Another Countdown: White House Pushing March 18 As New Health Care Deadline

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Deadlines have long come and gone when it comes to the White House and health care, but top Obama administration officials have been saying today they think the House will hold a vote before the president leaves for his trip to Indonesia and Australia later this month.

“What happens in the next 10 days will be critical,” President Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod told pro-reform advocacy groups today on a conference call hosted by the White House Office of Public Engagement. Call-in details were provided to TPMDC.

“This is it, this is the big moment that we’ve been working for for a year,” Axelrod said. “If we march together we can achieve it.”Obama leaves on his trip March 18. But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer today told reporters at his weekly briefing today he hadn’t heard that deadline except when White House officials mentioned it on television.

On the call, Axelrod urged the groups to speak with friends and write letters to the editor in newspapers to help “put a face to this problem.”

He and White House health care czar Nancy-Ann DeParle dodged questions on the political process and specific timeline, but he used words like “cusp,” and being “on the verge” of passing reform. Axelrod said that while the debate languished in February the momentum has turned in reform’s favor. “We have it within our ability in the next few weeks to do something” to change the health care system, he said.

Axelrod said thanks in part to insurance rate hikes that have been prominently covered here and elsewhere in recent weeks, “the reality of what we’ll face if we don’t act has begun to sink in with the America people.”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the March 18 deadline is something administration staff “gleaned” from discussions with Capitol Hill staffers. He said Obama is confident the vote can happen in the House “before we leave.”

“I’ve heard nothing that would change that advice,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs said Obama hasn’t spoken with those wavering Democrats this week, but he will meet with members later this week about health care.

Late Update: Hoyer said the House wants to be speedy but doesn’t have that date in mind.

Here’s the quote: “None of us have mentioned the 18th other than Mr. Gibbs. We are trying to do this as soon as possible.  That continues to be our objective.”

Additional reporting by Brian Beutler

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