WASHINGTON — The White House scrambled to unify Democrats behind a single health care appeal Wednesday _ lower costs, plenty of choice _ amid concerns Republicans could scare votes away with images of a ghastly system run by bureaucrats. A key senator pushed to enforce an offer from care providers to trim $2 trillion in costs over the next decade.
Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he wanted to build cost-saving mechanisms the industry is devising into sweeping health care overhaul legislation his committee is writing.
His comments Wednesday came as President Barack Obama went on TV for a third straight day to push for passage of health care legislation he hopes will extend coverage to 50 million uninsured people. Standing at his side at the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi renewed a promise to bring legislation to the House floor by August.
"We've got to get it done this year," Obama said. "We don't have any excuses; the stars are aligned."
The developments underscored a quickening drive toward health care overhaul legislation in Congress.
Obama has asked the health insurers, doctors, hospitals and others who brought the much-ballyhooed _ but vague _ $2 trillion cost-saving idea to the White House earlier this week to produce specifics by June 1.
"I met with them today and reminded them of their pledge to the president," Baucus said, adding that he'd aim to give their plans the force of law.
He spoke to reporters after he and other Senate Democrats met with White House political adviser David Axelrod as the White House pressed to get the party behind a unified message on health legislation.
Senators emerged with agreement on emphasizing affordability and choice. The issue of coverage for the uninsured would be tied to affordability for all, as when uninsured people drive up costs when they go to emergency rooms for routine care.
"This is an effort to coordinate our messaging so we present a health care reform effort that the American people trust," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Senate Democrat.
Last week political strategist Frank Luntz gave Republicans detailed advice on how to attack the Democrats' health plan, even though it doesn't yet exist in anything approaching final form.
Luntz's advice included the use of lines like "a committee of Washington bureaucrats will establish the standard of care for all Americans."
Luntz's memo to Republicans served as "an interesting catalyst for us," Durbin said.
Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., said, "There was some unease that we didn't have a strategy so (Axelrod) was coming up to reassure senators that they do have a strategy."
The White House has streamlined its health reform goals, repackaging eight principles Obama outlined in February into three that he touts now: lowering costs, giving people more choices in health coverage and providing affordable care for all.
Obama and his congressional supporters want to avoid the mistakes that President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, made during the 1990s when their health care bill failed after opponents defined it in a way that caused voters to fear they might lose the health coverage they already had.
Obama appeared at the White House on Monday with health industry officials who once opposed an overhaul to proclaim their commitment to reining in their own costs. On Tuesday, it was a meeting with business leaders to hear their health strategies for their employees.
And Wednesday Obama summoned Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and the chairmen of the three House committees with jurisdiction over health care to the White House, emerging together to present a unified front in favor of health reform.
"We're determined to move forward," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who was in the meeting, told The Associated Press later, though he said no bill language had been written.
Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.