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Congressional Democrats say Thursday's health care summit is likely to clear the final hurdles to passing health care reform - and say that President Obama returning to the issue with a clear focus and a specific health care proposal makes it easier for them to get it done.

Health care reform was in hibernation after the special election in Massachusetts ended the 60-vote supermajority in the Senate, with some even declaring it dead and buried. But over the last few weeks there have been a series of developments that gave new life to health care reform. Democrats say the summit is the final step to securing House and Senate support for a compromise bill that could pass by the spring.

TPMDC has been surfacing where the momentum came from, with Congressional and Washington sources telling us that the White House at first seemed wary about spending political capital on something that was plummeting in the polls and which had wounded the party's chances at success in November.

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The push to revive the public option suffered a major setback today when White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the popular measure lacks the 50 votes it would need in the Senate to survive the budget reconciliation process. Gibbs' abruptness caught Senate Dem leadership by surprise, but what he said isn't really at odds with their own take. And yet, the number of public proponents of the plan keeps growing, and it's easy to remember a time when it seemed pretty clear that there were at least 50 votes for a public option in the Senate.

So what are the public option's chances in the Senate? Ostensibly, they're not very good.

"I think the public option ought to be done, but it's a long shot," said Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA). Specter is one of 23 signatories to a letter advocating passing the public option by way of reconciliation, so he has his eyes wide open. And there's some reason to believe this. The public option had four ardent Democratic opponents during the long fight over the Senate bill this past fall and winter: Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

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Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN) is still keeping the door open to the possibility of seeking the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat of retiring Democrat Evan Bayh. However, it should be remembered that if he does seek the Dem nomination, for which Rep. Brad Ellsworth is already a candidate, it will be through a process without a conventional primary.

As we have reported, the fact that nobody filed the petitions necessary to appear on the Democratic primary ballot means that the state Democratic Party's central committee has the authority to name a new candidate. That meeting of the committee will come some time after the May 4 primary, and before June 30.

"A lot of people are undecided on the state committee. Some are favoring me. Some are favoring Brad," Hill told CNN. He also added: "I think I have to make it sooner rather than later. I think I need to make it this week."

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA)--who has signed a letter urging the Senate to pass the public option through the budget reconciliation process--says don't hold your breath.

"I think the public option ought to be done, but it's a long shot," Specter said on a conference call in response to a question from TPMDC.

"Regrettably the case, which started with the town meetings in August...has persuaded the American people that the public option would be a governmental takeover of health care," Specter went on. "It's really not, it's an option."

The public option actually has the support of a significant majority of the country. Pressed to square that fact with his sense that voters don't support it, Specter clarified: "I get that sense from my travels throughout the state and around the country. People are madder than hell at the government," he said.

It's no secret that in seeking to fend off a conservative primary challenger, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been scrambling to his right faster than you can say "cap-and-trade." But now, in a bid to explain his vote for the bailout, the Arizona senator is flat out rewriting history.

McCain said recently that he only voted for the $700 billion package because Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke misled him, by assuring him it would focus on the housing meltdown, rather than on Wall Street. But that appears to be directly contradicted by the record.

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We reported earlier that Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) said he would be signing Sen. Michael Bennet's letter urging that a public option be passed through reconciliation.

His spokeswoman now tells us the senator misunderstood the question, thinking that we were referencing another proposed letter which promises House Democrats that fixes to the Senate bill would be passed via reconciliation.

It's a letter basically to shore up commitment from wary House Democrats that if they pass the Senate bill in its current form they won't be hosed.

"The senator just misunderstood your question, thinking you were talking about the proposed reconciliation letter," the spokeswoman said. "He does not support public option in reconciliation."

TPMDC has learned the additional House Democrats who will attend Thursday's health care summit at the White House.

In addition to the relevant committee chairmen and Democratic leadership, each side was allowed to invite a handful of members.

A leadership aide tells us that on the House Democrats' side, they are Reps. Xavier Becerra (CA), Louise Slaughter (NY), Rob Andrews (NJ) and Jim Cooper (TN).

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President Obama today officially declared his support for repealing an anti-trust exemption for insurers. The House of Representatives will vote on a bill repealing the exemption tomorrow. Here's the full text of the statement, as released by the White House:

The Administration strongly supports House passage of H.R. 4626. The repeal of the antitrust exemption in the McCarran-Ferguson Act as it applies to the health insurance industry would give American families and businesses, big and small, more control over their own health care choices by promoting greater insurance competition. The repeal also will outlaw existing, anti-competitive health insurance practices like price fixing, bid rigging, and market allocation that drive up costs for all Americans. Health insurance reform should be built on a strong commitment to competition in all health care markets, including health insurance. This bill will benefit the American health care consumer by ensuring that competition has a prominent role in reforming health insurance markets throughout the Nation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he has some instructions for Republicans balking at the probable reconciliation route Democrats will take to pass health care.

"Look at history," Reid (D-NV ) told reporters who asked about GOP complaints. He said Republicans used reconciliation for Contract with America legislation and major items such as the Bush tax cuts.

"They're the ones who used it more than anyone else," he said.

Reid said "nothing's off the table" for ways to finally finish health care.

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