GOPs skeptical of bipartisan health discussions

Several House Republicans questioned the motivation behind the Democrats' new effort to include the GOP in discussions on healthcare reform.

For the first time since the debate over healthcare reform began in earnest, House Republicans were invited to participate in meetings with top-level Democrats on the president's controversial healthcare plan.

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Following a closed door meeting on Wednesday afternoon with guest participant Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, two frustrated GOP lawmakers said that she took questions but gave "non-answer answers."

“The bottom line is, they’re going to do what they are going to do. I guess they just don’t want to look like they didn’t (sit down); it’s more of a dog and pony show," Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) told The Hill as he walked out of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) meeting with Sebelius.

His colleague Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Co.) echoed the sentiment and said that the conservative faction, which has sponsored a healthcare alternative, will continue to press for a meeting with President Barack Obama.

RSC Chairman Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said that he understood Coffman's frustration but was appreciative that Sebelius gave an "informative" presentation, listening to members and catching them up on the status of the healthcare reform options tossed around by administration officials and top congressional Democrats.

An administration official took issue with Fleming's characterization of the meeting, noting that it was billed as a question-and-answer session, not a negotiation.

"The Secretary had a productive discussion with the members of the RSC. We are always open to good ideas that will help provide stability and security for Americans with insurance and affordable options for uninsured Americans. The President's plan contains good proposals from both parties and the bill he signs will be built on bipartisan ideas."

Meanwhile, several corridors away, a different group of House lawmakers held the first leadership-sanctioned, bipartisan healthcare reform discussions.

Democratic Caucus Vice-Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Republican Rep. Charles Boustany (La.) led the hour-long session that included Democratic Reps. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Bill Pascrell (N.J.), Donna Edwards (Md.) and Kathy Castor (Fl.) and Republican Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite (Fl.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Peter Roskam (Ill.), and Mike Rogers (Mich.)

According to Dr. Boustany and others participants, the "conversation" went very well and they intend to meet next week.

The purpose of Wednesday afternoon's bipartisan meeting was to feel out whether the parties could see eye-to-eye on some of the reforms that need to be made to the healthcare system.

Though the participants did not delve into the areas of potential compromise, they came away from the meeting "hopeful" that they may find common ground on issues including insurance reform and medical malpractice.

The bipartisan discussions continue on Thursday, when House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) meet to talk about areas of compromise as well.