- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 9, 2010

President Obama on Tuesday said he is open to working with Republicans on a health care reform deal but said he is unwilling to start the legislative process over from scratch, instead arguing that on health care and much of his agenda the GOP minority is going to have to accept some ideas it does not like.

In an abbreviated, unannounced press conference — his first since July — Mr. Obama told reporters in the White House briefing room that he was willing to listen to Republican ideas and that he’s already taken steps by proposing cooperation on nuclear energy and expanded drilling for oil and gas. But the president said bipartisanship will require Republicans to swallow some bitter pills.

On health care in particular, Mr. Obama said he will accept ideas at the upcoming half-day summit later this month but doesn’t want to scrap the months of negotiations, hearings and deals that have already produced bills that passed the House and Senate late last year.

“What I will not do, what I don’t think makes sense and I don’t think the American people want to see, would be another year of partisan wrangling around these issues, another six months’ or eight months’ or nine months’ worth of hearings in every single committee in the House and the Senate in which there’s a lot of posturing,” he said.

GOP skeptical of Obama’s health care summit

After meeting with Mr. Obama this morning in a bipartisan meeting of ways to boost jobs, Republicans said they were wary of the Feb. 25 health care summit and said they’re looking for assurances Mr. Obama will include state and business officials who also will be affected by the proposed overhaul. They also pushed Mr. Obama not to try to revive the health care bills Democrats had been working on, saying those measures had been rejected by voters.

“It is in the interest of the minority in the Congress to reach out, and we have continued to. But what we want to say is this: We’re not interested in a dog-and-pony show to trumpet failed bills that, in fact, the Democrats can’t even pass right now. We’re not interested in that because the American people aren’t, either,” House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said.

Mr. Obama acknowledged that Americans have “soured” on the health care reform effort, but he said that was more a result of the messy negotiating process in Congress than the substance of the Senate and House bills.

“The public has soured on the process that they saw over the last year. I think that actually contaminates how they view the substance of the bill,” Mr. Obama said. “I think it’s important for all of these issues to be aired, so that people have confidence if we’re moving forward on such a significant part of the economy as health care, that there is complete transparency and all of these issues have been adequately vetted and adequately debated.”

Mr. Obama also attacked what he described as inaccurate portrayals of bipartisanship.

“Bipartisanship can’t be that I agree to all of the things that they believe in or want and they agree to none of the things I believe in or want, and that’s the price of bipartisanship, right? But that’s sometimes the way it gets presented,” he said.

The pressure has been on the Democrats to reach out to Republicans — who have opposed just about every major piece of Mr. Obama’s agenda — now that Democrats no longer have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Mr. Obama’s announcement Sunday of a televised, bipartisan summit on Feb. 25 is his first major attempt to revive the health care effort, which has stalled after Republican Sen. Scott Brown’s victory in last month’s Massachusetts special election.

Mr. Obama said he hopes the meeting “doesn’t end up being political theater,” but didn’t directly address concerns expressed by House Republicans over who else will be invited.

“Let’s establish some common facts. Let’s establish what the issues are, what the problems are, and let’s test out in front of the American people what ideas work and what ideas don’t. And, you know, if we can establish that factual accuracy about how different approaches would work, then I think we can make some progress,” he said.

Mr. Obama said the two parties may find common ground in another area ahead of the health care summit — jobs. He said Republicans could support parts of the jobs bill now being negotiated on Capitol Hill including the elimination of capital gains taxes for small businesses.

“I think that it’s realistic for us to get a package moving quickly that may not include all the things I think need to be done, and it may be that that first package builds some trust and confidence that Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill can work together, and then we move on to the next aspect of the package, and so forth,” he said.

In recent weeks, Mr. Obama has laid out several proposals he’d like to see in the jobs bill, including a new $30 billion fund to encourage community banks to lend to small businesses and a tax credit for firms that hire new workers. The House passed a $154 billion package in December and the Senate is currently putting together its own version.

Republicans, who continue to blast last year’s $787 billion stimulus package as ineffective, have attacked additional spending and the idea of using money from the Wall Street bailout to fund the jobs programs, which Mr. Obama hopes to do.

The president also took an opportunity to plug legislation that would overhaul the financial regulatory system, which also passed the House but has stalled in the Senate.

“The kind of certainty they need is for us to go ahead and agree on a bipartisan effort to put some rules of the road in place so that consumers are protected in the financial markets, so that we don’t have banks that are too big to fail, that we have ways of winding them down and protecting the overall system without taxpayer bailouts,” he said. “The sooner the business community has a sense that we’ve got our act together here in Washington and can move forward on big, serious issues in a substantive way, without a lot of posturing and partisan wrangling, I think the better off the entire country’s going to be.”

Asked about the news that Iran’s Islamic regime is planning to enrich more uranium despite fears of its suspected nuclear weapons programs, Mr. Obama said his administration has “bent over backwards” to solve the crisis diplomatically and is now working on a series of tougher international sanctions.

“We have bent over backwards to say to the Islamic Republic of Iran that we are willing to have a constructive conversation about how they can align themselves with international norms and rules and re-enter as full members of the international community,” the president said. “They have made their choice so far, although the door is still open.”

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