Obama Doesn't Expect GOP Help Passing Health Bill

President Obama said while differences remain with the health overhaul bill, it is critical that the Senate Democratic caucus deliver the 60 votes needed to defeat a Republican filibuster to ensure passage. Obama, who once stressed the importance of bipartisan support for the bill, now knows he can't count on a single Republican vote.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

As we heard, President Obama rallied Senate Democrats yesterday. There was an unspoken message as well. A president who once stressed the importance of bipartisan support for the health care bill now knows he can't count on a single Republican vote.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: Remember when the president delivered that big health care speech to a joint session of Congress just over three months ago? Back then he still held out hope for something that would win over at least some Republicans.

(Soundbite of applause)

President BARACK OBAMA: Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.

GONYEA: But since then, Republican opposition has hardened. When Mr. Obama accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in Norway last week, he described himself as one who must, quote, "face the world as it is." He was talking about Afghanistan, but he's been forced to face reality on the home front as well.

Rutgers political scientist Ross Baker says that seeing the world as it is means nailing down 60 health care votes in the Senate Democratic Caucus, and giving up on any Republican help at all.

Professor ROSS BAKER (Rutgers University): What happened ultimately is his efforts succumbed to a stone wall of Republican opposition. And finally I think that the president and Senator Reid concluded that trying to get Republicans onboard was a fool's errand.

GONYEA: Following yesterday's White House meeting, the president's tone was stern. He said Senate Democrats will come together, and even if the bill falls short of what many Democrats had pushed for, he stressed that even the scaled-down compromise represents significant change.

And Mr. Obama challenged claims the opposition is making. He cited the Congressional Budget Office, which has analyzed the cost of the bill.

Pres. OBAMA: And in terms of deficits, because we keep on hearing these ads about how this is going to add to the deficit, the CBO has said that this is a deficit reduction, not a deficit increase. So all the scare tactics out there, all the ads that are out there are simply inaccurate.

GONYEA: And he went on...

Pres. OBAMA: You know, a lot of the critics of this entire process fail to note what happens if nothing gets done, and the American people have to be very clear about this. If we don't get this done, your premiums are guaranteed to go up.

GONYEA: Health insurance is just one item on a longer list of issues where Republicans votes have been near impossible to come by for the president. That includes his entire economic agenda, including the stimulus package. John Cranford, a senior editor at Congressional Quarterly, says Republicans have made a political decision to unify in opposition to Mr. Obama in hopes that the public sides with them.

Mr. JOHN CRANFORD (Senior Editor, Congressional Quarterly): You've only got 40 Republicans in the Senate, and so it'll be easier for them to stick together more. And this is a highly partisan Congress over the last 12, 14 years. It has just proved to be as partisan as we've seen in a century. I think probably in the late 1800s we had a Congress that was equally partisan and polarized.

GONYEA: On Capitol Hill yesterday, Republicans said that Democrats need to share the blame for any polarization. But Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas also stressed that his party has gotten behind the president on Afghanistan.

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): I dare say there's probably more support for the president's policy in Afghanistan on the Republican side than there is on the Democratic side. But I think it does demonstrate where we agree that with the policy that we'll work together with the president.

GONYEA: But domestic issues have been a very different story. The divisions are deep. The White House insists it has not give up on bipartisanship but for now it has shifted its focus to holding its own side of the divide together.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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