McClatchy news service
WASHINGTON As President Barack Obama began pushing for a prompt up or down vote on his health initiative, lobbyists and activist groups launched high-dollar advertising and grass-roots pressure campaigns on the roughly two dozen members of Congress who may be the final swing votes on the controversial issue.
At the headquarters of Americans for Tax Reform, 200 conservative activists received briefings on the message that will be hammered in the home districts of key House Democrats: This is not about a fight inside Washington, said Grover Norquist, who chaired the meeting. This is a fight between those ruling Washington and the rest of the country.
We want to be sure that any member who votes in contempt of their constituents knows they will lose the next election, Norquist declared.
At the meeting, leaders of myriad conservative activists groups pledged to apply pressure through advertising, automated phone calls and door-to-door visits.
The White House also stepped up efforts to court swing votes among Democrats in the House. But in the early going, the enthusiasm and energy appeared to reside with the conservatives.
The National Republican Campaign Committee detailed its plan to press 10 Democrats who voted no in the past not to swing over in support of the health care bill, in addition to 25 or so others who voted yes but came from districts that are solidly Republican.
The NRCC plans robo-calls to voters in 38 districts warning of Democrats plans to, ram their dangerous, out-of-control health care spending bill through Congress. All told, the Republicans plan to target 60 House members, some of whom were courted personally by the president at White House meetings conducted Wednesday and Thursday.
Obama stepped up his efforts to rally House Democrats behind the bill, sitting down with some 20 lawmakers in two separate meetings Thursday afternoon, one with leaders of the centrist New Democrat Coalition and one with leaders of the minority and progressive caucuses.
Adding to the pressure, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration believes the House will approve the Senate health care bill by March 18, when Obama is scheduled to leave on an overseas trip.
At the Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., expressed optimism that she would find the votes. But her options narrowed Thursday, as two conservative Democrats moved firmly into the no camp.
Reps. Frank Kratovil of Maryland and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota both voted against the House health care bill last year, but some had hoped at least one of them might be persuaded to switch.
Pelosi also will now have to find 217 votes for the health legislation, as Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., who had planned to resign to run for governor, announced he would stay long enough to vote on the health care bill. His resignation, coupled with three Democratic vacancies, would have lowered the threshold for passing a health care bill to 216.
White House allies vowed to back up the presidents charm offensive with advertising and local activities. As the conservatives Wednesday meeting took place, AFL-CIO executives were contemplating their next move. So far, the only confirmed activity is a demonstration next Tuesday at a Washington meeting of health insurance executives.
AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka is expected to attend the event, which is to include citizens arrests of some insurance officials.
Left-leaning MoveOn.org issued an e-mail plea to raise $200,000 Thursday afternoon to fight back and pass health care reform.
Within three hours, the group had raised almost $250,000, which it will spend on advertising, rallies and phone calls, communications director Ilyse Hogue said.
Organizing for America, the presidents 2008 campaign organization that has become an arm of the Democratic National Party, has used its vast e-mail database to urge supporters to pledge volunteer campaign hours for members who vote in favor of the bill, and to facilitate call-ins to radio talk shows.
The group bought a full-page ad in USA Today and instructed supporters to deliver copies of the ad to members, as a thank you gesture for supporting the bill.
Still the efforts on the left did not appear to match the energy of those on the right, at least in the early going.
The NRCC project includes robo-calls, paid advertising and a plan to activate its networks of physicians and small business owners to campaign in their communities against the bill.
This will be an aggressive, multifront communications operation, said RNCC spokesman Paul Lindsay.