President Barack Obama is turning aggressive on healthcare. Shedding his trademark restraint, he is asking Democratic senators to rally together and vote for a radical overhaul of the nation's healthcare system.
The Democrats' healthcare plan, though watered down heavily†since its introduction, could still prevent spikes in premiums, enable Americans with pre-existing conditions to purchase coverage and require insurance plans to offer free preventive care. The House and Senate have passed different versions of the legislation, but they must be merged.
AdvertisementThe White House is calling on Congress to vote on a health-care bill by March 18, when Obama leaves for Asia.
The President launched Monday a double-barreled attack on insurance companies and Washington politicians as a crowd of 1,800 at Arcadia University, Pennsylvania, egged him on.
"I love you!" someone shouted from the bleachers (a roofless section of inexpensive and unreserved seats in tiers), as Obama dashed onstage to a deafening roar.
"Love you back," he responded.
He ditched his suit jacket and got down to business, lashing out at politicians in both parties who have blocked his signature legislative initiative for the past year.
"When you're in Washington, folks respond to every issue, every decision, every debate, no matter how important it is, with the same question," he said. "What does this mean for the next election? What does it mean for your poll numbers? Is this good for the Democrats or good for the Republicans? Who won the news cycle?
"That's just how Washington is," he said. "They can't help it. They're obsessed with the sport of politics...
"They've warned us we may not win. They've argued now is not the time for reform. It's going to hurt our poll numbers. How is it going to affect Democrats in November? Don't do it now.
"My question to them is: When is the right time? If not now, when? If not us, who?"
Obama trained his fire on the insurance industry, which he said has been allowed to "run wild." If left unchecked, companies will continue to hike premiums, he said.
"They will keep on doing this for as long as they can get away with it," he said. "This is no secret. They're telling their investors this: We are in the money. We are going to keep on making big profits even though a lot of folks are going to be put under hardship."
He asked: "How much higher do premiums have to rise until we do something about it? How many more Americans have to lose their health insurance? How many more businesses have to drop coverage?"
The crunch-time atmosphere was reminiscent of Obama's final days on the 2008 campaign trail.
"That's the most fiery I've seen him since the early campaign," said U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, who flew with Obama on Air Force One. "When I was listening to him, I wished that he had given that in the State of the Union."
As the insurance industry is gearing up to kill the bill, the middle class segment too is gradually waking up. They took out a rally in Washington Tuesday supporting the overhaul.†
Dorothy Bryant, a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the largest public employee and health care workers union in the United States, said, "It's time to put the enemies on notice. We will not allow the big corporations and their lobbyists to bully Congress to a standstill. This means confronting the health insurance industry that has secretly spent tens of millions to protect its profits by trying to kill reform."†
Meantime †Senate majority leader Harry Reid and House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi struggle behind the scenes to muster enough votes to pass a watered-down version of health legislation.
The most controversial aspect of this decision is Mr Obama's support for a simple majority vote in the Senate to circumvent a Republican blocking procedure that relies on Democrats needing a "super-majority" of 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber. Democrats lost their 60th vote in January.
The wider concern for Mr Obama is that it remains unclear whether Ms Pelosi can even muster enough votes to pass healthcare legislation in the 435-seat house where the Democrats have a huge majority.
The house narrowly passed a health bill in November with a 220-215 margin that included a government-run scheme to compete with private health insurance companies.
This time many house members who supported health legislation previously are reluctant to pass the watered-down Senate bill in a second-round vote meant to push a unified bill through both houses of congress, wrote Brad Norington in The Australian.†
Some left-leaning Democrats in the House have doubts because the Senate bill omits the government scheme they wanted.
Others object because the Senate bill includes provision for government funding of abortion for women with subsidised private health insurance. The overriding fear of many, however, is that a yes-vote could put take away votes from Democrats.
Their electoral prospects are seen to have slumped after public backing for health reform waned.
Mr Obama's appeal for Democrats to forget their political futures and do the "right thing" by passing legislation to extend coverage to 30 million people with no health insurance may appeal to altruism but could run against political instincts this close to elections, Mr. Norington points out.
So one has to keep one's fingers crossed whether Obama can deliver on his promise of affordable healthcare for all.