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President Hosts Health Care Summit Today, But Few Have High Hopes About It

Source: USA Today, CNN

Posted on 25 Feb 2010

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Today marks the kickoff President Barack Obama's major health care summit with a group of deeply divided Republicans and Democrats, although optimism about a positive outcome appears to be slim. The summit will run from 10 am to 4 pm.

According to a poll conducted by USA Today, three out of four Americans say they believe the meeting of the deeply divided politicians will yield a new health care agreement.

Congressional Republicans are set against President Obama’s health care plan with its hefty $950 billion price tag, preferring to take incremental steps instead. Some congressional Democrats are already looking past the summit, instead planning to try to push through a health care on their own, if at all possible.

Sen. Chris Dodd, a key author of the Senate health care bill, told reporters flatly Wednesday that if Republicans continue to demand that Democrats scrap their health care proposals and start over, "then there's nothing to talk about."

"If you expect me to start all over on this, there's really not much point in this, 'cause we're not going to start over," Dodd said.

But Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell argued that's exactly what Republicans want.

"Unless they're willing to do that, I think it's nearly impossible to imagine a scenario under which we can reach agreement because we don't think we ought to pass a 2,700-page bill that seeks to restructure one-sixth of our economy," McConnell said.

Dodd said Democrats and Republicans could find some common ground in some areas, such as a Republican push to allow insurers to sell insurance across state lines. Dodd called the GOP proposal "a legitimate issue" but added that Democrats already have a version of that proposal in their legislation.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennesee, will give the opening statement for the Republicans at the summit, according to two GOP sources.

House and Senate Democrats participating in today’s summit met in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office to game out their approach for the meeting. Republicans held their own strategy session in McConnell's office later Wednesday afternoon.

Pelosi says she has “great optimism" about the meeting, but she declined to give any specifics about how Democrats will proceed on health care reform. She also sidestepped questions about Democrats' plans to use a controversial parliamentary shortcut to bypass GOP opposition and pass a health care bill.

"I'm going there to talk about substance," she said. "We agree that we should have universal access to coverage, with affordability for the middle class and accountability for the insurance companies. That, to me, is what the subject is about tomorrow."

But Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota, admitted that Democrats did talk Wednesday morning about using "reconciliation" to move health care legislation. He said Democrats anticipate the issue will come up at Thursday's summit.

Reconciliation is a process, limited to budget-related bills, that bypasses the Senate rule on 60 votes being needed to end debate. By using reconciliation, only a majority vote would be needed to advance a bill.

McConnell warned the political consequences would be severe if Democrats moved forward without GOP support.

Pointing to the backlash over the special deal in the Senate bill for Nebraska's Democratic senator, Ben Nelson, to cover his state's Medicaid costs, McConnell said, "If they think the American people are mad at them now, they haven't seen anything yet."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week pointed out that reconciliation has been used more than 20 times since 1981, by both parties.