Game On: Party Strategies For Health Care Summit Emerge

Republicans asked to negotiate health care with President Obama in front of C-Span cameras, but now slam the bipartisan health care summit at the White House slated for Thursday as nothing more than a “photo-op,” “infomercial” and “a taxpayer-funded media event.”

The GOP has telegraphed its strategy in recent days, saying Obama is making a mistake by attempting to forge ahead with his own compromise version of the Senate bill as Democrats say they see the finish line ahead. The Republicans also are approaching it like a debate, setting up a war room and rapid response center within the Republican National Committee.

The Democrats are eager to wrap up health care and are closely coordinating with the White House on the summit agenda. A Senate leadership aide told TPMDC the Democrats’ strategy is to “leave much of the heavy lifting to the president” because he has proven to be “very skilled” in similar situations.

“[W]e’re confident that we have a strong hand to play and we’re going to strike a tone of compromise and willingness to sit down and listen and negotiate while pressing forward to get health care done as quickly as possible,” the aide said.TPMDC obtained the Democratic talking points for tomorrow’s summit. The talking points praise health care reform, saying that it:

* Makes insurance more affordable

* Makes the health insurance market competitive

* Makes insurance companies accountable

* Reduces the deficit

* Will end insurance company abuses

That’s closely in line with the draft agenda the White House is floating in advance of the summit.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today she wants to focus on the substance of the final health care compromise, rather than procedure about how the Democrats can pass a bill once they agree.

“Well why don’t we just settle on the substance first and we take these one at a time,” Pelosi told reporters today. “I’m not into procedure right now, I’m in to substance.”

The Democrats are aiming for poise tomorrow – their selected attendees aren’t flame-throwers and several have suggested they are there to listen.

Pelosi will be the Democrats’ opening speaker in the seven-minute slot, Republicans haven’t yet announced their representative.

Sen. Chris Dodd will have a seat at the table tomorrow and stressed in an interview he will be flexible. “[A]s a principal negotiator, for me coming out for locking in the hard block positions on things, probably not the right place for me to be,” Dodd told TPMDC today.

The Senate leadership aide said that members of the White House health care team huddled with Senate Democratic staffers Monday, the Democrats attending met today and there have been a series of conference calls with White House officials to coordinate messaging.

We asked Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) what he thinks the best possible outcome of the summit is.

“I think the fact that the public will know that again Barack Obama reached out, again the Democrats tried, again the Republicans slammed the door and said no,” Brown said, adding that he thinks that’s something members need to be reminded of from time to time.

For his part, Obama aides say he genuinely wants to hear Republican ideas, but his team has been asking for the GOP to describe in detail their plan.

House and Senate Republicans are working together to coordinate their position and will detail for Obama why they think the GOP plan is the better solution.

“Our message is that we need to listen to the American people,” Minority Leader John Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel told TPMDC. House Republican staffers are going to “truth squad” from Capitol Hill while leadership sits with Obama.

Steel said the Republicans will ask questions and “take the opportunity both to highlight the problems with the Democrats’ trillion-dollar government takeover and talk about our solutions.”

The Republicans have been mocking the event from the beginning, with the Republican Study Committee sending reporters an email with photos of various White House summits, including the summer beer summit. “Put on your listening caps and get your flashbulbs ready,” the committee said.

“We will offer real-time fact-checking of the claims made by President Obama and Congressional Democrats regarding health care reform, and will promote ideas from both House and Senate Republican leaders to lower costs, improve quality and increase access,” the RNC told supporters.

Boehner called it an “infomercial” today on Fox News, and said Democrats have been “scheming and plotting for weeks trying to find a way to shove this bill down the throats of the American people.”

Minority Whip Eric Cantor issued a memo earlier today suggesting the summit is pointless because Pelosi doesn’t have the votes to pass a compromise bill in her chamber.

“We are now told that the latest iteration of a government take-over of health care, presented by President Obama, will largely mirror the Senate bill and congressional Democrats will invoke reconciliation to ram it through Congress,” said Cantor (R-VA).

“Yet Americans have overwhelming and repeatedly asked Democrats to shelve their take-over and start again. We believe that fact will continue to weigh heavy on House Democrats, and as a result, Speaker Pelosi will not be able to muster the votes needed to pass a Senate reconciliation bill in the House.”

The Republicans last spring were given some health care strategy advice from pollster Frank Luntz that seems to have framed their approach to the summit. Luntz said they should acknowledge the health care system is broken and needs reform, offer a broad, non-specific plan that can’t be picked apart and then portray the Democratic plan as a government takeover as frequently as possible.

For a reminder, the Luntz memo is here.

The GOP also is attempting to exploit Democratic divisions over abortion provisions and the public option – with Boehner asking Obama to invite a pro-choice Democrat to the summit and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reminding everyone the only thing bipartisan about health care is opposition to the bill.

A House Democratic aide told TPMDC the strategy proves the GOP is “hyperpartisan,” comparing it to a similar event when Obama spoke to the House Republican caucus last month.

Obama didn’t have a truth squad to fact-check or any preconditions in taking Republican questions in an unfriendly room of 170 lawmakers, the aide said.

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