After a month in legislative hibernation, national health care reform will again take center stage in Congress. On Thursday, February 25th, the day of NACHC’s annual advocacy day on the Hill, President Obama will gather a bipartisan group of congressional leaders at the White House for a televised summit to reinvigorate the health reform debate and salvage the overhaul. In the face of both Democrats and Republicans admittedly mixed feelings about the summit’s value, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have promised that the President will prepare and release his own legislation for leaders to discuss at the summit.
Who’s Going? Last week Secretary Sebelius and Chief of Staff Emanuel invited 21 Members of Congress from both chambers. The list of 12 Democrats and nine Republicans, with an option for House and Senate leaders to add four other members of their choosing, includes chairs and senior Republicans on key committees (House Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Education and Labor, and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and Finance). Conspicuously absent for the first time were Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) and ranking member Judd Gregg (R-NH). The Administration will bring representatives from the Office of Management and Budget, the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Congressional Budget Office, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Office of Health Reform Director Nancy Ann DeParle to round out the room. A final note on attendees: although they made the list, Republicans continue to affirm that they still may not participate in the summit – invitees including House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) believe a true bipartisan effort means scrapping the current legislation and starting again, and unlikely compromise out of the summit.
What Might Happen? The President plans to unveil his own health reform proposal, heavily drawn from the House and Senate passed bills, for the summit to consider and discuss. Participants will also talk about other options for moving health reform forward – including incorporating Republican proposals into a more bipartisan bill and/or sending the Senate bill and a companion bill (with changes to the Senate bill) passed through the budget reconciliation process to the President’s desk. The White House’s ideal outcome would be for everyone to leave the summit with a clear plan forward to achieve a comprehensive health care overhaul that greatly increases coverage and access to care and reduces costs, and the votes locked-down to do it. Unfortunately, if Republican leaders don’t attend the summit it will be difficult for the President and leaders to continue to negotiate across the aisle and the options for passing comprehensive reform are limited.
We will be sure to keep everyone updated through the blog with details about the President’s legislation and we will continue to advocate (especially at next week’s P&I!) for health center growth and expansion as a critical piece of national health care reform.