GOP Disses Health Care Summit, But Asks for More Invites

Updated at 5:30 p.m. ET with news of Sen. Olympia Snowe's absence from the summit.

Democrats and Republicans have engaged in quite a bit of political jockeying ahead of President Obama's White House health care summit tomorrow. Yet even as Republicans have dismissed tomorrow's summit as political theater, they have lobbied to get invitations to the event for more members of their party.

The White House is rejecting the GOP's request to bring some Republican governors to the event, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader John Boehner told reporters today.

"We are disappointed to announce that the White House has advised Leader Boehner that its expectation is that congressional leaders will appoint only Members of Congress as their representatives at the summit, on the grounds that the discussion is 'about legislation,'" said Michael Steel, Boehner's spokesman. "Leader Boehner is disappointed the White House has not listened to the American people, who want Washington Democrats to scrap their job-killing health care bill and start over, and he is disappointed the White House has excluded our nation's governors and state legislators from the summit."

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent a letter to Mr. Obama's office this week, Politico reports, requesting a seat at the table tomorrow for himself and other state executives, since they would have to implement some of the president's proposed reforms. Congressional Republicans had been withholding their list of attendees in the hopes of scoring an invitation for Pawlenty or other governors, according to Politico.

The health care summit could be a platform for Pawlenty, who is assumed to be gunning for a 2012 presidential bid, to present his own ideas. Democrat Ed Rendell, governor of Pennsylvania, yesterday praised a compromise Pawlenty negotiated with other governors to allow insurance companies to sell across state lines so long as minimum standards were met.

Invitations to tomorrow's summit were originally sent to Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders, as well as the bipartisan leaders of relevant congressional committees -- such as Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Republican Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.), respectively the chair and ranking Republican of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Party leaders were also asked to invite a small number of additional congressmen.

Dozens of GOP senators lobbied to be invited, the Hill reports.

In spite of their interest in attending, Republicans have expressed skepticism about how productive the summit will be. After the White House announced plans for the summit, Boehner said in a statement that he expected Democrats to "engage a largely handpicked audience in a televised 'dialogue' according to a script they have largely pre-determined."

At a congressional hearing today about health insurance rate hikes, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), called the summit Obama's "six-hour photo op."

Meanwhile, Republicans are now asking for yet another Democrat to attend. Boehner's office told reporters today that the White House has added Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) to the guest list, prompting Boehner to send a letter to the president, asking him to also invite Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak (Mich.). While Wyden worked for years on crafting a health care bill that gained bipartisan support in Congress but failed to move through the legislative process. Stupak also took an active role in the past year's health care debate but focused on adding abortion restrictions to the bills; Stupak has said he would oppose any bill without those abortion restrictions.

Update: The White House today extended an invitation to Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) to attend Thursday's summit, but she turned down the offer, the Associated Press reports.

Snowe is one of the few Republicans who has sought out a bipartisan approach to health care reform and even released a statement today with Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas calling for renewed bipartisan efforts.

Snowe's office said she appreciated the invitation, the AP reports, but since she was not chosen under long-standing rules for the event, it would not be appropriate for her to attend.

More Coverage of the Health Care Summit:

Washington Unplugged: Health Care Summit Smoke and Mirrors?
Advice for the Health Care Summit from Two Presidents Named George
GOP Prepares Strategy for Health Care Summit
A War of Words Before the Health Care Summit
Dems, GOP: Summit Will Not Break Logjam On Health
Obama's Health Care Plan Unveiled
Harry Reid Says GOP Should "Stop Crying" About Reconciliation Special Report: Health Care