By Jason Millman - 01/22/11 08:05 PM EST
President Obama will face down Republicans who voted to repeal his signature legislative achievement Tuesday during the State of the Union address.
The speech gives Obama his most visible chance to defend the healthcare reform law less than a week after the House repeal vote.
Statements from Democratic lawmakers and administration officials, as well as the president himself, suggest Obama will try to strike a middle ground.
They have cast the White House as open to tweaking the law to improve it, but insistent that the nation cannot take a step into the past by getting rid of the controversial law.
“I hope that we can work together around some areas where the bill can be improved, or we certainly make it better, but recognize that this is the new platform,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told The Hill in a sit-down interview.
Obama may have given a preview into his Tuesday night healthcare message this week when he said he is “willing and eager” to work with both parties to “improve” the reform law.
“But we can’t go backward,” Obama said. “Americans deserve the freedom and security of knowing that insurance companies can’t deny, cap or drop their coverage when they need it the most, while taking meaningful steps to curb runaway healthcare costs.”
Obama shouldn’t stray far from that message Tuesday night, House Democratic leaders said this week.
“We are going to revisit this healthcare bill many, many times before it gets to where it ought to be,” Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the House’s third-ranking Democrat, said Thursday at the House Democratic retreat in Cambridge, Md. “So I’m sure the president can lay out a litany of things that we can do to this bill right away in a bipartisan way.”
Congressional Democrats have spent the past few weeks playing up the law’s many consumer protections, which have given them ample opportunity to scold Republicans for trying to strip those away in their repeal efforts.
Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) this week labeled the party’s mantra on healthcare as “implement and improve.”
Ron Pollack, director of pro-reform Families USA, said Obama will likely try look to the future of healthcare reform instead of fighting old battles.
“I'm sure he will say that while he's open to ideas from people to strengthen and improve on the Affordable Care Act, that repealing the legislation or efforts to undermine it are not things that he's going to allow to happen,” Pollack said.
Russell Berman and Julian Pecquet contributed