Obama rallies Democrats for healthcare reform

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama rallied fellow Democrats on Tuesday for healthcare reform, and agreed they should give Republicans only until mid-September to get behind the plan.

Dr. Shirley Christian examines a six-year-old boy patient at Capital Area Pediatrics office in Ashburn, Virginia, July 29, 2009. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

“Everyone recognizes that we are going to do, if there’s any way possible, a bipartisan bill,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said after Democratic senators attended a White House meeting.

“We’re going to do that ... in spite of the loud shrill voices (against it),” he said. Reid said a bill would be approved this year.

The healthcare debate is becoming increasingly rancorous in Washington and around the country. On Sunday, Senator Arlen Specter and Obama’s Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, were roundly booed in Pennsylvania at a meeting on healthcare.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said he felt some such opposition was “manufactured” by conservative groups.

“I think some of it is, yes,” he said, in answer to a question during his daily news briefing. “They’ve bragged about, to some degree, manufacturing that anger.”

Obama has made an overhaul of the $2.5 trillion healthcare system his top domestic priority this year, and its success or failure could define his presidency.

Senate health subcommittee chairman Jay Rockefeller told reporters on Capitol Hill the president supported giving the Finance Committee leaders a September 15 deadline to negotiate a plan with minority Republicans.


Finance chairman Max Baucus added that if no agreement was made by mid-September, “we’ll just have to reassess where we are and see what we’re up to. There are all kinds of options.”

He said later Obama discussed limits on their push for Republican backing. The president said he “hopes it doesn’t happen, but it may come to a point where we have to go in a different direction,” Baucus told reporters.

But the plan has run into problems, with the insurance industry revving up its lobbying against sweeping reforms, Republicans decrying it as a “socialist” attempt to inflict a government-run health plan and the public wary of its price tag of $1 trillion over 10 years.

Democrats, who control Congress, are divided over how to pay for it all and how the public insurance plan would be run.

Rockefeller, who backs a government-run insurance plan over the public cooperatives in the Senate plan, warned that if the Senate bill moved much closer to pleasing Republicans, it might lose Democratic votes.

“My problem is that it seems to be moving farther away from the rest of us who are not part of this (Finance) group,” said Rockefeller, who supports a government health plan which is not part of the current talks.

Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd said after the meeting with Obama that members of the party needed to come back from their August break “with a new sense of purpose,” but expressed confidence that a bipartisan bill would pass.

Baucus also expressed confidence that a deal would pass.

“We’re going to get this done,” he said, and said the push would be for a bill backed by members of both parties.

“The preference is to do it together,” he said.

Additional reporting by Jackie Frank and Andy Sullivan, editing by Philip Barbara and Todd Eastham