Obama gains little traction with Congress
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WASHINGTON -- If President Barack Obama was looking for a big bounce in support from lawmakers yesterday after his health care address Wednesday night to Congress, he didn't get it.
Predictably, Democratic leaders of Congress praised Mr. Obama's speech effusively, and Republicans in both chambers remained unmoved. But several rank-and-file Democrats said the president made only incremental progress, at best, toward moving health care legislation forward, and that lawmakers could backslide at any time.
"Of course, you'll get a bounce now, but two weeks from now, we are likely to be just where we are, negotiating among ourselves," said liberal Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.
Blue Dog Democrats, 52 moderate-to-conservative House members, remained concerned about the cost of Mr. Obama's proposals and their impact on small businesses. The president put the price tag at $900 billion over 10 years, and said it would be paid for largely by trimming waste from Medicare and Medicaid.
Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., a Blue Dog and a Congressional Black Caucus member, said he liked what he heard in terms of cost and payments, but he stopped short of embracing Mr. Obama's plan without seeing it in legislative form. "I want to see some [Congressional Budget Office] estimates," he said.
Centrists of both parties echoed Mr. Bishop's sentiments. "I remain deeply concerned" about the potential debt, said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a key moderate.
Most liberal House Democrats, primarily the 42 members of the Black Caucus and the 80-plus-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, remained firm in insisting on including a "public option" government alternative to private insurers in the health care plan. They say that is the only way to spur competition among private insurers and drive down health care costs.
Mr. Obama said he supported the public option, but added that alternatives such as health insurance co-ops were "ideas worth exploring."
Many liberal Democrats in Congress still don't think so. "Co-ops are a cop-out," Mr. Hastings said. "You would need a huge amount of people to make them work."
Republicans found little to their liking, despite Mr. Obama's overtures to them. His biggest olive branch to the party -- a proposal for pilot programs for restricting medical malpractice lawsuits -- fell flat, even though restricting lawsuits against doctors has been a favored Republican cause for years.
When House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, was asked how he felt about Mr. Obama's proposal, he said the president "could do a lot more."
"I'm hoping he'll work with us to have real medical malpractice reform, because if it's not real medical malpractice reform, the defensive medicine, which is where all the savings are, won't be accomplished."
Mr. Boehner stuck to Republican positions that the Democratic health care proposals would give illegal immigrants health care, pay for abortions and establish panels that make life-and-death decisions, even though Mr. Obama said they wouldn't.
First Published September 11, 2009 1:47 am