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Roll Call

GOP Drafts Unified Strategy for Health Care Summit

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will echo House calls for a “step-by-step” approach to health care, instead of a comprehensive bill.

House and Senate Republicans have spent much of the past 10 days working out a closely coordinated strategy for handling Thursday’s bipartisan summit with President Barack Obama, hoping to present a unified front and blunt Democratic efforts to win back public support for a health care overhaul.

GOP operatives in the House and Senate have become increasingly concerned that mishandling the meeting could cede the issue of bipartisanship to Obama, particularly if Democrats stick together. One Senate GOP aide last week pointed out that while House Republicans held their own with Obama during his televised meeting with them last month in Baltimore, in the end the White House appeared to have won the day — and Republicans are wary of letting the charismatic president have a repeat performance.

In an effort to avoid that scenario, over the past week senior aides from both sides of the Capitol have met daily in Minority Leader John Boehner’s (Ohio) conference room to coordinate Republican response to the meeting.

According to House and Senate leadership aides, those discussions have produced a three-pronged message that GOP leaders will carry into the six-hour summit: The current Democratic health care reform bills should be scrapped, the Republican solutions to health care reform are legitimate, and the Blair House summit is a charade.

Additionally, as the meeting is taking place, a bicameral team of leadership and committee staff will run a real-time online “fact check” of statements made by Obama or Congressional Democrats. The Senate Republican Conference is also organizing Members who are not attending the summit to rotate onto the chamber floor to give speeches on health care during the six-hour meeting.

Both leadership teams have also begun booking Members on TV news programs, radio interviews, Internet videos and blogger interviews, and after the meeting is over, participants will fan out across those media to deliver the GOP’s address. “The full complement of the communication center’s activities” will be on display, a Senate GOP leadership aide said, adding that “our people here will be filling every slot available” during and after the summit.

A House leadership aide would not say whether Senate Republicans are expected to adopt the House Republican health care plan as their own but noted that Republicans in both chambers will be talking about “common-sense, step-by-step reforms — and the American people’s opposition to the Democrats’ job-killing trillion-dollar government takeover of health care.”

The Senate GOP aide agreed, explaining that as in previous messaging campaigns, while some of the details of their approaches will be different, House and Senate Republicans will focus on their commonalities. “Everybody is on the same page and we’re going to be bringing a totally united position,” the aide said.

The Republican unified front stands in contrast to the House and Senate Democrats, many of whom are undecided about where they stand on Obama’s plan. Obama’s $950 billion bill largely follows the Senate’s approach to health care reform, and while the White House sought to include provisions that would appeal to House Democrats, it remains unclear whether it has done enough to bring disgruntled liberals and moderates back into the fold.

Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Republicans would do better to come into the summit with open minds rather than readying for a partisan showdown. “The American people want us to work together,” he said.

Elshami said Democrats have put forward a proposal that holds insurance companies accountable, ensures coverage for middle-class Americans and lowers the deficit.

“Those should be the goals for every Member of Congress,” Elshami said.

Republicans said they hope that by sticking together, they can not only block Democrats’ efforts but also show the public that they have some meaningful alternatives.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said Republicans would use the opportunity to reiterate their belief that the American public does not want a massive overhaul of health care.

“Republicans in both the House and Senate are listening to the American people, who are yelling ‘stop’ at out-of-touch Washington Democrats,” Steel said. “People just don’t want a massive government takeover of health care filled with backroom deals, tax hikes and Medicare cuts.”

Josh Holmes, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed, saying: “There really hasn’t been any ambiguity about how Americans view a 2,000-page bill chock full of Medicare cuts and tax increases, but we appreciate the opportunity to put a finer point on it. Republicans stand together asking Democrats to scrap this rejected bill and proceed step-by-step to produce common-sense reforms that help bring down costs.”

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