Congressional Democrats are already looking beyond the White House health-care summit, reckoning that Thursday's session will amount to little more than political theater and focusing instead on a final round of intraparty negotiations that are likely to determine the fate of President Obama's top domestic priority.
Although Obama is billing the White House gathering as an opportunity for Republicans to air their ideas for reform, Democrats do not expect it to reveal much common ground and are showing little willingness to abandon the basic outline of legislation that the House and Senate have approved.
"It largely depends what the Republicans come to the table with," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who plans to attend the summit. "If it's just coming to repeat a lot of the stuff we've heard for six months, then I don't expect much out of it." He added: "We're not going to start writing a bill all over again."
Democrats hope that after Thursday's meeting, Obama will bring a more forceful approach to his role as lead negotiator on health-care reform. To the frustration of many on Capitol Hill, the president has dipped in and out of the debate throughout the past year, offering broad objectives and cutting deals here and there with individual lawmakers but seldom putting the weight of his office behind demands for specific provisions in legislation.
Only if the president is willing to take command of the debate, Democrats in both chambers said, will a health-care reform bill have any chance of reaching his desk.
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