On Reid turf, Obama plugs his agenda

President Obama spoke at a town hall meeting yesterday in Henderson, Nev. President Obama spoke at a town hall meeting yesterday in Henderson, Nev. (Ethan Miller/ Getty Images)
By Ben Feller
Associated Press / February 20, 2010

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HENDERSON, Nev. - Days before hosting a potentially intensive health care summit with Republicans and Democrats, President Obama made a fervent push yesterday for his overhaul, calling it critical not just for the millions without insurance but also for the entire country’s economic well-being.

“It is vital for our economy to change how health care works in this country,’’ Obama said at a town hall meeting in a high school gym. “Don’t let the American people go another year, another 10 years, another 20 years without health insurance reform in this country.’’

The president’s plea for his top domestic priority, which faces an uncertain fate after nearly a year of work in Congress, earned him huge applause. He said the drawn-out effort has cost him politically and also has undercut the standing of Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Obama was in Nevada to help the Senate leader in a tough reelection fight this year - a race that could have a big impact on the balance of power in Washington and the fate of Obama’s own proposals on health care and beyond. Obama needs to protect every vote he can in the Senate in order to get legislation for his agenda passed.

But the president suggested that was due more to misinformation about the plans than to general unpopularity of the overhaul, and he defended the Democratic bills that have passed both houses of Congress but have not been reconciled into one piece of legislation.

The president’s bipartisan summit is being held Thursday. He dared Republicans to present a proposal addressing the uninsured and rising medical costs.

But the summit approaches with hardly a feeling of cooperation. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said Obama and the Democrats are offering “a partisan bill devoid of support from the American people.’’

The Nevada appearance was billed as focusing on the economy but turned into an extended campaign plug for Reid, seen as one of nation’s most vulnerable incumbents in November.

The president rarely missed a chance to put himself and Reid in the same sentence. The goal was to shift the emphasis from the unpopularity of some of Reid’s votes to, in Obama’s view, the courage it took to take expensive steps to save the economy.

The Republican Party wasn’t impressed. “Harry Reid has been nothing but a fierce partisan in Washington and a quick visit from President Obama won’t save him this November,’’ said Jahan Wilcox, spokesman for the Republican National Committee in Washington.