Politicians in Washington turned up the heat on their healthcare dispute ahead of a televised political drama on Thursday billed by the White House as a peace gesture but seen by wary Republicans as a trap.
"We need to show up and crash the party," House Minority Leader John Boehner told fellow Republicans in a closed-door event on Tuesday, according to an aide.
"We shouldn't let the White House have a six-hour taxpayer-funded infomercial on Obamacare," Boehner said, suggesting the meeting was no more than a publicity stunt by President Barack Obama.
Facing Republican resistance, Obama signaled on Monday he was ready to go it alone with his Democrats if needed to pass an overhaul bill that would restrain costs, tighten regulations on insurers and expand health coverage to tens of millions of Americans.
Both parties agree U.S. healthcare is too costly and covers too few people. It now consumes 16 percent of gross domestic product, with a projected rise to 25 percent by 2025.
But Democrats and Republicans disagree on how to proceed.
Overshadowing the debate are elections in November when all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and more than a third of the 100 Senate seats are up for grabs.
Republicans fear Thursday's meeting is a trap meant to portray them as the "party of no."
Many analysts suggest the six-hour event will be more about scoring political points in an election year than about fixing a system in which 46 million Americans -- nearly a sixth of the population -- are without medical coverage.
Republicans pronounced dead on arrival Obama's revised plan on Monday. Polling data suggests the public is worried about the sweeping program to expand health coverage that has a projected cost of nearly $1 trillion over 10 years.
Republicans demand Democrats abandon their broad proposals for a simpler, less costly, step-by step approach that would limit medical malpractice lawsuits, allow small businesses to form health insurance groups and permit insurers to sell policies across state lines.
"You will not see from us a 2,700-page comprehensive rewrite of one-sixth of our economy," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. "We don't think that ought to be done, and we've said it repeatedly."
Democrats have no intention of scrapping their bills.
"The Republican's mantra is starting over. That is not a realistic request," said House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer.
The summit will likely lay the groundwork for pushing the final bill through Congress using a privileged budget process called reconciliation that will allow Democrats to more easily overcome Republican efforts to block the bill in the Senate.
Obama's plan would make it easier to bypass Republicans if necessary and ram through legislation by a process requiring a simple majority in the 100-member Senate rather than the 60 votes needed to clear procedural hurdles.
Republican say, given that, the Democrats are merely stage-managing political theater on Thursday. Democrats hold a healthy majority in the House.
"Of course it's political theater. That doesn't mean that it is not important or not useful," said Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning thinktank.
"They're not going to walk across the aisle, shake hands and put out a consensus healthcare plan."
It is unclear how soon the Democratic majority will try to push through a final healthcare bill. Democrats plan to pass a series of bills aimed at job creation over the next few weeks which could delay healthcare by several weeks.
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