Obama's Health Care Summit Kicks Off

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies are pleading their case for health care overhaul in an extraordinary summit with Republicans, broadcast live to a divided public on daytime TV.

But Democrats are already looking beyond Thursday's meeting at historic Blair House. With GOP lawmakers remaining steadfast in their opposition, the president and his party are preparing to move on alone.

At stake in the high-risk strategy is the Democrats' stalemated legislation to extend coverage to more than 30 million people who are now uninsured. Politically, it's an all-or-nothing gamble in a midterm election year for Democrats bent on achieving a goal that has eluded lawmakers for a half-century.

Polls show Americans want their elected leaders to address the problems of high medical costs, eroding access to coverage and uneven quality. But the public is split over the merits of the Democrats' sweeping legislation, with its $1 trillion, 10-year price tag and many complex provisions, including some that wouldn't take effect for another eight years — after Obama has packed up and left the White House.

And a USA Today/Gallup survey released Thursday found Americans tilt 49-42 against Democrats forging ahead by themselves without any GOP support. Opposition was even stronger to the idea of Senate Democrats using special budget rules that would bar Republicans from mounting a filibuster to stop the bill. Using the special procedure would be key to the Democrats-only strategy, but 52% opposed it, with 39% in favor.

For Obama, the summit is his chance to make a compelling closing argument to the American people. If he succeeds, Democrats will push ahead to pass the legislation with a package of revisions he's proposed. If Obama falters, another Democratic president will have been humbled by health care. He will have to appeal to both sides to at least give him a modest bill smoothing some of the rough edges from the current system.

Obama's chief spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said hours in advance of the session that he thinks the talks can be productive if participants "put aside this notion of kabuki theater, put aside this notion of six-hour photo ops."

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