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Senate Democrats, Obama rally for healthcare overhaul

Pledge to pass new legislation by end of year

“There was absolute unity,’’ Senator Harry Reid of Nevada said after meeting yesterday with President Obama. “There was absolute unity,’’ Senator Harry Reid of Nevada said after meeting yesterday with President Obama. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
Associated Press / August 5, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Bracing for an August showdown on healthcare, Senate Democrats and President Obama declared themselves united on their determination to enact a historic overhaul this year - ideally with Republican cooperation but without if necessary.

With his top domestic priority hanging in the balance, Obama summoned Senate Democrats to the White House yesterday for a luncheon cheerleading session on healthcare and other pending issues.

House members left last week for their August recess, and senators follow this week. The lengthy recess, during which lawmakers return to their district to listen to constituents, could become a turning point in the divisive healthcare debate.

“There was absolute unity,’’ the top Senate Democrat, Harry Reid of Nevada, said after the talks. “Different ideas were expressed, but every idea was that we understand that before year’s end we’re going to get comprehensive healthcare reform.’’

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama told the senators that passing health overhaul legislation would be among the most important things they would ever do in the Senate - and that signing it would be among the most important things he would do as president.

Reid and the other senators gathered around him also said healthcare overhaul would happen without bipartisan support if it wasn’t possible.

“The preference is do it together,’’ said Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who is the chief Senate shepherd of a healthcare bill. “The American people do not like partisanship. But the American people also don’t like groups of people trying to kill something that should be done, should get passed.’’

Meanwhile, the White House turned to the Internet to hit back at a Web posting that purports to show Obama explaining how his healthcare overhaul plans eventually would eliminate private insurance.

The three-minute White House video features Linda Douglass, a former network television correspondent and now White House Office of Health Reform communications director, sitting in front of a computer screen showing the widely viewed Drudge Report website. That site carries a series of video clips from a conservative blogger who strings together selected Obama statements on healthcare to make it appear he wants to eliminate the private health insurance business.

“Well, nothing can be farther from the truth,’’ Douglass says in the video, adding that the blogger is “taking sentences and phrases out of context, and they’re cobbling them together to leave a very false impression.’’

On its blog, the White House also urges supporters to keep an eye out and alert it to anything “on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy.’’

Also yesterday, the leading health insurance trade group hit back at Democrats’ growing criticism of the industry. In recent weeks Obama has taken to referring to his initiative as “health insurance reform,’’ while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused insurers last week of making “obscene’’ and “immoral’’ profits.

Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, contended the attacks were motivated by increasing public doubts about the introduction of a public insurance plan to compete with the private market. Insurers contend the plan would drive them out of business.

People in the health insurance industry “do not deserve to be demonized or vilified as part of a campaign to distract attention away from the sinking support for a government-run program,’’ Ignagni said on a conference call.

Ignagni did not disclose names and declined to say whether her group, which has been working with lawmakers and is running positive TV ads supporting bipartisan health overhaul, would walk away from the table or go negative against Obama’s agenda.