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Obama Sends Health Summit Invite; GOP Still Has Format Concerns

President Barack Obama on Friday officially invited Congressional Republican leaders to a bipartisan health care summit, and he released a format and set of ground rules for the nationally televised event, which is set for Feb. 25 at the Blair House.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) responded to the invite with a prepared statement in which he signaled his desire to accept Obama’s invitation, but he made clear he wants a say in how the program is run. House Republican leaders also have expressed concern with the summit’s format.

“Nearly one year ago, the President moderated a health care summit that kicked off a national debate that has led us to where we are today: a partisan bill devoid of support from the American people and a diminished faith in this government’s capacity to listen,” McConnell said Friday. “Let us not make the same mistake twice. We will consult with the White House about the proposed format and topics in order to maximize the effectiveness of the meeting.”

Senate Republicans never threatened to boycott Obama’s summit, and they do not intend to, aides said. But GOP leaders sought assurances that the event would focus on substantive compromise and not function as a public relations exercise.

A senior Republican Senate aide said Friday evening that “if this is truly a bipartisan discussion,” the White House would collaborate with GOP leaders on mutually acceptable ground rules for the summit. This aide said McConnell needs to discuss Obama’s invitation with the GOP Conference before accepting or making any counter-offers regarding the proposed format.

In the letter to Congressional leaders sent by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Obama has invited the following Senators to the summit in addition to McConnell: Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and ranking member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), and Banking, Housing and Urban Development Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).

Also on the invite list: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas), Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) and ranking member John Kline (R-Minn.), and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the former longtime Energy and Commerce chairman.

Additionally, Obama is permitting Congressional leaders on each side to invite four additional Members of their choosing and is asking all who attend to bring one health care aide with them. Attending on behalf of the administration will be Vice President Joseph Biden, the president’s chief health care adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle and Sebelius. Obama plans to be the moderator.

According to the invitation sent to Congressional leaders, the discussion is to revolve around four topics: insurance reform, cost containment, expanding coverage and the impact health reform legislation will have on deficit reduction.

“Now is the time to act on behalf of the millions of Americans and small businesses who are counting on meaningful health insurance reform. In the last year, there has been an extraordinary effort to craft effective legislation,” Emanuel and Sebelius wrote in the letter.

Democrats were on the cusp of sending a bill to Obama’s desk in mid-January. But that effort stalled indefinitely when now-Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) won a Jan. 19 special election to succeed the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D), and the GOP picked up the extra seat it needed to sustain a filibuster of a health care legislation.

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