GLENSIDE, Pa. – President Barack Obama made a spirited, shirt-sleeved appeal for passage of long-stalled health care changes Monday as Democratic congressional leaders worked behind the scenes on legislation they hope can quickly gain passage.
“Let’s seize reform. It’s within our grasp,” the president implored his audience at Arcadia University.
The president’s pitch was part denunciation of insurance companies – “they continue to ration care on the basis of who’s sick and who’s healthy,” he said – and part criticism of his Republican critics. “You had 10 years. What happened? What were you doing?” he taunted members of a party that held the White House for eight years and control of Congress for a dozen.
Obama made his appeal as Democratic leaders in Congress worked on a rescue plan for legislation that once seemed on the cusp of passage, only to run into difficulty when Senate Republicans gained the seat they needed to block a final compromise.
The two-step approach now being pursued calls for the House to approve a Senate-passed bill from last year, despite House Democrats’ opposition to several of its provisions. Both houses then would follow by approving a companion measure to make changes in that first bill.
In general, Obama wants legislation to expand health care to many millions who lack it, with subsidies to defray the costs for lower-income families as well as small businesses. In addition, he has called on Congress to ban insurance industry practices such as denial of coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
In a new change sought by House Democrats, the fix-it bill would require businesses to count part-time workers when calculating penalties for failing to provide health coverage for employees. Smaller businesses would be exempt. The Senate bill would count only full-time workers in applying the penalties, but under the change, described by a Democratic aide, two part-time workers would count as one full-time worker. Businesses say that’s unduly burdensome, but Democrats contend it would prevent businesses from avoiding penalties by hiring more workers part-time.
The White House has called for action on the broad health care legislation by March 18, but it seems unlikely Congress will complete both bills by then.