WASHINGTON – The White House readied its last-ditch effort to salvage health care legislation Sunday while the Senate's Republican leader warned Democrats against the go-it-alone approach.
The White House was expected to post a version of President Barack Obama's plan for overhauling health care on its Web site on Monday, ahead of his critical and daring summit at Blair House on Thursday. The plan, which was likely to be opposed by the GOP, was expected to require most Americans to carry health insurance coverage, with federal subsidies to help many afford the premiums.
Hewing close to a stalled Senate bill, it would bar insurance companies from denying coverage to people with medical problems or charging them more. The expected price tag is around $1 trillion over 10 years.
The conference at the White House guest residence is to be televised live on C-SPAN and perhaps on cable news networks. It represents a gamble by the administration that Obama can save his embattled overhaul through persuasion — a risky and unusual step.
It was forced on the administration by the Senate special election victory of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown in January. He captured the seat long held by Democrat Edward M. Kennedy, who died last year. Brown's victory reduced the Democrats' majority in the Senate to 59 votes, one shy of the number needed to knock down Republican delaying tactics.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he would participate, but that Obama and congressional Democrats would be wrong to push the bills they wrote in the House and Senate.
"The fundamental point I want to make is the arrogance of all of this. You know, they are saying, `Ignore the wishes of the American people. We know more about this than you do. And we're going to jam it down your throats no matter what.' That is why the public is so angry at this Congress and this administration over this issue," said McConnell, R-Ky.
While the House and Senate had passed its own version of a health overhaul, lawmakers had yet to settle their differences and produce a single bill acceptable to both chambers when Brown won.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, hoped a compromise — "sweet spot," he called it — was possible.
"If you really want to serve the people and not just your party, I think you will find that sweet spot and you can get it done," he said.
Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania appealed to Republicans to offer their own proposals. "You take some of our ideas. We'll take some of your ideas. We may not love your ideas, but we'll take them. If they don't do that, I think this whole dynamic of this political year could turn around," he said.
Rendell and Schwarzenegger spoke from the sidelines of the National Governors Association meeting. Four leaders of the group, two Republicans and two Democrats, later summoned the media to a news conference and offered to strike a compromise between the warring factions in Washington.
"We are making an offer to help and are very willing to roll up our sleeves and help if that's what Congress and the president decided," said Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat.
The governors' plea was an implicit acknowledgment that Obama and the Democratic-led Congress have frozen governors out of the process.
The Blair House meeting takes place nearly a year after Obama launched his drive to remake health care — a Democratic agenda item for decades — at an earlier summit he infused with a bipartisan spirit. The president will point out that Republicans have supported individual elements of the Democratic bills.
Under the expected Obama plan, regulators would create a competitive marketplace for small businesses and people buying their own coverage. The plan would be paid for with a mix of Medicare cuts and tax increases. It would also strip out special Medicaid deals for certain states, while moving to close the Medicare prescription coverage gap and making newly available coverage for working families more affordable. The changes would cost about $200 billion over 10 years. It's unclear what the total price tag for the legislation would be; the Senate bill was originally under $900 billion.
McConnell spoke on "Fox News Sunday." The governors appeared on ABC's "This Week."