This is Obama's summit, and the discussion will largely revolve around Democratic plans for health reform. But Republicans aren't totally out of the driver's seat even if they decide not to present a unified competing proposal, they still control who they bring to the table. The President gave House and Senate leaders the freedom to choose 16 additional members of Congress to attend the summit beyond those on the initial invite list. Which members were tapped to suit up, however, may be far less interesting than who has to stay on the bench.
Notably absent from the Republican list is Olympia Snowe. She is the only Republican in the Senate to have voted in support of health reform in 2009 for the Senate Finance Committee bill and her presence would have sent a major signal that the GOP is serious about bipartisanship. (The White House independently invited Snowe on Wednesday, but she deferred to her leadership and will not attend.) Also left behind is Judd Gregg, a retiring, independent-minded Republican Senator who's serious about comprehensive health care reform and has been touting his own plan which would tax some health benefits and require individuals to maintain coverage in recent weeks.
But House Republicans sent a signal on Wednesday that they are serious about their ideas for health care minority leader John Boehner announced that Representative Paul Ryan would be on hand. Ryan, the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, has been trumpeting his plan for reform in recent weeks and will presumably be prepared to defend it on Thursday. (Boehner tried to get a Republican governor like Tim Pawlenty at the table but was rebuffed by the White House.)
On the Democratic side, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi both left off their lists most of the key centrist Democrats who have wavered in the past and who may be needed to get health care reform over the finish line. You won't see Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, for instance, or any of the House Democrats such as Alabama's Artur Davis or Colorado's Betsy Markey who voted against the House bill back in November. Pelosi is not bringing Bart Stupak, the architect of the House bill's more restrictive abortion language, though she will have a moderate so-called Blue Dog on hand, Jim Cooper of Tennessee. (Boehner asked for and received permission to invite Stupak himself, but it's not clear if the Representative will accept.) No staff members from the Congressional Budget Office or the Joint Committee on Taxation, which advise Congress on the budget and tax revenue, respectively, will be on hand.