Obama invites GOP leaders to health care talk
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."