- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The White House on Tuesday launched a full offensive to regain control of the health care debate, wooing conservative Democrats with promises of cost cutting and attempting to paint Republican critics as attack dogs blocking change.

President Obama is scheduled to hold a prime-time news conference Wednesday, as polls suggest he is losing ground on the issue. Republicans are exploiting fears about the state of the budget and the economy to slow the momentum on Capitol Hill.

Fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats huddled with Mr. Obama for more than an hour Tuesday at the White House and told reporters that the president promised them that the bill he signs will not expand the federal deficit over the long term.

Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas, chairman of the Blue Dogs, said his group has 10 major concerns and is waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to review the main House Democratic reform blueprint before agreeing to support the plan.

Many Republicans, sensing growing doubts about the complex reform plans under consideration, have stepped up their opposition. Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, was personally rebuked by Mr. Obama after he predicted last week that health care reform would be the president’s “Waterloo.”

Mr. DeMint was not backing down Tuesday.

“The biggest obstacles to President Obama’s $2 trillion government takeover of health care are Democrats, the American people and the facts,” he said in a statement provided to The Washington Times.

Mr. Obama’s lobbying also coincided with a day of hard bargaining in the Senate Finance Committee as members try to hammer out their version of the bill.

Mr. Ross called the White House private meeting “productive” but said no final decisions were reached because moderate Democrats moderates remain worried about costs.

Voters “want us to squeeze every ounce of savings that we can out of the current system. That’s what we’re demanding.” Mr. Ross said.

Mr. Obama pushed back against fears that a failure in the House and Senate to meet an August deadline to pass companion bills would kill reform, insisting that no one will remember the nitty-gritty negotiating details.

“When we do pass this bill, history won’t record the demands for endless delay or endless debates in the news cycle. It will record the hard work done by the members of Congress to pass the bill, and the fact that the people who sent us here to Washington insisted upon change,” he said.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, told reporters that the August deadline may not be met. Other House members have suggested that they want to see the Senate bill before they move forward.

Administration officials and allied outside political groups turned up the heat on Republicans.

On Tuesday, MoveOn.org, a liberal advocacy group which helps raise money for Senate Democrats and the Democratic National Committee, highlighted Mr. DeMint’s Waterloo analogy.

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