White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said told reporters today that the president's plan is designed for "maximum flexibility," the Washington Post reports.
"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."
If Republicans call a filibuster to stall debate of a bill, it typically takes 60 votes to end the filibuster. Democrats no longer have a 60-vote majority, so the only other way they could get around a filibuster without any Republican support is through a procedural maneuver called reconciliation. This process allows any budget-related items to be passed with a simple 51-vote majority.
Republicans at this point seem unwilling to go along with the president's plan. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said yesterday on "Fox News Sunday" that he would go to Thursday's health care summit "good faith" but still believes the best way forward would be to "start over." The bill unveiled by the White House today, however, is compiled of provisions from the bills that already exist, and congressional Republicans are already pouncing on it.
"It's disappointing that Democrats in Washington either aren't listening, or are completely ignoring what Americans across the country have been saying," McConnell said in a statment in response to the president's bill. "Our constituents don't want yet another partisan, back-room bill."
House Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio) added, "The President has crippled the credibility of this week's summit by proposing the same massive government takeover of health care based on a partisan bill the American people have already rejected."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in his daily press briefing Monday insisted that Thursday's summit will not be political theater and that "the president wants to hear people bring their ideas" to the table.
Republicans "push back greatly that their the party is the 'party of No,'" he said. "Thursday's a peferct venue to be a 'party of Yes.'"
The president left out of his bill the plan for a "public option," or a government-run insurance program that would be available as an alternative to private insurance. Republicans in Congress are unequivocally opposed to the public option.
However, a group of Democratic senators have started a push to include the public option in a reconciliation bill, citing a CBS News/ New York Times poll from December revealing persistent public support for the idea.
Twenty senators are now supporting the plan to include the public option in the reconciliation bill, including Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and high-ranking Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he is open to the idea.