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Reaching Across the Aisle on Jobs and Health Reform

During a surprise appearance at the daily press briefing, the President discusses bipartisan meetings on the economy and health reform.

UPDATE: Read the invitation sent out for the bipartisan health reform meeting, as well as the invite list.


Following up on the unique conversation the President held with House Republicans at their retreat, the President invited bipartisan leadership from Congress to the White House to discuss job creation and the economy.  Making a surprise appearance at the daily press briefing afterwards, the President relayed some thoughts on the meeting:

THE PRESIDENT:  ...And at this critical time in our country, the people sent us here expect a seriousness of purpose that transcends petty politics.  That's why I'm going to continue to seek the best ideas from either party as we work to tackle the pressing challenges ahead.  I am confident, for example, that when one in 10 of our fellow citizens can't work, we should be able to come together and help business create more jobs.  We ought to be able to agree on providing small businesses with additional tax credits and much needed lines of credit.  We ought to agree on investments in crumbling roads and bridges, and we should agree on tax breaks for making homes more energy-efficient -- all of which will put more Americans to work.  Many of the job proposals that I've laid out have passed the House and are soon going to be debated in the Senate.  We spent a lot of time in this meeting discussing a jobs package and how we could move forward on that.  And if there are additional ideas, I will consider them as well.  What I won't consider is doing nothing in the face of a lot of hardship across the country.

This meeting was also in advance of a bipartisan summit on health reform that the President convened for February 25th.  This meeting has already garnered significant attention, with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs making clear that while the meeting is very much about inviting valuable ideas from Republicans, it is by no means about backing away from the challenges facing the American people.  The President laid out his expectations for a constructive conversation:

Q    After meeting with you, John Boehner came out and told us, "The House can't pass the health care bill it once passed; the Senate can't pass the health care bill it once passed.  Why would we have a conversation about legislation that can't pass?"  As a part of that, he said you and your White House and congressional Democrats should start over entirely from scratch on health care reform.  How do you respond?  Are you willing to do that?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, here's how I responded to John in the meeting, and I've said this publicly before.  There are some core goals that have to be met.  We've got to control costs, both for families and businesses, but also for our government.  Everybody out there who talks about deficits has to acknowledge that the single biggest driver of our deficits is health care spending.  We cannot deal with our deficits and debt long term unless we get a handle on that.  So that has to be part of a package.

Number two, we've got to deal with insurance abuses that affect millions of Americans who've got health insurance.  And number three, we've got to make health insurance more available to folks in the individual market, as I just mentioned, in California, who are suddenly seeing their premiums go up 39 percent.  That applies to the majority of small businesses, as well as sole proprietors.  They are struggling.

So I've got these goals.  Now, we have a package, as we work through the differences between the House and the Senate, and we'll put it up on a Web site for all to see over a long period of time, that meets those criteria, meets those goals.  But when I was in Baltimore talking to the House Republicans, they indicated, we can accomplish some of these goals at no cost.  And I said, great, let me see it.  And I have no interest in doing something that's more expensive and harder to accomplish if somebody else has an easier way to do it.

So I'm going to be starting from scratch in the sense that I will be open to any ideas that help promote these goals.  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.  Let's get the relevant parties together; let's put the best ideas on the table.  My hope is that we can find enough overlap that we can say this is the right way to move forward, even if I don't get every single thing that I want.

But here's the point that I made to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell:  Bipartisanship can't be that I agree to all the things that they believe in or want, and they agree to none of the things I believe in and want, and that's the price of bipartisanship, right?  But that's sometimes the way it gets presented.  Mitch McConnell said something very nice in the meeting about how he supports our goals on nuclear energy and clean coal technology and more drilling to increase oil production.  Well, of course he likes that; that's part of the Republican agenda for energy, which I accept.  And I'm willing to move off some of the preferences of my party in order to meet them halfway.  But there's got to be some give from their side as well.  That's true on health care; that's true on energy; that's true on financial reform.  That's what I'm hoping gets accomplished at the summit.