House and Senate Democrats could complete negotiations on a final healthcare reform package before they sit down with Republicans for a bipartisan summit that will be hosted by President Barack Obama.
The White House formally invited congressional leaders to the summit, planned for Feb. 25, on Friday. Near the bottom the letter lawmakers received from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is this nugget:
Since this meeting will be most productive if information is widely available before the meeting, we will post online the text of a proposed health insurance reform package. This legislation would put a stop to insurance company abuses, extend coverage to millions of Americans, get control of skyrocketing premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and reduce the deficit.
It is the President’s hope that the Republican congressional leadership will also put forward their own comprehensive bill to achieve those goals and make it available online as well. [Emphasis added]
Asked whether this indicated that Obama wants Democratic congressional leaders to wrap up their discussions about a House-Senate compromise package before the meeting, a White House official wrote: "We’ll have more details on this moving forward. Folks are continuing to work to bridge the differences in the House and [Senate] bills and we’ll have online a detailed and comprehensive proposal."
If that comprehensive proposal amounts to a final healthcare bill, Congressional GOP leaders will howl. Earlier on Friday, the top three House Republicans wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) demanding their negotiations cease until after the summit.
Prior to losing the 60th Democratic vote in the Senate to Scott Brown (R-Mass.) last month, Obama, Pelosi and Reid appeared on the verge of striking an accord on the compromises needed to move a final healthcare reform bill through both chambers and get it on the president's desk.
Deprived by Brown of their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, Democratic leaders have been forced to change their plan. Now, the House must pass the Senate bill and both chambers must passed a second measure containing their compromise language through budget reconciliation rules, which would allow the bill to pass the Senate on a simple majority vote.