President Obama told an audience in Green Bay, Wisconsin, he's open to different ideas about how to reform the health care system, while Republicans back in Washington accused him of refusing to listen to theirs. Answering questions at a town hall style meeting, Mr. Obama said he's avoided the "my way or the highway" approach because, "these are genuinely complicated issues and nobody has all the right answers." At a Capitol Hill news conference, Republican Senators said they'd been frozen out of the process of crafting legislation that Utah's Orrin Hatch called "a complete liberal mishmash of ideas."Mr. Obama has said he'd prefer a compromise health reform bill that gets strong Republican support instead of measure that contains more of what he likes, but is approved with only Democrats votes. On this day he said Republicans and Democrats agree on about 80% of what needs to be done and that the challenge "is going to revolve around how do we deal with the 20 percent of the stuff where people disagree?" Wyoming Republican Senator Mike Enzi agreed, but he said the White House is ignoring Republican input in an effort to speed up the legislative process and get a bill passed this year. He said the process is being driven "more by deadline than by doing it right."
The two sides differ most about the President's push for a public insurance option for people who have no health insurance now. With nearly 46 million Americans uninsured, Mr. Obama says it's clear "the free market has not worked perfectly when it comes to health care." He says a public insurance option would operate like Medicare and denies it would amount to "socialized medicine," saying "nobody's talking about doing that, all right?" But while supporters say it would spur competition among private insurance companies, critics say it would threaten private companies and could eventually force them out of business. Senator Enzi says "we've seen a government takeover of banks, insurance companies and auto companies. And now there's an effort to take over health care as well."
Republican lawmakers say they're skeptical about the idea of "health care cooperatives," a proposal put forward by North Dakota Democratic Senator Kent Conrad to accommodate critics of a public insurance option. Senator Enzi says "there isn't a way to make a government agency a level playing field." Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts isn't optimistic about reaching a compromise. He says "the bridge of cooperation is washed out."