In his first full workday back at the White House after traveling last week, healthcare reform legislation was very much on the mind of President Barack Obama. Meeting later in the day with key congressional leaders, he is pushing to get legislation passed in each chamber before Congress recesses for the summer.
At noon, when he was introducing his U.S. surgeon general nominee, Regina Benjamin, MD, in a White House Rose Garden ceremony, Obama said: "I just want to put everybody on notice because there was a lot of chatter during the week that I was gone," he said. "We are going to get this done: Inaction is not an option. For naysayers and cynics who think that this is not going to happen, don't bet against us."
"Make no mistake: The status quo on healthcare is no longer an option for the United States of America," he said. "If we step back from this challenge right now, we will leave our children a legacy of debt and a future of crushing costs that bankrupt our families and our business. [It's] because we will have done nothing to bring down the costs of Medicare and Medicaid. [It] will crush our government."
Keeping on message, Obama met late Monday afternoon with key Democratic players involved with reform legislation on Capitol Hill: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D NV), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D CA), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D MD), and House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D NY). According to reports, he wants to see movement on reform measures, and he will assist where possible.
Obama also met Monday with representatives of the fiscally conservative Democratic group, the Blue Dog Coalition, which had expressed concerns last week about the ability of the House measure to contain costs and promote healthcare quality.
On the House side, a bill will be introduced on Tuesday for the three House committees—Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor—for mark up. "It won't be the finished product," Pelosi said at a mid-afternoon Capitol Hill press conference Monday. "In order to be on schedule, we have to roll out our legislation."
In response to the Blue Dog concerns, Pelosi said: "We're trying to squeeze all the savings we can out of the system first . . . and many in our caucus and the Blue Dogs want us to do that, and we share that view."
In regard to adding a surcharge on family incomes above $350,000—as proposed by the House Ways and Means Committee last Friday, Pelosi said that it could assist middle-class families in not bearing high-cost burdens while expanding their coverage. However, she added that all provisions on the table will be up for discussion.