WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama issued his own blueprint for a health care overhaul on Monday, challenged Republicans to come forward with their ideas and laid the groundwork for an aggressive parliamentary maneuver to pass the legislation using only Democratic votes if this week brings no progress toward a bipartisan solution.
In laying out for the first time the details of what he wants in the legislation, Obama set in motion a new round of maneuvering intended to bring a bitterly divisive yearlong clash to a conclusion. With the two parties scheduled to meet Thursday for a televised session on the health care overhaul, Obama appeared intent on forcing the Republicans into a choice: either put a specific alternative on the table, giving Democrats a chance to draw pointed contrasts between the parties' approaches, or be cast as obstructionist and not serious about addressing an issue of great concern to voters.
The initial Republican response suggested that the two parties are more likely headed toward a showdown than toward a deal.
Republicans in Utah's congressional delegation blasted Obama's reform proposal as nothing more than putting lipstick on the pig of previous Democratic proposals.
"All the White House has done is make cosmetic changes to a failed $2.5 trillion tax, borrow and spend health care bill. This is like putting new paint on a condemned building and calling it fixed," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said, "Rather than listening to Americans and starting over with step-by-step reforms that improve the quality of care and lower the costs, the president is attempting to marry two bad health care bills (from the Senate and House) into one. Mr. President, two wrongs do not make a right."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, ripped the proposal in multiple Twitter posts. "Obviously the White House is content slamming this through despite the wishes of most people. We will fight it." He added, "Thought they were going to reach out and work in a bipartisan way? Hmmm. Guess not on this one."
Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, said Obama had "crippled the credibility" of Thursday's meeting by proposing "the same massive government takeover of health care" that Americans had already rejected.
The bill, which the White House estimates would cost $950 billion over a decade, aims to fulfill Obama's goals of expanding coverage to millions of people who are uninsured, while taking steps to control soaring health care costs. It sticks largely to the version passed by the Senate in December, but offers some concessions to House leaders who have demanded more help for middle-class people.
Obama's measure would, for example, eliminate a highly criticized special deal to help Nebraska pay for a proposed Medicaid expansion, and would instead provide more help for all states to pay for their new Medicaid enrollees. It would delay enactment of a controversial tax on high-cost employer-sponsored insurance plans and, in a nod to the concerns of older Americans, do away with the unpopular "doughnut hole" in the Medicare prescription drug program.
But more than a specific policy prescription, the measure is a gamble by a president trying to keep his top legislative priority alive. The White House signaled more clearly than it had until now that, barring a bipartisan breakthrough, Democrats would try a legislative maneuver known as reconciliation to pass the bill through the Senate on a simple majority vote, avoiding the 60-vote supermajority requirement that is necessary to avert a Republican filibuster.
Contributing: Lee Davidson, Deseret News