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'Show Me What You Got,' Obama Tells GOP on Health Care

By Jane Norman, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

Feb. 19, 2010 -- President Obama speaking in Nevada Friday invited Republican leaders to "show me what you got" at a health care summit with congressional leaders set for Thursday. The administration's own overhaul proposal based on Democratic measures already approved in the House and Senate is expected to be posted online by the White House at least 72 hours prior to the bipartisan meeting.

"The Republicans say that they've got a better way of doing it," Obama told the crowd at a town hall meeting at Green Valley High School in Henderson, where he was accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "So I want them to put it on the table, because. . . as I told them a while back. . .I'm not an unreasonable guy. If you show me that you can do the things we just talked about, protect people from insurance problems, make sure that the costs are controlled, and people who don't have health insurance are covered, and you can do it cheaper than me, then why wouldn't I do that?"

The summit will come more than a month after the election of Republican Scott P. Brown to the Senate seat in Massachusetts left open by the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. That gave the GOP enough votes to successfully mount filibusters in the Senate and stalled the health care overhaul.

Democrats in Congress shifted their public focus to jobs while talks continued behind the scenes on a new strategy, including the possible use of budget reconciliation in the Senate to push through a health care bill with 51 votes, incorporating changes agreed to by the House.

Democrats say they are close to a deal that would meld the House and Senate bills (HR 3962, HR 3590) but want to give Republicans a chance to have their say at the summit before moving forward. But the prospects of agreement seem remote given that both sides have also continued bashing each other, with Democrats attacking Republicans for a lack of a comprehensive approach and Republicans warning of a "government takeover" of health care.

Obama pinpointed a 39 percent proposed increase by Anthem Blue Cross of California for consumers in the individual market in that state, the same increase that's been repeatedly highlighted in recent days by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and congressional Democrats. "That's the future," he told the crowd. "That's going to be one of the main things that helps to bankrupt local school districts, because all these teachers, all these employees, those health care costs go up."

Obama said that advisers warned him not to take on a health care overhaul because it's so complex, and he acknowledged a drop in public approval ratings not just for him but for Reid.

"Health care has been knocking me around pretty good," he said. "It's been knocking Harry around pretty good. And Harry has shown extraordinary courage because he said, you know what, Barack, we are going to get this done. I know it's costing me politically but it's important, it's the right thing to do. That's what he's been saying consistently, and I'm proud of him for it."

While a schedule has not been released yet for the summit, Obama's remarks indicated it could be lengthy. "You may not want to watch all six or eight hours of it, you got things to do," he said. "But pay attention to what this debate is about, because there's been so much talk about death panels and adding to the deficit, and this and that and the other."

The overhaul has "nothing to do with a government takeover of a health care," he said. "Most of you would have the exact same health care that you've got right now, but you'd be more protected and more secure. And if you don't have health care, you'd have a chance of getting health care."

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