President Barack Obama wrapped up Thursday's health care summit with strong words for Republicans: Find common ground with Democrats in the next six weeks or we're moving on without you and letting voters decide in November who was wrong.
"The question that I'm going to ask myself and that I ask of all of you is, is there enough serious effort that in a month's time or a few weeks' time or six weeks' time, we could actually resolve something. If we can't, I think we've got to go ahead and make some decisions and I think that's what elections are for," Obama said at the end of the seven-hour meeting at the Blair House.
Obama said he will be looking for "significant movement, not just gestures" in the coming weeks from Republicans. He highlighted GOP proposals that he embraced in the summit — namely, a market-based exchange, tort reform and a focus on cutting waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare — in a show of his reception to their ideas.
But he doesn't need them in order to move the issue forward. "Procedurally, it could get done fairly quickly. We cannot have another yearlong debate about this," he said.
An administration official later sought to clarify Obama wasn't talking about any specific timetable. "He was just saying that we are going to continue moving forward over the next few weeks as we take the final steps necessary for passage," the official said.
Republicans spent much of the day pushing the idea of taking on health care reform in a piecemeal approach, an idea that Obama shot down in his closing remarks.
"A step-by-step approach sounds good in theory, but the problem is, we can't solve pre-existing conditions if we don't do something about coverage," said the president. "Baby steps don't get you to the place where people need to go. They need help right now."
Obama also called on Republicans to do "a little soul-searching" to figure out how they would deal with "the core problem" of providing insurance to 30 million people and addressing the issue of pre-existing conditions. He acknowledged that Republicans might not have much incentive politically to work with Democrats.
"I don't need a poll to know that most of the Republican voters are opposed to this bill and might be opposed to the kind of compromise we could craft," said Obama.
But if Republicans aren't willing to work with Democrats on advancing a health overhaul, Obama predicted that Congressional leaders "are going to have a lot of arguments about procedures in Congress about moving forward."