- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ignore Washington and remember Iowa as the real hard work begins on health care reform, President Obama told his most loyal supporters and campaign organizers Thursday.

Mr. Obama, speaking during an Organizing for America event not paid for with government resources, thanked volunteers for hosting 11,000 events on health care this summer and pressing on even when people slam doors in their faces and the television cameras aren’t there capturing the effort.

“We’ve been through this before,” he said from the town hall, broadcast online and hosted at the Democratic National Committee’s Washington headquarters.

The president noted this is his third tough summer in a row when he faced bad poll numbers and cable pundits were declaring him finished. He mocked the “handwringing and angst and teeth gnashing.” He cited the situation in Iowa before he won the historic caucus that jump-started his ascendance to the presidency.

“There’s something about August going into September where everybody in Washington gets all wee-wee’d up,” Mr. Obama said, a term he hasn’t used publicly before. “I don’t know what it is, but that’s what’s happening. Instead of being preoccupied with the polls and the pundits and the cable chatter, you guys just kept on working.”

He said he needs a repeat of that plowing through the tough times until a health care bill passes Congress. Mr. Obama also asked volunteers to keep going even if their member of Congress already is on board with the plan to combat misinformation, especially what is spreading among seniors.

Earlier, he took questions from conservative radio host Michael Smerconish, who said listeners had offered more than 5,000 question suggestions for the presidential interview.

An Obama supporter from Pennsylvania called in asking if his knees were “buckling a little bit” and he was trying to compromise on health care.

Mr. Obama dismissed that, saying, “Passing a big bill like this is always messy.”

During both forums, the president blamed the press for creating confusion on whether his White House supports including a public insurance option along with other options in the health care bill.

He told OFA it was a controversy “manufactured this week” and to Mr. Smerconish that reporters and left-leaning voters people got too “excited” about nothing since he supports a public option being included in the bill and never said he’d veto a bill that didn’t include one.

He said people still are unaware that the public option is just one possibility for people who want care and thinks the “overwhelming majority” of people will prefer private insurance instead.

“Nobody would be saying you are obligated to go into a public plan,” he told the radio host, later adding at OFA: “If we have a public option in there that can help keep insurers honest it can provide a benchmark for what an affordable insurance plan looks like.”

Mr. Obama said the White House doesn’t know yet if there is Republican support for the bill, but lauded the three GOP senators in the Senate Finance Committee “gang of six” who were going to be on a negotiation teleconference later Thursday.

He said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Olympia Snowe of Maine are under “enormous pressure” not to negotiate and are “showing some significant resolve” by sticking with it.

“I don’t know if in the end they can get there, I hope they can,” he said.

OFA deputy director Jeremy Bird told the crowd they were the “untold story of the summer,” since 1.5 million people have signed on to the president’s campaign and that the thousands of events have been held in every state.

“You’ve put a real face to the need for health insurance reform,” he said.

The nearly 100 supporters and staffers gathered for the forum broadcast at the DNC applauded Mr. Obama frequently and chanted his signature “Yes we can” as he entered and left the room.

In closing, Mr. Obama said it’s easy for politicians to “do nothing” and see their poll numbers increase.

“You can get away with doing that for years but that’s not why i came here, and that’s not why you worked so hard to win this election,” he said.

He said there were “a whole bunch of folks” in Washington just waiting for the health care debate so they can dash the hopes of Obama supporters and prove “you can’t get something done in this town.”

“From the day we announced this race we have been fighting against that. We are not going to give up now.”

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