White House snubs budget panel leaders in health summit invites

The White House did not invite House or Senate Budget Committee leaders to its healthcare reform summit later this month, including a Republican who recently offered to work with President Barack Obama to strike a bipartisan deal.

Obama’s administration on Friday released a list of its invitees to the Feb. 25 summit, but topping the conspicuous absences were the top budget-writers in each chamber. For the Senate, the list excluded Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the ranking Budget Committee member who in recent weeks has been publicly courting the Obama administration for a seat at the table in the talks, and committee chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).

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Conrad and Gregg last month launched an unsuccessful effort to create a legislative commission to study the federal deficit. For the House, missing from Friday’s invitee list was Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) and ranking member Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Conrad and Gregg were both unreachable on Saturday, and calls, pages and e-mails to multiple White House spokesmen went unreturned.

Unless the administration changes course, the only way for the budget-writers to be included is to be chosen by their leadership as one of four extra guests the administration is allowing.

Gregg has been clearly lobbying to be included in the talks, telling MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Friday that both parties should "step back.” He did tell Mitchell that the White House has contacted his office even though he wasn’t formally invited to the summit.


“Let’s start with a blank sheet of paper and let's put on that piece of paper things we can agree about," Gregg said. "There are a lot of places I see we could make progress on if we started with that blank piece of paper.”

However, Gregg has had a rocky relationship with Obama in the past year. Originally tapped to become the president’s commerce secretary, Gregg abruptly withdrew and went on to become one of the most consistent GOP critics of Obama’s agenda.

In all, the White House on Friday invited 21 members of Congress — 12 Democrats and nine Republicans — to the summit, with an option for House and Senate leaders to add four other members of their choice. Also present will be representatives from the Office of Management and Budget, the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Congressional Budget Office, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Office of Health Reform Director Nancy DeParle.

The invitee list focuses on leadership members, plus the top members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Finance Committee and the House’s Ways and Means Committee, Energy and Commerce Committee and Education and Labor Committee.

The Senate invitees: Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), HELP Committee ranking member Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and senior HELP Committee member Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).

The House invitees: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), ranking committee member Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking committee member Joe Barton (R-Texas), Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), ranking committee member John Kline (R-Minn.) and former Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.).