Salon's guide to the players at the bipartisan summit

Program! Can't tell your members of Congress attending a bipartisan summit on healthcare without a program!

Published February 25, 2010 1:15PM (EST)

Today's the day: After a ton of build-up, President Obama is set to meet with about 40 members of Congress from both parties for a much-hyped bipartisan summit on healthcare reform.

Some of the members of Congress who'll be attending are more recognizable than others: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of course, will be familiar to most viewers at home. But for some reason people like Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., and Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., aren't quite international rock stars. So as a public service, we've put together this little guide on the players involved.

Now, one thing to note -- though we're listing all the Democrats here, we're only giving you the scoop on the Republicans. That's because the Democrats are largely expected to follow President Obama's lead; in the wake of his successful televised meeting with House Republicans, it's really his show. That's not to say that the Democrats won't try to grandstand a bit, too -- show me a member of Congress who can't smell a camera from a good 50 yards upwind, and I'll show you a member of Congress who's in cardiac arrest -- but it's the Republicans who are likely to get the most attention.

Without further ado:

Senate Democrats:

  • Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
  • Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
  • Conference Vice Chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
  • Conference Secretary Patty Murray, D-Wash.
  • Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.
  • Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn.
  • Health, Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa
  • Finance Subcommittee on Health Care Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va.
  • Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

Senate Republicans:

  • Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. -- His performance is a little hard to predict. On the one hand, he'll probably play the role of the man in the upper chamber and won't be quite as partisan as his House counterpart, Minority Leader John Boehner. On the other, he's been very successful in keeping his members from voting for basically any Democratic proposals in this Congress. He'll probably strike a balance between those two sides.
  • Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. -- A staunch conservative in a political job. Not exactly a good candidate to be the guy who bridges the divide today.
  • Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. -- Yes, the guy who ran for president (unsuccessfully) in flannel. Flannel! He's at the summit because he's a member of the Senate Republican leadership, not because of any noise he's made on healthcare -- and also, flannel! -- so don't expect too much in the way of fireworks from him.
  • Ranking Finance Committee Member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa -- Former pig farmer might be one to watch today. He'd been the one leading the Republican team in earlier bipartisan negotiations on healthcare, but he tarnished his credibility on that score when he said last summer, "We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma."
  • Ranking HELP Committee Member Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. -- Like Grassley, a member of the fabled Gang of Six, a group of three Democratic senators and three Republican senators who were trying to negotiate a bipartisan bill. Obviously, that didn't work out so well.
  • John McCain, R-Ariz. -- Who can tell which John McCain we'll see today? Maybe it'll be the "maverick" who first proposed the kind of prime minister's question time sessions for the president that Obama performed so well in recently, a senator who actually does reach across the aisle. Or maybe it'll be the McCain who has a tougher-than-expected primary challenge to deal with on his right flank, who still seems angry about having lost the presidency and who might even be bitter that it's his question time idea getting used by his former opponent. The latter seems more likely.
  • Tom Coburn, R-Okla. -- Ah, Dr. No. Coburn got the nickname, of which he seems very fond, for being the senator most likely to unilaterally block pretty much any and every spending bill he doesn't like. Don't look for bipartisanship here. Also worth noting that he is a doctor, one of a couple Republicans at the summit today who is; that's almost certain to come up.
  • John Barrasso, R-Wyo. -- Like Coburn, a doctor. That's pretty much what Barrasso has going for him here.

House Democrats:

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
  • Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
  • Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.
  • Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y.
  • Education and Labor Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
  • Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Emeritus John Dingell, D-Mich.
  • Vice Chair of House Democratic Caucus Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.
  • Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.
  • Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J.
  • Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.

House Republicans:

  • Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio -- Boehner leads a staunchly conservative group of House Republicans, so bipartisanship -- or even the pretense of it that most people in attendance will be making -- is likely to be the furthest thing from his mind. He didn't even put out the full list of people he'd be bringing until Wednesday afternoon. Look for some grandstanding here. 
  • Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va. -- A rising star in the Republican Party, and like Boehner, beholden to a lot of conservatives. Plus, his job as whip is expressly political. He's not going to be compromising.
  • Energy & Commerce Committee Ranking Member Joe Barton, R-Texas -- This should be amusing. There are a lot of less-than-intellectual members of Congress out there, and Barton's one of them. Problem is, he thinks he's really smart.
  • Ways & Means Committee Ranking Member Dave Camp, R-Mich.
  • Education & Labor Committee Ranking Republican John Kline, R-Minn.
  • Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. -- Think of her as sort of a light version of another congresswoman with the initials M.B.: Michele Bachmann. Sample quote, Blackburn on taxes: "If 10 percent is good enough for God on Sunday, it's for damn sure good enough for the government on Monday." She tussled with Obama during his meeting with House Republicans, and didn't do so well, but is back for another try.
  • Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La. -- Another Republican doctor. Boustany got a chance to give the official GOP response to the healthcare address Obama gave to a joint session of Congress last year, and didn't do much with it. We'll see if that changes this time around.
  • Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill. -- A friend of Obama's from their days in the Illinois Senate, Roskam may be the token House Republican who's not at the summit to breathe fire at the president. That worked quite well for him, and for the GOP, when he questioned Obama during the House Republican retreat.
  • Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. -- The wonk. Ryan's a real up-and-comer, the guy Congressional Republicans see as their policy expert. He's there, no doubt, to help the GOP push back against Democratic charges that Republicans haven't put forward plans of their own.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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