TV Coverage Limits Success of Health Care Summit

By staging a televised summit on health care legislation, President Obama is hoping to ratchet up the pressure on Congress to get a bill to his desk.

But by putting six hours of highly political talks on television, on one of the most controversial of his policy initiatives, it all but insures there'll be no breakthrough agreement on a health care bill.

If the televised proceedings of the House and Senate are a guide, the summit broadcast will provide six hours of political posturing about the proper role of government in regulating and mandating health care coverage.

If nothing else, the summit servers to help Mr. Obama deliver on a campaign promise that went unfulfilled last year.

"When I put forward my health care plan, I'm going to need your help - the American people's help - so we're going to have all our negotiations on C-SPAN," Mr. Obama promised supporters in 2008.

Well, the back-room negotiations that went before can't be televised, but the nation will get to see what may strike some as an endless infomercial of opposing views on government-mandated health care coverage.

(CBS/Mark Knoller)
Mr. Obama says he looks forward to "a good exchange of ideas" at Blair House (seen at left).

"I hope everyone comes with a shared desire to solve this challenge, not just score political points," he said Wednesday before an audience of corporate executives at a gathering of the Business Roundtable.

But point-scoring is what politicians do for a living.

For the first time, Mr. Obama has drafted a proposal he calls his own, based largely but not exclusively on the health care bill that passed the Senate early on the morning of the day before Christmas '09.

Republicans have already dismissed the Obama plan as "a costly, job-killing" health care initiative.

GOP leaders strenuously urged Mr. Obama to start from scratch at the summit and let those taking part come to terms on health care provision on a step-by-step basis. The White House rejected that idea out of hand.

But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs calls the president's proposal "a starting point" for negotiations.

"This can be added to by the ideas that Republicans bring on Thursday," said Gibbs.

But Republicans have made it clear they find the Obama plan totally unacceptable. They don't want to add to it. They want to tear it apart and eliminate most of its elements.

The GOP has put forward some legislative health care nuggets:

• "universal access" to health care including people with pre-existing conditions.

• enable Americans to be able to buy insurance from any company in any state

• enable small businesses to join together to offer health care at lower prices.

But those provisions don't come close to satisfying Mr. Obama and Democratic Congressional Leaders.

So at Thursday's summit they'll be talking past each other – and more to the point – at the audience they imagine is watching.

Their goal is to persuade those viewing or listening to the summit that the other guys got it all wrong about what kind of health care bill is right for America.

Don't be surprised if it sounds like a re-run. We have heard it all before.

More Coverage of the Health Care Summit:

Washington Unplugged: Health Care Summit Smoke and Mirrors?
GOP Disses Health Care Summit, But Asks for More Invites
Advice for the Health Care Summit from Two Presidents Named George
Americans Running Out of Patience on Health Care, Polls Show
GOP Prepares Strategy for Health Care Summit
Obama's Health Care Plan at a Glance
A War of Words Before the Health Care Summit
Obama's Health Care Plan Unveiled
Harry Reid Says GOP Should "Stop Crying" About Reconciliation Special Report: Health Care

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here:
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.