Biden Plans Move to Health Care Frontlines Next Week

By Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 18, 2009; 4:30 PM

Fresh off his trip to Iraq, Vice President Biden will wade deep into the health-care debate next week, according to administration sources.

Biden is slated to give his "first major health policy address" Tuesday to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and on Wednesday visits the Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring.

On the subject of Obama and health reform, seniors have been the most skeptical age group in the nation. That's a major concern for the White House because retirees vote in large numbers, particularly in mid-term elections. Biden, who will be joined at Leisure World by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and White House health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle, plans to "talk directly to seniors about how changes in Medicare will not affect them medically and will in fact, strengthen the system," said an aide who was not authorized to be quoted.

Biden's higher profile also will also come during a week in which President Obama will turn his focus to foreign policy.

Perhaps more importantly, Biden will be reaching out to an array of lawmakers to press the case for bipartisan enactment of a bill that expands insurance coverage and holds down skyrocketing costs. After spending 36 years in the Senate, Biden's role will be less as a health policy expert and more as a peer.

"Health care has not been a signature issue for him. The expertise he brings to bear are his relationships in the Senate," said one staffer. "He is somebody who can have really candid conversations with members about what they need. He has their trust and if he says, 'We'll push this for you,' they can take his word to the bank."

In addition to fellow Democrats, Biden plans to court Republicans in the administration hunt for health care votes. Just as he did during debate on the economic recovery package, his list of targets will include the two GOP senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, as well as Republicans George Voinovich of Ohio and Richard Lugar of Indiana.

Don't forget, Biden fans are quick to note, it wasn't long after those stimulus package negotiations that Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties from Republican to Democrat.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company