Obama Fails to Win Over Moderate Democrats

President Obama in his speech on Wednesday did not manage to immediately win over some of the moderate Democrats who have expressed reservations and who would be key to winning final passage.

Senator Ben Nelson, a Democrat from Nebraska, said it would take a few days for the president’s ideas to “percolate’’ as moderates studied them more closely and gauged constituent opinion. At home this weekend, Nelson said, he planned to “go down to Ace Hardware and see what they say when I’m checking out.’’

He said he remained concerned about raising money to pay for a health insurance expansion by taxing insurers on their most expensive plans. The move, he said, might raise premiums for everyone.

After his big speech before a joint session of Congress, Obama gave more evidence that he is assuming a more active role after months of allowing Congress to try to come up with its own compromise, summoning a group of 16 Senate Democrats yesterday to the White House for a late afternoon meeting. Most of them are crucial moderates; some have expressed concerns about the costs of expanding coverage and have been reluctant to create a government health plan as part of the package, Boston Globe reports.

It was also reported, President Obama pushed Massachusetts lawmakers yesterday to rewrite a 2004 election law and allow Governor Deval Patrick to appoint an interim senator to fill Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat, casting himself into a tight debate whose outcome, participants said, is largely unknowable.

Meanwhile, Senate President Therese Murray, who has been quiet on the proposal, said after a three-hour Democratic caucus that the heckling Obama received during a congressional address Wednesday might have influenced state legislators to support the temporary appointment, motivated by hopes for federal health care legislation.

Still, Senate and House members said the levels of support for the proposal remained unclear, despite consistent pressure from Washington Democrats that increased yesterday with Obama asking supporters to call their legislators and lobby for the bill’s passage.

Obama’s political operation, Organizing for America, called the empty Massachusetts seat, which would give Senate Democrats a 60th seat and probably prevent a Republican filibuster, “a needed vote in favor of real health reform,’’ Boston Globe reports.

In the meantime, the senators are seen as making up a key voting bloc in the Senate that can make or break the legislation. And many of the senators continued to express concerns about the costs of trying to dramatically change the country's health care system, Kohl said after the meeting.

A member of a new Senate working group made up of moderate Democrats, Kohl spoke during the meeting about the fact that the average costs for health care in the United States is much larger than anywhere else in the developed world.

"There's a lot of room for us to reduce the cost of health care without doing any damage to quality," Kohl said.

Senators invited to the meeting included Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

Kohl said he supported Obama in principle but cannot say whether he would eventually vote for a health reform bill in the Senate, saying he would have to carefully examine the details of any bill that comes to the floor, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.