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Top House Republicans Set Ground Rules for Health Care Talks

In a tersely worded letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on Monday, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) wrote that Republicans “would rightly be reluctant” to participate in the Feb. 25 bipartisan health care meeting if the White House refused to consider scrapping the current health care reform bills.

“Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said [Monday] that the President is ‘absolutely not’ resetting the legislative process for health care,” Boehner and Cantor wrote. “If the starting point for this meeting is the job-killing bills the American people have already soundly rejected, Republicans would rightly be reluctant to participate.”

President Barack Obama told CBS news anchor Katie Couric in an interview Sunday that he planned to convene a “large meeting” on health care after the Presidents Day recess “to go through systematically all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward.”

House and Senate leaders have considered having the House send the Senate’s bill to the president and then have both chambers pass a package of fixes using filibuster-proof budget reconciliation rules. However, internal party politics in both chambers have prevented leaders from settling on that course.

In their letter, Boehner and Cantor called on Obama to take reconciliation off the table as a “show good faith” to the GOP.

“Eliminating the possibility of reconciliation would represent an important show of good faith to Republicans and the American people,” the letter said.

The letter also contained a series of questions about the upcoming meeting, such as whether health care experts and state lawmakers would be invited and whether Obama planned on introducing a legislative proposal at this discussion.

“Your answers to these critical questions will help determine whether this will be a truly open, bipartisan discussion or merely an intramural exercise before Democrats attempt to jam through a job-killing health care bill that the American people can’t afford and don’t support,” the letter said. “‘Bipartisanship’ is not writing proposals of your own behind closed doors, then unveiling them and demanding Republican support.”

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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