also rejected pleas from Republicans to promise to abandon efforts to pass the bill through reconciliation.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was reminded earlier in the day by the president that the election between them was over, warned Obama that bypassing the filibuster rules could "cause great harm" to both the Senate as the institution and the country as a whole.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also decried the tactic, pointing to polling that indicates Americans are overwhelming opposed to reconciliation.
Democrats were largely successful in keeping the discussion on process to a minimum, even as Republicans repeatedly brought it up.
As the discussion ended, the president thanked the participants for their “civil tone.” The back-and-forth was marred by few interruptions and virtually no partisan fireworks.
Neither side appeared willing to give, but many Democrats offered that the two parties are not far away from reaching an agreement.
Republicans indicated that their skepticism about the summit had been justified. "I just don't think the president was listening even though he invited us to listen to our ideas," said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).
Michael O’Brien and Jordan Fabian contributed to this article