By Jordy Yager - 03/06/10 11:05 AM EST
President Barack Obama on Saturday continued his final push to pass a healthcare bill this year as he attempted to assuage Democratic concerns that pieces of the massive measure wouldn’t take effect this year, in time to show voters tangible results.
“And while it will take a few years to fully implement these reforms, there are numerous protections and benefits that would start to take effect this year,” Obama said in his weekly radio address. “This year, small-business owners will receive tax credits to purchase health insurance.
Democrats, like former chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean, have recently raised worries that because it will take several years to begin seeing many of the results of the healthcare measure, it will leave them vulnerable to Republican attacks with no concrete evidence to aid in their defense this November.
“The plan, as it comes from the Senate, hangs out every Democrat who's running for office to dry -- including the president, in 2012, because it makes him defend a plan that isn't in effect essentially yet,” Dean said during an appearance on the liberal Bill Press Radio Show earlier this week.
In his weekend address, Obama echoed his call for Congress to schedule a final vote on the healthcare measure and its “fixes,” saying that Congress “owes the American people a final up-or-down vote on healthcare reform.” Yet, once again, Obama refrained from using the word reconciliation to describe the process he is requesting.
Obama also lambasted insurance companies on Saturday, saying that after meeting with several top executives from large insurance firms earlier in the week, he remained all the more committed to the notion that changes to the health insurance system could not wait.
The administration’s renewed push comes almost one year after changing the healthcare system was raised in Congress and the White House, and a little over one week since Obama hosted a 7-hour bipartisan summit meeting with lawmakers to discuss the measure.
“Now, despite all the progress and improvements we’ve made, Republicans in Congress insist that the only acceptable course on healthcare is to start over,” Obama said on Saturday.
“But you know what? The insurance companies aren’t starting over. I just met with some of them on Thursday and they couldn’t give me a straight answer as to why they keep arbitrarily and massively raising premiums…If we do not act, they will continue to do this. They will continue to drop people’s coverage when they need it. They will continue to refuse coverage based on pre-existing conditions. These practices will continue. That’s why we must act now. That’s why the United States Congress owes the American people an up-or-down vote on health insurance reform.”
With the special election of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) last month, Democrats lost the 60th vote they need to overcome Republican filibusters in the Senate. Since then, they have been aligning behind a plan under which the House would take up the Senate-passed healthcare reform bill and both chambers would vote on a package of “fixes” to that measure using the budget reconciliation rules, which allow legislation to pass the Senate on a simple majority vote.
Republicans have warned Democrats they will lose control of Congress if they push healthcare reform through with the use of reconciliation rules because voters won’t approve.
In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) faces a considerable challenge in getting the 216 votes needed to pass both measures. She will have to count on more lawmakers adopting the attitude that backing the Senate bill and the reconciliation package isn’t a flip-flop decision, like Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) recently did.
Tanner, who is retiring at the end of the year, voted against the House version of healthcare reform last year, but he recently has shifted his position to undecided on the current bills, according to his spokesman, who added that the new measures are different in substance than the one passed last year.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also said on Thursday that lawmakers would be open to tackling one of the most controversial and divisive aspects among Democrats in last year’s bill by drafting separate pieces of legislation with abortion language to earn the support of anti-abortion Democrats for the healthcare measure.