Obama's intervention crucial to save health reform

14:18, March 04, 2010      

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U.S. President Barack Obama made a last-ditch effort on health insurance reform on Wednesday when unveiling a revised version of his proposal.

Urging the Congress to vote on the bill in the next several weeks, President Obama said he's going to do everything in his power to make the case for reform.

Igor Volsky, a healthcare researcher affiliated with the Center for American Progress, explained in an interview with Xinhua that although it's late in the game, Obama's involvement is still crucial for the legislation.

"When you go back through history to look at how major pieces of legislation were passed, presidential involvement was just so important," Volsky said, noting there were instances when a president would call a senator over a dozen times to secure the vote.

After almost a year's efforts, the health reform has divided the Congress, with Republicans standing against it in a rock-solid position, making Democratic unity ever more important.

According to the White House, Obama invited 31 congressional Democrats to a White House reception Wednesday night, many of them members of the so-called Blue Dog Coalition in the House of Representatives, a caucus of conservative members of the Democratic party, which favors financial discretion. Those members remained unconvinced of the health reform partly because of its 100-billion-dollar price tag.

Volsky said Obama needs to reach out to the more conservative part of the party, and ask for their votes.

"It's very important for a president to reach out to those reluctant members" of the Congress when a legislation needs some major push, he said.

"It's going to take a lot of facetime from the President, and it's gonna take a good deal of administration pressure."

However, Volsky said it's unclear if the strategy is going to work, as conservative House Democrats such as Bart Stupak have been voicing concerns about the Senate bill's lack of strict anti-abortion language, and could take up to 30 House Democrats with him if he votes "no."

"Nobody really knows at this point, certainly the President and leadership are hoping they can get enough votes," Volsky said.

With his biggest domestic agenda hanging in the balance, Obama stopped delegating the job to Congressional leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Max Baucus, and offered his version of the health bill on Feb. 22, which drew heavily on the Senate bill.

He even convened a bipartisan health summit on Feb. 25, but failed to win over Congressional Republicans. He incorporated some of the Republican ideas in his final version proposal on Wednesday, but the Republicans are not buying.

House Republican Leader John Boehner dismissed Obama's renewed proposal as "sprinkling a few sensible Republican proposals onto a fundamentally-flawed 2,000-page bill."

Obama clearly anticipated the reaction. He said the Congress should vote on the bill with or without Republican support, suggesting they use reconciliation, a legislative measure that only needs a simple majority to push forward a controversial budget bill in the Senate, as the Democrats are one vote short of a filibuster-proof supermajority.

Apart from the Congressional side, there's the opinion of the voters, which many Democratic lawmakers are at pains to win because of the mid-term election later this year.

Obama tried to gather the popular support.

"I urge every American who wants this reform to make their voice heard as well -- every family, every business owner, every patient, every doctor, every nurse," he said.

The White House also announced Obama is to travel to Pennsylvania's Philadelphia and Missouri's St. Louis next week to discuss the health insurance reform, trying to win over the mainstreet, which, if he succeeds, would convince many politically vulnerable lawmakers to vote for the final bill.

Although many Americans don't like the health reform bills, they certainly like what's inside the bill, Volsky observed, citing overwhelming support for many reform measures in the bill.

The message "clearly hasn't been coming across very well," Volsky said, "it's really up to Democrats, up to the President to try and explain what's in their bill."

Source: Xinhua
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