WASHINGTON – Seeking to provide fresh evidence of bipartisan support for health-care reform, the White House is orchestrating a series of endorsements from GOP heavyweights around the country.
With a key Senate panel poised to vote on a sweeping health bill, President Obama and his top aides have reached out to current and retired Republican leaders in the hopes of countering the charge that Democrats are using their congressional majorities to push through partisan legislation.
And in the past two days, former Senate Republican leader Bill Frist; George W. Bush health and human services secretary Tommy Thompson and Medicare chief Mark McClellan; California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg – a Republican turned independent – have all spoken favorably of overhauling the nation’s health-care system, if couched with plenty of caveats regarding the details.
The White House lobbying campaign was aimed, in part, at the one Republican who has indicated she may vote for reform legislation, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, and she said Tuesday that she hoped the comments from her GOP colleagues would resonate.
“I think it is important to hear all voices in the party,” she said. “The more we hear, the more we learn, the better job we can do in the final analysis.”
However, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that his party remains opposed to what he said was legislation that would harm seniors and drive up the deficit.
Senior administration aides said they are also looking toward the debates in the full Senate and House, where moderate Democrats may take comfort in voting for a bill with some sense of bipartisan backing.
Most of the endorsements came at the prompting of the White House political team.
A senior Obama aide said administration officials asked Bloomberg, Thompson and Schwarzenegger to weigh in. The White House expects other former GOP officials to try to help nudge along the legislative process as early as today.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said the supportive comments will help rebut the argument of Republican leaders in the House and Senate, who have said that the Democrats’ bills should be scrapped.
“Starting over is not an option, though that’s the battle cry of the congressional wing” of the GOP, Emanuel said.
Several of the Republicans cautioned that they remain concerned about parts of the legislation.
Thompson, who often had strained relations with the Bush White House, said in an interview that he and Dick Gephardt, a former House Democratic leader, “believe it’s time to get something passed that’s good for the country on a bipartisan basis.” But, he added, a bill currently before the Senate Finance Committee goes too far in imposing new taxes and reductions in future Medicare spending. “I think they’re overreaching,” he said.