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Friday, February 12, 2010

Obama invites legislators to health summit

February 13 2010 : President Obama on Friday challenged Republicans and Democrats to participate in a televised summit this month to thrash out a deal on health care.

House Republicans greeted the invitation to the Feb. 25 event with derision, casting doubt on whether it would yield any bipartisan agreement to extend coverage to millions of Americans and rein in medical costs.

"We need answers before we know if the White House is more interested in partisan theater than in facilitating a productive dialogue about solutions," said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was more receptive, saying he would work with the Obama administration "to maximize the effectiveness of the meeting."

The summit is considered a last, best attempt to revive Obama's yearlong quest, which is stalled after Democrats lost their filibuster-proof Senate majority.

Yet since Obama proposed the summit last weekend, both Republicans and Democrats have voiced skepticism, with some in the GOP wondering if it would be nothing but a spectacle that could benefit the president at their expense.

By presiding over a meeting with 37 lawmakers trying to get a word in edgewise, Obama may be able to dominate the conversation and the visual images.

In the invitation, Obama said remaking health care was imperative. He challenged Democrats and Republicans to come up with comprehensive bills before the Blair House event, legislation that would be posted online.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius cited the recent 39 percent rate increases by Anthem Blue Cross in California as urgent proof the overhaul must be completed.

"As the president noted this week, if we don't act on comprehensive health-insurance reform, this enormous rate hike will be 'just a preview of coming attractions,' " they wrote.

The letter was sent to McConnell; Boehner; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Obama named 21 lawmakers he wants to attend: the top leaders in the House and Senate and of the committees with jurisdiction over health-care legislation. He also invited the top four leaders to bring four more lawmakers each, bringing the total to 37: 20 Democrats and 17 Republicans.

Before the invitation, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., a physician and head of the Republican Study Committee, dismissed the summit as "simply an attempt by the president to use the White House as a political tool to intimidate his way into a government takeover of health care. The American people and Republicans in Congress will not be taken by this Chicago-style politics."

Officials from the White House Office of Management and Budget and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation also have been invited.

Obama invites GOP leaders to health care talk

President Barack Obama says it's time for Republicans who have attacked his health care proposals from the sidelines to step before the cameras and present their own ideas.

In the first major move to revive his health care agenda after his party's loss of a filibuster-proof Senate majority, Obama on Sunday invited GOP and Democratic leaders to discuss possible compromises in a televised gathering later this month.

It comes amid widespread complaints that Democrats' efforts so far have been too partisan and secretive.

The Feb. 25 meeting's prospects for success are far from clear. GOP leaders demanded Sunday that Democrats start from scratch, and White House aides said Obama had no plans to do so.

"If we are to reach a bipartisan consensus, the White House can start by shelving the current health spending bill," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said his earlier efforts to reach out to Republicans "did not result in any serious follow through to work together in a bipartisan fashion."

Obama told CBS's Katie Couric that he and the leaders of both parties will "go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward."

Asked if he was willing to start from square one, the president said he wants "to look at the Republican ideas that are out there."

"If we can go step by step through a series of these issues and arrive at some agreements," Obama said, "then procedurally, there's no reason why we can't do it a lot faster than the process took last year."

Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress have differed sharply on most major questions in the long-running health care debate. Only one Republican voted for the health care bill that the House approved in December, and no Republicans voted for a similar Senate version.

White House officials said Sunday that Obama does not intend to restart the health care legislative process from scratch.

Many liberal groups and lawmakers want congressional Democrats to use all the parliamentary muscle they have to enact the measure that the Senate passed on Christmas Eve, employing rules that could bypass GOP filibusters to make changes demanded by House Democrats.

The White House has not ruled out such a strategy. But Obama's recent talk of inviting Republican input and extending the debate for several weeks has caused uncertainty about his plans.

A White House statement Sunday said Obama repeatedly has made it clear "that he's adamant about passing comprehensive reform similar to the bills passed by the House and the Senate."

Polls show that many Americans feel Obama and his congressional allies have not sought enough GOP input, although Democrats say Republicans have shown virtually no interest in seeking a realistic agreement.

Obama also is trying to address criticism of Democrats' closed-door negotiations that led to special accommodations for Nebraska and Louisiana senators when their votes on health care were in question. Some Republicans taunted Obama for suggesting earlier that health care negotiations should be aired on C-SPAN, and one GOP senator said health care would be the president's Waterloo.

Obama said the closed-door deal-cutting was not helpful to the process.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, "we have promoted the pursuit of a bipartisan approach to health reform from day one."

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