Boehner calls Obama health-care meeting a ‘charade,’ but says GOP will attend to prevent ‘infomercial’

Jon Ward Contributor
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House Minority Leader John Boehner on Tuesday called President Obama’s health-care meeting at the White House a “charade” and questioned its value, but said Republicans will participate to prevent the event from becoming an “infomercial” for the president.

“We shouldn’t let the White House have a six-hour, taxpayer-funded infomercial on Obama care. We need to show up and crash the party,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told House Republicans at a morning conference meeting.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, via his Twitter feed, that “what comes out of Thursday will be based on everyone’s willingness to discuss their own plans.”

The White House has called on Republicans to present a “consensus plan” in advance of the meeting Thursday, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told the Daily Caller Monday that there is no Democratic consensus plan.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the Thursday meeting will merely give a pretense of bipartisanship before Democrats try to move the bill they want through the Congress.

“It appears that the administration have already made up their mind to go forward with a beefed up Senate version and to try to jam it through under a seldom used process commonly referred to around here as reconciliation,” McConnell said.

He held up a graph showing polling numbers in opposition to and in support of Democrats’ health reform, and said 55 percent of Americans are against it and only 37 percent support it.

The use of reconciliation, McConnell said, “strikes me as a rather, really arrogant … effort to say to the American people, ‘We’re smarter than you are. We know you’ve followed this debate for six months, but we’re going to give you this anyway, and we’re going to use any parliamentary device available to jam it through a reluctant Congress.’”

The White House, however, has said that reconciliation will be a reasonable response if Republicans take “the extraordinary step of filibustering health reform.”

And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that Republicans used reconciliation all the time when they were in the majority.

“They’re the ones who used it more than anyone else,” he said, according to Talking Points Memo.

“Realistically, they should stop crying about this. It’s been done 21 times before,” he said.

Moments after McConnell and other Republican Senate leaders spoke, Sen. Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, stood in a back hallway nearby walking reporters through how reconciliation would work.

“I completely defer to the Speaker, in terms of what she can do and when she can do it, but if the process started with the passage of the Senate health care reform bill, and reconciliation in the House — where reconciliation has to originate — then it comes over here,” Durbin said.

Durbin said that getting the House to pass the Senate bill unchanged “would be a leap of faith in an agnostic community.” But the odds of getting the House to pass any comprehensive bill, even with reconciliation, are also extremely slim, as leaders of the conservative Democrat Blue Dog coalition have said.

Even Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said Tuesday that a comprehensive bill may not be possible.

“We may not be able to do all,” Hoyer said. “I hope we can do all, a comprehensive piece of legislation that will provide affordable, accessible, quality health care to all Americans.”

“But having said that, if we can’t, then you know me – if you can’t do a whole, doing part is also good. I mean there are a number of things I think we can agree on.”

A Boehner aide said the GOP will be “driving three main points” at the meeting:

1. Americans want us to scrap this massive job-killing bill and start over with a clean sheet of paper so we can work on step-by-step, common-sense reforms that lower health-care costs. Clearly, polls indicate Americans don’t want the Democrats’ bill, and they’d strongly prefer a more measured approach focused on lowering costs. That’s exactly what the GOP bill does, and CBO confirms it will lower health premiums by up to 10 percent. They also want their Congress focused on jobs, not this bill. So simply put, the American people are with is on this issue.

2. GOP reforms will lower the cost of Americans’ health care. As I already said, cost is the #1 issue in poll after health-care poll. Our solutions address the problem. The Democrats’ bill makes the problem worse, and that’s why every poll indicates why a majority of Americans oppose the Democrats’ bill. Again, the American people want lower costs, and that’s exactly what our bill does.

3. Ensure everyone understands this meeting is a charade because Dems simply plan on attempting to ram their own bill through the House and Senate no matter what is discussed at this “summit.” That is exactly what press reports indicate the Democrats are planning, and it’s just further proof that the White House and Dems never had any intention of working with Republicans in a bipartisan way on health care in the first place. The fact that Obama and Reid are all talking about the public option now and pushing it in reconciliation is a gift to us, and it further cements our case that this meeting is a charade. As a result, why is this meeting even necessary?

On the Senate side, Greg Sargent reports that a Republican aide has e-mailed him the following:

“We fundamentally disagree with a comprehensive proposal to reform health care. We think a step by step approach on areas where we agree is the best path forward. We will not be posting a comprehensive alternative to commence a staring contest.”

Boehner is keeping a close hold on the four “wild card” slots given to House Republicans for the meeting Thursday. He and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor will attend, as will Ways and Means Committee ranking member Dave Camp (MI), Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Joe Barton (TX), and Education and Labor Committee ranking member John Kline (MN).

But not even House GOP lawmakers who would be likely invitees to fill one of the four slots don’t know if they’re coming as of midday Tuesday. Boehner will likely make that public later Tuesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced late Tuesday which members from her caucus will take part in the meeting. Besides Pelosi, California Democrat, there will be Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn (SC), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (NY), Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (CA), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (CA), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Emeritus John Dingell (MI), Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (NY), Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus Xavier Becerra (CA), Rep. Rob Andrews (NJ), and Rep. Jim Cooper (TN).

Here is a list of Senate Democrats attending the meeting:

Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV), Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (IL), Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (NY), Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray (WA), Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (MT), Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (CT), HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (Iowa), Finance Subcommittee on Health Care Chairman Jay Rockefeller (WV), Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (ND).

And here are the Senate Republicans attending:

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), Minority Whip John Kyl (AR), Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (TN), Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa), HELP Committee ranking member Mike Enzi (Wyoming), Sen. John McCain (AR), and Sen. Tom Coburn (OK).

Here is the schedule for the summit as released by the White House. Gibbs said in Tuesday’s press briefing that Obama will be present for the entirety of the roughly 6-hour meeting.

1. Discussion:
a. The President will offer opening comments, followed by Republican and Democratic Members chosen by their colleagues.
b. They’ll then move to discussions around four themes:
i. Controlling costs – introduced by the President
ii. Insurance reforms – introduced by Secretary Sebelius
iii. Reducing the deficit – introduced by the Vice President
iv. Expanding coverage – introduced by the President

2. Logistics
a. Participants will be seated at tables in a hollow square setup. They’ll be identified with name cards.
b. There will be a leadership staff walk-through on Wednesday afternoon.

3. Timing
a. The meeting will begin at 10:00 am and run until about 4:00 pm.
b. There will be a break for lunch. Buffet lunch will be provided for guests.

A White House aide said Obama will moderate but that the session will be “pretty free-flowing.”