Administration Stays Focused On Health Care

A new public opinion poll gives a sense of what Americans are thinking about when it comes to health care and other issues. Besides domestic issues, the Obama administration is monitoring the situation in Iran following this month's disputed presidential election.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

And let's bring in another voice now. NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts is a regular guest on our program. And she joins us now. Hi Cokie, welcome back.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi David, nice to hear you. I'm back from beach and grand kids.

GREENE: Oh, that is sounding very nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: So we just listened to Don Gonyea's piece about President Obama trying to govern from the center. And that seems to be exactly what he's doing when we talk about his big health care debate. And yet, he is getting all this resistance from both sides Republicans and Democrats. How does that all shape up this week?

ROBERTS: Well, the House Democrats put forward a plan at the end of last week that included this so-called public option - a government-backed insurance plan to compete with private insurance companies. And Republicans have just been, over the weekend, screaming, no way; its not going to happen. And some Senate Democrats seem to agree with them, so theyre trying to come out with a plan this week but theyre having a lot of trouble coming up with a consensus between the two Democratically-dominated committees that control the health care debate - the tax-writing Finance Committee and the committee that writes health policy. And it was made a whole lot more difficult, David, by the Congressional Budget Office estimate last week that the health committee plan thats emerging would cost $1.6 trillion. That terrified some moderate senators.

Now, they did get some good news over the weekend when the pharmaceutical companies agreed to give an $80 billion break to seniors receiving prescription drugs, but thats the only good news theyve gotten at the moment. Theyre really having a lot of trouble writing this bill.

GREENE: Well, these big price tags, or the possibility of a big price tag is actually making a lot of people out in the country very afraid. These polls that weve seen on this issue, I mean, theyre a little confusing. I mean, theres a lot of public support for overhauling health care - thats pretty clear - but also a lot of worry about the costs. And I guess I wonder how does that worry over red ink play itself out? I mean, does it slow down President Obama a lot?

ROBERTS: Well, it slows down the Congress, certainly. Now, the polls do show Americans, by large majorities - over 70 percent - are saying they like this idea of a public option but they are more and more concerned about the deficit and about the role that the government is playing in the overall economy, especially in dealing with the automobile companies. People are mad about that.

In a New York Times poll, by two-to-one, the respondents said the president had no clear plan for dealing with the deficit. Now, theyre still blaming President Bush and the Democrats in Congress, interestingly, over the deficit, but President Obama, of course, more and more will be the owner of this economy, and thats, of course, one of the reasons that he wants to move quickly on all of these issues before his support erodes.

And the House Democrats have promised that they will have a health care bill out by July 31, but whether the Senate is able to get there or not is a big question.

GREENE: Well, Cokie, one of the other storylines in Washington has been the president facing a lot of pressure to take a much stronger stand on Iran - the Republicans who say hes been very timid. And over the weekend, we actually had some protestors outside the White House. And that is a new thing for this president.

ROBERTS: It is. These were probably primarily Iranian-Americans saying side with the protesters in Iran. The White House trying to walk a fine line here, acknowledging the aspirations of the protesters but knowing theyll likely to still deal with the existing government over nuclear agreements.

But what the presidents learning is that he cant control the agenda. I remember talking to John Sununu when he was chief of staff in Bush One, and him saying, you know, we had to change our policy to the Kurds. The pictures were killing us. And now this administration has got, you know, YouTube out here and all of America seeing it and all the world, so they have to respond.

GREENE: Cokie, nice talking to you. Thanks very much.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

GREENE: Thats NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

Youre listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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