WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama planned to promote his strategy for expanded health coverage Thursday in a conference call and online address to supporters that could draw huge numbers of listeners.
He also was to speak with Philadelphia-based radio talk show host Michael Smerconish, who will broadcast from the White House. Mr. Smerconish is generally seen as a conservative, although he endorsed Mr. Obama last year and supports abortion rights.
Vice President Joe Biden was meeting with health-care professionals in Chicago on Thursday to push the administration's proposals. He also planned to announce nearly $1.2 billion in grants to help hospitals transition to electronic medical records. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was to join him.
Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Thursday that Mr. Obama is struggling to get a health-care bill because he has been too deferential to the liberal wing of his party. Mr. Romney, who may challenge Mr. Obama in 2012, said on CBS's "The Early Show" that "if the president wants to get something done, he needs to put aside the extreme liberal wing of his party."
Some Democrats said Democratic researchers have concluded lately that a strong-arm tactic on Senate health care legislation that would negate the need for any GOP votes might be more effective than previously thought.
The strategy, called "reconciliation," allows senators to get around a bill-killing filibuster without mustering the 60 votes usually needed. Democrats control 60 of the Senate's 100 seats, but some moderate Senate Democrats have expressed reservations about the Democratic-backed health care overhaul plan.
And two of their members -- Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts -- are seriously ill and often absent. Mr. Kennedy sent a letter Tuesday to Massachusetts leaders asking that they change state law to allow someone to be quickly appointed to his seat in Congress "should a vacancy occur." (See related article.)
While always contentious, reconciliation lets the Senate pass some measures with a simple majority vote. Non-budget-related items can be challenged, however, and some lawmakers say reconciliation would knock so many provisions from Mr. Obama's health-care plan that the result would be "Swiss cheese."
Democratic aides say they increasingly believe those warnings are overblown.
On Wednesday, Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), warned Republicans that reconciliation is a real option. The White House and Senate Democratic leaders still prefer a bipartisan bill, he said, but "patience is not unlimited and we are determined to get something done this year by any legislative means necessary."
In a conference call with liberal religious leaders Wednesday, Mr. Obama disputed claims that Democratic bills would create government "death panels" for the elderly, offer health care for illegal immigrants or fund abortions.
"I know that there's been a lot of misinformation in this debate and there are a some folks out there who are, frankly, bearing false witness," Mr. Obama said. "I need you to spread the facts and speak the truth."
Administration officials and congressional Democrats were deeply discouraged this week when key Republican lawmakers seemed more critical than ever about various Democratic-drafted health care bills pending in the House and Senate. They said they still hope Senate Finance Committee efforts to craft a bipartisan compromise can succeed, although private remarks were more pessimistic.
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