WASHINGTON — With time and tempers short, everyone's playing hardball in the drive to pass — or stop — President Barack Obama's massive health care legislation by the weekend.
Business groups are spending $1 million a day to depict the bill as a job killer in television ads in the home districts of 26 wavering House Democrats. A new ad barrage from supporters of the legislation went up Tuesday in 11 districts, some overlapping. And unions are threatening some of those lawmakers to come through for Obama — or pay the price in the fall elections.
Obama has summoned members to the White House one by one for private, face-to-face persuasion, and also met larger groups. White House aides said he plans at least one more public health care event this week, with remarks in Fairfax, Va., on Friday. Diverse administration resources are being employed: Even the Navy secretary is in the game.
At stake is a bill that would cover some 30 million uninsured, end insurance practices such as denying coverage to those with a pre-existing condition, require almost all Americans to get coverage by law and try to slow the cost of medical care nationwide.
Activists on both ends of the political spectrum are energized. Tea party volunteers, who rallied Tuesday in Washington, are planning to flood congressional offices with e-mails opposing the legislation as a step toward socialism. And some on the political left have joined in calling for the bill's defeat because it leaves out a federal insurance option.
The sought-after Democrats — mainly moderates, but also a few liberals — are mostly trying to stay out of sight. They include 37 who voted against the bill last year and a smaller number who are having second thoughts after supporting it the first time. Walking briskly, lawmakers duck in and out of the House chamber during votes, avoiding eye contact with reporters.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is trying to keep wavering lawmakers in line, meeting with them individually and in groups. She has summoned female Democrats to her office for a meeting this morning.
House Democratic leaders are still short of the 216 votes they need. While broad outlines of the $1 trillion, 10-year measure are well known, critical final details are still being ironed out. Lawmakers are awaiting a cost report from the Congressional Budget Office on compromises worked out with Obama to reconcile versions passed earlier by the House and Senate.
Democratic leaders are considering using a legislative procedure called "deem and pass'' that would allow them to pass fixes to the Senate bill without taking a direct vote on the underlying legislation. The maneuver is a kind of legislative fig leaf to spare House Democrats from directly voting to approve a Senate bill many of them had bitterly criticized.
While Republicans also used the tactic when they controlled the House, they are indignant that Democrats would employ it on legislation of such significance and responded with parliamentary gimmicks of their own. The office of House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., sent a memo to GOP lawmakers urging them to "participate in a conference-wide one-minute-speech event on the House floor." Exploiting a procedure that allows any member of the House to speak for one minute, the Republicans ate up nearly four hours with such speeches on Tuesday.
The crucial group of some three-dozen House Democrats is split roughly into two camps: those who possibly could switch their earlier "yes" votes to "no," sinking the legislation, and those who might switch from "no" to "yes," salvaging it.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who voted against the bill last year because he wants a larger government role in health care, has been lobbied hard by Obama. Kucinich scheduled a news conference for today to announce how he will vote.
Democratic leaders have assigned House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a California liberal, to negotiate with Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, who is seeking a tougher firewall against taxpayer-subsidized abortion coverage, and the two talk daily.
A member of the House Armed Services Committee was surprised to hear from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, said Stupak, who declined to identify the lawmaker.