Obama tries to soothe anxious Dems with bipartisan talk 

A day ahead of his renewed push for health care legislation, President Obama tried winning more converts by incorporating Republican ideas in his proposal. But Obama's targets for conversion were some of the 39 House Democrats who voted against his plan in November, not the GOP.

"If the majority manages to jam this issue through the House over the objections of the American people -- and we know that they are overwhelmingly opposed to the bill, we know that they're overwhelmingly opposed to reconciling the bill, once reconciliation is explained to them -- it will be the issue in every single race in America this fall," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

By making the plan appear more bipartisan, Obama can provide cover to balky, moderate Democrats in an election year already characterized by voter disgust with incumbent officeholders, health care legislation generally, and partisan bickering in Washington.

Democrats also in recent days have been calling for an up or down vote on health care -- a rhetorical smokescreen for the parliamentary maneuvers that could win passage of the bill with simple majorities.

"There is a political calculation here with about eight or nine House Democrats wavering, and you could see them saying "It's a different proposal now and I can vote for it,'" said Michael Tanner, a health care policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

Republican-backed ideas Obama said he would consider include funding for reforming medical malpractice lawsuits, exploring ways to increase Medicaid reimbursement to doctors, creating a new undercover investigation system to bust health care providers abusing the Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement systems, and expanding the use of health savings accounts.

Congressional Democrats are publicly pinning their hopes on Obama producing a bill that can attract some bipartisan support in the Senate, so that legislation can pass with 60 votes instead of using the process of budget reconciliation, intended for fiscal adjustments, to pass the plan with 51 votes .

If that doesn't happen, attempting to pass a bill will likely be a lengthy and difficult process that would involve convincing House Democrats to pass a Senate bill they oppose and then passing a second bill that would make corrections they seek for the first one.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters it will be hard to come up with the 216 votes needed in the House to pass a bill under that scenario and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the House will "see what the Senate can do," before voting on anything.

Many House lawmakers want the Senate to first pass the corrections bill before they agree to pass the underlying Senate legislation, which includes a tax on expensive insurance plans and deals for individual senators, among other provisions they don't like.

But Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., warned that a backward route toward passage would be "illogical and infinitely more difficult."

Democrats, who have already missed several health care deadlines, are making no promises about passing the bill by Easter, despite the latest timeline set by Obama.

"We're not going down that road," one top Democratic aide said Tuesday.

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