President Obama has cut off communication with Republican leaders, going more than four months without hosting the bipartisan congressional leadership at the White House to discuss his health care proposal, the No. 2 Republican in the House said Wednesday.
Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, told The Washington Times that health care reform has been an “utter disaster” for Mr. Obama and predicted if he pushes through a public option as part of a final bill, Republicans will win back at least one chamber of Congress in the 2010 elections.
Mr. Cantor said Mr. Obama initially asked for Republican help on health care, but Republicans have heard nothing since they offered their ideas.
“No matter what the cry is from the White House, no matter what the president claims, they have not engaged with us,” he said.
“The White House at this point has shut down, as far as any kind of engagement. I think that the last time that we as a Republican leadership were at the White House was in May, and that’s when they called us in at the beginning of the health care discussion so that they could get our ideas,” Mr. Cantor said. “The president enlisted us and said we want your ideas. [Minority Leader John A.] Boehner and I sent a letter to the White House in response to that request. Nothing.”
The White House disputed Mr. Cantor’s assertion, saying that just last week, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius invited Rep. Tom Price and the Republican Study Committee to sit down and discuss the proposal.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Republicans are welcome to join the discussion - if they offer a comprehensive plan of their own.
“We’d be happy to evaluate their comprehensive proposal to provide health care reform to the American people. If you want to get it from them, I’ll be happy to take it over to [legislative] affairs,” Mr. Gibbs said.
Mr. Gibbs also said Republicans could take advantage of “a series of two-way streets between here and Capitol Hill” if they want to be constructive.
Mr. Obama has courted some Senate Republicans on health care - Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, in particular - though so far he has not secured any guarantees of Senate Republicans’ support.
Officials on both sides jockeyed Wednesday to create the impression that it was the other party that was stonewalling progress. Where they agreed is that there has been no meaningful exchange.
A spokesman for Mr. Price acknowledged that he had received the invitation from the health secretary, but said the Oct. 7 meeting was the result of repeated requests to meet with the president about the Republicans’ health care bill.
Nonetheless, Mr. Cantor said, there are areas of agreement that both sides should be able to work on, including coverage for major pre-existing conditions, portability of insurance when workers change jobs, and changes to medical-malpractice laws. But he said Mr. Obama needs to reject the public option and reset the debate to take advantage of bipartisan opportunities.
Mr. Cantor said the president came into office with plenty of political capital, but spent it on the $787 billion economic stimulus bill and on getting a global-warming bill passed in the House early this summer. He said Mr. Obama got no return on those investments of political capital, and said the president is now running on empty.
He said Mr. Obama at times has appeared to be “outsourcing” his leadership role on legislative matters to liberal congressional leaders in his party, and he challenged the president “to step up and show leadership on this.”
Mr. Cantor said he hopes a bipartisan bill is possible this year, but added that lies in Democrats’ hands.
On Republicans’ future, the congressman said they have not yet done enough work on issues like spending to convince voters they’re ready to lead.
“Yes, I believe that out-of-control spending contributed to our losing the majority. Yes, I believe that we’ve made progress on that issue, but no, I don’t believe we’re there yet,” he said.
On the bipartisan leadership meetings, Mr. Obama did hold some earlier in the year. And Mr. Cantor said the president did ask for Republican ideas on the stimulus bill.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office confirmed that the last bipartisan, bicameral meeting at the White House was May 13.
Some have argued the meetings may be of little use anyway. That was the view then-Minority Leader Harry Reid took in 2005 toward his meetings with President Bush.
Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the president was always on time, but spent about 50 minutes talking about his own views and leaving the others a few minutes at the end to pose questions or make comments.
“I guess what I’m saying is, he gives us a lecture,” Mr. Reid told reporters in 2005.