Page last updated at 01:57 GMT, Monday, 8 February 2010

Obama to hold televised summit on healthcare

Obama said healthcare reform was the best way to cut the US deficit - courtesy CBS

US President Barack Obama will hold a televised, summit-style meeting to discuss healthcare reform with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Speaking on CBS News, he said the discussions would aim to explore the "best ideas", "step-by-step".

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said "shelving" the bill would be best to reach consensus.

Mr Obama has made healthcare a centrepiece of his presidency but has so far failed to get a new law enacted.

The loss of a Senate seat in Massachusetts in January to Republican Scott Brown deprived the Democrats of their filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate.

"If we can go step-by-step through a series of these issues and arrive at some agreements, then procedurally there's no reason why we can't do it a lot faster than the process took last year," Mr Obama said in an interview broadcast in peak time just before the annual Super Bowl American football match.

Cutting costs

The president insisted that it was crucial for the US economy to tackle the healthcare issue to rein in costs over the long-term.

"If we can start bending the cost curves on healthcare, that's the most important thing we can do to deal with the deficits long-term," Mr Obama said.

Last week, the US president unveiled a budget which included a forecast of a $1.6tn deficit for the 2010 fiscal year and a shortfall of $1.3tn in 2011.

He said he would seek specific answers from Republicans on how they would propose to lower costs, extend coverage to the uninsured and revise insurance rules which currently block those with pre-existing conditions from getting coverage.

The half-day meeting will take place on 25 February, after a congressional break between 15 to 19 February.

The move comes after complaints that Mr Obama's efforts have been too partisan and secretive.

Republicans welcomed the debate, but suggested that the only way to reach agreement would be to scrap the existing bill.

"If we are to reach a bipartisan consensus, the White House can start by shelving the current health spending bill," Mr McConnell said.

House Republican leader John Boehner, of Ohio, said Americans had rejected what he called the "job-killing, trillion-dollar government takeover" healthcare bills passed by the House and Senate.

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