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Live from Washington! It's Obama health care drama

WASHINGTON -- Coming soon to daytime television: America's long-running civic drama over how to provide better health care to more of its people without breaking the bank.

President Barack Obama summons anxious Democrats and aloof Republicans to a White House summit Thursday -- live on C-SPAN and perhaps cable -- and gambles that he can save his embattled health care overhaul by the power of persuasion. Adversaries and allies alike were surprised by Obama's invitation to reason together at an open forum, as risky as it is unusual.

Ahead of the meeting, the White House will post on its Web site a health care plan that brings together major elements of the bills passed by House and Senate Democrats last year. Policy is important, but not as critical as the political skill Obama can apply to an impasse that seems close to hopeless in a pivotal congressional election year.

''It's a high-stakes situation for him more than anybody else,'' said Gerald Shea, the top health care adviser for the AFL-CIO. ''If the judgment is either that it's a political farce, or if it fails to move the ball forward significantly ... that would be very damaging to the issue and to him.''

A viewers' guide to the White House meeting, looking at Obama and his plan, Republicans in Congress and divided Democrats.

Obama: He has two main goals. One is to show the American people that the Democrats' health care plan is reasonable, and much of its complexity reflects the sprawling nature of the insurance system. The other is to argue that lockstep Republican opposition is not reasonable and could spoil a historic opportunity on a problem that concerns all Americans.

Republicans: The GOP wants to place limits on medical malpractice judgments, an approach the Congressional Budget Office says would save money by reducing defensive medicine. Obama has toyed with the idea, saying he agrees that something should be done, but thinks limits on jury awards go too far.