President Barack Obama traveled to St. Louis, Missouri on Wednesday, continuing his outreach to Americans to support approval by the U.S. Congress of legislation to reform the U.S. health care system. The president is intensifying his efforts to ensure support from Democratic lawmakers for legislation he hopes at least one chamber of Congress will approve before he departs on an overseas trip next week:
The president has used appearances in St. Louis, and earlier this week in Philadelphia, to appeal for public support in advance of a hoped for vote in the House of Representatives, a crucial step in the final stage of his push for a health care bill.
The strategy includes an effort to draw attention to recent rate increases imposed on Americans by major health insurance companies, and the impact this has had on people the president has heard from directly in letters he reads each day.
At St. Charles High School in St. Louis, delivering his 52nd speech on health care since taking office early last year, the president again took aim at Republican calls to scrap the current legislative effort, and those he said favor giving the insurance industry even more power than it has now.
"There are those who believe that the answer is to simply unleash the insurance industry and provide less oversight and fewer rules and that somehow that is going to drive down prices for everybody. This is called putting the foxes in charge of the hen house approach to health care reform," he said.
White House officials are sticking to a prediction they say is based on conversations with congressional Democratic leaders, that a vote in the House of Representatives can be achieved before the president's scheduled departure March 18 on a trip to Guam, Indonesia and Australia. "Their information suggests that that vote can happen before we leave," said Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs.
But recent statements by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer have led some political observers to suggest that the White House and congressional Democrats may not be operating on the same timeline.
Gibbs said the White House is confident that at minimum a vote in the House can happen before the president leaves on his trip.
President Obama faces united Republican opposition to his health care reform plan, which would expand coverage to some 30 million more Americans, and take steps such as ending insurance company practices of denying coverage for pre-existing medical conditions.
He told his audience in St. Louis that accepting the status quo is unacceptable. "Now is the time, now is the moment, now is the time for us to lead for the next generation and generations to come, a stronger and more prosperous country, we are not backing down, we not quitting, and we are going to get this done," he said.
As the president continued his cross-country appeals on health care reform, partisan disagreements continued to echo on Capitol Hill.
Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth derided Republican calls to start over on health care. "No, we can't start over because if we start over life will be over for too many Americans," he said.
Texas Republican Lamar Smith repeated the assertion that President Obama's plan would place the government in charge of making health decisions for Americans. "The health care scheme, under reconciliation, means decisions made by the government, behind closed doors, against the wishes of the American people," he said.
The term "reconciliation" refers to a process President Obama and Democrats are likely to use to win upcoming votes in the Senate with a simple 51 vote majority, rather than a 60 vote margin, to avoid Republican roadblocks.