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Tuesday, February 9, 2010


With a lack of clear direction on health reform, many Democrats have been calling on the president to take a stronger role and to signal the direction that Congress should move next. Over the weekend, this first signal arrived. During a pre-Super Bowl game interview with CBS’ Katie Couric, president Obama announced that there will be a bipartisan health summit late this month.

In the interview, the president seemed to indicate that the best shot at getting both the House and Senate on board would be to scrap the current bills. At the same, however, the White House is sending mixed messages -- indicating it has no plans to abandon the current health reform effort. Politico was told by a White House official that “The Feb. 25 meeting is an attempt to reach across the aisle but not a signal that the president plans to start over, as Republicans have demanded.”

In response to the invitation to the summit, Republican Minority John Boehner (Ohio), and Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Virginia) sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel seeking clarification on this point,

“Assuming the President is sincere about moving forward in a bipartisan way, does that mean he has taken off the table the idea of relying solely on Democratic votes and jamming through health care reform by way of reconciliation? ....Eliminating the possibility of reconciliation would represent an important show of good faith to Republicans and the American people”

While Republicans sought assurances they would truly be included, at least one powerful member of the administration insisted that the partisan bills before the congress are still very much in play. On Monday, speaking before a health policy conference, H.H.S. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius indicated -- in no uncertain terms -- that this bipartisan meeting does not signal that the legislative process will start over.

Though there has been much speculation as to the will of the president to see this domestic policy initiative turned into law, Secretary Sebelius gives a clear answer. She told a Huffington Post reporter Monday that “I think [Obama] sees this as a step to actually accelerating the process forward. He wants to move forward. He wants a bill at his desk and he sees this as kind of closing the loop and let's go."

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