Both Sides Dig in Heels at Health Care Summit

(CBS)
There was no breakthrough at the daylong summit on health care reform. There were no concessions. But there was plenty of posturing, lecturing and even some scolding – exactly what President Obama was hoping to avoid.

"I hope that this isn't political theater where we're just playing to the cameras and criticizing each other, but instead are actually trying to solve the problem," he said in his opening statement to the summit.

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The gathering of 40 members of the House and Senate – 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans – ended more than seven hours after it began with nothing either side could boast about except for standing rigidly firm in their positions.

Democrats remain adamant in their determination to enact their health care bill – even if they have to use the Senate procedure known as reconciliation to circumvent a filibuster and win with a 51-vote simple majority.

Republicans remain steadfast in their opposition to the bill – and urged President Obama to renounce the use of reconciliation.

"You can say that this process has been used before, and that would be right, but it's never been used for anything like this," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. "It's not appropriate to use this to write the rules for 17 percent of the economy."

Political Hotsheet: Live Blog of the Health Care Summit
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But Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats refused to rule it out.

Another appeal came from the president's rival in the 2008 campaign, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. He warned that to use reconciliation to pass such a massive program as health care reform "could harm the future of our country" and the U.S. Senate "for a long, long time."

It didn't score any points with Mr. Obama, who said "the American people aren't always all that interested in procedures inside the Senate." In his judgment, Americans want Congress to act to move health care reform forward.

But earlier in the summit, McCain took a more pointed swipe from the days of the '08 campaign.

"Eight times you said that negotiations on health care reform would be conducted with the C-SPAN cameras," said McCain. "I'm glad more than a year later that they are here."

Obama seemed taken aback by the bluntness of the remark, though McCain went further. He condemned the Democratic health care bills because they were drafted "behind closed doors" and contained "unsavory" deal-making provisions in order to win votes of senators from Nebraska, Louisiana and Florida.

"People are angry," McCain scolded Mr. Obama. "We promised them change in Washington and what we got was a process that you and I both said we would change in Washington."

Mr. Obama tried to respond. "John, can I just say," he asked, but McCain wouldn't relent.

"Can I just finish, please?" McCain shot back at the president, and further condemned the deals it took to win passage of the health care bill in the Senate.

"I hope that that would be an argument for us to go through this 2,400-page document, remove all the special deals for the special interests and favored few, and treat all Americans the same."

When President Obama got his chance to speak he was quick to remind McCain "we're not campaigning anymore. The election is over."

"I'm reminded of that every day," said McCain, getting the last laugh.

That exchange, and a few others just as pointed but less harsh, underscored the bitter political divide that exists in Washington over the health care issue.

It showed President Obama that conciliatory words and appeals to bipartisanship could not bring two sides together – each of whom stand steadfast on ideologically-opposite principles.

More Coverage of the Health Care Summit:

Marc Ambinder: The Summit was a Tie -- And That's Good News for GOP
Obama and Republicans: Who Will Blink First?
Will the Summit Impact Health Reform?
At Health Care Summit, More Pomp than Pith
Fact Check: The Health Care Summit
Reaction and Analysis on Washington Unplugged
All Hotsheet Coverage
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.

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