Obama Meets With Moderate Dems On Health Care

President Obama continues Thursday to try to heave his health care plan over the finish line, meeting with moderate Democrats, most of whom are seen as skeptical of his overhaul effort. Seventeen senators will talk to Obama about the blueprint he laid out Wednesday.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today at the White House, President Obama is working to push his health care plan over the finish line. He met with a group of 17 moderate Democrats, most of whom are seen as skeptical of Mr. Obama's effort. They left the meeting this afternoon with no comment to reporters.

Earlier, I spoke with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson about the president's big speech last night and about that group of 17 senators who met at the White House.

MARA LIASSON: Well, it includes Indiana's Evan Bayh, Nebraska's Ben Nelson, Louisiana's Mary Landrieu. These are people who've expressed some reluctance to vote for some parts of the president's plan particularly the public option.

SIEGEL: Did they like what they heard last night?

LIASSON: I think they did. Last night, the president gave an eloquent full-throated defense on why the public option is important, and then he turned around and made it pretty clear that he wasn't going to insist on it. So I think that…

(Soundbite of laughter)

LIASSON: …what he did last night the left got the rhetoric. And he really did explain the public option and why it was important. But I think the right -the moderates in his party got the substance. I think that over the summer this debate has moved to the center and the president acknowledged last night that that's where he thinks it's moving. And I think moderates were happy. They're the ones who feel their jobs could be on the line if they vote for a bill that's too far to the left, no liberal lawmaker is going to lose his seat over the substance of health care reform.

SIEGEL: So in terms of actually moving closer to congressional approval of a health care plan a gain of a few yards last night…

LIASSON: I think so I think he moved the ball. I think that he, what he succeeded in doing last night is he repackaged a lot of the things he already said he was for or suggested he could be for, things that have already been agreed on by some of these committees, but he put it together in a very concise orderly way, so that if there was confusion about what the plan was, now people can understand it.

And he said over and over again my plan, in my plan, you know, what I want to have happen. He's not sending legislative language up to the Hill, but he is identifying himself and kind of in an act of presidential leadership, he's saying, this is what I want.

I think he also succeeded in rallying the faithful. It was a very strong speech for the base of his party who've been complaining that he hasn't been bold enough, and he also spoke directly to the target audience for health care reform and that is the people who already have insurance and are really nervous about what reform could mean for them.

SIEGEL: Are Republican's in the Congress a target audience at all? And did he make any difference with them?

LIASSON: They were a target. I don't know if they're a target audience…

(Soundbite of laughter)

LIASSON: They're target as in - as in a bull's eye. I think that what he did last night was really interesting. He ostentatiously embraced a few narrow Republican proposals. He said my former opponent John McCain proposed these high risk insurance pools and I'm for that. That's something that you would do before the exchanges got in place in 2013. These are for people who have preexisting conditions. They want a place where they can buy low cost health insurance.

I think that he also said that he's going to have demonstration projects on medical malpractice reform, and he agreed with the proposal to tax some gold plated insurance plans, the very expensive ones. Those were all proposals that have been made by Republicans.

I think that those proposals were made not to get Republican votes - because he doesn't have much hope of doing that - but to show the public his reaching out and he's bipartisan, which is what they want and as a gesture to moderate Democrats to show that he's moving to the center.

SIEGEL: But for all the efforts to at least to try to appear to be bipartisan, you could watch that speech last night and you could tell parties by who was standing and who was sitting throughout. You could identify pretty well.

LIASSON: The reaction to the speech was partisan and Republicans complaint about the speech is that he was too partisan. And I think that that shows you kind of where this debate has gotten. One of the storylines of the Obama presidency is that he came into office thinking that he could find, you know, a grand consensus and grand bargains between the party and that at every step of the way he's been disabused of that notion. I think that, you know, he showed that he could return the jabs that he feels he's gotten. He said, you know, if you put out falsehoods about my plan, I will call you out. But still, my door is always open to good ideas.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

SIEGEL: It's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

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Obama Continues His Push For A Health Overhaul

President Obama addresses Congress as Vice President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on. i

President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night at the U.S. Capitol as Vice President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on. Jason Reed/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Jason Reed/AP
President Obama addresses Congress as Vice President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on.

