Obama Seeks To Mollify Democrats On Health Overhaul Plan, Costs
President Barack Obama intensified his push for health care reform by lobbying small groups of Democratic lawmakers Thursday.
The New York Times: "The president spent the afternoon in back-to-back private sessions with two separate groups of House Democrats: liberals and members of the various minority caucuses, many of whom are uncomfortable with the bill because it lacks a 'public option,' or government-backed insurance plan; and leaders of the centrist New Democrat Coalition." Obama told the group that a public option couldn't pass the Senate, but that he'd be "personally committed" to pursuing it once health reform passed, according to Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "said the Senate health bill should be acceptable to the House, with fixes to be made in the budget reconciliation bill: additional subsidies, to make insurance more affordable for moderate-income people; elimination of a special Medicaid deal for Nebraska; and a reduction in a proposed excise tax on high-cost health plans offered by employers" (Stolberg and Pear, 3/4).
The Washington Post: "The president also made a surprise visit to insurance company chief executives, brandishing a letter from a cancer patient as he admonished them about what he has called excessive rate increases. Taken together, [Obama's] actions reflected the sense of urgency inside the West Wing for Congress to brush aside legislative delays and election-year politics and pass the president's top domestic priority. Senior Democratic aides said Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) hopes to unveil the reconciliation bill early next week. The process could then unfold over the next two weeks, although the final phase in the Senate could easily consume a week beyond that" (Shear, 3/5).
USA Today: "Democratic leaders are trying to balance the demands of moderates who are worried about the cost of the bill with those of more liberal members of the party, who are concerned the legislation doesn't go far enough to expand access to insurance." USA today identifies other key issues for Democrats, including abortion (Fritze, 3/5).
Politico examines 10 lawmakers who "could decide" health reform. "And since it appears that the president won't attract a single Republican vote, wavering Democrats should brace themselves for plenty of attention - from the voters, their leaders and Obama himself, who, a spokesman said, wants a House vote by March 18." The lawmakers include Reps. Kathleen Dahlkemper, who stands with Stupak on abortion, and Brad Ellsworth, who has an eye on Sen. Evan Bayh's Senate seat (Budoff Brown and O'Connor, 3/5).
CongressDaily: Grijalva "said his sense is his caucus would support the president's overhaul effort after expressing anger that the public option has so long been off the table, while at the same time, Obama has worked to incorporate Republican ideas into his healthcare proposal."
Meanwhile, the president "met Wednesday evening with 10 moderate House Democrats who had voted against the House version of the bill. They are considered prime targets for switching to 'yes' now that the more moderate Senate bill is the basis for what would most likely pass both chambers. Congressional aides said the meeting was on pay/go and health care was not discussed. Still, two of those members said Thursday they could not support the Senate measure" (Edney, 3/5).
The New York Times, in a separate story: "Among the Democratic lawmakers concerned that the legislation does not do enough to control costs are a bloc of 24 members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog coalition who voted against the House bill in November. At the time, many said they preferred the Senate version of the legislation, at least in terms of its cost-control efforts. But even some lawmakers who voted for the Senate bill have been calling in recent weeks for additional steps to be taken to guarantee that new spending will not spiral out of control. They also want to ensure that Congress will follow through on proposed cuts, especially reductions to slow the growth of Medicare" (Herszenhorn, 3/4).
The Christian Science Monitor: Obama is "still struggling to persuade Americans that the plan will reduce costs." Some reasons: the bill includes a smaller tax on high end plans that originally proposed, the belief from some people believe that private-sector premiums will remain high, the fact that some spending is not in the bill and that "(a)lmost all the key numbers come with a high degree of uncertainty. Some surprises could be negative, such as if more employers than anticipated opt to drop health benefits. Some could be positive, such as if experiments with new models of care reap gains faster than expected" (Trumbull, 3/4).
Reuters: "Other Democrats see it this way: They have little choice but to push ahead on the legislation because after devoting a year to healthcare, they can ill afford to come away with nothing. Democratic political consultant Bob Shrum said Democrats 'absolutely need to pass this because they're going to have to run with it this fall'" (Holland, 3/4).