President Obama and the Democrats have decided to try to pass their version of health care legislation on a simple majority vote. But maintaining even a narrow majority won't be simple in the House, where many members are already looking ahead to tough re-election battles in November.
In the next few weeks, lawmakers will be under intense pressure from both sides in the health care debate — and voters will be witness to the crossfire.
An anti-overhaul group called the League of American Voters has begun running TV ads in 11 congressional districts, in hopes of persuading lawmakers to vote against what the ads call, "a last-minute deal to take over your health care." A spokesman says the group spent $250,000 on the ads in its first week.
Voters in swing districts should also brace themselves for a wave of dinnertime telemarketing calls, sponsored by the House Republicans' campaign committee.
Obama Mobilizes Troops
In an effort to reassure nervous House members and shore up support for his health care plan, Obama hosted more than a dozen members of Congress during back-to-back meetings at the White House on Thursday. Next week, the president will take his campaign on the road, with health care events in Philadelphia and St. Louis.
"The president will describe the benefits of the legislation, why this is important for our country and why it's important for them," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. "Again reiterating what happens if we walk away from reform, what happens if everyone just takes their toys and goes home."
Obama is also hoping to mobilize the network of grass-roots supporters that helped to elect him — this time in service of his legislative agenda. Organizing for America volunteers have promised to spend millions of hours this year working for lawmakers who support the health care proposal.
"You can bet that you're going to be seeing OFA people on the phones, on the doors and on the streets in the coming weeks," said spokeswoman Lynda Trann.
Fear, A Rallying Cry
But Obama and his supporters have already been making their case for almost a year. And while polls show voters support many of the provisions included in the health care bill, they're still uncomfortable with the overall package. Political analyst Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report is skeptical that Democrats can suddenly start winning the messaging war they've been losing so far.
"Republicans have done a very effective job raising anxieties, raising questions about this, increasing doubt to the point that people just sort of pull back," Cook said.
Democrats may have gotten a helping hand in recent weeks from an unlikely source: insurance companies. News that a California insurer tried to raise premiums by up to 39 percent has become a rallying cry at the White House, and a reminder that even those who have insurance are at risk in the current system.
"People across America are really frightened that they're being priced out of the market. They're terrified that they're next," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, during a White House meeting with insurance executives.
Gibbs said that anxiety has helped to crystallize people's concerns about the existing health care system. At a time when many Americans are focused on their pocketbooks, runaway insurance bills underscore the idea that health care is an economic issue.