No more meetings. No more compromises. Pass a final health care reform bill within the next three weeks.
That was the message President Barack Obama handed down to Congressional Democrats on Wednesday in his latest and most aggressive push yet to get health care reform done — and without Republicans.
“Every argument has been made. Everything there is to say about health care has been said and just about everyone has said it. So now is the time to make a decision about how to finally reform health care so that it works,” Obama said in a speech at the White House aimed at rallying Democrats to pass a bill now.
From here on out, the president’s role will revert to being a cheerleader as the onus falls on Congressional Democrats to transform Obama’s $950 billion health care blueprint into legislation and clear it in both chambers.
It is no surprise that Obama is backing the use of reconciliation to avert a GOP filibuster in the Senate and pass an overhaul with just 51 votes. The procedure appears to be the only chance Democrats have left to pass a bill.
Also not a surprise was the Hill reaction to Obama’s speech.
Republicans, who have hated the Democratic health care reform drive from the start and have decried the use of reconciliation as an abuse of power, pounced on Obama’s ambitious road map.
“It is abundantly clear that the president and the Democratic leadership are calling upon their Members to ignore the wishes of the American people,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) said Obama’s speech was “very disappointing” and blasted his plan to “jam [a health bill] through with a partisan vote.”
Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, called it “terribly upsetting” that Obama will try to pass health care via reconciliation and said, “It didn’t have to be this way.”
Democratic Hill leaders, who are framing their plan as bipartisan since it includes GOP proposals on tort reform and Medicare fraud and abuse, threw their support behind Obama’s renewed push for action. Democrats, who have struggled to contain intraparty battles on the issue, have complained for months that Obama didn’t do enough to help push health care reform through. Now, Members are welcoming his heavy-handedness.
“This is a bipartisan proposal and it deserves bipartisan support. … Republicans have been included in this process and now they have a responsibility to work with us to make reform succeed,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said.
Still, Reid signaled that Democrats are ready to move forward without Republicans, by adding, “We’ll use every option available to deliver meaningful reform this year.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Obama’s proposal “combines the best ideas of Democrats and Republicans.”
Of course, Pelosi also got in a jab at the key differences between the two parties in their ideas: “Democrats believe we must hold insurance companies accountable in order to rein in premiums, insure 30 million more Americans and protect patients and consumers nationwide. Congressional Republicans disagree.”
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who is the longest-serving House Member and whose father introduced the first national health insurance bill in 1943, called Obama’s final push “one of the most politically courageous acts I have seen in my time in Congress.” He chided GOP lawmakers for complaining about the majority’s use of reconciliation, something they have used in the past to pass “tax cuts for the wealthy” and have “vehemently argued for” in the case of judicial nominations.
“I hope my Republican colleagues acknowledge the steps the president has genuinely taken to bridge the partisan divide that has plagued the process,” Dingell said.
Obama’s speech comes just a week after he hosted a bipartisan summit with Congressional leaders at the Blair House. The forum, which was more politics than policy, was the Democrats’ final, public attempt to at least appear to try to win over Republicans before moving ahead with reconciliation.
Democratic leaders are holding off on whipping members of their Caucus until they have an actual bill before them. Likewise, lawmakers unsure of how they will ultimately vote say they are waiting for legislative language before committing either way.
Not that some aren’t already showing their cards. Some liberals have warned that they can’t support an overhaul without a public insurance option; conservative Democrats have griped about the lack of cost containment in Obama’s plan.
But Democratic leaders are moving full steam ahead, an acknowledgment that if they idle any longer they risk not passing a bill altogether.
“I don’t see any reason to drag this out another month,” Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama is prepared to do “whatever it takes” to get health care done in the coming weeks. He signaled that his efforts will include phone calls to Members and events around the country.
Obama’s final round of campaigning already appears to be under way: Just hours after Wednesday’s health care speech, the president was set to host a reception to thank lawmakers for their help in restoring statutory pay-as-you-go rules. The bulk of the 31 invitees? Fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, many of whom are targets for party leaders hoping to switch a handful of “no” votes to the House health care bill last fall to “yes” votes on Obama’s final proposal.
In fact, three of nine key Democrats who opposed the House bill but remain on the fence on Obama’s bill will be in attendance: Reps. John Tanner (Tenn.), Frank Kratovil (Md.) and Scott Murphy (N.Y.).
The president is also hitting the road next week to tout his health care reform proposal in two key battleground states: Pennsylvania and Missouri. Obama is scheduled to speak in Philadelphia on Monday and in the St. Louis area on Wednesday.
Gibbs said the yearlong slog through the health care debate has left Obama “focused” on getting the job done. He will spend the next few weeks hammering home the message that comprehensive reform is the right thing to do and “convincing those in Congress that this proposal is the right one for their constituents.”
The White House spokesman acknowledged that some Democrats are worried that a vote for the overhaul could come back to haunt them in November’s midterm elections. Obama’s message to them?
“Good policy and good ideas, the politics will catch up with that,” he said.