WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, battling complaints that he has been too partisan and secretive in pushing his health care agenda, said Sunday he will host leaders of both parties to discuss the topic later this month.
The announcement came as Obama and Congress' Democratic leaders seek a way to overhaul the nation's health care system even though Senate Republicans are again able to block legislation with filibusters.
Polls show that many Americans feel Obama and his congressional allies have not sought enough GOP input, although Democrats say Republicans have shown virtually no interest in seeking a realistic agreement.
Many people also have criticized Democrats' closed-door negotiations, which led to special accommodations for Nebraska and Louisiana senators when their votes were in question. Some Republicans taunted Obama for suggesting earlier that health care negotiations should be aired on C-SPAN, and one GOP senator said health care would be the president's Waterloo.
In an interview Sunday with CBS's Katie Couric, Obama said the closed-door deal-cutting was not helpful to the process.
The White House said the half-day bipartisan session will take place Feb. 25 and will be aired live on television.
It's unclear whether the bipartisan gathering might lead to changes in Democratic-crafted legislation that has passed the House and Senate in separate forms, or whether it will largely be seen as a showy stab at bipartisanship that yields few results. Congress' Democratic and Republican leaders have differed sharply on most major questions in the long-running health care debate.
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio included a few jabs at Democrats while accepting Obama's invitation.
Boehner said he was glad the White House "finally seems interested in a real, bipartisan conversation on health care." He said Americans have rejected "the job-killing, trillion-dollar government takeover of health care bills passed by the House and Senate."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she was hopeful "that the Republican leadership will work in a bipartisan fashion on the great challenges the American people face."
White House officials said Sunday that Obama does not intend to restart the health care legislative process from scratch. Many liberal groups and lawmakers want congressional Democrats to use all the parliamentary muscle they have to enact the measure that the Senate passed on Christmas Eve, employing rules that could bypass GOP filibusters to make changes demanded by House Democrats.
The White House has not ruled out such a strategy. But Obama's recent talk of inviting Republican input and extending the debate for several weeks has caused uncertainty about his plans.
The president told Democratic donors last week that he wanted to "have a meeting whereby I'm sitting with the Republicans, sitting with the Democrats, sitting with health care experts, and let's just go through these bills, their ideas, our ideas, let's walk through them in a methodical way so that the American people can see and compare what makes the most sense."
A White House statement Sunday said Obama repeatedly has made it clear "that he's adamant about passing comprehensive reform similar to the bills passed by the House and the Senate."
"He hopes to have Republican support in doing so, but he is going to move forward on health reform," the statement said.