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Hill Looks Past Health Summit

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), also a doctor, said he didn’t want to share his expectations for the summit. “It’s not about policy, though; it’s about politics,” he said.

But a Democratic source with knowledge of Obama’s plans on health care countered: “I guarantee you the president is very interested in what Republicans have to say.”

The White House has refused to give any details on its post-summit strategy, a stance that has fueled speculation that Obama may be ready to play hardball and lean on filibuster-busting reconciliation rules to push his plan through the Senate without Republicans.

And while many Democrats have privately said the strategy is very much in play, Democratic Hill aides played coy Wednesday on whether there was any plan in the works to pursue a partisan tack. “It’s the president’s move,” one senior aide said.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Monday described reconciliation as “a legislative vehicle that has been used on a number of occasions over the past many years” and that “the avenue exists if one wants to pursue it.” Moments later, he said Obama “believes there ought to be an up-or-down vote on health care.”

Still, Gibbs was dodging questions Tuesday about Obama’s strategy for passing health care reform into law.

“The president is not focused on Friday. The president ultimately is focused on Thursday,” Gibbs said. Pressed on whether Obama is optimistic that the health care debate will be in a different place after the summit, Gibbs said, “Hopefully Thursday afternoon.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned that talk of reconciliation is clouding the purpose of the bipartisan meeting.

“If the White House wants real bipartisanship, then it needs to drop the proposal it posted yesterday. ... And they need to take this last-ditch reconciliation effort off the table once and for all,” McConnell said.

Obama will likely throw a few bones to Republicans today by publicly backing some of their favorite proposals — namely, medical malpractice reform — in an effort to show that he remains receptive to bipartisan ideas. But GOP aides said such a strategy won’t stop them from criticizing Obama’s health care plan.

“If he’s praising tort reform, his problem will be House and Senate Democrats, not Republicans,” one GOP leadership aide said.

Obama invited a host of Congressional leaders to take part in the six-hour meeting, which kicks off at 10 a.m. at the Blair House. The meeting will center on four topics — cost control, insurance reforms, deficit reduction and expanded coverage — with Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Vice President Joseph Biden taking turns introducing each topic.

Obama is scheduled to attend the entire meeting — a significant amount of time for the administration to clear. Obama will kick off the meeting with opening remarks, which will be followed by comments from Congressional leaders, and he will lead discussions on the first and last of the four mini-forums on tap.

House Democratic participants include Clyburn, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), and Reps. Charlie Rangel (N.Y.), George Miller (Calif.), Henry Waxman (Calif.) and John Dingell (Mich.). Republicans include Boehner, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Reps. Dave Camp (Mich.), Joe Barton (Texas) and John Kline (Minn.).

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