Washington (CNN) - Activists ratcheted up the pressure for health care reform Tuesday, picketing in front of a hotel where a group of insurance industry leaders were meeting.
More than 1,000 protesters, including representatives of organized labor, marched through downtown Washington before stopping in front of the Ritz Carlton, site of the annual conference of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), an insurance industry lobbying group.
"We're fired up (and) can't take no more," the marchers chanted as they unfurled an oversized roll of yellow police tape emblazoned with the words "corporate crime scene."
They were led by, among others, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a prominent backer of reform legislation.
The protest came one day after President Barack Obama tore into health insurance companies for recent rate hikes. The administration "will continue to make a forceful case" for reform in the days ahead, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has asked to address the AHIP conference later this week, Gibbs noted. The secretary would likely also discuss the issue of recent rate increases, he added.
The increasingly heated populist rhetoric, according to many analysts, is part of a strategy to pressure wavering Democrats to back the president's sweeping reform plan.
Obama has called for a final up or down vote in Congress within the next few weeks. No Republicans are expected to vote for the nearly $1 trillion package.
"The Republicans are ... proving themselves the party of 'no,'" declared Dean, a former Democratic presidential candidate.
A handful of protesters were escorted away by law enforcement officials.
Gibbs said last week he expects the House to approve the Senate bill by March 18. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, however, pushed back against the idea of next week's deadline, telling reporters that "none of us has mentioned the 18th, other than Mr. Gibbs."
"We are trying to do this as soon as possible," Hoyer said. "That continues to be our objective."
After the House acts, according to Democratic sources, a separate package of changes designed in part to make the overall measure more palatable to House liberals would then be approved by both chambers - getting through the Senate under a legislative maneuver known as reconciliation. Bills passed under reconciliation require only a bare Senate majority of 51 votes.
Democrats lost their filibuster-proof 60-seat Senate supermajority with the election of Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown in January.
Only 25 percent of Americans believe Congress should pass the health care bill Democratic leaders have been working on for the past year, according to a February 12-15 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. But the survey also noted that Americans overwhelmingly approve of many of the bill's specific provisions.
Obama on Monday dismissed concerns over any political fallout tied to the health care issue.
"The issue here is not the politics of it," he said. Congress and the president were sent to Washington to "solve the big challenges."
–CNN's Paul Courson, Deirdre Walsh and Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.