President Obama evoked Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the creation of Social Security today in a rare weekend meeting with the Democratic caucus, in a bid to keep his party united behind a historic health care reform bill currently being debated on the Senate floor. But liberal and conservative members, who are struggling to reach an agreement on the public option and other issues, didn’t sound as if they were any closer to resolving their differences.
“He reminded us why we’re here,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL). But, he cautioned they’re not quite there on the public option and abortion. “Close on both, not quite there,” he said.
A number of senators suggested Obama’s remarks provided the party and the legislation with much-needed momentum.
“I think it helped, more than significantly,” said Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT).
“I can tell you, it would be very hard to have listened to the president’s presentation and not have been persuaded of the historic importance of what’s being discussed here,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND). “It was a powerful speech.”But the senators on either side of the public option divide saw things differently.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) told reporters Obama’s presentation was only persuasive to those who have already decided to vote for the bill. “I think he was…for those who have made a decision to be supportive, I think he was persuasive,” Nelson said.
“My position has not changed at all,” said Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL). “I’ve compromised from a single payer, to a strong public option with Medicare plus five, to now a negotiated bill with an opt out. So I’ve made my moves.”
Burris went on: “I sent word, some time ago, back to the president that if the bill comes up and they need sixty votes and there’s not a public option in it, it’s always been my position that I would not support a bill that does not have a public option in it.”
I asked Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), a Senate veteran who’s supportive of the bill whether he thought the President had moved anybody off the fence. “I think there’s a lot of pressure building on those who are on the other side of…this issue,” he told me. “And I think that, hopefully, they will see the ultimate value in this.”