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Reconciliation Alive Despite Health Care Summit

Some moderate Senate Democrats have already announced their opposition to a reconciliation bill regardless of what is in it. But others appear more flexible. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a centrist who argued throughout last year against pursuing a 51-vote strategy, said there is no reason Democrats should turn away from the option, summit or not.

“As a practical matter, the president’s summit is going to come — will happen sooner than any efforts to put together a very slimmed-down reconciliation provision on health care,” Carper said.

“We should go forward with the president’s summit, and maybe that will help inform — if the summit doesn’t bear much fruit — maybe the conversation flowing from the summit would better inform what should be in a very narrow reconciliation provision.”

Democratic leaders were on the verge of reconciling the House and Senate health care packages when Brown’s victory sent the effort into free fall. Brown campaigned on being the 41st Republican to help kill the Democrats’ health care agenda.

Senate Republicans complained throughout 2009 about what they charged was a lack of bipartisanship on the effort. No GOP Senator voted in favor of four procedural motions or final passage of the Senate bill.

After Obama announced plans to hold the summit, the Republicans sought ground rules to ensure the event was, in their view, more than just a political exercise.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Obama’s intentions for the forum would become apparent “based upon his willingness to set the stage for a productive seminar.” Burr supported his party’s attempt to negotiate the terms of the event but said Republicans should attend no matter what. “I don’t think that it’s moving the ball down the field not to go.”

Among the possible preconditions for attending the summit was a request from House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) that reconciliation be taken off the table. GOP leaders in both chambers have indicated they would like Obama to start from scratch on health care reform as a potential condition for their attendance.

Democrats have said the ground rules underscore that the GOP isn’t really interested in forging a compromise on health care.

Last week, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who just introduced a resolution to weaken the filibuster, said Obama has acted in “good faith” by calling the summit, only to be met with more obstinacy from the GOP.

“I think the president’s proposal is meritorious,” Harkin said. “Now, it seems to me that Mr. Boehner has injected a new objection to this, saying, ‘No, we won’t come unless you want to start from scratch.’ I just don’t think that’s reasonable.”

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