Published March 01, 2010
Democrats appear to be gambling that a perceived lull in Tea Party activism, combined with an eight-month window to the November midterm election, is going to buy them enough time to muster the simple majorities they need in the Senate and House to give President Obama at least partial victory in his push to remake the nation's health care system.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that Obama will have a proposal on the table "in a matter of days."
"Time is up," she said in an interview Sunday.
But conservative activists, particularly the Tea Party groups, are gearing up for a fight to the last vote, even if political judgment day may seem far off.
"Health care is right now our first priority because we know ... it's so close to passing, and if we look away for one second, it will," said Shelby Blakely, a leader with Tea Party Patriots and executive director of its media arm, New Patriot Journal.
The all-fronts push for health care reform by top Democrats in Washington is a sharp turnaround from late January, when President Obama declared in his State of the Union address that "jobs must be our number-one focus in 2010" while burying the section on health care. But Blakely argued that Obama was "intentionally" playing down the issue to make the debate less toxic.
"I think they created the lull on purpose," she said. "Just because it's not front-and-center in the news cycle does not mean it's gone away."
The third Tea Party Express tour -- a road show of anti-tax, anti-spending activists -- is set to start March 27 in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's home turf of Nevada and wend its way toward Washington, holding rallies at dozens of stops along the way. More than 1,000 Tea Party rallies are planned nationwide for the April 15 tax day demonstration. Both the tour and the tax day rallies are expected to focus heavily on health care reform.
Blakely said April 15 is "the next big thing" in the health care reform battle, but that the Tea Party groups will be watching the debate carefully, ready to jump in with carefully applied pressure to key lawmakers.
Tea Party Express spokesman Levi Russell said the group, and the 400,000 people on its mailing list, will be on a "high degree of alert" in the coming weeks.
Pelosi, in an interview Sunday with ABC's "This Week," appeared to be trying to mollify the Tea Party movement by appealing to its anti-establishment instincts.
"We share some of the views of the Tea Partiers in terms of the role of special interest in Washington, D.C.," she said, adding that the Republican Party was "hijacking the good intentions" of those in the movement who "share some of our concerns" about special interests.
While Tea Party groups say they're no fans of a number of Republicans in Congress, it's highly unlikely they'd see a friend in the Democratic leadership team either.
Republicans say that if Democrats go through with plans to pass the health care reform bill without major revisions, they can kiss their majority goodbye.
"It is my belief that the Democrats will lose their majority in November if they ram this thing through without any bipartisan support," House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., told Fox News on Monday.
But top Democrats are signaling that that may be the price to pay for a historic piece of legislation that could fundamentally reshape the health care industry.
Asked Sunday what she says to members afraid of losing their seats in November, Pelosi said, "We're not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress. We're here to do the job for the American people."
Obama concluded his daylong White House summit on health care reform Thursday by telling Republicans that his party may have to "go ahead and make some decisions," and if so, "then, that's what elections are for."
FoxNews.com's Judson Berger contributed to this report.