Obama Asks GOP to Join Health Talks

President Barack Obama, seeking to give new momentum to his languishing health-care legislation, said he would sit down with Republican and Democratic lawmakers to exchange ideas on an issue that has deeply divided the parties.

With the GOP united against the Democratic bill, Mr. Obama said Sunday he would ask Republicans "to put their ideas on the table." The half-day meeting will be Feb. 25 and broadcast live, the White House said.

"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 president told CBS in an interview broadcast Sunday.

Since last month's election in Massachusetts, in which Democrats lost the 60th Senate vote they would need to push ahead on legislation without Republican support, Mr. Obama has repeatedly said he was willing to work with Republicans on health care and other issues. His visit to a House GOP retreat in late January, where he took questions, was well received in many quarters. The White House has said it would look for other opportunities to do similar events.

But it's unclear how the bipartisan health-care event will move the issue ahead in Congress. Democrats want to spend upwards of a trillion dollars over a decade to provide subsidies for some 30 million uninsured Americans; Republicans want a much less expensive solution.

There was skepticism from Mr. Obama's own party that the forum would break the impasse. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said he had reached out to Republicans "on several occasions" last year to seek their ideas and feedback. "I was, however, disappointed that these meetings did not result in any serious follow-through to work together in a bipartisan fashion," he said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) said he welcomed the outreach. "Obviously, I am pleased that the White House finally seems interested in a real, bipartisan conversation on health care," he said in a statement. "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."

A White House aide said Sunday the president didn't intend to start from scratch. "We're not starting over. We're coming in with our plan," the aide said.  

Posted in