Obama Readies Stronger Hand On Health Reform, Plans Meetings With Players

The next two weeks of a health reform fight may prove pivotal for President Barack Obama's image and his ability to use his popularity to get things done, The Washington Post reports.

"With skepticism about the president's health-care reform effort mounting on Capitol Hill — even within his own party — the White House has launched a new phase of its strategy designed to dramatically increase public pressure on Congress: all Obama, all the time. Senior White House aides promise "an aggressive public and private schedule" for Obama as he presses his case for reform, including a prime-time news conference on Wednesday, a trip to Cleveland, and heavy use of Internet video to broadcast his message beyond the reach of the traditional media" (Shear and Murray, 7/20).

Obama planned a roundtable discussion with health stakeholders Monday at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, Roll Call reports. "The appearance is part of what is becoming a near-daily drumbeat of messages on health care by Obama, who is pressing Congress to pass a health care overhaul before it adjourns for the August recess. The president last week held a series of meetings on the matter with lawmakers and then Friday appeared suddenly at the White House to push for legislation. Obama's Saturday weekly address was devoted to encouraging supporters to back his views on health reform" (Koffler, 7/19).

The White House also softened a bit on its August timeline for reform, Roll Call reports in a separate story: "Asked on CNN's 'State of the Union' whether the timeline for passage would be met, Peter Orszag, White House budget director said: 'It's still the goal. We think we can make that'" (Dennis, 7/19).

Orszag also couldn't rule out the possibility that some health reform dollars would be used on abortions, The New York Times reports: "'I am not prepared to say explicitly that right now. It's obviously a controversial issue, and it's one of the questions that is playing out in this debate,'" Orszag said. "Under the House bill, for example, most insurers would have to provide an 'essential benefits package' specified by the health and human services secretary, who would receive recommendations from a federal advisory committee. Opponents of abortion want Congress to prohibit inclusion of abortion in that benefits package, while advocates of abortion rights say the package should be left to medical professionals to determine" (Pear and Liptak, 7/19).

Obama also used his Saturday address to bolster support for reform, The Associated Press reports: "'This is what the debate in Congress is all about: whether we'll keep talking and tinkering and letting this problem fester as more families and businesses go under and more Americans lose their coverage,' Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. 'Or whether we'll seize this opportunity — one we might not have again for generations — and finally pass health insurance reform this year, in 2009'" (Elliot, 7/18).

The Hill reports that Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, continued the GOP's assault on Obama's reform push by insisting it will "increase government spending, unfairly raise taxes, and fall short of delivering real reform of the healthcare system" (Allen, 7/18).

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