Obama Back in Campaign Mode to Sell Plan

Posted March 23, 2010 at 6:26pm

The ink was barely dry on health care reform Tuesday when President Barack Obama swung back into campaign mode, rallying his base for pulling off the victory and drumming up the same kind of excitement that House Democrats are counting on him to bring to their districts in the coming months.

“We don’t fear the future! We shape the future! That’s what we do! That’s who we are!” Obama shouted to a crowd of about 500 supporters who were on their feet during a fiery speech that he gave at the Interior Department after signing the health care overhaul into law.

“For two years on the campaign trail and for the past year as we’ve worked to reform our system of health insurance, it’s been folks like you who have propelled this movement,” Obama said. “It’s because of you that I did not quit. It’s because of you.”

With health care reform all but done, Obama is ready for phase two of selling the overhaul to the public: barnstorming the country in the lead-up to the midterm elections to tout what Democrats passed into law.

So far, the only campaign-style stop on the president’s schedule is a trip to Iowa City on Thursday, where in 2007 he outlined a grass-roots health care reform plan. The district is represented by Rep. Dave Loebsack (D), who won the seat in 2006 after unseating 15-term Republican Jim Leach.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama will have “a very busy schedule coming up on a whole host of issues” in the coming months. In Iowa City, he said, the president will likely “talk about health care for a long time.”

Obama will talk to the crowd about what health care reform means for small businesses, for families with children who have pre-existing conditions and “for seniors who will finally get help with covering the cost of their prescription drugs,” Gibbs said.

House Democratic leaders are counting on Obama to hit the road for a number of Members in their Caucus whose seats may be in jeopardy after voting for the nearly $1 trillion health care overhaul.

“The president committed to using his bully pulpit to make sure people are aware of the many ways health reform benefits them,” one senior Democratic aide said. “The campaign for reform did not end with the president’s signature, and his voice will be critical to that effort.”

Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), a vice chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said it is crucial that Obama stumps for Democrats whose seats may hang in the balance after voting for the president’s signature issue.

“This is his major bill,” Crowley said. “It is incumbent upon him to explain what we have done for the American people.”

But Crowley said Obama already understands what is required of him — and which Members needs his support the most. “I don’t expect to see Mr. Obama in Queens or the Bronx anytime soon,” he said, referring to strongly Democratic territory in his district.

The seats of freshman Reps. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.) and John Boccieri (D-Ohio) will be among the most watched in the wake of the health care vote. Markey defeated conservative Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R) to secure her seat, while Boccieri came to Congress after assuming the seat held by Ralph Regula (R), who retired after 36 years.

Markey has already been feeling heat back in her district. A Denver Post editorial on Sunday bashed the lawmaker for initially opposing the bill over its costs but then switching her vote after reviewing the Congressional Budget Office estimate.

“Congresswoman Betsy Markey caved to partisan interests and abandoned her initial principled opposition to flawed health care legislation,” the editorial states. “So what’s changed? Just a little arm-twisting and — poof — she’s on board.”

Boccieri said neither Obama nor Democrats need to try to “sell anything” at this point since their main priority should be debunking inaccurate claims made by Republicans about what the bill does.

Obama needs to focus on countering the “fomenting of fear” by Republicans that “has whipped people up into a frenzy for no reason,” the Ohio Democrat said. He added that opponents of reform have already spent more than $1 million in his district spreading “lies” about what the bill does.

Boccieri said he may talk to Obama “at some point” about coming to his district, but for now he takes responsibility for talking about the benefits of health care with his constituents.

“I’m a Member of Congress. I have the responsibility not only to be a good steward but to explain to local groups what this bill is all about,” he said.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who wavered on his health care vote until the day before the vote, said it would be “extremely useful” for Obama to get back into campaign mode sooner rather than later. He emphasized the importance of Obama visiting Members’ districts even when they may be in Republican states.

“He needs to not forget about some of us that are in red states,” Cuellar said. “Texas is the biggest beneficiary of reforms” because 5.9 million people in the state are without health insurance.