Invitations are in the mail

INVITATIONS ARE IN THE MAIL…. We learned about a week ago that President Obama would host a bipartisan summit on health care reform on Feb. 25, but the details have been relatively scarce. Yesterday, the White House sent formal invitations to the participants, giving us a sense of how the gathering will shape out.

One of the first things to jump out is just how crowded it’s going to be. The House and Senate leadership of both parties will be there, as will the relevant committee leaders from both parties in both chambers. The invitation also encourages party leaders to invite four additional lawmakers from each party, and a staffer with an expertise on health policy. Factor in the president and his staff, Vice President Biden, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebilius, and officials from OMB, CBO, and the Joint Committee on Taxation, and we’re looking at a very full house.

The invitation also explains that the summit will cover “four critical topics: insurance reforms, cost containment, expanding coverage, and the impact health reform legislation will have on deficit reduction.”

But the invitation, sent out over Sebelius’ and Rahm Emanuel’s signatures, also hinted at an interesting development.

“Since this meeting will be most productive if information is widely available before the meeting, we will post online the text of a proposed health insurance reform package,” the letter said, adding, “It is the president’s hope that the Republican congressional leadership will also put forward their own comprehensive bill.”

That stood out for me because it suggests there will be a Democratic version of “a proposed health insurance reform package” to present. At present, such a package does not really exist — the House and Senate have their own bills, so there isn’t one text to post anywhere. Does the White House expect to have a final package in place before the 25th, or will officials post a more general outline of a proposal, with details to be completed later? More on this later.

For their part, congressional Republicans continue to whine about the event, but appear unlikely to boycott. House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office still wants to see policymakers go into the summit with “a blank sheet of paper,” but that’s obviously silly.

The event will kick off at 10 a.m. (ET), will be televised live and will take place at Blair House, which is located across the street from the White House, and is frequently used for cabinet retreats and diplomatic accommodations.