GLENSIDE, Pa. - In an impassioned rally that evoked his 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama urged voters Monday to knock on doors and make phone calls to embolden members of Congress to pass health care legislation.
Obama said Washington pundits obsessed with analyzing the political repercussions of a yes-or-no vote on health care are distracting lawmakers from what's fundamentally at stake: If Congress fails to act, the president said, premiums will rise, insurers will deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions and more people will be saddled with no insurance.
"They need to hear your voices because right now the Washington echo chamber is in full throttle," Obama told an audience of 1,800 at Arcadia University outside Philadelphia.
"It is as deafening as it's ever been. And as we come to that final vote, that echo chamber is telling members of Congress, wait, think about the politics - instead of thinking about doing the right thing."
Removing his suit coat, Obama spoke with an emotional intensity that one Democratic senator said had been lacking in his previous health care speeches.
Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who flew up and back with the president on Air Force One, told reporters afterward: "That's the most fiery I've seen him since the early campaign. When I was listening to him I wished that he had given that in the State of the Union."
With the Democratic congressional leadership struggling to lock down votes on Capitol Hill, Obama is pursuing a beyond-the-Beltway strategy this week of marshaling grassroots support.
He will also talk about health care in a visit to St. Louis Wednesday.
One Senate Democratic aide said Obama's out-of-town stops are helpful in that they create political space for members to cast a vote in support of the bill.
"He still has a powerful bully pulpit and he's still our best spokesman," the aide said.
Obama has settled on a simple narrative: Everyday people are being victimized by profit-minded insurance companies. At the event Monday he was introduced by a woman named Leslie Banks, who had written him a letter about a whopping rate increase.
"Just last month, Anthem Blue Cross in California tried to jack up rates by nearly 40 percent - 40 percent. Anybody's paycheck gone up 40 percent?" he asked.
A chorus of "No" swept up from the crowd.