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Obama hopes face time trumps ‘millions spent’ to sway undecided Democrats

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Democrats are just short of the votes they need to push the health care bill past the finish line, and the White House is furiously competing with anti-reform lobbyists to court the few dozen House Democrats who will determine its fate.

President Obama’s top aides predicted Sunday that health care reform will pass this week. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the chief whip counter in the House, said his party did not have the votes as of this weekend but expressed confidence it soon will.

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Insurance lobbyists and other opponents of the effort are going all out in a multi-million dollar spending blitz targeted at the wavering Democrats, compelling them to scuttle the bill. The New York Times reports:

The coalition of groups opposing the legislation, led by the United States Chamber of Commerce, is singling out 27 Democrats who supported the health care bill last year and 13 who opposed it. The organizations have already spent $11 million this month focusing on these lawmakers, with more spending to come before an expected vote next weekend. ..

Not only are these swing Democrats being pummeled in the new spate of advertising — which could total $30 million before week’s end — but extensive efforts are under way in Congressional districts, where groups on both sides of the issue are using tactics similar to get-out-the-vote drives to urge constituents to contact their lawmakers. Mr. Obama is calling lawmakers, too, and on Monday is traveling to Ohio to open a weeklong campaign to close this act of the health care debate.

Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod acknowledged this Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” alleging that insurance industry lobbyists are “descending on Capital Hill like locusts and trying to pressure people to vote against this bill.” He made a similar statement on CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying that anti-reform lobbyists “have landed on Capitol Hill like locusts.”

At the same time, the White House is holding one-on-one meetings with the skeptical House members in an effort to address their concerns and win their votes. The Washington Post Plum Line’s Greg Sargent reports:

Late last week, a source says, President Obama summoned a key undecided House Democrat, New York Rep Scott Murphy, for a one-on-one meeting at the White House — a sign that he’s beginning to lavish direct personal attention on individual members of Congress to persuade them to vote for the Senate bill.

According to a source familiar with the meeting, the President asked Murphy what he needed in the bill in order to support it. Murphy is being closely watched right now because he voted No last time, and flipping him to Yes would be a key get for Dem vote-counters.

“It was, ‘What are you looking for in the bill?'” the source says, describing the President’s request.

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These meetings reflect that a number of wary Democrats are open to getting behind the bill but need a final push. The White House is getting an assist from the influential labor group SEIU, which is threatening to strip their support for members of Congress who vote against the package, Sargent reported on Friday.

An unofficial but well-sourced whip count by the liberal Web site FireDogLake concluded Sunday that Democrats have 191 of the 216 votes they need in the House. It notes that 37 House members are on the fence, 25 of whom need to back the bill in order for it to pass.

The Democratic strategy for enacting the reconciliation bill involves the House passing the Senate bill, before President Obama signs it into law. Once that happens, the two chambers are expected to amend the legislation and remove unpopular deals made in the final days to secure the necessary votes.

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