Nightly News   |  February 25, 2010

Health care summit summons political drama

With no major breakthroughs and neither side offering concessions, the health care summit appeared on Thursday to be headed for a showdown on Capitol Hill. NBC's Savannah Guthrie reports.

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>>> "nightly news" begins now.

>>> good evening. if you were so inclined, you could have spent your whole day watching live television coverage of a health care summit from washington . it featured around one table and in one room the president of the united states and leaders of congress from both parties. the white house pushed for it because they feel their man, the president, is good at this sort of thing. and while it was a live tv show, it also may have a big impact on the future of health care for every american or things could keep going the way they have been. we begin our coverage tonight with our white house correspondent savannah guthrie . good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. leading up to this summit, senior aides here said they didn't expect it to change everything. the question tonight is, did it change anything? with just a short walk across the street to blair house --

>> looking forward to listening.

>> reporter: the all-day televised summit showed the long way the president has to go to bridge the divide over health care .

>> i hope that this isn't political theater where we are just laying to the cameras and criticizing each other.

>> reporter: the democrats' strategy appeared to be reasonable.

>> we are actually quite close. there is not a lot of difference.

>> we may be closer together than people really think.

>> i think we agree with most of them.

>> reporter: but republicans disgreed about agreeing. distancing themselves from the democrats' bill.

>> there are some fundamental differences between us here that we cannot paper over.

>> we don't think all the answers lie in washington regulating all of this.

>> there is a reason why we all voted no.

>> reporter: looking to resuscitate his key domestic initiative, the president invited 39 members of congress selected by the republican and democratic congressional leadership, to debate the fine points of health care policy. how to pay for it, who should be covered, how to rein in escalating health care costs.

>> i would like the republicans to do a little soul searching and find out are there some things that you would be willing to embrace that get to this core problem of 30 million people without health insurance .

>> reporter: not every disagreement today was on substance.

>> at this point the republicans have 22 minutes , the democrats 52 minutes. let's try to have as much balance as we can.

>> i'm just going back and forth here, mitch.

>> reporter: tonight the key difference remains, whether to do a big comprehensive health care bill or proceed bit by bit.

>> our country's too big, too complicated, too decentralized for washington , a few of us here to write a few rules about remaking 17% of the economy all at once.

>> an incremental approach is like a swimmer who is 50 feet offshore drowning and you throw him a 10-foot rope.

>> reporter: in a reprise of the 2008 campaign, senator john mccain accused the president of negotiating the bill behind closed doors .

>> what we got was a process that you and i both said we would change in washington .

>> we're not campaigning anymore. the election is over.

>> i'm reminded of that every day.

>> reporter: well, with no major breakthroughs, the president hinted at the close of the session he is looking to democrats now to go forward and the voters will have the final verdict on what they do, brian.

>> all right, savannah guthrie on the white house lawn. this