(CNSNews.com) – House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told the president’s chief of staff on Tuesday that Republicans would “rightly be reluctant” to attend a bipartisan health care summit on Feb. 25 if President Barack Obama wants to negotiate on the bills already produced in the House and Senate instead of starting from scratch.
In a letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Boehner and Cantor wrote, “If the starting point for this meeting is the job-killing bills the American people have already soundly rejected, Republicans would rightly be reluctant to participate.”
Obama recently announced he would invite Republicans to a televised health care summit on Feb. 25, aimed at jump-starting the stalled negotiations.
The pair of top Republicans in the House of Representatives sent the letter on Tuesday, Feb. 9 and expressed the need to “try and make sense of the widening gap between the president’s rhetoric on bipartisanship and the reality.”
Their series of questions for Emanuel, who often interfaces with members of Congress on behalf of the White House, were largely aimed at finding out if Obama would increase the transparency of new health care negotiations and whether he was willing to scrap the current bills.
“Assuming the President is sincere about moving forward on health care in a bipartisan way, does that mean he will agree to start over,” they asked, “so that we can develop a bill that is truly worthy of the support and confidence of the American people?”
The pair’s plea to Emanuel came after Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said on Monday that Democrats would “absolutely not” go back to square one.
“A lot of people ask if this is starting over -- the answer is absolutely not,” she said during a speech at the Academy Health policy conference in Washington, D.C.
Taking a hit at Republicans, she added, “It is not acceptable that half the legislative body pushed away from the table months ago and said, ‘We do not want to participate.’”
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement about the GOP letter on Tuesday, indicating that the reform plans passed by the House and Senate would indeed be the baseline for discussion.
“The President looks forward to reviewing Republican proposals that meet the goals he laid out at the beginning of this process, and as recently as the State of the Union Address,” Gibbs wrote. “He’s open to including any good ideas that stand up to objective scrutiny.
“What he will not do, however, is walk away from reform and the millions of American families and small businesses counting on it,” said Gibbs.
Gibbs also repeated Obama’s support for the existing health care bills.
“The President is adamant that we seize this historic moment to pass meaningful health insurance reform legislation,” said Gibbs. “He began this process by inviting Republican and Democratic leaders to the White House on March 5 of last year, and he’s continued to work with both parties in crafting the best possible bill.
“He’s been very clear about his support for the House and Senate bills because of what they achieve for the American people: putting a stop to insurance company abuses, extending coverage to millions of hardworking Americans, getting control of rising premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and reducing the deficit,” said Gibbs.
Spokesmen for Cantor and Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) did not respond to inquiries about whether they had seen any interest from House Democrats in going back to the health care reform drawing board.