President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night at the U.S. Capitol as Vice President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on.

Jason Reed/AP

President Obama embarked on what he called a "full-court press" for his health care overhaul Thursday, meeting at the White House with nurses a day after his prime-time address to Congress and the nation.

Speaking to members of the American Nursing Association, Obama pointed to the rising number of uninsured to highlight the need for quick congressional action.

"It is heartbreaking and it is wrong and nobody should be treated that way in the United States of America. Nobody!" the president said. He also cited new Census Bureau statistics, released Thursday, showing that the number of people without health coverage has risen to 46.3 million from 45.7 million in 2007.

"We don't need more partisan distractions," Obama told the nurses. "We have talked this issue to death. ... The time for talk is winding down."

The president also met with members of his Cabinet for a health care-focused discussion, telling reporters afterward that he continues "to be open to suggestions and ideas from all quarters" but that "what we cannot do is stand pat."

Obama planned to meet later Thursday with centrist "blue dog" Democrats, whose support is crucial to passing his health care proposal.

In an early morning interview on ABC's Good Morning America, Vice President Biden predicted that a bill would be on the president's desk "before Thanksgiving."

Meanwhile, Republicans went on the offensive, dismissing Obama's joint address to Congress as "another lecture" on health care, even as the party tried to distance itself from an outburst Wednesday night by Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina that shocked the chamber.

Wilson shouted out, "You lie!" during the speech after Obama said that his health care proposal would not include illegal immigrants.

The congressman apologized Thursday for his "lack of civility" and said he had been directed to call the White House to clear the air. Obama acknowledged Wilson's apology, saying he was "a big believer that we all make mistakes" and that it was time to stop the "name calling" and "wild accusations, false claims."

Republicans said Obama came up short in his speech. House Minority Leader John Boehner said Thursday "what the American people got was not another plan, but another lecture."

"It's clear that some employers are going to drop plans," forcing people to change their insurance, he said.

Sen. John McCain, interviewed Thursday morning on NBC's Today show, said he agreed that something needs to be done about health care. But he also said that if the administration wants to see legislation realized, it must reach out more aggressively to minority Republicans.

"We need to do it, but it has to be bipartisan," the Arizona Republican said.

McCain also expressed concern about the cost of Obama's proposal, saying, "The math doesn't add up and the record doesn't add up. There is very little if anything in this package that calls for real spending reduction, and $1 trillion is basically what it's going to cost."

Even if congressional Republicans weren't swayed, early indications were that at least some average Americans were.

A national AARP poll of 522 Americans ages 45 and older found that while 70 percent of those surveyed had concerns about the health care bills before Obama's speech, nearly three-quarters said afterward that the president had addressed some of those concerns. And nearly 70 percent of those respondents said they felt more supportive of the proposals discussed.

In the retirement community of Vizcaya in Delray Beach, Fla., retiree Judy Goldstein said she had been fearful of the rumors of "death panels" and was encouraged by what Obama said to try to clear up confusion.

"I was listening to all the negative things, especially since I am a senior citizen. I said, 'Oh my god, they are going to put me to sleep,' " she told NPR.

"I don't consider myself stupid, but I was really believing it, because I did not vote for him," Goldstein said. "A lot of things about him I did not like, so I am glad I heard this tonight."

Biden also said he thought Obama's speech "debunked a lot of myths out there," including accusations that legislation being drafted would include death panels for the sick and the elderly and that it would provide insurance coverage for millions of undocumented immigrants.

The president is keeping the health care issue in the spotlight. He is scheduled to appear at a campaign-style rally Saturday in Minnesota and has planned another speech for next Tuesday.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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