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  Obama & Legislators Meet to Reconcile Health Reform Bills  

President Barack Obama met with senior Democratic lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in a long session dedicated to reconciling the House and Senate versions of the healthcare reform bill. Officials from the Administration at the meeting included Vice President Joseph Biden, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Director of Legislative Affairs Phil Schiliro, and healthcare adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle.


        The AP (1/14, Werner) reports that President Obama and senior Democratic lawmakers are "searching for unity" through the "unusually long meeting." The AP characterized legislators as "pushed by Obama," during "a hurry-up bid for an overdue agreement." The AP called the amount of time Obama spent on the meeting as "extraordinary." While the President and legislators say "that they had made tough gains," there is no deal yet.


        The Washington Post (1/14, A5, Montgomery) reports that Democratic lawmakers and Obama's participation, along with "other key players, proves their determination to craft a compromise that could come close to achieving their long-held goal of universal health coverage." However, the Post asserts that "House leaders have all but conceded defeat on the creation of a government-run insurance plan."


        The New York Times (1/14, A26, Pear, Stolberg) reports that House Republicans "said the secrecy of the negotiations violated Mr. Obama's frequent promises of greater openness and undermined the legitimacy of any agreements that might be reached." According to Congressional leaders, Obama "expressed his preferences on several issues and tried to guide them toward compromises."


        The Wall Street Journal (1/14, A3, Adamy, subscription required), The Hill (1/14, Young, Allen, subscription required), and Politico (1/14, Brown, O'Connor) also cover the meeting.


        Meanwhile, the Washington Times (1/14, Miller, Haberkorn) notes that there are "deep divisions among Democrats over how the final bill is paid for, how it deals with abortion and whether it establishes a national or multiple state insurance exchanges." The Times asserts that liberal House Democrats feel "rising resentment" over "being forced to accept the bulk of the Senate bill," and quotes what it calls both a "blustery admonition" and "a stern warning" by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY): "We don't like negotiating with a gun to our head." Roll Call (1/14, Pierce, Dennis, subscription required) also reports on "bickering" among Democrats.


        Expansion of Medicare payroll tax to unearned income may help fund reform bill. The Los Angeles Times (1/14, Hook, Levey) reports that one strategy to finance the bill discussed during the meeting is to apply the Medicare payroll tax to unearned income such as capital gains and dividends. This "could placate labor leaders who bitterly oppose President Obama's plan to tax high-end insurance policies that cover many union members" and "help shore up Medicare's shaky finances" even as "the burden of the new tax would fall primarily on affluent Americans, not the beleaguered middle class." However, it also carries political risk as many older Americans might pay more taxes, since "they often depend on savings and investment income in retirement."


        Congress continues debate over states' role in overhaul. In an article on the front of its business section, the New York Times (1/14, B1, Abelson) reports, "One of the biggest questions Congress will be wrestling with" in reconciling the two healthcare reform bills is what role the states should play "in overseeing the overhaul of the health insurance market," as both houses took "starkly different approaches." At issue is if the state or federal government will run insurance exchanges, approve health plans to be offered, and determine what can be charged for premiums. According to some analysts, if "states continue taking the lead on overseeing insurers and enforcing the rules," then residents in some states could "end up with significantly better or worse coverage than people in other states."


        GOP says healthcare reform can be defeated. The Hill (1/14, Hooper, subscription required) reports that following an hour-long meeting with members of his conference "on how to defeat the" healthcare reform initiative, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) said "this healthcare bill can be defeated." He added that they would be "looking at 37 Democrats who are in districts that are particularly upset and vulnerable to the provisions of this healthcare bill," and would pursue a "key theme" of if they are "going to be with the people or are they going to be with Pelosi?" Roll Call (1/14, Bendery, subscription required) also covers the story.


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