President Barack Obama made an emotional, public appeal to Senate Democrats on Wednesday to finish the job on health care reform.
Appearing at a Senate Democratic Caucus retreat, Obama acknowledged the difficulties that the party has had in dealing with a Republican bloc hell-bent on filibustering even the most mundane pieces of legislation. But he implored the lawmakers to remember why they had run for office and the promises they had made to their constituents.
"So many of us campaigned on the idea that we were going to change this health care system," the president declared. "So many of us looked people in the eye who had been denied because of a pre-existing condition, or just didn't have health insurance at all... and we said we were going to change it. Well, here we are with a chance to change it."
He continued: "There's a direct link between the work that you guys did on that and the reason you got into public office in the first place. And so as we think about moving forward, I hope we don't lose sight of why we're here. We've got to finish the job on health care."
The president's appearance came just one day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in a conference call with new media reporters, spoke in favor of the Senate fixing its health care bill by whatever parliamentary means possible as a pre-requisite for House Democratic action.
"The fact is, when [they] go into reconciliation," Pelosi said, "if in fact the Senate decides to do that...I believe that it would be predicated on those areas of agreement that were signed off on before,"
If the ball is indeed in the Senate's court, it's members did not receive specific instructions from Obama on how to get health care passed. The president stuck mainly to the broad appeals for action while also acknowledging that the process had been hurt by the lack of transparency in late-stage negotiations. "I think we paid a price for it," he said, in reference to talks that went unrecorded by C-SPAN cameras, as he had promised they would during his campaign.
Obama also offered a sharp rebuke of lawmakers on the other side of the aisle for feigning an interest in bipartisanship when their objective is clearly to trip up the entire reform process. "They say they want to work with us, and we extend a hand and get a fist in return," he said.
It was probably no coincidence that the first four senators to ask questions -- Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania), Michael Bennet (Colorado), Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas) and Kirsten Gillibrand (New York) -- all find themselves facing tough primary or general-election races. To varying degrees, Obama used their questions as a means of addressing and alleviating larger political concerns. In a message to the Democratic Caucus at large, he urged everyone to stop watching cable news and start talking to constituents at home.
"Just turn off the TV," he said. "And go talk to folks out there instead of being in this echo chamber where the topic is constantly politics... It is much more difficult to get a conversation focused on how we are going to help people than a conversation on how this is going to help or hurt somebody politically."