The forum, at Blair House across the street from the White House, was in many respects an extraordinary sight - the president, with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at his side, engaging in a spirited and detailed policy debate with Republicans about one of the most compelling and ideologically polarizing issues facing the nation.
Mr. Obama's mastery of the intricacies of health policy was impressive even to some Republicans.
Also on Friday, reporter David Herszenhorn suggested in his "news analysis," "Uniting Democrats Is Challenge at Health Forum ," that "Mr. Obama's grand gesture of bipartisanship" might put pressure on Republicans. (If it was such a grand gesture, then why did Democrats dominate the speaking time by a 2:1 ratio?)
Herszenhorn has been a long-time Obama-care optimist, having declared victory for Obama's version of big government health "reform" on several occasions, like the "clear turning-point in the health care debate " that occurred after Obama's address to both houses of Congress back in September 2009.
Herszenhorn insisted on Friday that Obama's enormously costly and intrusive proposal to remake American health care was actually a "largely middle-of-the-road proposal" that had alienated his party's liberal wing. Still, he thought that the summit had given the moribund plan yet another new spark of life:
While the forum was novel, Mr. Obama still seemed burdened with the challenges of having pursued a largely middle-of-the-road proposal that has hampered the Democrats all along. It has disappointed some in the party's liberal base, especially without a public option. It holds little or no appeal for Republicans, and it confuses and scares many people in the middle.Herszenhorn continued to see the summit from a Democratic perspective, arguing that the Republicans, who are vastly outnumbered in Congress, will share the blame in November if a health care scheme fails to pass:
And yet, just five weeks after the Republican victory in a special Senate election in Massachusetts left the Democrats' health care legislation on the edge of collapse, Mr. Obama's unusual forum, and his relentless effort to portray Democrats and Republicans as agreeing on many points, restored the health care issue to center stage, and reminded a skeptical public of the gravity of the problems he is trying to fix.
Mr. Obama also seemed to widen the playing field, giving the Democrats some additional options. They could try to win final approval of the legislation using budget reconciliation, which would avert a Republican filibuster in the Senate. The president suggested a decision on that could be made within six weeks.
After Republicans said that they shared some of the Democrats' goals on tighter insurance regulation, including ending annual and lifetime caps on benefits, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Republicans could not argue that government should have no role.
"You're either in or you're out," he snapped at Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican whip, who was highly critical at the session of the Democrats' legislative plans.
The fundamental question facing Republicans was not whether they could persuade Democrats to take a different approach, but whether continuing their opposition in the wake of Mr. Obama's grand gesture of bipartisanship could turn into a liability in a tense midterm election year.