At Health Care Summit, More Pomp than Pith

Anyone tuning in to daytime television today saw something unprecedented - the president and members of Congress holding a summit before live cameras on a major piece of legislation, health care reform. But it was less negotiating than speechmaking as CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid reports.

The summit began with bipartisan handshakes and smiles, and a request from the president that both parties try to find areas of agreement

"I hope that this isn't political theater where we're just playing to the cameras and criticizing each other," Mr. Obama said.

But early on he conceded the gap between the two parties may be too broad to bridge, and the first Republican speaker quickly shot down any hope of fundamental compromise

Special Report: Health Care Reform

"We have to start by taking the current bill and putting it on the shelf and starting from a clean sheet of paper," Sen. Lamar Alexander said.

Starting over is a out of the question for Democrats who are still determined to pass comprehensive reform even if it means doing so with only Democratic votes.

"We owe it to our seniors we owe it to our country," House majority leader Nancy Pelosi said.

Republicans attacked the president's plan over cost and the role of government

Political Hotsheet: Live Blog of the Health Care Summit
Photos: Health Care Summit

"We don't think the government should be in control of all of this," said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. "We want people to be in control. And that at the end of the day is the big difference."

In a flashback to the 2008 campaign, Sen. John McCain criticized the president for the secretive process in drafting the Democratic bills

"People are angry we promised them change in Washington," McCain said.

The president fired back, saying, "Let me make this point, John, because we're not campaigning anymore. The election's over."

McCain's reply: "I'm reminded of that every day"

Later they went at it again.

"Why should we carve out 800,000 people?" McCain asked.

This time the president defused the clash, saying, "I think you make a legitimate point." McCain seemed surprised at that response.

But moments of agreement were rare.

The president often seemed exasperated with Republican arguments while his fellow Democrats vigorously defended his plan and accused Republicans of coddling insurance companies

"The health insurance industry is a shark that swims just below the water and you don't see the shark until you feel their teeth," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V. said.

More Coverage of the Health Care Summit:

Obama and Republicans: Who Will Blink First?
Marc Ambinder: The Summit was a Tie -- And That's Good News for GOP
Both Sides Dig in Heels at Health Care Summit
Will the Summit Impact Health Reform?
Fact Check: The Health Care Summit
Reaction and Analysis on Washington Unplugged
All Hotsheet Coverage
  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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