- The Washington Times - Monday, February 8, 2010

In an effort to put Republicans on the spot on health care, President Obama said he will invite them to the White House for a televised meeting later this month to try reignite the push for a bill.

Republicans said they will meet but said the only way to get the negotiations going is if the president promises to start over.

Mr. Obama, in an interview with CBS that aired just before the Super Bowl on Sunday, welcomed their ideas and said he wants to comb through the best proposals.

“I want to ask them to put their ideas on the table, and then after the recess, which will be a few weeks away, I want to come back and have a large meeting, the Republicans and Democrats, to go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward,” Mr. Obama told interviewer Katie Couric.

The invitation marks the first move to salvage a health-care overhaul after congressional Democrats shelved their bills in the wake of Republican Scott Brown’s supermajority-killing victory in the Massachusetts Senate race.

Mr. Obama wouldn’t say whether he is willing to start from the beginning — as Republicans would like.

“What I want to do is look at the Republican ideas that are out there and I want to be very specific,” he said. “How do you guys want to lower costs? How do you guys intend to reform the insurance markets so people with pre-existing conditions, for example, can get health care?”

Republican leaders welcomed the meeting but stressed their opposition to existing health-care legislation.

“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, Kentucky Republican.

House Minority Leader John Boehner said the way to bipartisan health reform begins with agreement over step-by-step improvements rather than with one giant bill, like the existing legislation.

“The problem with the Democrats’ health-care bills is not that the American people don’t understand them; the American people do understand them and they don’t like them,” he said.

The decision to broadcast the half-day bipartisan meeting — which would take place on Feb. 25 — comes after Mr. Obama has faced criticism for not living up to his promise of transparency by holding all health care meetings, including House-Senate conference meetings, in the open, as he had pledged on the campaign trail.

Mr. Obama last week said that much of the bill’s writing process did take place in the open since congressional hearings of jurisdiction were open to the public. But he said he should have done more to ensure that some of the subsequent closed-door meetings with congressional leaders were open.

Democrats were having trouble moving forward on the House and Senate bills even before Mr. Brown’s victory, as they contain differing approaches on several thorny issues such as federal funding of abortion. But Mr. Obama has repeatedly said he does not intend to walk away from his agenda on health care, and an administration official echoed that Sunday.

“What the President will not do is let this moment slip away. He hopes to have Republican support in doing so — but he is going to move forward on health reform,” the official said.

Mr. Obama has planned a separate bipartisan meeting at the White House on Tuesday as part of a new initiative he announced during his State of the Union address to meet with leaders from both aisles and chambers once a month.

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