In a reflection of a legislative strategy that has left no stone unturned, President Barack Obama on Monday called on like-minded bloggers to help his administration keep the heat on lawmakers to pass health care reform.
"It is important just to keep the pressure on members of Congress because what happens is there is a default position of inertia here in Washington," the president said during an invitation-only conference call. "And pushing against that, making sure that people feel that the desperation that ordinary families are feeling all across the country, every single day, when they are worrying about whether they can pay their premiums or not... People have to feel that in a visceral way. And you guys can help deliver that better than just about anybody."
In a roughly 25-minute session with a handful of prominent progressive bloggers, the president also asked for help combating disinformation about his health care plan.
"I know the blogs are best at debunking myths that can slip through a lot of the traditional media outlets," he said. "And that is why you are going to play such an important role in our success in the weeks to come."
The call demonstrates just how heated the health care debate has become in recent weeks and how much ammunition the administration is willing to bring to the table. At various points in the call, the president offered a strikingly detailed synopsis of his political strategy and health care policy as a whole.
While he refused to insist that lawmakers stay in Washington during the August recess, he declared definitively that, "the time for talk is through."
"Now is the time for us to go ahead and act," Obama declared. "We are working as hard as we can and I have told Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi that it is critical that we have seen serious forward motion before people leave [in August]."
Moreover, for the first time in recent memory, Obama floated the possibility that if it appears that health care reform lacks the 60 votes needed for passage, he might be open to reconciliation, which would allow for an up-or-down vote on budgetary and tax aspects of the bill.
"Keep in mind that the way we had structured the reconciliation issue several months ago, we moved forward on the basis of the assumption that we could get a bill through the regular order and the regular process by October," Obama said. "If I think that is not possible, then we are going to look at all of our options, including reconciliation. Not because that is my preferred option but because what I think would be unacceptable for the American people is inaction."
Perhaps sensing the ramifications that such a parliamentary maneuver could cause, the president added: "In fairness, I do think that what you are seeing right now is really serious hard work on the part of members of the Senate and those on the Finance Committee. And although I may not agree with every single decision that is made in any of the committees, I think that folks really are working overtime and I appreciate the work that they have done. And I feel confident that we could pass a bill in the absence of reconciliation."
LISTEN TO THE CALL:
The recruiting of blogger support comes at a particularly sensitive time for the president. While hoping to see legislation produced from Congress that carries bipartisan support, which can make its way through both chambers, the White House is cognizant that a watered-down bill could insult the progressive base. Especially at a time when the party has 60 caucusing members in the Senate. At various times during the call, not surprisingly, the president implored the participants not to let the perfect piece of health care legislation be the enemy of something fundamentally good.
"I know that there has been a lot of focus from a lot of people on keeping the bill strong and that continues to be a key focus for me as well," he said. "But there is also a primary point that can't be lost: The status quo is unacceptable... People who would defend doing nothing are defending the indefensible."
Along these lines, the president insisted on multiple occasions that he remained committed to a public option for insurance coverage and even threw a bit of cold water on one of the alternative proposals.
"I'm still looking at the details of a co-op approach. I will tell you that there are some instances of co-ops being set up and just having a very difficult time getting off the ground because they don't have the scale and the resources to compete effectively," Obama said of the approach advocated by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) "What I have asked my health care team to do is to look at what evidence we have that this could provide the kind of competition that drives or helps to promote insurance reform... If I can see some evidence that that would work then I would be happy to consider it.
Peppering the president with questions were some of the progressive community's most prominent netroots voices from Jonathan Singer of MyDD to John Amato of Crooks and Liars. As in interviews and public statements past, the president stressed that the White House had already made major steps toward achieving reform, including bringing key stakeholders in the private sector to the table. Repeating his statement on Monday criticizing the posture of some of his Republican opponents, Obama accused those who sought to delay the bill as trying to kill the prospects of reform and, by extension, his presidency.
"I think it was telling, some of you may have seen, a Republican senator this weekend saying, we are just going to delay and delay because if we can stop Obama on this one, this is going to be his Waterloo. We will break him," he said of the remarks made by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C). "That was a quote. And I think it indicates the degree to which a lot of folks may sincerely think that the more time we take the better off we are going to be but I also think there are some who deliberately want to delay this process because they know the longer the special interests have to run negative ads or lobby members of congress, the more difficult it becomes to get this done."