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Obama Health Care Summit Draws GOP Fire

Ahead of a planned televised White House summit on health care reform, the Obama Administration is defending its decision to open the event to public scrutiny while reassuring Republicans the event is not a trap to score political points with voters.

With his sweeping health care reform effort struggling in the face of united Republican opposition and continued public skepticism, Obama has invited Republican leaders to the meeting on February 25, which will be nationally televised. Before the meeting next week, President Obama said he would post his own personal proposal for an overhaul online and asked Republicans to do the same.

“Everybody that’s in Washington that works in the executive branch and the legislative branch was sent here as part of representative democracy to solve problems,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said to reporters at Tuesday’s daily briefing. “That’s what this is intended to do.”

“The president will lay out his ideas, and I would expect that Republicans will, and others will, lay out their solutions,” he said.

The Obama administration on Friday invited 12 Democratic members of Congress and nine Republicans to the conference on revamping the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system, an issue central to the Democratic president’s domestic agenda. Republicans have said they will attend, but they are wary that the White House is trying to set a political trap for them, perhaps in an effort to blame Republicans if the healthcare effort falters.

Republicans in Congress have demanded that healthcare bills reached by Democrats in the House of Representatives and Senate be scrapped, something the Obama Administration has said it is not willing to do after months of debate and difficult compromise.

Gibbs did not give a date for the release of the White House plan, saying only that it would be posted in enough time to allow for the American public to be review it.

Signaling a deliberate shift in focus on the debate from health care reform and health insurance reform, Gibbs said the backdrop of the meeting will be rising insurance rates. The White House has pointed to health insurance premium increases of up to 39 percent for some California customers of WellPoint Inc.’s Anthem Blue Cross individual and group health insurance plans as evidence for passing a major healthcare reform.

WellPoint has said the higher prices reflect greater medical costs and are in line with competitors. The company, strung by the criticism, said over the weekend it would postpone the rate increase by two months.

With millions of Americans lacking affordable health insurance plans, polls show a high level of frustration as the public watches the abortive reform process at a time of economic crisis and high unemployment that has eroded support for Obama. Meanwhile, Democrats are under pressure to produce results on health reform before elections in November. The entire House and more than a third of seats in the Senate are up for grabs.

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