Pushing for health care, Obama calls on Congress to rise above politics


WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, framing this weekend’s expected House action on healthcare reform as “historic,” called on Congress to rise above politics and do something for the good of millions of Americans.

The president, who has taken his campaign for health care legislation to Ohio, Missouri and Pennsylvania in recent weeks, made another public pitch for the plan Friday at a college campus arena in nearby Fairfax, Va., before an expected House vote on Sunday.

“A few miles from here, Congress is in
the final stages of a fateful debate about the future of health
insurance in America,” Obama told his audience. “It’s a debate that’s
raged not just for the past year, but for the past century. …

“It’s a debate that’s not only about the cost of
health care. … It’s a debate about the character of our country —
about whether we can still meet the challenges of our time, whether we
still have the guts and the courage to give every citizen, not just
some, the chance to reach their dreams,” the president said in shirt
sleeves at a boisterous, campaign-style rally at the Patriot Center, an
arena at George Mason University.

Obama’s job-approval ratings this week slid to a new low of 46 percent in the Gallup Poll and a Pew Research Center survey as the contentious debate over health care consumed Capitol Hill.
Republican leaders maintain that Democrats will face “a price to pay”
in the November midterm congressional elections if the bill passed.

The president, likening news coverage of the health
care debate to ESPN’s “SportsCenter” — “rock ’em, sock ’em robots” —
mimicked the chatter of the cable television news media: “What they
like to talk about is the politics of the vote. What does it mean in
November? … What’s it going to mean for Obama? Will his presidency be
crippled or will he be ‘the comeback kid.’ …

“I don’t know how this plays politically,” the
president said. “Nobody really does. … I don’t know whether my poll
numbers go down or they go up. … I do know that this bill, this
legislation, is going to be enormously important for America’s future.”

The president has attempted to frame the debate as “a vote for reform,” with opponents poised to vote against reform.

“The time for reform is now,” he said Friday. “We
have waited long enough. In just a few days, a century-long struggle
will culminate in a historic vote.”

He compared the health care legislation, offering
insurance to an estimated 32 million Americans who are now uninsured,
to the creation of Social Security after the Great Depression and the passage of Medicare for senior citizens in the 1960s.

“This is a patient’s bill of rights on steroids,”
Obama said, pointing to provisions that start the first year of the
legislation and ban insurers from dropping policyholders who become ill
and prevent insurers from rejecting people with pre-existing conditions.

Obama postponed a planned trip to Indonesia and Australia until June to stay and, as White House press secretary Robert Gibbs explained this week, “see this battle through.”

“The most important domestic priority here in the
U.S. is going to be voted on this weekend or early next week, and I
have to be there,” the president said in an interview that aired Friday
on RCTI, the largest commercial television network in Indonesia.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost of the proposed health care plan at $940 billion
over 10 years, with a projection that expected savings in federal
programs will offer some deficit relief as well over the coming decade
— meeting the president’s demand that any legislation on healthcare
must be “deficit-neutral.”

“A lot of members who have real concern about the
deficit now see this as the biggest opportunity for deficit reduction,”
House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., said Friday, suggesting that the leadership’s drive for a winning vote now has “big mo.'”

Rep. John Boccieri, D-Ohio, in announcing Friday that he plans to vote for the bill, cited the $138 billion in deficit reduction that the CBO has projected after the first 10 years of the legislation’s enactment and another $1 trillion-plus in deficit reduction in the second 10 years. He was among the Democrats who voted against a House bill last fall.

Yet House leaders, who acknowledged earlier this
week that they lacked the votes needed for passage, will be working
into the weekend to secure the 216 votes needed to approve the bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that she is “very excited about the momentum that is developing around the bill. …

“It’s liberating legislation,” said Pelosi, pointing
to requirements that no one can be denied insurance coverage. “Right
now, we’re just getting votes to pass a bill.”

Democratic leaders also are considering a parliamentary move enabling the House to “deem” the Senate health care bill as having passed and then vote on a package of changes that reconcile differences between the Senate bill approved before Christmas and a House health care bill approved by a vote of 220-215 in November.

While House leaders maintain that the CBO’s
projection of deficit reduction has eased the way for passage of a
final package that merges House and Senate proposals, opponents maintain that the government never lives within its bounds.

“Here’s the point: This proposal is paid for,” Obama told his audience at George Mason, “unlike some of these previous schemes in Washington. We’re not taking out the credit card, young people, and charging it to you. We’re making sure this is paid for.”

With Republican leaders vowing to prevent the health care bill from becoming law, Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif.,
complained Friday on the House floor that the “deem and pass” tactic
that will be considered this weekend is “extraordinary … such an
extraordinary stretch that it will be rendered unconstitutional.”

“We may very well be being prepared to embark on an
unconstitutional journey,” Lungren said. “Let us not pass something for
the American people that will be called into question in court
challenge after court challenge after court challenge.”

In media interviews this week, the president has
said that he is less concerned about the “process” of the bill’s
passage than he is in winning legislation that will offer insurance to
millions of Americans.


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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.