Menu

Politics

Executive

Obama to 'Contemplate' GOP Health Care Ideas, But No Guarantees

obama_blair_022510.jpg

President Obama holds a bipartisan meeting to discuss health reform legislation at Blair House in Washington Feb. 25. (Reuters Photo)

President Obama will "contemplate" GOP ideas introduced at Thursday's health care summit but will not guarantee embracing them or asking Democrats to insert them in the evolving health care legislation, senior White House adviser David Axelrod told Fox News. 

With the president and top congressional Democrats signaling they will move forward with the sweeping health care overhaul regardless of GOP opposition, Axelrod also refused to rule out using procedural tactics to push a bill through the Senate with a 51-vote majority -- a maneuver Obama implied was coming if a grand compromise is not reached in the coming weeks. 

Axelrod rejected the idea of starting the health care debate from scratch, as some Republicans suggested, but did not rule out the possibility, however remote, of settling for a scaled-down and far less expensive version of health care reform

Republicans expressed frustration after the day-long summit. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he didn't think any Republicans would support the package. 

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Fox News on Friday that Democrats are lacking public support, though Republicans would like to address health care reform "step by step" with the other party. 

"The president portrays it sort of as his way or the highway. That's not what we want to do," McCain said. 

On Republican ideas, Axelrod attached several qualifiers to how White House support might or might not translate into legislative action. 

"That's what the president's going to contemplate," Axelrod said. "He's going to look at the ideas that were discussed today. There were some that he expressed an interest in exploring. He is going to see if those can help enhance the proposal that he's made, consider the alternatives and move forward."

Axelrod said Obama is prepared to look specifically at Republican ideas like insurance pools for small businesses so that "people who don't have insurance through their employer can get insurance at a competitive rate." Axelrod also said Obama will look at GOP ideas on expanding preventative care. 

Significantly, Axelrod said Obama was open to changes on the issue of allowing insurers to compete across state lines -- a key GOP request. 

While conceding these ideas are not yet included in pending House and Senate bills, Axelrod rejected GOP calls to scrap existing legislation. He also struggled to explain how congressional Democrats would include them in any bill likely to reach Obama's desk. 

"Rewriting is kind of a canard," Axelrod said. "All the ideas are on the table and have been for some time. This has been a long, long process and both sides have sets of ideas. The president expressed an interest in some of the ideas that he heard today that could enhance the proposal that he's made. He'll go back, contemplate that and decide how to move forward." 

As for a slimmed down, Plan B on health care, White House officials have acknowledged one exists but say it's not where Obama is as he charts an uncertain way forward. Officials told Fox News that Obama ordered up a plan that would cover about 15 million people for about a quarter of the cost of current plans -- estimated at nearly $1 trillion over 10 years. The essential ingredients would allow parents to use their insurance coverage for their children up to age 26 and expand coverage under Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, both state-federal health care partnerships. 

"I'm not going to discuss tactics," Axelrod said when asked about the Plan B. "Our plan is to deal with a very big problem facing this country in the ways that make sense, and a lot of thought has been put into this. Time is of the essence and we want to move with all due speed to bring this to a conclusion," he said. 

Axelrod sidestepped whether Obama was willing to green light a procedural maneuver that would foil Republican efforts to filibuster. 

"I'm not going to get into the tactics or the procedures," he said. "The American people, I think, want a straight up vote on this. They don't want procedural games. They want a majority vote on this one way or the other and hopefully we can get that done." 

When reminded House Democrats have said they don't have the votes to pass the Senate health care bill -- a big problem if Democrats pursue a 51-vote Senate strategy -- Axelrod admitted many obstacles remain. 

"There are a number of issues," Axelrod sighed. 

But echoing House and Senate Democrats who recoiled at the suggestion of a scaled-back version of health care, Axelrod said incrementalism is to be avoided. 

"One thing that was clear from this conversation today is that there are certain things that you can't do on a piecemeal basis," Axelrod said. 

Fox News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.