Reporting from Strongsville, Ohio, and Los Angeles — Seeking to build public pressure, President Obama traveled Monday to Ohio, where he urged Congress to act courageously and quickly pass his healthcare overhaul plan.
Speaking at a rally before about 1,450 people, Obama perked up when someone in the audience interrupted his healthcare speech with a shout of 'We need courage!"
"We need courage," Obama shouted back, to applause from the crowd. "Did you hear what somebody just said? That's what we need. That's why I came here today. We need courage."
It was Obama's third campaign-style appearance in just over a week as he pressed for congressional action on his healthcare plan before he leaves for a diplomatic trip to Asia on March 21. The president was originally scheduled to go on March 18, but he delayed his departure by three days to allow House leaders time to corral the needed 216 votes.
Obama chose to stay on to help win over reluctant Democrats, some unhappy about the Senate version of the healthcare bill, some unhappy about abortion language and some unhappy about the overall cost, expected to be about $1 trillion over 10 years. Republicans are expected to remain united and oppose the latest version of the bill.
"You know, in the end, this debate is about far more than politics," the president told the Ohio crowd. "It comes down to what kind of country do we want to be. It's about the millions of lives that would be touched and, in some cases, saved, by making health insurance more secure and more affordable. It's about a woman who's lying in a hospital bed who just wants to be able to pay for the care she needs.
"And the truth is, what's at stake in this debate, it's not just our ability to solve this problem; it's about our ability to solve any problem," he said, hitting the same political themes he used last week in similar appearances in Pennsylvania and Missouri.
If there was any difference, it was in emphasis, as Obama tried to reassure seniors that their Medicare coverage would be unchanged despite cuts to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse. Republicans have used the argument that the elderly would be hurt by the cuts, along with the GOP's other points that the taxes and fees related to the legislation would hurt the economy.
Obama emphasized his main ideas: that the plan would increase insurance access for 31 million more Americans, that it would create an exchange that would make buying insurance more transparent and that consumer reforms such as preventive testing and an end to skyrocketing premiums were urgently needed.
But it was politics that was very much on the president's mind as he flew out on Air Force One with Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who voted against the House healthcare bill because it lacked a single-payer form health insurance. Obama and House leaders are courting liberals, who favored single-payer health insurance, as possible "yes" votes in this round of debate on the legislation.
"I was talking to Dennis Kucinich on the way over here about this," Obama said. "It's been such a long time since we made government on the side of ordinary working folks, where we did something for them that relieved some of their struggles, .. that just gave them a little bit of a better chance to live out their American dream.
"I don't know about the politics, but I know what's the right thing to do," Obama said. "I'm calling on Congress to pass these reforms -- and I'm going to sign them into law. I want some courage. I want us to do the right thing, Ohio. And with your help, we're going to make it happen."
Obama invoked Natoma Canfield, whose insurance premiums became so unaffordable that she had to give up coverage. Canfield was diagnosed with leukemia on March 13, and now she is "racked with worry" about how she'll pay medical bills, as well as concerned about her health, Obama said.
"When you hear people saying that this isn't the right time, you think about what she's going through," Obama said.
The House this week is expected to vote on the Senate bill, less liberal than the one the House originally passed.
The House and Senate will also have to vote on a series of amendments to bring the Senate version more in line with the House's concerns about taxes and some other issues.
Congress is scheduled to leave at the end of the month for a holiday recess.