Are Democratic health talks still underway?

ARE DEMOCRATIC HEALTH TALKS STILL UNDERWAY?…. Those following the debate over health care reform closely may have noticed something over the last couple of weeks: it’s been awfully quiet.

For a while, there were spurts of activity — caucus meetings, leadership discussions, quiet negotiations, presidential pronouncements — which at least offered us hints about the status of the initiative. But once the bipartisan summit was announced, it seemed like everyone was told they could take a breather, wait for the 25th, and watch for possible progress soon after.

But yesterday, there were signals that more may be going on behind the scenes than may be obvious. We talked earlier about the White House invitations to participants in the upcoming summit. Note this specific language in the invitation:

Since this meeting will be most productive if information is widely available before the meeting, we will post online the text of a proposed health insurance reform package. This legislation would put a stop to insurance company abuses, extend coverage to millions of Americans, get control of skyrocketing premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and reduce the deficit. [emphasis added]

It is the President’s hope that the Republican congressional leadership will also put forward their own comprehensive bill to achieve those goals and make it available online as well.

This makes it sound as if there will be a Democratic proposal to offer in place by the 25th, which would be quite a breakthrough, since there is no completed Democratic package right now. Indeed, House Republican leaders seem to believe that Democratic talks are still going strong — and they insisted that those negotiations end immediately before additional progress is made.

Apparently, the White House would like to have a completed Democratic proposal to present at the summit, and then have it compared to a completed Republican proposal. Participants would go through each plan, with Dems incorporating provisions from the GOP package as appropriate. Republicans, in contrast, want to throw out all of the work that’s already been done, and presumably not craft their own plan at all.

Now, Democratic policymakers may not be able to craft a final proposal before the 25th, and they may go into the summit with some unanswered questions. Just because Dems intend to post the text of a reform package before the event doesn’t mean they’ll be able to work out their differences.

But the fact that it seems to be the new stated goal, and that Republicans are actually worried about it, points to the most encouraging news on health care reform I’ve seen in a while.