- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2009

President Obama told Senate Democrats during a Sunday-afternoon pep talk on Capitol Hill that passing a health care overhaul bill would be both good politics and good policy, and he urged them to overcome differences on the public option and other controversial parts of the legislation.

Mr. Obama met with Democrats for about 45 minutes as lawmakers gear up for an important week in which many of the most contentious issues in the health reform debate, such as abortion, are going to face up-or-down amendment votes. Lawmakers met in a rare weekend session to vote on amendments and allow Democrats time to work out a compromise within their own ranks on how to structure their public insurance plan.

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“Passing this, voting for cloture … is certainly going to help politically, but most important, going to help with policy,” Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, said of the president’s message.

Several moderate Democrats up for re-election in 2010 have been leery of supporting the legislation or the procedural votes required to pass it.

“He said, in essence, if we don’t hang together with 60 of us, we’re going to hang separately,” said Sen. Roland W. Burris, Illinois Democrat.

Mr. Obama’s visit was not a negotiating session, and he did not spell out how senators should settle their differences, according to several lawmakers in the room. The president has not been very specific on what policy he wants in the legislation, outside of a broad outline that it is deficit neutral, keeps insurance companies honest and provides access to all Americans.

“He urged us to get the job done and said he’s ready to help us, pick up the phone and call any time we need him,” said Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

“That wasn’t a negotiation,” Mr. Obama said to reporters as he left the meeting. “It was a pep talk.”

The president’s visit came as a group of 10 moderate and liberal Democrats try to close in on a compromise on how to structure their public insurance plan. Liberals favor creating a government-run public insurance plan with a chance for states to opt out, as is currently written in the bill. But moderate Democrats have balked, leery of giving government too large a role.

White House reporter Matthew Mosk contributed to this article.

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