Obama offers new health-care plan; GOP slams it as 'government takeover'

By Michael D. Shear and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 22, 2010; 12:15 PM

President Obama made it clear Monday morning that he intends to make a final push for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's health-care and insurance system, offering a new health-care plan that largely embraces the approach already taken by the U.S. Senate.

The plan, which went live on the White House Web site at 10 a.m., rejects repeated calls from Republicans to scrap Democratic efforts from last year and start over. Instead, it attempts to merge the Senate legislation with its counterpart in the House in ways that would address some of the most controversial provisions in the stalled bill.

Shortly after the president's plan went online, Republicans slammed it as "the same massive government takeover of health care" and said it undermined the bipartisan goals of the summit this week.

"This new Democrats-only backroom deal doubles down on the same failed approach that will drive up premiums, destroy jobs, raise taxes, and slash Medicare benefits," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). "This week's summit clearly has all the makings of a Democratic infomercial for continuing on a partisan course."

Among the changes Obama seeks is a delay of the tax on high-end insurance plans until 2018, an end to the special Medicaid deal that negotiators had cut for Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson (D) and new federal authority over health-care insurance rate increases. The plan does not call for a public option health plan despite pressure from progressives in Obama's Democratic party to do so.

Senior White House officials said the 11-page summary of the changes, labeled "The President's Proposal," would serve as the starting point for the bipartisan, televised health-care summit to be held Thursday. They urged Republicans to come together around their own proposal and make it public.

"This is the opening bid for the health meeting," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said. "We took our best shot at bridging the differences. It makes some strong steps to improving the final product. . . . The president is coming to the meeting with an open mind."

Pfeiffer said the White House has made "no determinations" about whether Democrats might use a parliamentary tool called "reconciliation" to pass the bill without 60 votes in the Senate. But Pfeiffer hinted that the White House is open to the idea, saying that the president's proposal is designed for "maximum flexibility."

"The president expects and believes the American people deserve an up-or-down vote on health care," Pfeiffer said. "This is designed to provide us maximum flexibility if the opposition decides to take the extraordinary step of filibustering health reform."

By offering his own proposal, Obama is betting that Americans watching the health-care summit will provide his efforts new momentum after a nearly year-long process that ground to a halt while negotiators cut deals in back rooms and Republicans intensified their criticisms.

But the decision is not likely to sit well with Republicans, who have concluded that most Americans do not want radical changes to their health care. Instead, the GOP has been pushing a series of modest changes they say could bring down costs and improve coverage, including tort reform and new freedoms for insurance companies to sell their policies across state lines.

Obama's health plan does not include those Republican proposals, although White House officials said several times Monday morning that the president will be open to Republican ideas at the meeting on Thursday.

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