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Reconciliation Not Easy to Influence

“The focus is on the House. That is where the action is,” Faraci said.

Other large groups also believe they need to stiffen the spines of wavering lawmakers.

Officials with the large senior citizens group AARP, which supports health overhaul legislation, said they have decided to re-engage in the health care debate after retreating for a brief period to give Obama a chance to hold bipartisan talks. However, after the meeting with Republicans at the White House resulted in no agreement, AARP is bolstering its grass-roots efforts to provide cover for lawmakers who are under attack back home.

“Are we just going to sit on the sidelines? No,” said David Sloane, senior vice president of government relations for AARP.

Sloane, however, said that AARP is not going to be launching the kind of major advertising campaign that was so prevalent in the health care debate last year.

“I don’t think advertising is the way to secure votes,” he said.

However, Sloane said that after a brief lull, media tracking services have found there has been an uptick in health care ads being aired back in lawmakers’ districts by other outside groups.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has underwritten millions of dollars of ads opposing the Democratic health care plan in the past year. But chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff said the organization has not yet announced its next move. She said the business group, which opposed the changes outlined by Obama for health care reform, was waiting to see exactly what was included in the reconciliation bill.

But restaurant and retail industry groups are not waiting for the bill’s details to be released. Responding to intelligence they are picking up on Capitol Hill, those sectors have already launched campaigns to dissuade Democrats from inserting provisions in the reconciliation bill regarding health care coverage for part-time workers.

These groups support the Senate bill, which would only penalize employers for not providing health care coverage to full-time employees, which are defined as 29 hours a week or more. But Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) is considering inserting provisions in the reconciliation measure that would make it harder for employers to reduce workers’ hours to avoid the penalty.

The National Restaurant Association recently blasted an action alert to its members urging them to contact their lawmakers to oppose Miller’s efforts.

“Please contact your representative and tell him or her to maintain the part-time worker exemption currently in the Senate-passed bill,” said the memo from Scott DeFife, the restaurant association’s executive vice president for policy and government affairs.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association is also opposing legislative attempts to change the Senate language. RILA spokesman Brian Dodge said his group was responding to rumors that Democrats would try to mandate that employers provide coverage for part-time workers.

“We’re anticipating the worst and acting on that,” he said. “This process does not lend itself to clarity.”

But Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, said reconciliation is not a problem for groups like his that are generally supportive of the health care reform bills. He said his group will be convincing members to vote for the bill.

“People are just getting revved up,” Kahn said.

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