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GOP senators won't boycott Obama's healthcare summit, leader says

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he'll come ready to participate 'in good faith' despite Democrats' being 'arrogant' in their refusal to throw out current legislation and start over.

February 21, 2010|By Christi Parsons

Reporting from Washington — Senate Republicans relented Sunday and said they would attend President Obama's bipartisan healthcare summit this week after all, but the chamber's GOP leader is far from resigned to the Democrats' idea of cooperation on the hot-button issue.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he and his members wouldn't boycott the president's meeting set for Thursday and that he'd come ready to participate "in good faith."

But he said Democrats were still being "arrogant" in their refusal to throw out current legislation and start over from scratch on a bipartisan compromise, as Republicans have asked.

"Apparently we're going to be there most of the day and have an opportunity to have a lot of discussion," McConnell said Sunday in an interview on Fox News. "But if they're going lay out the plan they want to pass four days in advance, then what are we discussing on Thursday?"

The decision expands the summit's attendance list beyond Democratic lawmakers, whom Obama has summoned to the presidential guest house for a bipartisan meeting with whichever Republican leaders will join them. House Republicans haven't said yet whether they'll go.

Whether the summit at Blair House actually offers the opportunity to break through the healthcare logjam, it certainly holds potential for public posturing about who is trying to fix the problem and who is stalling or worsening the situation. The meeting will be broadcast live in its entirety on C-SPAN.

Laying the groundwork for the conversations, the Obama administration plans to post its plan for overhauling the healthcare system on the White House website Monday. Over the weekend, Obama suggested that he was willing to move toward Republicans in a couple of areas, including a measure that allows people to buy insurance from a company in another state.

He said he might also be willing to support a plan giving small businesses the power to join together and offer healthcare at lower prices.

"I don't want to see this meeting turn into political theater, with each side simply reciting talking points and trying to score political points," Obama said in his weekend radio address. "Instead, I ask members of both parties to seek common ground in an effort to solve a problem that's been with us for generations."

Like their Senate counterparts, House Republicans have raised concerns about the ground rules for the Blair House summit, in particular with the working document, but also with the guest list.

As the nation's governors met in Washington this weekend, House Republican Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio asked why they hadn't been invited to attend the summit.

"Governors from both parties across America have been loud and clear: their cash-strapped states cannot afford the Democrats' massive, job-killing healthcare bills," Boehner said in a statement issued Friday. "If the White House intends to have an open and honest discussion of healthcare reform, the governors' voices deserve to be heard."

Asked if the Republicans would slow down the consideration of health reform, McConnell said there were "a variety of different options available."

"But I think the fundamental point I want to make is the arrogance of all of this," McConnell said. "You know, they are saying, "Ignore the wishes of the American people. We know more about this than you do. And we're going to jam it down your throats no matter what."

"That is why the public is so angry at this Congress and this administration over this issue," McConnell said.

cparsons@latimes.com

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