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White House formally invites Republicans to health-care summit

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post staff writer
Saturday, February 13, 2010; A05

The White House formally invited Republicans on Friday to attend a health-care summit Feb. 25, calling it "the next step" in the process of reforming the country's broken health insurance system and pledging to post the text of a reform proposal online before the gathering.

In a letter to lawmakers, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the half-day meeting at Blair House would include the top Democratic and Republican congressional leaders and the ranking members in committees that deal with health care.

Outlining the format for a session some Republicans have derided as little more than political theater, the Obama advisers said both parties would be allowed to invite four other members each to the discussion, to begin at 10 a.m. and be televised live.

The letter said the White House package will "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." Sebelius and Emanuel challenged Republican leaders to publicize their proposal online as well.

Republicans have said the only way for the president to show he is serious about bipartisanship is to scrap the bills passed by Democrats in the Senate and the House and start over, and they have suggested they might not participate in the summit unless he does so. House GOP leaders demanded Friday that Democrats stop working to resolve the bills' differences, saying in a letter that any such effort would amount to a "backroom deal" and would "make a mockery of the President's stated desire to have a 'bipartisan' and 'transparent' dialogue."

Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), said the invitation "leaves a lot of unanswered questions."

"Are congressional Democrats still working behind closed doors with White House support on a 'pre-negotiated package' that can be rammed through Congress after the summit via legislative tricks?" Steel asked. "Or are they willing to start over with a blank sheet of paper? We need answers before we know if the White House is more interested in partisan theater than in facilitating a productive dialogue."

The White House letter said Obama will make opening remarks at the meeting, to be followed by comments from a Republican and a Democratic designee. Lawmakers were urged to bring at least one staff member who specializes in health policy.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he would consult with the White House about the proposed format.

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