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Obama Meets With Democrats to Calm Spending Concerns

August 4, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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President Obama called Senate Democrats to the White House on Tuesday in an effort to ease the worries over a trio of spending measures being pushed by the administration. Gwen Ifill reports.

GWEN IFILL: And still to come on the NewsHour: foreclosure assistance; a Guantanamo update; and containing avian flu.

That follows a look at today’s White House effort to get Democrats back on the same page. It happened over lunch.

President Obama called the entire Senate Democratic caucus to the White House today to try to smooth divisions over critical issues, all involving money.

At the top of the agenda, the cost of keeping the president’s promise to reform health care this year. Polls and political action groups have highlighted growing discontent about legislation making its way through the House and the Senate. Often, liberals have been targeting their own.

TV AD NARRATOR: But Feinstein is saying health care may just be too difficult. Senator, we don’t expect you to lead just on the easy issues. Senator Feinstein, please, fight for California. Fight for President Obama’s health care reform now.

GWEN IFILL: Senate Democrats emerging from the White House luncheon today insisted they are close to agreement.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev., Senate Majority Leader: The very first thing we did to the thing we’re working on now, which is health care. There was absolute unity in the caucus. Different ideas were expressed, but every idea was that we understand that, before year’s end, we’re going to do a comprehensive health care reform.

In spite of the loud, shrill voices trying to interrupt town hall meetings and just throw a monkey wrench into everything, we’re going to continue to be positive and work hard.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS, D-Mont.: The American people do not like partisanship, but the American people also don’t like groups of people trying to kill something that should be done, should get passed, health care reform. And we know that we have to reform the health care system, because costs otherwise are eating us alive. We’ve got to reform the health insurance industry. So we’re going to get it done.

Obama Responds to Attacks

GWEN IFILL: But the White House push has also come under attack from the right. In the House, conservative Blue Dog Democrats forced leaders to water down plans to create a publicly funded health insurance alternative.

Responding to the increased pressure, the administration today ramped up its response to attacks appearing on conservative Web sites.

LINDA DOUGLASS, director of communications, White House Office of Health Reform: This one says, "Uncovered video: Obama explains how his health care plan will eliminate private insurance." Well, nothing could be farther from the truth.

You know, the people who always try to scare people whenever you try to bring them health insurance reform are at it again, and they're taking sentences and phrases out of context and cobbling them together to leave a very false impression.

GWEN IFILL: The president and his party are also confronting new questions about how to pay for the expensive solutions they support. Over the weekend, both Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and chief economic adviser Larry Summers appeared to leave the door open for tax hikes on the middle class.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, "This Week" Anchor: So revenues are on the table, as well?

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, Treasury Secretary: Again, we're not at the point yet where we're going to make a judgment about what it's going to take, but the important thing...

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're not ruling it out? You can't rule it out?

TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Well, I think that what the country needs to do is understand we're going to have to do what it takes. We're going to do what's necessary.

Middle Class Taxes Won't Increase

GWEN IFILL: Candidate Obama, however, pledged not to raise taxes on the middle class.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If you are a family making less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes go up, not your capital gains tax, not your payroll tax, not your income tax, no taxes. Your taxes will not go up.

GWEN IFILL: At the White House yesterday, press secretary Robert Gibbs insisted the president is not backing off that promise.

JOURNALIST: The door is closed? They did not open the door at all?

ROBERT GIBBS, White House press secretary: I am reiterating the president's clear commitment in the clearest terms possible that he's not raising taxes on those who make less than $250,000 a year.

GWEN IFILL: Other price tags have slowed the administration's momentum, as well, notably the billion-dollar Cash for Clunkers program, which quickly ran out of money. Senate Democrats promised today to join the House in adding another $2 billion to the program by the end of the week.