WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday formally invited Republicans to attend a health care summit on Feb. 25, calling it "the next step" in the process of reforming the country's broken health insurance system.
In a letter to lawmakers, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the half-day meeting at Blair House would include the top congressional leaders in both parties and the ranking members in committees that deal with health care.
The Obama advisers said Republicans and Democrats would each be allowed to invite four other members of their choice to the discussion, to begin at 10 a.m. and be televised live. Sebelius and Emanuel said the White House will post the text of what they called "a proposed health insurance reform package" online before the meeting begins, and they challenged Republicans to similarly publicize their own alternative.
The letter said the White House package will "put a stop to insurance company abuses, extend coverage to millions of Americans, get control of skyrocketing premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and reduce the deficit."
White House aides had indicated that Obama would come to the table with a package merging the very different bills Democrats passed in the House and the Senate.
Republicans have said the only way for the president to show he is serious about bipartisanship is to scrap the two bills and start over, and they have suggested they might not participate in the summit unless he does so.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Republican leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the invitation "leaves a lot of unanswered questions."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would work with the White House "to maximize the effectiveness of the meeting."
In the White House letter, officials said Obama will make opening remarks at the Blair House meeting, to be followed by comments from a Republican and a Democratic designee.
They also urged lawmakers to bring at least one staff member who specializes in health policy.