Obama Seeks to Reassure House Democrats

Posted January 14, 2010 at 5:28pm

Updated: Jan. 14, 8:04 p.m.

Breaking from negotiations with Democratic leaders on the final shape of a health care overhaul, President Barack Obama on Thursday sought to assure the House Democratic rank-and-file that the package will be a political winner — and pledged his help in selling it to voters.

Obama told lawmakers he would barnstorm the country to make the case for the measure after he signs it into law, effectively daring Republicans to make it a campaign issue.

“If Republicans want to campaign against what we’ve done by standing up for the status quo and for insurance companies over American families and businesses, that is a fight I want to have,— Obama told House Democrats gathered in the Capitol Visitor Center for the second day of their annual issues conference. “If their best idea is to return to the bad policies and the bad ideas of yesterday, they are going to lose that argument.—

The president pledged to wage “a great campaign from one end of the country to the other, telling Americans with insurance or without insurance what they stand to gain.—

The president opened his remarks by singling out Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for praise — and offering some implied back-up to her repeated assurances to her Caucus that they would not get rolled in health care negotiations with the Senate. “She is tough,— Obama said. “And she is tough for her Members, for this Caucus, and she’s tough for the American people.—

And he congratulated House Democrats for completing or “setting the stage for almost all— the goals they campaigned on, ticking off the list of their legislative wins last year.

But in a nod to the souring political environment, Obama also offered sympathy to Members of Congress bruised over the course of the last year by raucous town hall meetings and confrontations with angry constituents. “I know that some of the fights we’ve been going through have been tough,— he said. “I know that some of you have gotten beaten up at home.— But, he said, fighting for a cause they believe in is “why each of us got into public service in the first place.—

And, as far as the public’s view of health care reform, he predicted sunnier days ahead. He said once the measure becomes law, Americans “will suddenly learn that this bill does things they like and doesn’t do things that people have been trying to say it does.—

The president also updated lawmakers on federal relief efforts directed toward the crisis in Haiti. He said the $100 million he announced for the recovery this morning would support early efforts and would grow over the year to fund long-term rebuilding. “My national security team understandsthat I will not put up with any excuses for us not doing the very best in this time of tragedy,— he said.

Obama said the tragedy has had personal dimension in his administration, as Patrick Gaspard, the White House director of political affairs and a Haitian-American, is missing extended family in the island nation in the wake of the earthquake.

Obama later faced questions on the health care bill, jobs and trade with China in a closed session with lawmakers, according to a House Democratic aide.

Obama’s remarks implied support for a national insurance exchange, the aide said, and he said he supports eliminating antitrust exemptions for insurers but did not commit to doing so in the final bill, noting he wants 60 votes in the Senate.

Obama told Democrats unhappy with some of the provisions of the bill that “this is not the last health care bill to ever pass— and quoted Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), calling the bill a starter home with a solid foundation.

Obama also said that he supports additional infrastructure construction after receiving multiple questions on jobs.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.