President Obama has for the most part given Congress a wide berth as it crafts a health care reform bill, popping up now and again to remind party leaders of the importance of the initiative, which he now describes as his highest legislative priority. But yesterday that all seemed to change.
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First, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs suggested that Obama might ask the House or the Senate or both chambers to delay recess if either hasn't passed its own reform bill. And later, at a meeting with congressional leaders, Obama turned up the temperature on Senate Finance chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), whose committee is now weeks behind schedule, saying he wants the committee to have a bill ready for mark up by the end of the week.
Clearly the White House is beginning to worry that the House and the Senate may leave for recess without voting on legislation. But why does that matter? For many reasons, actually, but a couple stand out more than others: First, a floor vote on health care is a big vote. Bigger than a vote on a health care conference report. It's a vote that will likely become an issue in battleground districts during the 2010 congressional elections. And as a rule of thumb, when election season approaches, vulnerable members become more risk averse--less willing, in other words, to vote for controversial legislation.
But there's another potential issue, too.