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Published: Monday, 2/8/2010

President asks GOP to attend summit on health care


WASHINGTON - President Obama moved yesterday to jump-start the stalled health-care debate, inviting congressional Republicans to participate in a bipartisan, televised summit on the subject.

The President made the offer in an interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric hours before the Super Bowl.

Mr. Obama challenged Republicans, who have been largely unified in opposing his proposals, to bring their best ideas about how to cover more Americans and fix the health-insurance system.

"I want to consult closely with our Republican colleagues," Mr. Obama said.

"What I want to do is to ask them to put their ideas on the table. … I want to come back and have a large meeting, Republicans and Democrats to go through, systematically, all the best ideas that are out there and move it forward."

The invitation to meet on Feb. 25 - and to do so live before the American public - represents an effort by the President to hit the reset button on the top domestic priority of his first year in office.

It also recognizes that he must have at least some Republican support to see health-care reform pass.

Democratic efforts to push a final health bill through Congress without Republican support fell apart last month when the President's party lost its 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Scott Brown, the newly elected Republican senator from Massachusetts, campaigned against what he called the Democratic Party's costly government takeover of the health-care system.

But it remains unclear whether a single discussion can begin to bridge the divide with Republicans, who view their united front against the Democratic bills as a key to their political recovery.

Mr. Obama gave little indication during the interview that he is ready to abandon the basic direction his party took on health care.

GOP leaders welcomed the outreach, but called it evidence that Mr. Obama knows he must start over if he wants to earn their support going forward.

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said he looks forward to the discussion. "The best way to start on real, bipartisan reform would be to scrap those bills and focus on the kind of step-by-step improvements that will lower health-care costs and expand access," he said.

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