By Sam Youngman - 08/20/09 05:15 PM EDT
President Barack Obama on Thursday guaranteed healthcare reform would be approved and went further than he has in the past in suggesting he’d support moving the bill through the Senate without GOP support.
He also expressed a willingness to invoke budget reconciliation rules in the Senate that would allow healthcare reform to be approved with 51 votes instead of the 60 necessary to overcome procedural hurdles. Using the rules probably would mean Republican support would not be needed in the Senate.
“I have no control over what the other side decides is their political strategy,” Obama said. “We are going to get this done one way or another.”
Obama made the comments to members of Organizing for America, a wing of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) made up of Obama’s former grassroots campaign supporters, amid reports that Democratic leaders in the Senate are considering using the reconciliation process to move parts of the healthcare reform bill.
A public insurance option prized by liberals may be impossible to move through the Senate with 60 votes, which has Democrats giving a closer look at using the controversial budgetary rules.
But in the House, it will be impossible to move a health bill without a public option, according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“There’s no way I can pass a bill in the House of Representatives without a public option,” Pelosi said during a press conference Thursday in San Francisco, according to Bloomberg News.
A bipartisan group of negotiators on the Senate Finance Committee were scheduled to hold a teleconference Thursday evening in an effort to reach a compromise that might be supported by both parties. But Republicans in that groups have drawn a line in the sand on the public option.
Earlier Thursday, Obama, appearing on conservative radio host Michael Smerconish's show live from the White House,
defended his Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, for remarks she made last week about the public option.
Obama said Sebelius did not “misspeak” when she said Sunday that the public health insurance option is “not essential” to reform. He did acknowledge that “some folks on the left” and the press “got a little excited.”
“The surprising thing is she's been saying this all along,” Obama said.
Using some of his strongest -- and at times unusual -- language on the debate to date, Obama sought to marginalize his critics and assuage the concerns of his allies who say he has not been tough enough.
In his remarks to OFA, the president compared this juncture in the healthcare debate to this time last summer, when his supporters worried about losing the election after Republican rival Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) announced then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Obama joked that Washington pundits declared then, as they are now, that “Obama’s lost his mojo.”
“There's something about August going into September where everybody in Washington gets all wee-weed up. I don't know what it is, but that's what happens,” the president said.
But questions about the White House's efforts to sell healthcare followed him through the day.
On Smerconish’s show, one caller named Joe asked Obama if his “knees are buckling,” asking why, with super-majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats are having trouble passing a bill.
“I guarantee you, Joe, we are going to get healthcare reform done,” Obama said.
One member of the audience at the DNC singled out the White House’s refusal to draw “bright lines” on the public health insurance option, asking Obama: “Why are we pushing it harder?”
Obama continued to say he believes the public option is the best way to ensure competition with insurance companies and bring down the cost of insurance, but he again refused to insist it be included.
The president took questions from callers who pressed him for details on what his plan would entail. As he has since the beginning, Obama fell back on broad goals and refused to draw any lines in the sand.
The president said that from the beginning he has tried to work with Republicans on healthcare, but he thinks GOP leadership decided from the beginning to oppose all his efforts and said, “Let's not give him a victory.”
“I would love to have more Republicans engaged and involved in this process,” Obama said.
But Obama repeatedly targeted Republicans and his critics shortly after welcoming them aboard.
“We know where these lies are coming from,” Obama said, referring to the rhetoric from town halls across the country. “I mean, I don't think it's any secret.”
As he has wont to do as of late, the president also took aim at the media for helping to spread what he calls “misinformation” and “lies” about his healthcare proposal.
The president called the media practice of “he-said-she-said” reporting “irresponsible.”
“You can have 20 sensible town hall meetings, but if there's one where somebody's screaming, you know which one is going to get on television,” Obama said.
This story was posted at 1:44 p.m. and updated at 4:26 p.m. and 5:15 p.m.