OBAMA HINTS AT ELECTION-YEAR MESSAGE WITH HOUSE DEMS…. President Obama delivered a speech to the House Democratic Caucus Retreat late yesterday afternoon, and made it clear why the chamber is his favorite. He noted that it’s “amazing” that “out of the major initiatives we were talking about before we took office, you’ve either completed or set the stage for almost all of them.”

Indeed, the House’s to-do list features a lot of checkmarks, which the president was only too pleased to emphasize: economic recovery, health care, cap and trade, Wall Street reform, Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay act, SCHIP, reducing Pentagon waste, cutting spending, reforming credit card rules, regulating the tobacco industry, a new national service bill, expanded hate-crime protections, new investments in education, etc. “In one of America’s darkest hours, you answered the call,” the president said. “Time and again you stood up and you led.”

Specifically on health care, Obama acknowledged “how big a lift this has been.” He conceded that he’s seen the polls and the “occasional blog post or cable clip that breathlessly declares what something means for a political party, without really talking much about what it means for a country.” But the president is nevertheless confident in the message he and other Dems can take to the country:

“The American people will suddenly learn that this bill does things they like and doesn’t do things that people have been trying to say it does. Their worst fears will prove groundless, and the American people’s hope for a fair shake from their insurance companies for quality, affordable health care they need will finally be realized.

“This year alone, this reform will ban some of the worst practices of the insurance industry forever. They’ll no longer be allowed to refuse coverage for preexisting conditions for children or drop coverage when folks get sick and need it the most. They’ll no longer be allowed to impose restrictive annual limits on the amount of coverage that you receive, lifetime limits on the amounts of benefits received. They’ll be required to offer free preventive care — like checkups and routine tests and mammograms — at no cost. Patients will have rights. They will get what they pay for. And that’s just the beginning.”

And what about the politics of the debate and the 2010 elections?

“Well, let me tell you something. If Republicans want to campaign against what we’ve done by standing up for the status quo and for insurance companies over American families and businesses, that is a fight I want to have. If their best idea is to return to the bad policies and the bad ideas of yesterday, they are going to lose that argument. What are they going to say? ‘Well, you know, the old system really worked well; let’s go back to the way it was’? That’s not going to appeal to seniors who are now seeing the possibility of that doughnut hole finally closing and so they can finally get discounts on their prescriptions. That’s not going to appeal to the small businesses who find out all the tax credits that they’re going to get for doing right by their employees — something that they have been wanting to do, but may not have been able to afford. It’s not going to be very appealing to Americans who for the first time are going to find out that they can provide coverage to their children, their dependents, all the way up to the age of 26 or 27.

“And that’s why I’ll be out there waging a great campaign from one end of the country to the other, telling Americans with insurance or without what they stand to gain; about the arsenal of consumer protections; about the long-awaited stability that they’re going to begin to experience. And I’m going to tell them that I am proud we are putting the future of America before the politics of the moment — the next generation before the next election. And that, after all, is what we were sent up here to do: standing up for the American people against the special interests; solve problems that we’ve been talking about for decades; make their lives a little bit better; make tough choices sometimes when they’re unpopular. And that’s something that every one of you who support this bill can be proud to campaign on in November.”

It’s not a bad message for the electorate over the next 10 or so months.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.