His health care vision and political clout on the line, President Barack Obama is using virtually every tool available in a publicity campaign to pressure Congress for swift legislative approval and to rally a public wary of the ongoing Washington tussle over his top domestic priority.
Prime-time news conference and network television interviews? Check. TV advertisements by his political organization and weekly Internet addresses on health care? Check. White House meetings with lawmakers and staged events at hospitals? Check. An end-run around Congress to appeal directly to voters? Check.
With imminent House and Senate approval of health care reform legislation proving elusive, Obama again is taking his pitch right to the people. This time, the president is traveling to two politically important states that he won last fall after decades of Republican dominance, North Carolina and Virginia.
The mission Wednesday is twofold, just as it was at similar events in Ohio last week: He wants to keep the heat on Congress to quickly agree on legislation and to reassure the public that he's on the right track with health care.
"We've made a lot of progress over the last few months. We're now closer to health care reform than we ever have been before," Obama said Tuesday during an hourlong question-and-answer session at the headquarters of senior-advocacy group AARP. "I'm confident that we can do the right thing ... and pass health insurance reform."
It's a message he seems to repeat daily.
For all his involvement over the past few weeks, Obama has suffered several setbacks. House and Senate lawmakers remain at a crossroads over a slew of issues, and public opinion polls show that confidence in Obama's approach to revamping health care has slipped since he took office. As cost estimates balloon, Republican critics have stepped up their attacks. More troublesome for Obama is that conservative and moderate Democrats have balked at the bills under consideration.
Even as several committees make progress on measures in the House and Senate, overall momentum for quick passage has stalled. And the president is trying to restart it.
In doing so, he's putting his leadership abilities and his governing style to arguably the ultimate test six months into his presidency. His goal: legislation that expands coverage to some 50 million people without insurance while restraining exploding costs in the nation's $2.4 trillion health care system.
Publicly, Obama has sketched broad outlines of his proposals but largely left the heavy lifting to Congress. The president asked the House and Senate to pass legislation by the time Congress leaves on a monthlong August break. But Democrats who control Congress seem to agree with Republicans that the chances of that are slim to none.
Numerous House and Senate committees have been writing bills that have stoked concerns about the cost to taxpayers and the reach of government.
Democratic Party veterans in the House largely wrote legislation with a liberal bent, angering moderate and conservative Democrats. Senate Democratic leaders, meanwhile, seemingly have bowed to moderate Democrats who have insisted on trying to work out a deal with a handful of moderate Republicans in hopes of getting a bill that can attract bipartisan support. Most other GOP members in Congress aren't even at the negotiating table, happy to oppose measures they deride as "socialized medicine."
Even though members of the president's own party have comfortable majorities in Congress, the Senate postponed a health care vote until September, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won't commit to a vote before lawmakers are scheduled to leave Washington later this week.
As this family feud wages in Washington, the nation's charismatic chief executive is venturing out of Washington to do what he seems to do best — campaign, and grab the local media spotlight that comes with a presidential visit.
He faces a public that's both supportive and skeptical of health care overhaul.
A recent AP-GfK poll found that a majority of the country says health care is an extremely important issue to them personally. And half approve of Obama's handling of health care, a level unchanged from the spring.
But the percentage of people who don't approve has risen to 43 percent, up from 28 percent in April. And while a majority of people — 56 percent — still say it's likely that Obama will be able to implement health care reform, that's down from 63 percent just before his inauguration.
Also, a recent Washington Post-ABC News survey showed approval of Obama's handling of health care overhaul slipping below 50 percent for the first time.
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