When it comes to the president's health-care reform, both of Southern Arizona's congressional representatives are seen as "in play," uncommitted votes that could go either way.
Which is putting both under intense pressure to get off the pointy end of the fencepost they're perched on, one way or the other.
Congressman Raúl Grijalva, who doesn't like the fact the Senate bill doesn't have a public option, was summoned to the White House Thursday afternoon with seven other progressives for a sit-down with the president, who has said he wants the effort sewn up by the time Congress leaves for Easter break on March 26.
Grijalva left the Roosevelt Room roundup sounding like he's close to voting for with the president, despite the lack of a public option he considers critical. After the meeting, he said a partial victory on health care would be better than losing everything, at this point.
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, meanwhile, is the target of tea party rallies and a week long "Code Red" robocall campaign by the National Republican Congressional Caucus, which is targeting voters in swing districts. The script warns listeners to call Giffords "before it is too late and tell her to vote 'no' on Nancy Pelosi's dangerous health-care scheme."
On the other side, Organizing for America took out an ad in USA Today that says, "You Fight, We'll Fight." It pledged 8 million volunteer hours to assist congressional representatives who hold steady on supporting the plan, which Giffords has already said she doesn't like. Arizona Director Jessica Jones said that so far, 700 volunteers are committed to help the state's Democrats.
"We will be making sure that we are backing up their legislators and letting them know their constituents are behind them," Jones said, because too many Americans have gone without insurance for too long. "We've been debating this for a year now and it's really crunch time. We need to get this bill passed."
Although majorities of the Senate and House approved separate health-care versions, they must settle on identical versions before it can become law. And with the loss of the 60th vote in the Senate with Scott Brown's election, the plan that seems to have the most traction so far hinges on the House signing off on the bill that passed the Senate on Christmas Eve. But House Democrats have found a lot not to like in that package.
In January, Giffords sent a letter to House Speaker Pelosi saying the Senate reform version would be too costly when the state's fiscal position is already dire.
That package could cost the Arizona $4 billion over the next decade, she wrote, because of its requirements to put more people on the rolls for the the state's version of Medicaid, which provides health care to low-income residents.
Her spokesman, C.J. Karamargin, said that if the bill comes to the floor of the House with the same language she objected to in January, she will not be able to support it. Asked if she can offer her support if the concerns are worked out on reconciliation, Karamargin said, "We'd have to weigh that promise if it's made."
Although the House leadership has already included Giffords, as well as Rep. Harry Mitchell, as one of several possible "vote switchers," Giffords was not part of the group invited to sit down with the president Thursday.
Grijalva said the group vented complaints about the bill, primarily the lack of a public option. While President Obama reportedly said he pledged to continue working on those areas, he focused attention on the benefits of the package, from more money to community health centers to more regulation on insurance companies. And he drew a parallel with Social Security, that started small but grew over time to become the sweeping entitlement program it is now.
"The president made a compelling case," Grijalva said. "He presented an argument that if we don't get this first block done, we'll never get the rest."
He didn't take a head count, Grijalva said. "That's going to be the most agonizing week for me. I hate to vote for a bill that doesn't have the public option, but I don't want to hand the opponents of health-care reform a victory, either."
Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 573-4243 or email@example.com