With time running out before the Senate starts its August recess, President Obama turns his focus back to healthcare today.
He huddled with the so-called Gang of Six -- the bipartisan group of Senate Finance Committee members trying to make a deal on a healthcare overhaul bill.
UPDATE: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that Obama urged the senators to keep seeking a compromise.
"The president invited the group to come to the White House today to provide an update and a status report of sorts on their negotiations amongst themselves and the committee. The president's message to them is to continue to work and find consensus on an issue that we know they've been working hard on, and is very important to the American people," Gibbs told reporters at his daily briefing.
"The president wants them to continue to work and make progress, and wanted to hear directly from them on where they were. It wasn't a negotiating session."
Finance Chairman Max Baucus has set a Sept. 15 deadline for the negotiators to strike a bargain. The Washington Post reports this morning that an emerging bill would come in at about $900 billion over the next decade and eventually cover 94 percent of Americans.
But it would not include the government insurance option that Obama and House Democrats support and, for the first time, tax healthcare benefits provided by employers under the most generous plans -- an idea Obama so far has shunned.
Obama is also hoping for a bipartisan deal, but if one isn't reached Democrats could use a parliamentary maneuver to move ahead without GOP support in the Senate.
"I am glad that in the Senate Finance Committee there have been a couple of Republicans … who've been willing to negotiate with Democrats to try to produce a bill," Obama told NBC News on Wednesday. "But they haven't yet. And I think at some point, some time in September, we're just going to have to make an assessment."
"I would prefer Republicans working with us on that, because I think it's in the interest of everybody. It shouldn't be a partisan issue," he added in the interview. "The bottom line is the American people, the American economy, and the federal budget, have to have some sort of reforms in the health-care system. And failure is not an option this year."
Three House committees led by Democrats passed healthcare bills before starting their recess last Friday, but Democrats are being hammered in town hall meetings in their districts, shouted down by conservative activists and others.
Democrats have hit back, saying Republicans are inciting "mob rule."
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is trying to reelect next year those representatives who are being hassled, formally announced today the launch of a new truth-squadding website dedicated, it said, "to exposing the truth-twisting attack by Republicans and their fringe right-wing groups on health insurance reform."
“Republicans are trying to poison the debate on health insurance reform with lies, misleading ads, and scare tactics so we’re launching healthcarefactcheck.com to set the record straight and empower our supporters to fight back with the truth,” Jon Vogel, the committee's executive director, said in a statement. “This website is just another way that we are holding Republicans and their fringe groups accountable for trying anything and everything to protect the profitable status quo for big health insurance companies at the expense of affordable health care for families.”
But the GOP shows no signs of backing down.
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele sent a "Dear Friend" fund-raising solicitation overnight, telling supporters that "Obama Democrats" are trying to demonize them as "right-wing extremists.
"We saw this sort of vitriolic rhetoric this past April when Democrats smugly dismissed grassroots protests against their out-of-control spending. These Tea Parties were ruthlessly mocked by the liberal elites and the mainstream media," Steele wrote.
"Now as public support for the Obama Democrats' government-run health care plan unravels, they're using this fear-and-smear tactic to silence ANY American who disagrees with their risky scheme to nationalize one-fifth of our economy and limit your health care choices. It's a page out of their standard playbook of name calling and outright lies to stifle all debate."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.