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Democrats sanguine over chances to bypass health care filibuster

WASHINGTON — On the eve of President Barack Obama's planned health care summit, Democratic lawmakers are increasingly confident that they can resurrect their sweeping overhaul legislation after weeks of uncertainty about whether they could overcome the unified opposition of Republicans.

Democratic leaders have settled on a strategy to avoid a Republican filibuster by persuading wary House Democrats to pass unchanged the health care bill approved by the Senate last year and send it directly to Obama for his signature.

At the same time, Democrats in the Senate are rallying behind the use of a legislative procedure known as budget reconciliation to push through a separate package of health care measures to satisfy liberal Democrats in the House.

That package — which would require a simple majority and not be subject to a GOP filibuster — combined with the overhaul bill, would result in a bundle of legislation close to the blueprint outlined by the president Monday.

Senate leaders believe they have the 51 votes necessary to pass the reconciliation package.

On the other side of the Democratic ideological spectrum, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., a co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus who has bitterly criticized the Senate health bill, expressed optimism that Democrats were nearing a breakthrough. "I think we are on our way," she said.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., another liberal who criticized the Senate bill and the president's leadership after Republican Scott Brown's victory last month in the Massachusetts Senate race cost the Democrats their filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority, credited Obama with turning the tide by posting his blueprint on the Internet Monday.

"With his action yesterday, he shook us out of our post-Brown stupor and we're back to legislating," Weiner said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., still must find 218 votes to advance the Senate health care legislation, a task that has only grown harder with the death and departure of several Democratic lawmakers in recent days.

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are keeping up their criticism of the president's plans. "We just don't care for this bill and neither do the American people," said Virginia Rep Eric Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican. "And it's time for us, it's time really for this president and the majority in this Congress to start listening to the American people."

The White House said three dozen lawmakers, plus several administration officials, will sit at a table with name placards Thursday. Leaders of both parties will speak. Obama will lead discussions on controlling health care costs and expanding coverage. Vice President Joe Biden will head a discussion on deficit reduction. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will lead talks on insurance reform.

Pelosi invited four colleagues Tuesday, in addition to previously announced committee chairmen: Reps. Rob Andrews of New Jersey, Xavier Becerra of California, Jim Cooper of Tennesse and Louise Slaughter of New York.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tapped John McCain of Arizona; Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John Barrasso of Wyoming, both doctors; and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, in addition to key committee leaders.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

3 senior Democrats named to deficit panel

Three senior Senate Democrats, Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Max Baucus of Montana and Dick Durbin of Illinois, were named to a bipartisan panel established by President Barack Obama to come up with a proposal to bring the budget deficit under control. The panel's co-chairs, Democratic former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, were named last week. The panel will total 18 members.

Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell were in talks over what to include in catchall legislation to help the long-term unemployed, extend several expired tax breaks and prevent doctors from suffering a big cut in their Medicare reimbursements. Taken together, the proposals would cost in the range of $100 billion, $85 billion more than the jobs bill the Senate is scheduled to approve today.

Democrats sanguine over chances to bypass health care filibuster 02/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 11:22pm]
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