Where Does Health Care Legislation Stand?

NPR News Analyst Cokie Roberts talks with Linda Wertheimer about the Obama administration's efforts to push health care legislation through Congress.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

State governors aren't the only lawmakers expressing misgivings about the cost of restructuring health care.

Joining us now for some analysis is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, Linda. Didn't that oysters and grits sound awfully good at that governors' breakfast?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Yes, it did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: We've just heard the governors saying they want a health care overhaul, but they don't have the money. Yet, the Obama administration is still going full steam ahead, pushing the major health care bill. What's going on?

ROBERTS: Well, the Obama administration is very eager, as you well know, to get this bill done. But members of the Congress are getting increasingly nervous. And the Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf said on Friday that it wouldn't save any money, and as is, could add to the deficit over the next 10 years. That just sent everybody in the administration scrambling. Yesterday, the White House Budget director, Peter Orszag, was on a couple of the Sunday TV shows. He said that the bill would be deficit neutral. He reiterated what the president had said on his Saturday radio address, that they would not sign on, the administration would not sign on to any bill that added to the deficit.

And so they're out just trying to reassure both the public and the Congress. Senator Kennedy, from his sick bed, essentially, had a big essay in Newsweek Magazine called "The Cause of My Life," basically pleading for health care reform. But this is, as you well know, when it gets to actually writing the bills, this is where it gets very tough.

WERTHEIMER: Now, all of this jockeying on health care has had an effect on the president's poll numbers. ABC News has a new survey out this morning that show his approval rating is down, and support for his health care plan has fallen to 49 percent. Is that going to have an impact on what's going on in Congress?

ROBERTS: Sure. Of course it will. And the health care plan that's dropped to 49 percent, it was described like the one Democrats passed in the House of Representatives. So the Republican drumbeat against all this is having an affect. The Republicans now might be overdoing it, because they're calling this the president's Waterloo, saying that if they beat him here, it will cripple him for good.

And Democrats don't want that to happen because, you know, if he gets weakened, they get weakened. So it might be - the drumbeat against it might be organizing the Democrats and motivating them to get something done. It certainly seems to be motivating the White House.

WERTHEIMER: So, what is the president going to do to convince the Congress and the rest of us to go along?

ROBERTS: He's calling members in and listening, listening, listening, and also just reassuring them. And he's doing a very interesting thing, which is doing all kinds of separate deals with major stakeholders - the pharmaceutical industry, the hospital industry, doctors. I mean, the AMA is supporting health care reform - the American Medical Association. That's huge. I mean, I remember the Medicare fight where they were against it so strongly, and that made a tremendous difference. So having them on his side is big. He's going to have a primetime press conference on Wednesday night. And he's ginning up that formidable grassroots campaign that he identified during the presidential campaign of having 13 million people get engaged for health care reform.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think they'll do it? If his approval rating is down from 72 to 59, does that - do you think that indicates the - that those 13 million may be harboring some doubt?

ROBERTS: I think most of the falloff looks like it's among Republicans - a 16-point drop there. Democrats still really strongly support the president - 90 percent. But what you are seeing is more people calling themselves independent, and the president's having some problems there.

His bigger problem is if he looks at a president at a similar position at this point in his first term - Ronald Reagan. As the economy weakened, so does his numbers. That hurts his party in the next election. This president wants to avoid that, and he thinks health care reform might be the way he does that.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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