Obama to Emphasize Substance of Health Reform

Posted November 5, 2009 at 5:41pm

Updated: Nov. 6, 6:52 a.m.

President Barack Obama plans to make a straightforward case for the need for health care reform when he appears before House Democrats on Saturday on Capitol Hill — but he also will mention the importance of simply making some progress on the issue.

Obama will say that “there are a lot of critical provisions and lots of things in the bill that are important components of health reform,— said one White House official.

But aides said a portion of Obama’s pitch will be to suggest that Democrats should vote for the legislation to keep the process moving forward, even if they have some reservations about its substance.

“Continuing the progress that has been made on this important issue is a top priority,— the official said.

The visit to Capitol Hill is the most visible piece of Obama’s personal effort to pass the legislation, which includes Oval Office huddles with House and Senate Democratic leaders, sessions with several House caucuses, and one-on-one White House meetings with moderate Democratic Senators such as Evan Bayh of Indiana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Jim Webb of Virginia.

As the Saturday night House vote nears, the president will get call lists from House Democratic leadership and White House legislative strategists and will contact wavering Members individually to try to lock in their votes, said sources knowledgeable about the effort. These sources indicated he has not yet lit up the phone lines, though they suggested he may have made some calls.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denied that the Saturday gathering with House Democrats, during which Obama will likely offer remarks and then take questions, indicated the president is concerned the votes are not there for passage.

“I think it’s important for Members to hear the importance of continuing to move this process along, continuing to make progress on reforms that are real and tangible for the American people,— Gibbs said.

Obama himself has not specifically endorsed the House legislation. The White House has avoided getting directly behind any one piece of legislation as the bills are melded and as the process moves along.

“Weird that he’s asking vulnerable House Members to vote for something that he hasn’t endorsed,— quipped one senior Senate Republican aide.

Obama on Saturday is not likely to specifically bring up Tuesday’s election results. But he may delve into what he sees as the political imperative for Democrats to pass the bill.

“The president recognizes that there is a symbiotic relationship in that both the president and the Democrats benefit when they make progress on important issues,— the White House official said. “He’s not going to go into a room with 256 politicians and not have politics come up.—