WASHINGTON (AP) – Striving to reach a deal on health care, President Barack Obama planned a trip to Congress on Thursday to urge rank-and-file House Democrats to yield on key issues still standing in the way of a historic legislative achievement.
Obama’s late afternoon visit comes amid intense White House negotiations with Democratic leaders aimed at settling core differences between bills passed by the House of Representatives and Senate that must be resolved before the sweeping overhaul legislation can pass.
Reforming health care is Obama’s top domestic priority. The bill would extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans now uninsured, bar insurance companies from denying coverage to people with medical problems and attempt to slow the ruinous rate of increase in health care costs. The United States is the only developed country that lacks universal health care.
Public support for the health care remake continues to drop, perhaps in part because of the messy debate in Congress, and lawmakers are feeling the press of other issues, from unemployment to ballooning budget deficits.
Late Wednesday, Obama and senior Democrats emerged from marathon health care talks with a declaration that they had made tough gains — but no deal just yet. The same group of leaders was to meet again at the White House on Thursday, pressing for the framework of an agreement within days.
House Democrats are uneasy over concessions they are being asked to make to preserve the 60 votes needed to pass the bill in the Senate. That includes dropping the government-run insurance option liberals have fought for and accepting some form of a tax on high-cost health insurance plans adamantly opposed by many House Democrats and by labor unions.
House Democratic leaders are pushing for more generous subsidies to help make health insurance affordable to a greater number of middle-class households, as well as other concessions.
Wednesday’s unusually long meeting at the White House — it began at midmorning and ended after sunset — underscored the urgency they and Obama feel about completing legislation on which they have staked so much.
The president’s personal commitment in time was extraordinary.
Officials said Obama ducked in and out of the meeting with top Senate and House Democrats in the Cabinet Room throughout the day while also leading the U.S. response to Tuesday’s devastating earthquake in Haiti.
The House and Senate passed the bills with just one Republican vote, and the Republican was not invited to the White House talks. Republicans say they still have a chance to derail the bill.