By Molly K. Hooper - 09/20/09 04:16 PM EDT
House Republicans are feeling no love from President Barack Obama in the debate over healthcare – and Democrats want them to quit complaining.
The White House has refused to schedule meetings with Obama and a handful of GOP lawmakers who RSVP’d to his blanket invitation to sit down one-on-one with any member of Congress to discuss his landmark legislation.
“They are irredeemably opposed, ideologically dug in; they’ve already made it clear that they have no interest in this,” Frank said.
For its part, the White House is quick to point out that throughout this process the president has met and spoken with key Republicans to get their ideas and input, including, among others, GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine), Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Bob Bennett (Utah).
In fact, Bennett had an audience with the president last week to discuss a bill that he co-sponsored with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.).
But Obama needs the support of at least one or two Senate Republicans to pass his healthcare package with 60 votes in order to avoid resorting to a technical maneuver that would only require 51 votes – but would likely have significant negative ramifications for his future agenda items.
The president has regularly called Snowe, hoping she'll provide the support he needs in order to pass a final package out of the upper chamber. On Tuesday, Snowe said she could not back the Finance Committee’s bill.
Still, the president on several occasions has extended a blanket offer to meet one-on-one with any lawmaker, in order to assuage concerns about the ramifications of his mammoth overhaul plan and listen to diverse ideas for improving it.
“If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open,” Obama said to a Joint Session of Congress on Sept. 9. In late July he told participants of a townhall meeting in Raleigh, N.C., that he would “be available” to “go over line-by-line what’s going on (with the bill)” to any lawmaker with questions or concerns.
On Thursday GOP Reps. David Roe (Tenn.), Bill Cassidy (La.), Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Steve Scalise (La.) and Tom Price (Ga.), all of whom have repeatedly attempted to take Obama up on his offer, sent a joint letter to the president asking to sit down with them as a group if he doesn’t have time to do so on a one-by-one basis, “in an effort to accommmodate (Obama’s) schedule.”
Roe, Cassidy and Price practiced medicine for decades before being elected to the House.
“I think it is absolutely appropriate to take someone like myself, who has had 30-plus years' experience in healthcare in the real world, not in some think tank but in seeing patients every day, going to the emergency room to see uninsured people at 3 a.m. He needs to hear this from someone who has had feet on the ground and seen the problems with this,” Roe said, noting that on the day after formally asking to meet with the president, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told him he would personally make sure “to get that done.”
A top House Democrat said that the president doesn’t have time to sit down with 535 members of Congress, despite his promise to do so – especially with the 178-strong GOP conference that he believes will ultimately oppose whatever plan Democrats put forward.
Hawaii’s liberal Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie said that the Republicans need to grow up.
“Open door doesn’t mean you walk through it. What it means is: send the ideas up to him – that’s what I’m doing. Do you hear me complaining?” Abercrombie told The Hill on Thursday afternoon.
GOP Rep. Michael Burgess (Texas), who also requested to sit down with the president and has attempted to work with the White House on healthcare reform as early as December 2008, did send a packet of suggestions to the administration on Thursday.
But again, the White House hasn’t scheduled a meeting with Dr. Burgess.
Only one House Republican has made headway in his effort to talk to Obama. GOP Rep. Joseph Cao (La.), the Democrats' top target in 2010 as 70 percent of his district voted for Obama in the election, is considering voting for the president’s bill.
Obama’s healthcare czar Nancy Ann DeParle has held several lengthy meetings with Cao.
“Cao was able to express concerns in some areas and attempt to get more clarification in others,” a source privy to the discussions said. “The White House seems to understand that there are some unclear parts of the bill, and they really seem to genuinely want to reach conclusions.”
Constituents in the majority-minority district share a number of concerns that Cao explained: “Whether the bill is going to be fiscally neutral, how the proposed cuts will impact the elderly and the poor – whether or not there will be tort reform, whether or not the public option is the right way to be approaching this.”
At this point it is unclear whether Obama will meet with Cao face-to-face, but the Louisiana lawmaker, who won his race by a whisker against then-indicted, now-convicted former Rep. William Jefferson (D), said that if he pressed the issue a meeting would probably happen.