Healthcare reform: Three ways the House may derail Obama's plans

President Obama is meeting with House Democrats who could ruin his hopes for passing healthcare reform by Easter. Three groups, in particular, have significant reservations.

President Obama chats with House majority leader Steny Hoyer after a bipartisan meeting about healthcare reform on Feb. 25. Democrats now appear ready to go it alone, and Hoyer will be key to getting House Democrats on board.

President Obama has begun his final lobbying push for healthcare reform. That is why he is meeting Thursday with different groups of wavering House Democrats.

Mr. Obama knows he must overcome the concerns of rank-and-file representatives of his own party if he is to win a climactic House vote and sign his top domestic priority into law this spring.

House majority leader Steny Hoyer said Thursday that Democrats would like to finish healthcare legislation by the beginning of Easter break, March 29. It’s possible that could slip, however.

“At this point in time we don’t have a bill,” Mr. Hoyer told reporters. “It’s a little difficult to count votes if you don’t have a bill.”

Groups of House Democrats began shuffling through the White House Thursday afternoon.

First up were caucus heads and other miscellaneous House leaders. The centrist New Democrat coalition was right on their heels.

Lots of House Democrats may be visiting the Oval Office in the days ahead. Obama knows he must counteract at least three different political trends among his party’s back benchers.

1. The liberals

Many liberal members remain angry that they are being asked to pass a bill based on the more conservative Senate version of healthcare reform. They remain adamant that the best way forward would include a government-run public option insurance program, which the Senate pitched aside.

2. The centrists

Many centrist and conservative Democrats remain worried about cost. It is true that the Congressional Budget Office has judged that the Senate bill, in the medium term, would actually reduce the deficit. But these members are concerned that in the real world many government programs end up costing more than originally estimated – much more.

3. The antiabortion bloc

A key group of House Democrats opposes the Senate version of healthcare reform because they believe it contains more permissive language as regards government funding of abortion. Obama could lose as many as a dozen votes due to this obstacle.

Of these hurdles, it is the last that concerns the administration the most. Rep. Bart Stupak (D) of Michigan, a leader of House Democrats who oppose abortion, noted that they are willing to vote down the top domestic priority of a president of their own party over the issue.

“I want to see healthcare, but we’re not going to bypass some principles and beliefs we feel strongly about,” said Mr. Stupak in an ABC broadcast interview Thursday.

It is possible that even with Obama’s lobbying, healthcare reform could meet its end on the House floor. House leaders, for their part, say they are confident of winning but know there is much work ahead.

“Every vote, every legislative vote is a heavy lift around here,” noted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a Thursday press conference.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.