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Obama Aides Press Health Bill in Boss’s Absence

With President Barack Obama and a retinue of advisers on the other side of the Atlantic, the White House is seeking to maintain its visibility on health care this week, convening high-level meetings with lawmakers and staging publicity-generating events to compensate for the boss’s absence.

The White House effort comes at a critical moment when Senate committee markups that were supposed to occur before July 4 are being delayed until next week or even later.

In public statements and in private meetings with lawmakers, administration officials appeared to convey a sense of inevitability about the legislation in order to diminish worries that it is off track — and to try to get floor action in both chambers this month.

“The message is, we want to keep moving forward with all deliberative speed,— a White House official said. “The administration has made it clear that the goal is to have health reform legislation out of both houses by the August recess.—

Obama aides are using deals struck with health care providers in recent weeks as selling points to signal that “everyone is on board— and the health reform train is leaving the station.

During a session with House Democrats on Tuesday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel touted cost-saving measures promised by pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and insurers as a sign that those who opposed and sank President Bill Clinton’s health reform effort 15 years ago are not standing in the way this time, according to a source who was present.

Emanuel asserted that “this is our moment— and “we have to do it now,— this source said. Emanuel pressed for the House to pass an initial bill by the August recess, a goal Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has repeatedly affirmed.

Emanuel also used the session to reassure Democrats that the president strongly supports inclusion of a public health insurance option in the legislation.

In a statement Wednesday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused the White House and Democrats of “bullying— the health groups into striking the deals.

Vice President Joseph Biden, who generally cedes the limelight on health care to Obama, on Wednesday announced a commitment by hospitals to help pay for expanded coverage by reducing their draw on Medicare and Medicaid.

Biden also huddled Wednesday with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on health care in his West Wing office.

In remarks to hospital officials — delivered just after his session with Reid and Baucus — Biden portrayed health reform as a given.

“Folks, reform is coming. It is on track. It is coming,— he said. “The reality will be, we must enact this reform this year.—

Others leading the charge on Capitol Hill while Obama is away are White House Legislative Affairs Director Phil Schiliro and health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle. A heavy focus has been on the Finance Committee, where Democrats are struggling to strike a deal among themselves and with Republicans.

Meanwhile, Organizing for America — the Democratic National Committee operation that is the successor to the Obama presidential campaign’s successful grass-roots organization — continues its effort to help the president enact his agenda.

In its latest move, the group is urging those on its vast e-mail list to write letters to local and national newspapers supporting Obama’s health care goals.

An e-mail from OFA Director Mitch Stewart asks members to combat “the lobbyists trying to block reform— with letters to the editor that emphasize what OFA says are Obama’s “three basic principles— for legislation: “Reduce costs by improving efficiency and investing in preventative care. Guarantee every American the right to choose their plan and doctor—including a public insurance option. Ensure quality, affordable care for every American.—

Instructions for crafting the letter say it should be “written in your own words,— but suggested details are provided, such as: “Half of all personal bankruptcies stem from medical expenses— and “Congress must [pass] real health care reform in 2009.—

And keep it short, Stewart advises.

“Good letters are usually just two or three short paragraphs,— Stewart writes in his e-mail. “You can just explain that you’re a local resident who knows we need real health care reform following the President’s three principles, and we need it now.—

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