Obama must win over undecided Dems with revised health overhaul proposal

By Erica Werner, AP
Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Obama looks to undecided Dems for health backing

WASHINGTON — A week after personally taking charge of last-ditch efforts to save health care overhaul, President Barack Obama will lay out a revised proposal Wednesday that Democrats hope can pass Congress within weeks.

Presidential Robert Gibbs said the president will offer the restructured blueprint at the White House. Some of the ideas will have at least a Republican pedigree, in recognition of last week’s presidential summit with congressional leaders of both parties. Obama is also expected to offer more details on how he wants Congress to proceed.

But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell warned that he expects Democrats will try to overpower unanimous GOP opposition and drive the bill through by using a special procedure to circumvent delaying tactics in the Senate.

“They’re about to reject any pretense of bipartisanship in order to jam their plan through Congress by the narrowest margin possible whether people want it or not,” said McConnell, R-Ky.

Gibbs indicated Tuesday that the president wouldn’t delve too deeply into the process of passing the legislation.

A small number of House Democrats who opposed the legislation on the first go-round may be Obama’s most important constituency when he unveils his revised proposal.

At least nine of the 39 Democrats who voted “nay” when the House passed sweeping overhaul legislation 220-215 in November are now undecided or withholding judgment until they see Obama’s final product, according to an Associated Press survey.

It may seem improbable that any lawmaker would want to switch his or her vote on the measure, courting the flip-flopper label after a year of controversy over legislation that’s slid ever downward in polls.

But it will almost certainly have to happen in order for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to round up the votes necessary to pass the Senate’s version of the legislation, along with a package of changes that Obama proposes. The changes — designed to make the Senate bill more palatable to House Democrats by rolling back a tax on high-value insurance plans, among other things — would get through the Senate under controversial rules allowing for a simple majority vote.

That’s the only option for Democrats because they no longer control a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, and Republicans are unanimously opposed.

Obama’s announcement is expected to be updated with ideas that at least have the fingerprints of Republicans, possibly in the areas of medical malpractice reform and rooting out waste and fraud from the medical system.

That’s not likely to win him any votes from Republicans, who want Obama to tear up the existing bills and start over, but it could give wavering Democrats political cover by showing the party has been willing to compromise in the wake of last week’s televised bipartisan health care summit.

With four vacancies in the House, Pelosi will need 216 votes. She would command exactly that many if all the remaining Democrats who voted “yes” in November did so again. But many lawmakers expect defections, especially of members who oppose federal funding for abortion and feel the Senate language is too permissive in that regard.

For every yes vote that switches to no, Pelosi and the White House must persuade one of the 39 Democrats who voted “nay” in November to switch to yes.

Some of the top targets may be the nine lawmakers who told The Associated Press directly or through spokesmen that they’re undecided or undeclared. Three are retiring and don’t have to worry about getting punished by voters, and five others are freshmen, mostly in competitive districts — lawmakers whom Pelosi will give a pass on tough votes when she can, but might call on when a major piece of legislation hangs in the balance.

The retiring lawmakers are Reps. Brian Baird of Washington and Bart Gordon and John Tanner of Tennessee. The freshmen are Suzanne Kosmas of Florida, Frank Kratovil of Maryland, Scott Murphy of New York, Glenn Nye of Virginia and Michael McMahon of New York. The ninth is Rick Boucher of Virginia. Several lawmakers’ offices did not reply to the AP queries and a handful of others said they would definitely vote “no.”

“It’s still sort of up-in-the-air right now. If the bill that comes back to the House looks anything like the first bill, he’ll vote against it,” Kratovil spokesman Kevin Lawlor said Monday. “We don’t really know what we’ll see, though. Cost was the No. 1 issue as far as the first bill goes. In order for him to vote for anything, it would have to be a bill where the cost is sustainable.”

At its core the Democrats’ legislation would extend coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans over 10 years with a first-time mandate for nearly everyone to buy insurance and a host of new requirements on insurers and employers. However, the package soon to reach the House will be less expensive than the one that passed in November and will contain no government-run insurance program to compete with private insurers, making it more appealing to some moderates.

Associated Press writers Ben Feller, Charles Babington, Alan Fram and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington; Kathleen Miller in Annapolis, Md.; Valerie Bauman in Albany, N.Y.; Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho; Meghan Barr in Cleveland; Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Fla.; Robert Lewis in Richmond, Va., Erik Schelzig in Nashville, Tenn.; Angela K. Brown in Fort Worth, Texas; Dirk Lammers in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, La., contributed to this report.

will not be displayed