In a final push to get health care reform through the House of Representatives, President Barack Obama warned lawmakers on Saturday that a vote against the legislation would not immunize them from Republican attacks.
The president, according multiple attendees, played the role of political prognosticator during his roughly 30 minute address before Democratic caucus members on Capitol Hill. Addressing, implicitly, those conservative Democrats who are worried about voting for a nearly trillion dollar health care overhaul, he insisted that they would not be safe from partisan attacks even if they opposed the bill.
"He certainly talked about the politics and he said that the Republicans want us to fail and no one should feel if they as a Democrat helped us to fail that they would be [free of their attacks]," said Rep. Henry Waxman, chair of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.
"None of you can expect the Republicans not to go after you if you vote against this bill," Waxman continued, channeling the president. "They want this bill to go down for their own partisan reasons."
Another high-ranking Democratic Hill staffer briefed on the meeting put it this way: "Obama's main message was that the GOP won't go any easier on you if you vote against the bill. It's a tough vote, yes, but they're going to take heat either way."
While politics took up much of the discussion, policy took up very little. Obama, according to several lawmakers, did not talk about the public option or the controversial amendment to make abortion restrictions much tighter. He discussed, primarily, the momentous nature of the vote and the need for the party to be on history's right side.
"This is the moment," said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) That this is what we all went into politics for, that this was a historic moment, that seven presidents have tried to pass health care and haven't done it, and that this was a moment like civil rights or Social Security or Medicare."
In particular, Obama singled out Rep. John Dingell -- the longest serving member of the House -- who, on Saturday, presided over chamber for first time since the 1965 House vote to pass Medicare.
"He thanked all the chairs [of the committees involved in developing the health care bill]," said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y). "He thanked all leadership and he mentioned specifically John Dingell."
By the meeting's end, the vast majority of the attending lawmakers seemed confident of health care reform's passage -- though certainly there is the potential for flare-ups as the abortion amendment introduced by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) comes to consideration.
"We are feeling pretty optimistic that we can defeat this," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a primary opponent of the amendment.
"Democracy is not pretty but it works," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), another opponent of the Stupak amendment. "I was here in 1993 when the ship went down," she said, referencing the Clinton administration's failed attempt to pass health reform. "This thing isn't going down."
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