- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The American public wants Congress to start the health care debate over from scratch - just as Republicans have been pushing - amid growing talk among Democrats about the need to use a procedural end run to ram through a revised overhaul bill.

A Zogby International poll released Tuesday shows that 57 percent of Americans do not like either of the competing health care bills produced by the Senate and House and say Congress should start over, as a group of bipartisan lawmakers head to a health care summit with President Obama next week.

White House officials say they plan to unveil their revised proposal ahead of the summit, prompting Republicans to question whether the meeting is an attempt at real negotiation or just strong-arming.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to seriously think the event will produce a meaningful negotiation. In fact, four Democrats asked Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday to pursue reconciliation - a complicated procedural move that would allow the Senate to pass a bill with 51 votes and bypass the chance for Republicans to filibuster.

The Democrats - Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio - support the public insurance plan, a government-run health care program that didn’t have enough support to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, even before Republican Sen. Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts chilled support for such a plan on Capitol Hill.

“Although we strongly support the important reforms made by the Senate-passed health reform package, including a strong public option would improve both its substance and the public’s perception of it,” the group said in a letter released Tuesday.

Reconciliation would be complicated, and many of the policy initiatives in a public-option bill or any health bill wouldn’t be able to pass using the procedural tool, warned former Senate parliamentarian Robert B. Dove. He called the option an “exhausting process” during a conference call on Tuesday organized by the conservative Galen Institute.

Mr. Obama will review his proposed solution - which is not expected to include a public option - at the televised bipartisan health summit, planned for Feb. 25, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday. He said he expects Republicans to do the same, but minority lawmakers have been skeptical of the summit and haven’t formally accepted the invitation.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner said that after the summit, Democrats would embark “on a legislative course that Democratic congressional aides acknowledge has also been predetermined - a partisan course that relies on parliamentary tricks to circumvent the will of the American people and engineer a predetermined outcome. It doesn’t sound much like bipartisanship to me.”

Mr. Gibbs said it would be hypocritical for Republicans to turn down the invitation after they chastised Democrats for months for not including them in the health reform conversation.

“Not accepting an invitation to do what they’d asked the president to do - if they decide not to, I’ll let them leap the chasm that’s there and try to explain why they’re now opposed to what they said they wanted most to do,” Mr. Gibbs said.

The White House’s health care bill is expected to include many of the elements that already passed in both the House and the Senate bills, such as insurance industry reforms, requirements for all Americans to purchase insurance and strong incentives or a mandate that employers provide coverage. The sharpest differences among the plans include how to pay for it and how to limit federal funding of abortions.

The Zogby poll found that respondents largely oppose the current shape of the legislation, but a majority say they are more supportive of congressional reform of the health care system than they were a year ago.

Fifty percent of respondents strongly or somewhat oppose the legislation in both the House and Senate plans. But 33 percent of respondents said they were more supportive of reforming the health care system now versus a year ago and 24 percent said they are just as supportive.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week has similar findings. It showed that 63 percent of Americans want Congress to pursue a way to reform the health care system.