Published February 25, 2010
President Obama has developed a scaled-down version of health care reform that would cost a fraction of the price tag of other plans, but the White House played down the Plan B as the president entered a bipartisan health care summit Thursday in Washington.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told Fox News that "we are not focused" on any kind of backup plan going into the meeting, which will bring together House and Senate members from both parties to debate the health care overhaul that appeared to stop in its tracks last month after Republican Scott Brown was elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts.
"The president is focused exclusively on what's happening at today's meeting," Gibbs told Fox News.
Administration officials said the plan is "not where we are now" and was drawn up at Obama's request after the Massachusetts election that cost Democrats their filibuster-proof majority.
But Republicans, while agreeing to attend the meeting, have spent the last several weeks blasting it as a photo op for the president and a trap to make them look intransigent on the issue. The plan they have offered is vastly different from the president's plan and the Democratic bills that have passed through both chambers of Congress, and common ground appears elusive.
The pared-down bill would cost about a quarter of the 10-year, $950 billion plan Obama put on the table on Monday, sources told Fox News.
The Wall Street Journal first reported Thursday that Obama's staff had prepared the blueprint for a smaller-scale plan. Sources said the backup would extend coverage to about 15 million people, or half the number the larger plan would cover.
It would expand Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, while allowing people to stay on their parents' health plans until age 26.
But the idea of what one congressional Democrat called "skinny" health care reform may encounter stiff resistance in the House.
"Inaction and incrementalism are simply unacceptable," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in remarks released before Thursday's summit. House Democrats are almost sure to reject calls for a scaled-back bill.
"We are going forward with a big bill," a top Democrat told Fox News.
The White House and congressional Democrats are showing renewed resolve to pass some kind of health care bill.
Gibbs argued that it would be wrong to infer from the Massachusetts election that the public does not want any health care reform. Rather, he said, the American people want to see cooperation and action on Capitol Hill.
"I don't think the American people want us to walk away, because they do know this -- if we don't do anything, their premiums will go up," he said. "If we do nothing, health care spending will skyrocket. That's what we have to prevent."
Fox News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.