White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is ratcheting up the pressure on Congress to complete health care legislation, setting March 18 as the deadline by which a final bill should be passed.
Noting that President Obama leaves that day on a trip to Indonesia, Guam and Australia, Gibbs said on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" with Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie that "we believe that we're on schedule, based on our conversations with the speaker and the majority leader, to get something done by then."
The White House deadline means Congress would have exactly two weeks to pass a version of the existing Senate-approved bill in the House of Representatives and then pass a second bill filled with "fixes" in both chambers.
Gibbs modified his statement hours later, in his daily briefing for reporters, saying that the bill was "on schedule to get this through the House by then." He did not address the bill's fate in the Senate.
Obama on Thursday invited lawmakers to meetings at the White House to press his case for the legislation. In one session, the president sat down with members of the minority and progressive caucuses. In another, he was scheduled to meet with members of the New Democrat Coalition. Both meetings will be closed to the media, aides said.
Also Thursday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius met with the CEOs of major health insurance companies.
Obama dropped in on the meeting and brought a letter from a Ohio cancer survivor, urging him to pass the health care overhaul, Gibbs said. The woman, who has been cancer-free for 11 years, cited steep increases in her health care premiums, despite adjusting her policy to include higher deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs.
Gibbs said the president pointed to the letter in urging insurers not to stand in the way of his health care initiative.