U.S. President Barack Obama has invited opposition Republicans in Congress to take part in a bipartisan health-care summit later this month in an effort to revive stalled health-care reform legislation. But House Republican leaders have reacted with skepticism, saying Democrats would have to scrap their bills and start over.
President Obama challenged Republican lawmakers, who have been united against Democratic health care reform proposals, to bring their own ideas to a televised meeting at the White House on February 25.
But several Republican congressional leaders have indicated they may not participate in the summit unless Democrats scrap existing health care bills passed in the House and the Senate and start from scratch.
In a letter Monday to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, House Minority Leader John Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor called the Democratic legislation "job-killing bills the American people have already soundly rejected."
On Tuesday, President Obama responded to a question at the White House briefing on whether or not he would be willing to start over on reforming the U.S. health care system.
"So I am going to be starting from scratch in the sense that I will be open to any ideas that help promote these goals. What I will not do, and what I do not think makes sense and I do not think the American people want to see would be another year of partisan wrangling," he said.
The president said he would ask Republicans specifically what their plan is to extend health-insurance coverage to the more than 30 million uninsured Americans and what they would do to prevent insurance companies from excluding people with pre-existing medical conditions.
The White House wants the half-day summit televised, which would give the president an opportunity to try to win more public support for his unpopular health-care reform. It would also rebut criticism from Republican lawmakers, who say they have been left out of the long process and that the House and Senate bills were negotiated in backroom deals.
President Obama criticized Republicans for calling for bipartisanship in the health care process, and then insisting that the Democrats' bills be scrapped. "Bipartisanship can't be that I agree to all of the things that they believe in or want, and they agree to none of the things I believe in or want, and that is the price of bipartisanship," he said.
For their part, some Republican strategists have warned that the health care summit may be a public relations show by President Obama, so that he can say he tried to include Republican ideas, before making a final push to get a Democratic bill through Congress.
The battle over health care has virtually consumed Congress since last June.
The Senate and House of Representatives passed separate versions of health-care legislation last year. They were working to merge the two bills into one when a special Massachusetts election cut the process short.
Republican Senator Scott Brown won the seat, putting an end to the Democrats 60-seat majority, which makes it possible in future for Republicans to block legislation in the Senate.
Since that stinging defeat last month, Democratic lawmakers have been anxious to shift the focus away from health care to job creation and boosting the economy before congressional elections in November.
President Obama says he wants to make job creation his top domestic priority this year, but he also made it clear that he will not turn his back on health-care reform.