Stakes High For Obama Presidency In Health Care Bill President Obama is making a final frenzied push before the health care bill comes up for a vote in the House on Sunday. If the bill fails, he will be severely weakened. He will have failed to deliver his signature initiative, and his Democratic Party will look incapable of governing.
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Stakes High For Obama Presidency In Health Care Bill

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Stakes High For Obama Presidency In Health Care Bill

Stakes High For Obama Presidency In Health Care Bill

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President Obama is focusing on the health care fight, too. He's speaking at another rally today, this one in suburban Virginia.

NPR's Mara Liasson says the president is playing both an outside game and an inside game to pass health care. In public, it's the speeches and rallies; in private, he's using his own style of delicate persuasion.

MARA LIASSON: It's hard to exaggerate the stakes for the Obama presidency in the health care debate. If the bill fails, the president will be severely weakened. He'll have failed to deliver his signature initiative and his party will look incapable of governing.

If there was any doubt about the stakes and the importance of Obama's presence in the home stretch, look no further than the president's travel schedule. He postponed until June a trip to Asia that was supposed to begin on Sunday. Between now and the House vote, Mr. Obama will do everything he can to win.

Yesterday, he trumpeted the latest analysis by the Congressional Budget Office that said the bill would cut $1.3 trillion from the deficit over the next two decades.

President BARACK OBAMA: This is but one virtue of a reform that will bring new accountability to the insurance industry and greater economic security to all Americans. So, I urge every member of Congress to consider this as they prepare for their important vote this weekend.

LIASSON: The president wants members to consider other things as well. He's had phone calls and meetings with almost every one of the Democrats who voted no on the bill in November. While he's no LBJ, who struck fear into the hearts of Democrats who dared to defy him, Mr. Obama listens carefully, he uses a gentle form of moral and political suasion, and he's persistent.

Representative DENNIS KUCINICH (Democrat, Ohio): I've had four separate meetings with the president and he explained to me what he felt was at stake.

LIASSON: That's Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich. He switched his vote from no to yes after traveling with the president this week. Kucinich was blunt in stating that one thing at stake is the fate of the Obama presidency itself.

Rep. KUCINICH: You do have to be very careful that the potential of President Obama's presidency not be destroyed by this debate. And I feel, you know, even though I have many differences with him on policy, there's something much bigger at stake here for America.

LIASSON: the president is also making another point to members considering voting no in hopes of surviving a tough re-election campaign. It's very personal and it goes something like this: if you run away from me on health care, the Republicans will tie you to me anyway and the Democratic base will desert you.

At the rally in Virginia today, Mr. Obama will repeat the argument he made when he traveled to Ohio on Monday, warning voters what would happen to their insurance if his bill doesn't pass.

Pres. OBAMA: And even if you've got good health insurance, what's happening to your premiums? What's happening to your co-payments? What's happening to your deductible? They're all going up. That's money straight out of your pocket. So, the bottom line is this, the status quo on health care is simply unsustainable.

LIASSON: This is a change from the more abstract green eye shade arguments he used last year, about how a health care overhaul would bend the cost curve and help the federal budget. Now, the president's public pitch is more about individual family budgets, says Drew Altman, the president of the Henry Kaiser Family Foundation.

Mr. DREW ALTMAN (President, Kaiser Family Foundation): The message now is a consumer message, it's a people message, it's a message not about percent of GNP or bending the curve, it's a message about people's own health care costs. And in a sense, it brings this whole health care debate back full circle, 'cause that's where this began.

LIASSON: But Altman says that public argument, while a welcome change to supporters like him, is actually not the most significant part of the debate right now.

Mr. ALTMAN: There's an outside game with the public and there's an inside game. At this late stage, it's really the inside game which is fundamentally important. It's about a small number of votes from wavering Democrats on Capitol Hill.

LIASSON: And President Obama is working it hard as his health care bill and the health of his presidency hang in the balance.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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