- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2009

UPDATED:

With lawmakers split on the details and the White House losing support for its health care effort, President Obama will seek to recapture momentum by reaching out to Americans who helped him during the campaign.

Facing a newly energized Republican Party and alarmed liberal interest groups, Mr. Obama in a 24-hour blitz is speaking to faith leaders, trying to woo conservatives and returning to his campaign supporters to rebuild a coalition for health care.

“Time and again, men and women of faith have helped to show us what’s possible when we’re guided by our hopes and not our fears,” the president told people from more than 32 religious groups on a conference and Web call Wednesday night, following an earlier call with rabbis.

Mr. Obama framed health care as a moral issue that “goes to the heart of who we are as a people,” comparing the fight to the battle over the creation of Social Security and Medicare.

He also attempted to summon the campaign spirit of urgency, telling faith leaders, “I’m going to need the help of all of you … to knock on doors, talk to your neighbors.”

He’ll follow a similar theme Thursday when addressing supporters gathered by Organizing for America, the spinoff of his presidential campaign now housed at the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Obama will take questions collected for the online forum and thank the group for their hard work while asking for more.

The president also will field questions from conservatives when radio host Michael Smerconish hosts his show from the White House Thursday. After the show was announced, Mr. Smerconish said on his Twitter feed he recieved 5,000 submissions for questions.

Aides said it was a good outlet for Mr. Obama, who appeared on the show several times during the campaign.

Also part of the push, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will hold a roundtable at a Chicago hospital Thursday.

But liberal groups scared about media reports the White House is sending mixed signals on whether the health care measure Mr. Obama signs “must include” a public insurance option also are mobilizing.

Pro-public option lawmakers raised more than $150,000 in 24 hours through progressive fundraising channels that called the lawmakers gutsy enough to stand up to “pressure from their own party bosses.”

“This is an urgent, all-hands-on-deck moment,” MoveOn told members when announcing an “emergency” rally for the public option Thursday near the offices of the Democratic National Committee while Mr. Obama hosts his event.

Organized efforts to push the public option were popping up at Democratic town halls in Colorado, Georgia, New Mexico and Florida.

Meanwhile, the White House disputed a report that Mr. Obama has given up on winning Republican votes on the health care bill. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that was “absolutely not” accurate and maintained Wednesday there is 80 percent congressional agreement on the plan’s elements and they will seek progress on the rest.

Asked about the story during an event at the White House honoring NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, Mr. Obama told reporters, “I am absolutely confident we are going to get a bill, and I hope it’s bipartisan.”

But lawmakers reacted to the report all day, with House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio saying, “From Day One, Democrats have taken a ‘go-it-alone’ approach on health care.”

The “gang of six” Democratic and Republican Senate negotiators said they have no plans to end bipartisan talks to craft a plan, and will resume deliberations via teleconference Thursday night.

“The Finance Committee is on track to reach a bipartisan agreement on comprehensive health care reform that can pass the Senate,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana.

A Senate Finance Committee source said there has been no order from the White House to abandon the bipartisan negotiations and pursue a Democrat-only reform bill.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, who landed in hot water with Democrats this week for suggesting he may not vote for the Finance compromise if he can’t get other Republicans on board, said he’s still working on obtaining a plan with broad support.

“So far, no one has developed that kind of support, either in Congress or at the White House,” the Iowa Republican said. “That doesn’t mean we should quit. It means we should keep working until we can put something together that gets that widespread support.”

Wednesday’s faith call featured an opening prayer and leaders from churches across the country reading prepared statements urging action on health care.

They didn’t endorse specific policy, but announced FaithforHealth.org, a petition drive to take action over the next 40 days.

“Make your voice heard,” said Derrick Harkins of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, where Mr. Obama has worshiped. He urged those on the call - about 140,000 - to use text messaging, Twitter and Facebook.

Jim Wallis of the Christian-centered group Sojourners promised a “steady, moral drumbeat” from the faith community as Congress continues to tweak the plan before a final vote, warning: “We are in danger of losing the moral core of this debate.”

White House aides said the private call with rabbis was organized by the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism and that Mr. Obama offered a similar message.

Also Wednesday, Organizing for America launched a new fact-check site asking supporters to “expose the special interests” with a “deliberate plot” to kill reform with false information.

Mr. Obama told faith leaders that groups who claim the health care bill establishes “death panels” or would fund abortions are “frankly, bearing false witness.”

Family Research Council Action is among the groups pushing those claims in swing states to pressure moderate senators considering how they will vote on health care.

“We’re not backing away at all from the claims in those ads,” said Tony Perkins, president of the group.

He added that all people of faith believe in some of the same principles Mr. Obama is pushing — expanded access to care and portable plans that Americans can keep if they change or lose jobs.

Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.

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