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Health care odds long, but Democrats push ahead

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ALAN FRAM
February 27, 2010
— Democrats are pushing hard to revive President Barack Obama's stalled health care overhaul and say they see glimmers of hope, but the long odds facing them seemed little changed after Obama's extraordinary meeting summit with both parties' leaders.

At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday that Obama would reveal a "way forward" next week on legislation that has been his foremost domestic priority. Obama, who will first discuss the strategy with Democratic congressional leaders, said at Thursday's bipartisan marathon that he is open to several Republican ideas, including medical malpractice changes.


Nearly a year after Obama set the overhaul effort in motion, Gibbs said the president would make an announcement, probably on Wednesday, about "where he sees a path moving forward."


Gibbs said the next few days would be a "fairly dynamic process" as the administration and Democratic congressional leaders decide how best to proceed.


White House officials believe the most likely route to passage by Congress is a controversial one known as "reconciliation," which involves special budget rules allowing majority Democrats to avoid any Republican delaying tactics, said a senior administration official.


But there are other options for a Democratic-only solution, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the issue. Less likely, at this point, is settling for a more modest fallback bill.


White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and top adviser David Axelrod discussed health care in an early evening meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress. A spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican, said White House officials have asked the senator to submit details of suggestions he made at Thursday's meeting on rooting out fraud from the medical system.


In addition, a pair of retiring Democrats who opposed the legislation when the House approved it in November appeared willing to reconsider. And some supporters of a House provision strictly banning federal financing for abortion, a complicated sticking point, indicated an openness to different language.


The outcome could affect nearly all Americans, remaking the way they pay for health care, the kinds of care they are likely to receive and where they are likely to get it. Or there could be smaller changes outcomes the Democrats say will lead to crushing budget problems and tens of millions of people still being left out of health care.


The United States is the only rich country with no system of universal health care. Obama has made changing that his major domestic goal after he campaigned and was led a Democratic sweep into Washington on the promise to revamp the system.


Republicans see problems in the health care system, too, but recommend less-far-reaching prescriptions.


Still, apparently because of an upswell of public doubts about the possibilities being offered and the costs of implementing them, polls have begun to show serious second thoughts among the public for an overhaul.


Despite the signs of movement, a day after television cameras brought the nation Obama's unusual daylong discussion with top Republicans and Democrats there were no clear indications of a major change in Congress. The equation remained the same: Democratic leaders, especially in the House, will have to scramble to find votes to pass any health legislation, and they are almost certainly going to have to do it without Republican support.


There are Democratic doubts, as well.


"People who voted 'yes' would love a second bite at the apple to vote 'no' this time, because they went home and got an unpleasant experience" because of their votes, said Rep. Jason Altmire, a moderate Democrat from Pennsylvania. "On the other hand," he added, "I don't know anybody who voted 'no' who regrets it."



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