President Obama urges Democrats, GOP to compromise at health-care reform summit

By Shailagh Murray and Michael D. Shear
Sunday, February 21, 2010; A10

President Obama warned lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Saturday not to turn the upcoming White House health-care summit into "political theater," but rather "to seek common ground in an effort to solve a problem that's been with us for generations."

The Thursday event, scheduled to be televised live on C-SPAN, could prove a pivotal moment in the year-long effort to overhaul the health-care system. Obama's blueprint, a proposal drawing from the two Democratic bills now stalled in Congress, is expected to be posted on the White House Web site Monday.

According to the White House, the summit is an effort to revive the legislative process by bringing Republicans to the table to identify areas of common ground. But some Republicans have derided the event as a political ploy and have declined to say whether they will attend; what the summit might produce remains uncertain.

While the parties agree broadly that the health-care system is broken, they have found little consensus on more detailed questions, such as how best to provide insurance to people who don't have access to affordable coverage through an employer.

Obama's plan is expected to provide subsidies to people who can't afford coverage, incentives for businesses to offer insurance and expanded Medicaid coverage for the poor. Obama has endorsed an excise tax on high-value insurance plans, along with a series of Medicare changes, to pay for his proposal.

But the plan's publication Monday may rile partisan tensions ahead of the summit. Republicans have demanded that Obama scrap the existing bill as evidence he is willing to bargain in good faith to find bipartisan consensus.

Obama has challenged Republicans to post their own proposals for lowering costs and expanding coverage to the uninsured.

On Saturday, in his weekly address, Obama signaled two areas where he may be willing to meet Republicans in the middle: creating rules that would allow people to buy insurance across state lines, presumably at more competitive prices, and offering incentives to encourage small-business owners to provide coverage.

"I think both of these are good ideas -- so long as we pursue them in a way that protects benefits, protects patients and protects the American people," Obama said.

Other potential areas of consensus, senior Democratic aides said, include expanded coverage for kids and reforms to prevent people from losing coverage and to allow young adults to remain on their parents' plans.

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