President Barack Obama met with congressional Democrats on Thursday to push for a deal on legislation to reform the U.S. health care system. The president pointed to accomplishments by Democrats in responding to the economic crisis. Mr. Obama also called on lawmakers to resolve their differences and move ahead to pass a final health care bill based on measures already approved by the House and Senate.
The president's visit to Capitol Hill came as House and Senate Democrats continued negotiations to forge a single health care bill from two pieces of legislation the chambers approved late last year.
Both measures would extend health insurance to at least 30 million more Americans. Although they are similar, they are also different in some major respects. Republicans have unanimously opposed both bills.
In his remarks to a House Democratic policy meeting, the president spoke about the situation in Haiti, restating the U.S. commitment to the earthquake recovery effort.
The president then turned to the accomplishments of the Democratic Congress, heaping praise on Democrats for their response to the financial crisis and recession, and the passage of a job-creation bill. Mr. Obama then focused on health care, taking aim at Republican criticisms.
"I know everybody in the media is all in a tizzy [saying], 'Oh, what is this [health care legislation] going to mean politically?' Well, let me tell you something," said President obama. "If Republicans want to campaign against what we have done by standing up for the status quo and for insurance companies over American families and businesses, that is a fight I want to have. If their best idea is to return to the bad policies and the bad ideas of yesterday, they are going to lose that argument."
After a lengthy meeting at the White House the previous day, House and Senate Democratic leaders signaled they had made significant progress toward resolving key issues on health care.
But the House is unlikely to include in its version a proposed government-run insurance option to compete with private insurance companies, the preference of many House Democrats.
Other issues include a Senate proposal to tax expensive health insurance plans, something labor unions and many House Democrats have opposed. There were some indications on Thursday that a deal might be close between the White House and labor leaders on the issue.
President Obama's Capitol Hill visit came amid renewed anger over the issue of how hundreds of billions of dollars in government bailout funds have been used by banks and other financial institutions.
House Democrats Dennis Kucinich and Peter Welch introduced legislation to impose a high tax on bonuses paid to executives of banks who profited as a result of support funds received from the government's Troubled Assets Relief Program.
"All banking corporations, whether they received direct assistance or not, received substantial benefits from government bailouts," said Dennis Kucinich. "Banker's failures to self-regulate, let us remember, were the direct result of the crisis we are in today. They need to be told that the money they are making is a public trust, not something they have earned for good behavior."
Earlier, President Obama announced his intention to impose a Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee as part of the 2011 fiscal year budget he will send to Congress in the coming weeks.
Republican Representatives, such as Phil Gingrey of Georgia, immediately assailed the plan and have generally kept up their opposition to the president's policies, which they assert will lead to more job losses and bigger government deficits.
"The American people cannot afford anymore of the Democrat's agenda for killing jobs and growing [the size of] the federal government," said Phil Gingrey.
The president also referred to concerns among Democrats about potential losses in midterm congressional elections this November because of the drop in the president's public approval ratings.
"I know that some of you have gotten beaten up at home," said Mr. Obama. "Some of the fights that we're going to go through this year are going to be tough as well. But just remember why each of us got into public service in the first place. We found something that was worth fighting for."
Although President Obama has been frustrated by Republican opposition to his policies, starting with his economic stimulus package last year, he plans to address congressional Republicans who have invited him to their annual party conference retreat later this month.