President Obama is making good on his pledge, first put forth in the State of the Union, to reach out to Republicans on health care reform.
In a CBS News interview with Katie Couric that just aired, Obama announced that he's inviting Republican leaders to the White House this week to put their ideas on the table--and then holding a public forum to discuss them.
White House officials say the forum will be February 25. The meeting will be open press, with C-Span (and, I presume, other networks) televising the whole thing. The likely setting will be Blair House, across the street from the White House.
A White House official, speaking on background, stressed that the meeting in no way signals a retreat from Obama's commitment to push ahead with comprehensive health care reform. He's interested in hearing out Republican ideas, the official said, but when the discussion is done he wants to see a bill move forward--and pass.
And Obama's rhetoric in the Couric interview was consistent with that. Citing recent premium hikes in California, he stated that the need for reform was only becoming more urgent with time. Later in the interview, when Couric asked him about deficits, he brought the discussion back to health care--reminding viewers that controlling health care costs was the surest way to reduce deficits in the long run.
The move makes sense, given the political moment. As my colleague Jonathan Chait noted the other day, Republicans have been complaining that Democrats locked them out of the process. And large swaths of the public seem to agree, even though the argument seems plainly untrue, given the exhaustive efforts Obama and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus made to accommodate Republicans. The public forum will give the GOP one more, high-profile opportunity to air their views--and, no less important, it will give the public a chance to see which approach to health care they really prefer.
My only complaint about it: Democratic leaders will apparently be joining Obama and the Republicans at the public forum. To be perfectly honest, I think Obama can make the case for Democratic reforms on his own. Then again, if there's going to be a truly open discussion, I suppose both parties have to be present.
Update: I still worry, as I wrote last week, that Obama isn't pushing hard enough on the inside. But I don't think public outreach to the Republicans interferes with that.