Obama tries to boost beleaguered Democratic National Committee

In his opening remarks at the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee, Obama thanked activists for being willing to brave the blizzard. He also acknowledged a rough year but encouraged fellow dems to press on.
By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 7, 2010

President Obama gave a pep talk to Democrats on Saturday, assuring them that despite recent setbacks he would continue pushing his ambitious domestic agenda, including his plan to overhaul the nation's health-care system.

Speaking at the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee at the Capital Hilton in snowbound Washington, Obama drew loud applause with his pledge to see his plans through.

"Let me be clear," he said. "I am not going to walk away from health insurance reform. I'm not going to walk away from the American people. I'm not going to walk away on this challenge. I'm not going to walk away on any challenge."

Obama warned that Democrats must change how they work with Republicans, who have blocked many of Obama's initiatives and now are buoyed by the prospect of major gains in this fall's congressional elections.

Obama said Republicans must be drawn into a public debate about the best way to address the nation's long-term challenges. In the end, he said, that would result in the best policy for the American people, which in turn would be the best politics for Democrats.

"We can't solve all of our problems alone," Obama said. "So we need to extend our hands to the other side -- we've been working on it -- because if we're going to change the ways of Washington, we're going to have to change its tone."

Even as Obama urged bipartisanship, Democrats remain divided about the best way to move their stalled agenda, which includes health-care legislation, a cap-and-trade bill aimed at making clean energy economically viable, and a measure to tighten regulation of the nation's financial system.

Most of those initiatives have met with near-unanimous Republican opposition. And with the nation's unemployment rate at its highest level in a generation and the long-term deficit on an unsustainable course, frustrated voters have turned away from Democrats in recent elections.

Obama invoked Democratic icons from Thomas Jefferson and Franklin D. Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy to exhort Democrats to remain true to their principles.

"I know we've gone through a tough year," he said. "But we've gone through tougher."

Obama issued a similar call for bipartisan cooperation in his weekly radio and Internet address, as he called on Congress to move quickly to enact a series of proposals aimed at bolstering the ability of small businesses to create new jobs.

The president said he is open to other ideas for supporting small business, but he told lawmakers not to oppose his proposals strictly for political reasons.

"My door is always open," he said. "But I urge members of both parties: Do not oppose good ideas just because it's good politics to do so. The proposals I've outlined are not Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative. They are pro-business, they are pro-growth, and they are pro-job."

Obama has spelled out a list of ideas to support small business in recent weeks, as his administration has moved more urgently to respond to the nation's 9.7 percent unemployment rate.

Despite the president's desire to move quickly, some of his proposals have been met with skepticism on Capitol Hill, where the Senate this week is expected to begin debate on small business initiatives. Many Republicans deride them as unnecessary spending, while even some Democrats are dubious about the potential success of some of the ideas.

Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Small Business, questioned Obama's plan to expand the SBA Express program -- which provides operating capital for small business -- saying that it has an unacceptably high default rate.

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