By Sam Youngman - 09/17/09 04:52 PM EDT
President Obama's mention of Sen. Max Baucus's healthcare proposal drew boos Thursday at a healthcare rally at the University of Maryland.
By contrast, the left-leaning crowd cheered Obama when he endorseed a public health insurance option, which is considered a core provision for liberal lawmakers but is absent from Baucus's (D-Mont.) proposal.
Baucus, a centrist and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, unveiled his bill Wednesday. He had been working behind the scenes for months with a group of three Republicans and two Democrats in an attempt to craft a bipartisan measure. But Republicans and liberal Democrats criticized the legislation upon its release, and the White House was largely noncommittal.
Obama did not endorse Baucus's bill at the rally. But he assailed critics of his broader goal, threatening those who mischaracterize his plans that he will "call them out."
"I've heard a lot of Republicans say they want to kill 'ObamaCare,'" Obama said. "Some even raise money off of it."
By the end of the rally, the president had brought the crowd firmly back to his side, leading them in the now-familiar chants of "Fired up, ready to go."
Earlier Thursday, the White House formally announced that the president had directed Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to begin offering $25 million in grants for demonstration projects to find ways to improve patient safety while limiting medical malpractice suits.
"I don't think this is a silver bullet, but I want to explore the idea," Obama said in Maryland.
The move, announced during the president's joint address to Congress last week, was largely viewed as an olive branch to Republicans who have long faulted frivolous lawsuits for raising the cost of insurance.
Trial lawyers, one of the most reliable Democratic donor bases, have long fought attempts at tort reform on Capitol Hill, but Sebelius said that the president is not trying to use the outreach as "a lever" in the healthcare debate.
Sebelius told reporters earlier Thursday that the launch of the demonstration projects can track with legislative language that explores ways to limit malpractice suits, and the president's directive "captures some of the legislative intent and jumpstarts it."
"I don't think this is an either-or," she said. "I see this as very complementary to some of the proposals on the table."