President Obama, fresh off a week overseas that saw his healthcare plan
bruised back home, sought Monday to regain momentum to get reform
passed by the August recess.
Obama, introducing his nominee to be surgeon general in a Rose Garden ceremony, began by taking on those who think healthcare reform has run off the rails.
Doubts began to emerge late last week over whether Congress will meet the president's deadline of passing healthcare reform legislation through both chambers by the August recess.
Both the House and Senate have struggled to agree on how to pay for the expensive reforms even as they have looked for ways to keep its costs down.
A White House aide confirmed that the president will meet with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) later on Monday. The two men are chairmen of the committees that oversee tax policy and Medicare and Medicaid, and Rangel on Friday proposed a controversial surtax on the wealthy to raise $540 million to pay for healthcare reform.
The president, who just returned from summits and speeches in Russia,
Italy and Ghana, was clearly trying to regain the upper hand on the
healthcare reform debate, as the centerpiece of his domestic agenda took a beating in his absence.
Speaking to critics and "naysayers," Obama said: "Don't bet against us."
"Even though we're close, I have no illusions that it's going to be tough to get over the finish line," Obama said.
Obama began his remarks by announcing Dr. Regina Benjamin as his pick to be surgeon general, and the rest of his day is clearly focused on getting reform back on track.
In the afternoon, Obama will meet with representatives of labor unions,
and despite some confusion about the purpose of the meeting, one White
House aide did say healthcare would be discussed.
Union sources say the organizations have come out hard against taxing healthcare benefits as part of reform, and last Friday, in a meeting with the executive committee of the AFL-CIO, administration officials repeated their pledge to keep that out. Union officials also pushed hard on Senate leadership to come out against it, and they did.
"We’ve been lobbying hard against any such tax," one labor source said. "If that tax somehow makes its way back to the bill that moves, we will come out hard against it."
One Republican Senate aide said "it’s pretty clear that unions are worried about the Democrats considering taxing the special insurance plans they have, and I imagine that Big Labor will be giving him their marching orders."
This story was updated at 12:30 p.m. and 1:16 p.m.