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Obama suggests Republicans could have a role in health-care bill

President Obama implored Senate Democrats on Wednesday to stay aggressive in pushing their agenda despite the loss of one vital seat, saying: "We still have to lead."

White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama will not delve into the minutiae of writing a health-care bill. "He's not a legislative technician," Burton said. "He's not going to get into the nitty-gritty of what the best way forward is at this point."

The GOP outreach effort that Obama began during his State of the Union address has already delivered at least a glimmer of bipartisan spirit to Capitol Hill. Pelosi and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) met Tuesday, and Obama invited Republican lawmakers from Indiana and Louisiana to watch the Super Bowl at the White House on Sunday.

Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) co-sponsored a Medicare payroll tax cut for companies that hire new workers, a key provision in the Senate jobs bill that is expected to be announced Thursday.

The legislation, which could come to a vote next week, would devote about $15 billion to measures, including the Schumer-Hatch proposal, aimed at spurring immediate hiring. The package also includes $33 billion to extend a variety of expiring tax breaks, and another $33 billion to extend unemployment benefits and temporarily protect doctors from a scheduled Medicare payment cut.

Obama will also host congressional leaders from both parties Tuesday for the first in a series of monthly sessions.

GOP holding firm

But despite hints of a thaw in relations, there have been signs this week of the GOP resistance that characterized most of last year.

Congressional Republicans said one reason that Scott Brown, the winner of the Massachusetts special election, is being sworn in as the 41st GOP senator Thursday -- rather than next week, as previously planned -- is so he can help block the nomination of Craig Becker, an associate general counsel for the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO, to the National Labor Relations Board. GOP senators have used the filibuster and other parliamentary tools to block a series of executive appointments.

Some Democrats welcomed the fledgling efforts toward bipartisanship as the best hope for concrete results. "I think the best policy is always made with the best ideas of both parties," Rep. Rick Boucher (Va.), facing his first difficult reelection campaign since 1984, said Wednesday.

But others suggested that forcing Republicans into a battle of ideas would highlight the differences between the two parties. Democrats said they hope that Obama's effort, which he debuted at the House GOP gathering in Baltimore last week, will force Republicans to offer their own proposals on Medicare, education and other issues -- proposals that Democrats think voters will frown on.

"At least the public will know the differences, said Rep. John B. Larson (Conn.), the No. 4 Democratic leader. "I think the president has called the Republicans out."

But Democrats who face tough races in November remain wary that voter confidence in either party can be easily restored.

"This place looks broken to the American people," Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.) told Obama at the Democratic meeting Wednesday. "What are we going to do differently, what are you going to do differently, what do we need to do differently as Democrats and Republicans, to fix this institution so that our democracy can actually withstand the tests that we're facing right now?"

"We've got to constantly make our case," Obama responded. "And not play an insider's game; play an outsider's game."

Staff writers Lori Montgomery, Perry Bacon Jr. and Michael A. Fletcher contributed to this report.

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