Obama's health effort a tough sell

WASHINGTON — Moderate congressional Democrats, a bloc that's crucial to the fate of President Obama's renewed health care effort, offered only mild endorsements of his new plan Tuesday, while warning that it faces a difficult legislative path.

"It's very constructive," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said of the blueprint that Obama released Monday. "But how this is done is not clear to me at this moment."

The president's self-described "opening bid," in anticipation of his bipartisan health care summit Thursday, combines elements of separate bills that the Senate and the House of Representatives passed last year with only a single Republican vote.

The estimated $950 billion, 10-year package would require most people to buy coverage, would provide insurance subsidies for lower-income families, and would impose new taxes on higher incomes and more expensive insurance policies.

Because of Obama's pending summit, virtually no Democrats wanted to criticize the president's effort publicly, but it was clear that once the summit's over, the White House faces political and substantive problems in getting a comprehensive package approved.

House Republicans huddled Tuesday, and afterward they were adamant that the president's plan is an expensive, big-government mess.

"House Republicans will continue to oppose any effort to use this so-called 'summit' as a media preamble to forcing through ObamaCare 2.0," said House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was equally resolute. "The American people thought the debate on this approach to reform was over," he said on the Senate floor. "Yet here we are, once again, being told by the White House that we have to consider the same health care bills that caused such a backlash across the country in December."