Article: Obama Works Phones For Health Care Bill (CQ TODAY)


Sept. 4, 2009 – 9:44 a.m.
Obama Works Phones For Health Care Bill
By Jonathan Allen, CQ Staff

President Obama is reaching out to lawmakers in his own party, including liberals, in an effort to build momentum to pass health care overhaul, according to Democratic aides.

The White House has set up Friday conference calls between Obama and Democratic factions, including members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The caucus sent the president a letter Thursday threatening to oppose any health care bill that does not include the creation of a “robust” government insurance plan to compete against private health insurers.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey , D-Calif., a co-chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus and a signatory of the letter, will be among lawmakers participating in one of the conference calls with the president, a Woolsey aide confirmed.

The outreach effort comes as Obama prepares to address a joint session of Congress on Sept. 9.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and White House advisers have said Obama will detail what he wants the health care legislation to include and why those items are important.

The White House is hopeful the address will provide new momentum after August was dominated by heated town hall meetings that showed the public is confused and worried about how the proposed changes would affect them.

Obama’s approval ratings also have also been battered by the debate. Though it has inched back up since, the Gallup Daily Tracking poll showed his approval falling to 50 percent last week for the first time since his inauguration in January.

It remains unclear how much the president will preview his speech during his calls to lawmakers and how much he will simply hear out lawmakers.

The effort follows calls from many Democrats for Obama to get more involved in the shaping and selling of health care to salvage their top domestic priority.

While Obama is getting pressure from his left flank to ensure that a government insurance plan is part of the overhaul, moderate and conservative Democrats are leery that such a proposal is seen by the public as too liberal and that perception will thin their ranks next November.

On July 7, Obama said establishment of a public insurance option is “one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality,” an assertion that reassured many on the left. But Obama has never insisted that a public option be included in the legislation and his advisers later signaled that it may be dropped.

On Thursday, Woolsey and fellow Progressive Caucus co-chair Raul M. Grijalva , sent a letter to Obama threatening to withhold support for his health care agenda. They said the bill would only win their support if it includes a public option, reverses a deal Democratic leaders struck with fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats to reimburse providers through negotiated, rather than fixed, rates and creates the public insurance plan immediately, rather than through a staggered trigger mechanism.

“Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, a public option built on the Medicare provider system and with reimbursement based on Medicare rates-not negotiated rates-is unacceptable,” they wrote.

Amid the debate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., has reiterated that a health care bill that does not include some form of the public option will not pass the House.

Leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus also wrote Obama and outlined their priorities on the issue.

Those leaders stopped short of threatening to oppose the president; it’s not clear how many members of the Progressive and Black caucuses would actually vote against a health care bill with Obama’s imprimatur.