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Opinion: Why Obama wants healthcare bill by August -- think 2010 elections

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The White House drumbeat is unrelenting: President Obama wants comprehensive healthcare reform -- with a public option -- on his desk before Congress leaves town for its summer recess Aug. 7.

‘Don’t bet against us. We are going to make this thing happen,’ Obama said this week during a Rose Garden appearance with his new surgeon general, Dr. Regina Benjamin.

Just back from a weeklong trip to Russia, Italy and Africa, the president said he did not want Congress to think he’d forgotten the issue. ‘I just want to put everybody on notice, because there was a lot of chatter during the week that I was gone,’ Obama said. ‘Inaction is not an option.’

Republican critics have been quick to question why the rush, especially on a bill that could end up costing taxpayers $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. And one of the doubters is Maine Republican Olympia J. Snowe, a moderate invited to the White House today in hopes Obama can sway her to support the plan.

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I don’t know why there’s this insistence on getting it done yesterday,’ Snowe told reporters last night. ‘If you use President Johnson’s model on Medicare, for example, it took a year and a half, for good reason.”

So why is the White House rushing? In part, it’s a calculus that Obama’s still-high approval ratings are likely to soften as his term lengthens. So, use your political chits while you have them.

But another compelling reason is that the 2010 elections loom. Already, Blue Dog Democrats -- those moderates from Southern and rural parts of the country -- are balking at supporting a bill they say costs too much and saves too little. As Democrats in other swing districts get closer to reelection campaigns, they too could have qualms about backing a bill that will mandate that every American get health insurance and will pay for it with sizable tax increases on the wealthiest of their constituents.

‘Very soon we’ll be in the gravitational pull of the midterm elections, and it seems clear that Republicans . . . will run on tax cuts, deficit reduction and a much more scaled-down and privatized healthcare plan,’ former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich told the Washington Post recently. ‘If the public begins to lose patience by election day, Democrats could have some real problems. And those problems of course could possibly extend through 2012.’

-- Johanna Neuman

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