President Barack Obama journeyed to Capitol Hill for a rare Sunday visit as the Senate pushed through the weekend on health care reform. The president spent more than 40 minutes rallying the Senate Democratic caucus, underlining to them the importance of passing a bill not only to the economy, but to the 2010 elections and “the election after that and ten years down the road, 20 years, 30 years,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus told reporters after the meeting.
While Obama was in the meeting, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator John McCain held a press conference just a few feet away from the Democrats’ caucus room. “I don’t like to refer back to the last campaign – for obvious reasons – all the time, but, are the CSPAN cameras here? Why aren’t you in the room?” McCain said, referring to Obama’s campaign promise that health care negotiations would take place in front of C-SPAN cameras.
When asked, as he emerged from the meeting, Obama refuted the point. “That wasn’t a negotiation, that was a pep talk,” he said with a smile, before adding, “They’re doing a great job. They’re going to get it done.” The President was accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden (who stayed behind to hang with his former colleagues in the Senate cloak room for nearly an hour after Obama lefT), top political adviser David Axelrod and deputy White House Chief of Staff Jim Messina (who met earlier in the day with Senators Max Baucus and Chris Dodd, the chairmen whose drafts Reid married to produce a final bill). Obama didn’t mention specific issues such as the public plan or abortion, but did pledge to work with the Senate “in any meaningful way he can” to get health care done, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“The President thanked members of the Senate for their hard work so far and encouraged them to continue forward on this historic oppertunity to provide stability and security for those who have insurance, affordable coverage for those who don’t and bring down the costs of health care for families, small businesses and the government,” Bill Burton, deputy White House spokesman, said in a statement. The President’s visit came at Reid’s invitation and he was greeted with applause by the caucus. Obama cautioned his fellow Dems that failure to pass legislation could have dire consequences. Said Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, Obama described the $800+ billion legislation as “the most significant social legislation in decades. So don’t lose it.”
Senators that were in the room said his speech was more serious than Obama let on. “It was much more than a pep talk,” said Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat. “It was a call to arms, a call to destiny.”
Having received their dose of inspiration, after the President left the Senate slogged through two more amendments of the dozens, if not hundreds, pending and Reid said they will tackle one of the bill’s most contentious issue – abortion – with a Stupak-like amendment from Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, tomorrow. “There are still a few things we have to work out in the bill and those issues are being narrowed as we speak,” Reid told reporters. “We’re working toward a consensus. We’re not there yet.”