Obama rallies worried Democrats on healthcare reform

Just back from their congressional districts, Democrats are nervous about riling voters on healthcare reform legislation. But Obama says once people know the details, they'll back it.

Evan Vucci/AP
President Barack Obama speaks to the House Democratic Caucus retreat at the US Capitol on Thursday, in Washington.

With approval ratings for Democrats tumbling, President Obama called on the House majority caucus to look beyond the politics of the moment and fight for healthcare reform.

On a visit to the Capitol Thursday evening, the president told the House Democratic caucus that he understands “the pain and anxiety and sometimes anger” that voters are feeling.

“Now, believe me, I know how big a lift this has been. I see the polls,” he said. But once voters see the bill signed into law, “the American people will suddenly learn that this bill does things they like and doesn't do things that people have been trying to say it does.”

Midterm prospects

Unlike senators, House members must face voters every two years, and the prospects for midterm elections are shaky – especially for the 48 Democrats in districts where the GOP's presidential standardbearer, John McCain, won in 2008.

Mr. Obama spent much of Wednesday working with Democratic leaders on a compromise deal for healthcare. Late on Thursday, Democrats said they were almost there. “We’re on the brink of passing healthcare reform,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, after the caucus meeting with the president.

A key stumbling block is finding a way to pay for healthcare reform without taxing high-cost insurance plans – a feature in the Senate version of the bill opposed by labor unions, who want to protect benefits hard-won through collective bargaining. Aides close to the negotiations say there may be a compromise in raising more revenue through the Medicare payroll tax.

Welcome back

Democrats returned to Capitol Hill this week with accounts of voters worried about the economy and confused about the agenda in Washington, especially healthcare.

“People are concerned about the costs, they’re befuddled by the complexity, and if they have insurance, they want to make sure they aren’t losing something, and all of those concerns leave a great deal of doubt,” says Rep. John Spratt (D) of South Carolina, who chairs the House Budget Committee.

But he and others say they are encouraged by the president’s commitment to focus on jobs and to campaign for the healthcare plan, once it’s signed. “Once it’s a done deal, and the text is out there and people can see what’s in it, they can see that there’s a lot more in it for them than they appreciated,” he said.


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